Albert Hadley, an American designer and decorator, is quoted as saying ‘the essence of interior design will always be about people and how they live’.
It is about the realities of what makes for an attractive, civilized, meaningful environment, and not about what is ‘in’ or ‘out’.
While most people believe that interior design is simply putting objects together in a space, in reality it is much more. It requires a critical awareness of what looks good by following the key aspects of interior design: balance, movement, proportion and unity.
Balance is one of the most important principles of interior design because it helps to create structure.
Equilibrium among all elements in a room ensures that objects are distributed evenly throughout the space. It uses a vertical line across the middle of the room, with objects placed on either side complementing one another.
If one side is overloaded with furnishings, the space will become unbalanced. Traditionally, balance could be achieved using symmetry, but now radial and asymmetrical designs are used to achieve the same objective.
Using this traditional method, spaces are divided into two sides that perfectly mirror one another. This is the easiest, and simplest, way of achieving balance in a space and often creates a feeling of harmony and elegance. However, the repetition of this method can sometimes generate a dull atmosphere consisting of predictable and boring elements.
A more modern approach, asymmetrical balance, as the name suggests, creates a space with an uneven visual appearance on either side of the room.
Again, it uses a metaphorical line down the middle of a room. However, instead it is reliant on a designer’s visual judgement.
This can make it challenging to achieve but, compared to symmetrical balance, it is more modern, lively, and interesting.
Using a central point in the space, radial balance distributes furnishings around a space that move inwards or outwards.
An example is a circular table placed in the centre of a room and complemented by rugs, lighting and other furnishings distributed in a radial pattern.
Movement is an equally important force within interior design, taking into account how much physical space there is within a room as well as how an eye moves when surveying it.
The eye will move naturally across a room, and it is important the arrangement within that space evokes a feeling of curiosity and interest while keeping a consistent design.
By arranging the space in a specific and deliberate way, designers can ensure they control the movement of an individual’s eye from the moment they walk in, directing what they want them to see.
This movement can be affected by graduating shapes, sizes, colour, and lighting – all of which are purposefully placed. Equally, movement within interior design refers to how much physical space there is available. Ensuring the room functions as it should, and is not overly cluttered with furniture, is essential to ensuring a practical and effective design.
Proportion within interior design refers to the balance between colour, shape, and texture – each of which are linked to scale.
It permits designers to judge how ‘right’ an arrangement of objects looks and the ‘right’ proportions can only be achieved by controlling and repeating the same colour, shape, and texture.
Proportion of colour
Colour within a space must be balanced, and this involves repeating the same shade throughout.
There are some interior design theories regarding colour that argue if colours are to be repeated within the same room, it must be done an odd number of times. Often, designers will use variations of the same colour to create harmony.
Proportion of shape
Similar to the use of colour, the same shapes should be repeated within a space to create a visually-appealing sense of harmony. For instance, if your room is square, using square-shaped furnishings such as a rug, coffee table or artwork will help to create order and unity.
Keeping the shapes proportional to each other is the most effective way to style a modern space successfully.
Proportion of texture
Texture is a key element in any space, subtly adding variety and interest, lifting a room from 2D to 3D. It can be applied in a variety of ways, with intricately-woven rugs or carpets to balance out smooth, untextured walls.
Equally, textured wallpaper can be coupled with a smooth and sleek wood flooring that helps accentuate this interesting visual element. Having the correct texture can create balance in any space.
Unity is what ultimately brings a room together, and many designers choose to utilise patterns or colours to minimise the perceived chaos of a room.
One of the ways this is done is by using the ’60-30-10 Rule’. It states that 60 per cent of a room should use a dominant colour, 30 per cent should consist of a secondary shade and the remaining 10 per cent of the room should use an accent.
The 60 per cent is what a viewer would perceive to be the ‘background’, or overriding, colour of the room. It is the shade you would immediately characterise the space as being. Some examples of what can exhibit this primary colour are walls, rugs, sofas and any larger items of furniture.
The 30 per cent comes next. The secondary colour in a space, it complements and supports the first. It is often similar, but distinct enough to make the room appear interesting and characterful. It is usually seen in curtains, or smaller items of furniture.
The remaining 10 per cent is what designers often see as the fun colour, one which will act as an accent in the space. Depending on the colour scheme and palette used, it can be bold and vibrant to add a pop of colour, or more subdued and neutral.
This is the percentage that will give a room character and make it feel more personable, often exhibited by throws, cushions, decorative elements and artwork.
Interior designers will rarely choose these colours randomly and, instead, as with all aspects of interior design, follow a set of rules.
There are four main ways in which the colours are chosen: monochromatically, complementary, split complementary and analogous – each working from a colour wheel.
This method allows you to choose one colour, which will be 60 per cent, and then use lighter and darker variations of the same shade for the remaining 30 and 10 per cent.
It is often used in contemporary settings where designers are seeking to work with neutral colours such as grey, white and black.
The method of using complementary colours allows you to look at a colour wheel and select two colours on opposite sides.
By doing so, you will always have a warm, toned colour and a cool one acts as a perfect balance despite their distinct differences.
As the name suggests, the analogous method of colour selection permits designers to choose three parallel colours on the wheel with the middle colour one used as the dominant 60 per cent.
The split complementary method is similar to the complementary one, but instead adds a third colour. That makes it ideal when following the 60-30-10 rule.
After selecting an initial colour on the wheel, you then choose another directly opposite as a complement. The one adjacent to this complementary will then act as a final accent colour.
What is it all about?
Interior design is ultimately about creating a space that is functional, practical and, above all, beautiful to live in.
Designers stick to a range of principles that ensure a space is balanced in all aspects.
However, as stated by Albert Hadley, successful interior design is not about ‘what’s in or what’s out’, and any designer will advise that the perfect space is one that contains objects, furniture, colours and artwork that ultimately bring you joy.