When it comes to decorating, some people are born with an eye for design and can pull a room together seamlessly.
Most people struggle every step of the way.
It’s easy to get discouraged, frustrated, and give up on the hopes of having a beautiful space. It’s not as easy as others make it seem. There’s a reason designers and decorators go to school for years to learn the ins and outs of a designing a great space. Even though it doesn’t come naturally, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn how to decorate your own home!
I’m breaking down some of the elements of design theory, the rules for creating a well-designed space, so that you can put together your room the way you want it to look and feel. I know you can do it, you just need a few tools and to understand what to look for!
It may seem simple, but a key part of pulling together a room you love is to decorate in your personal style. If you don’t know what your personal design style is, please go here first to discover it! It makes a big difference in tackling a space when you understand what you like and don’t like. I’ll wait for you to return!
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Now that we have that covered, we can break down what makes a well-designed room so great!
A common concept that I run into is the idea that a small room needs small furniture. Not true! When we use small furniture, we work against the room. Small furniture makes a room look small and enclosed. Which is great when you have a large open area that you need to create smaller zones in. You will also need more furniture to cover your needs. Then you find yourself cramming more and more in the room until it is cluttered and overwhelming.
I recommend asking yourself a few questions first. What is the room used for? What are the staple furniture pieces that you need for the room to work? Is it seating for 4 people and a place to set drinks? Do you work in the same room or is it purely for entertainment? Instead of getting 4 small armchairs, try for 2 loveseats! Or combine a loveseat and 2 side chairs, which can also be used for when you are working.
While we are on the note of proportions, pay attention to your area rugs! A great size for an area rug will run under your furniture to pull them all together and create a cozy zone. It doesn’t leave your furniture on the outer boundaries, looking in. Trust me, it will make a difference in the look of your room.
Our minds like to categorize and group items in a room. If there is too much going on, it’s too distracting. We also have a natural preference for odd-numbered groups. That way there is a focal point. Sticking with trios works great; it’s small and easy to work with, and it’s an odd number for a great grouping.
You may notice that decorative items are often sold in sets of three, or have three different sizes available. As tempting as it is to pick up all three sizes for the perfect grouping, I dare you to take it a step further! Use only the largest size to pair with two other items. Or you can use the two smaller sizes and pair them with a single, unique item. Be adventurous and test your new-found decorating prowess!
A focal point is a great starting point to build a design around. Pick an item to be the central idea for a grouping, and add related items around it. You can also have multiple focal points in a room if you display them right. Make use of your surfaces and use a focal point on a wall, and on the floor. You can choose a piece of furniture to be a focal point in a room arrangement (floor surface). A fireplace can be another focal point in a room (wall surface). The focal points center a grouping and work the same way to hold a room together. They give your eyes a place to stop and rest as your mind is busy categorizing and taking in your space.
Vertical and Horizontal Space
Your room has 6 surfaces; floor, ceiling, and 4 walls. Sometimes the walls are invisible in open floor plans so we have to imagine it’s there as we make use of it. An example would be having a couch up against an invisible wall (maybe with a console table behind it to ground it) facing into a seating area, with the dining room on the other side of the room. Floors and ceilings are horizontal spaces, and walls are vertical spaces. You can use focal points on all surfaces. These can be big impact pieces such as an area rug, painting, fireplace, couch, chandelier, or a great view to the outdoors! Make use of all the spaces in your design.
It’s great to play around with height differences to add interest. There are many ways to do this too. Try pairing an armchair with a floor lamp. Or hang tall pictures behind a low set sofa to emphasize an impressive ceiling height. Aim to create an invisible pyramid or triangle form when placing multiple pieces together. Triangles are very appealing to our sense of balance and symmetry.
Mix and match different textures in a room to stimulate your senses! It can be as simple as tossing a chunky knit blanket on your smooth leather sofa! Wood, metal, glass, upholstery, everything has a texture to it.
You can use different types of wood grains in a room, just don’t go overboard. Three is a great number to work with. You can work with different woods that are all the same stain, or use different stains on the same type of wood. It adds more detail to a room.
Metals can be mixed up too, you no longer need to stick to a single metal finish throughout your entire home. Your light fixtures could make a statement in gold, while your faucets are chrome, and your dining chairs use antique bronze. Once again, three is usually the magic number for a room.
Color greatly impacts the mood of a room. By altering the color you can make a room energetic or relaxing. If you want a space to be relaxing and soothing, you are going to want an analogous or monochromatic scheme, whereas a high energy room would want a complementary scheme. I have a great post about different color schemes here.
I find that the important thing is to discover what colors you are most drawn to. Do you feel more at home in cool tones or warm tones? Do you tend to wear blue shirts more than green shirts? It is okay to use different shades of blue throughout your home if blue is your favorite color! If it makes you happy, then go for it! Or if your favorite color changes with the seasons, use it in accent pieces that you can rotate out.
Typically darker or heavier items are placed closer to the floor to anchor a space, while lighter items are higher up. This helps to get a better flow and balance in a room.
Every item has a visible weight to it. This can be caused by the size of it, the color, or the material. Your goal is to make a room feel balanced in its design and layout. Think of a balancing scale. If all of your heavy furniture is piled into one side of the room, or in one scale, and the other side is left bare, the scale is tipped way over and very unbalanced. You will feel that the room is off, and not comfortable.
This doesn’t mean that you need a couch on each end of the room. There are different ways to bring about balance without weighing your furniture. Try utilizing the opposing wall space with big focal pieces, such as a tv or painting, and dark picture frames or bold colors to bring weight to the other side of the room. Another way to balance a room is to have similar colors and textures used in three different areas of a space. Your brain takes note of them spread out around you and connects the pieces together.
Most rooms do not have enough lighting in them. It’s why spaces can feel so dreary in the evenings and winter. It’s just one of those things that we don’t really think about when decorating a room. The ideal room would have seven different sources of light. They could be a mix of ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, pot lights, floor lamps, table lamps, candles, and windows. Blinds and window coverings offer great control of natural lighting, as well as soften the harsh lines of windows.
When thinking of the lighting in your design, take the purpose of the room into consideration. If tasks are done in a room, the lighting may need to be brighter so you aren’t squinting as you work. Rooms for entertaining can benefit from dimmable lighting. If you do a lot of reading in a room then table lamps are great to have for more direct light. Bright overhead lights aren’t the most romantic for a movie night, and low lighting in a kitchen can lead to injuries when chopping food. I suggest overlapping your lighting areas so you have great coverage, and you can control how much light you need, when and where. It really does affect the look, feel, and function of a room.
Play With Your Design
Decorating is a form of art, and should be fun to do! You can adjust as often or as little as you want. It does help if you understand the concepts behind a great design and know the process for putting together a room. Don’t be afraid to play around with your space. Once you’ve put a room together, live with it for a few days. This will best tell you if something is in the way of your usual walking path, or just doesn’t fit into the room after all. Or if it all works great, then you can leave it alone and just enjoy the feeling of the space. Design and style are very personal so it’s great to have your own touches in the rooms you surround yourself in.
Ready to move on to color? Check out my post on Color Theory here.
Was this helpful to you? Do you want a more in-depth look at any of the concepts and elements? Leave me a comment and let me know what else you’d like to learn!