When your home is decorated in such a way that it satisfies your soul, there really is nothing like it. You don’t need to complete a design program to do the job — you just need to understand the basic elements of art and style.
Of course, the heading of “interior design” encompasses everything from floors to ceilings and every room in the house. So unless you do have a degree or a contact at an interior design firm, it can get, well, a teensy bit overwhelming.
That’s why you’re here.
This guide breaks down everything you need to know about interior design. It won’t hurt our feelings if you skip around and go straight to the good stuff that you’re trying to figure out right now. You can come back to the rest later; we’ll still be here!
Beauty indeed lies in the eye of the beholder. Your version of what looks good will be different than everyone else’s opinions.
Yet, thousands of years of evidence show us that there are some parts of “beauty” that are timeless.
These characteristics are elements of all art, including interior design.
- Visual weight
The best interior designers focus on the overall aesthetics, not one single aspect of their work.
These are the principles of interior design, and everything else builds upon them.
The 7 Essential Principles of Design
The terms that define design principles vary depending on the person or business. They all relate back to the same basic definitions, though.
These elements are seen and judged in every part of art, from sculptures and paintings to fashion. Let’s look at how they each relate to the interior design world and how you’ll use them in your home.
Most interior design services will start and end with the element of balance. As humans, our entire lives seem to be in a constant state of looking for balance: work/life, self/family, income/outgoing expenses, etc.
It makes sense, then, that if our homes are out of balance, nothing else seems right, no matter how perfectly placed it is or how well the colors mesh together.
Balance refers to the visual weight of a space and how the distribution of elements creates a measure of equanimity.
In art, this balance can be symmetrical, asymmetrical, or radial. None are “wrong,” as long as one is evident.
As with symmetry, everything in the design of your room has to look visually appealing. You can achieve this through color, space, and form. How you put those elements together determines the way they contrast with each other.
For example, you can have a white throw pillow and white blanket on a bed sitting on a luxe white carpet. There are a lot of differences in the form and space, but not color. Take the same bed, pillow, and blanket and put them on a hardwood floor with a white shag area rug, and you now have contrast.
When creating contrast, consider color schemes and textiles in your design process.
In a design project, movement refers to the way an object draws the eye, not how it’s actually in motion. This principle adds interest to a room.
You can create the illusion of movement by using accessories that show something in motion, such as a flowing waterfall. Or use patterns, colors, and lines in equal value to draw the eye and establish the flow.
A simple way to explain this is to use a set of framed photos. If they all have similar colors and patterns, the eye immediately goes to the first photo, then follows the line of images one at a time until landing on the last one.
Patterns occur in nature when something repeats. In graphic design, these repetitions are on a material in a two-dimensional form. They are used to adjust the viewer’s perception and create the illusion of a 3-D object.
Correctly bringing patterns into your room can add drama, energy, and dimension. It’s a level of design sophistication the average homeowner doesn’t bother with, but you’ll see it in every award-winning or high-end design studio.
You don’t have to hire an interior decorator to do this yourself, though. We have plenty of pattern-based suggestions here.
Scale, Shape, and Visual Weight
We group scale, shape, and visual weight together in design because they are inseparable. Visual weight is how an object attracts the eye and interacts with our vision. This interaction is attributed in part to the scale and shape of the object.
They’re each their own principle, but they assist one another so seamlessly that when you’re considering one, you must include them all in your space planning. For instance, a large item with a square shape will seem visually heavy, even if it’s not. Curves and angled items appear less dense.
The scale matters, as well. A king-sized bed in a room that isn’t much bigger than it will dominate the area. Proportion and scale are mathematical principles that help as you plan your living space.
To avoid overwhelming the senses with too much visual weight, don’t place large items next to each other. Separate them with smaller pieces of furniture. Also, don’t decorate with anything out of proportion with the rest of the room.
Discover: 5 Unique Aesthetic Cores to Inspire Your Decor
2. Design Styles
How you choose to design your home should be solely based on your tastes. You could hire a professional interior designer with an unlimited budget, and they might turn your home into a space that you can’t stand.
That said, there are a few common residential interior design styles.
Here are some of the most popular for you to consider as you plan your next room makeover:
Transitional Interior Design
Mixes traditional and modern styles, taking classic looks and updating them to make contemporary atmospheres. This style blends masculine and feminine colors and decors and then adds antiques to soften the look.
Traditional Interior Design
Traditional uses decor from 18th- and 19th-century European fashion to create a timeless, homey look.
Modern Interior Design
Modern designs use minimalistic decor, natural materials, and monochromatic color schemes. It’s a popular look in offices and health spas that caught on late in the 20th century.
Eclectic Interior Design
Eclectic takes a little of this and a little of that from multiple styles and blends them for a unique final look.
Contemporary Interior Design
Similar to modern, but distinctly separate. Contemporary includes simple and subtle furniture and colors put together in clean lines with careful use of texture to create a sophisticated space.
Minimalist Interior Design
Also similar to modern styles. However, minimalistic looks use the bare minimum in furniture design and decor to establish an uncluttered finished area. Color is only used as an accent as necessary.
Mid-Century Modern Interior Design
This well-known interior style blends modern with contemporary, using clean lines with neutral or muted tones. However, natural and manmade materials are allowed, and so are bold colors.
Bohemian Interior Design
Often mistaken for eclectic, this is a centuries-old style of decor. Bohemian looks are characterized by a carefree ambiance made out of layers, patterns, textures, and color. Unlike eclectic styles, though, there are still some rules to abide by when aiming for a Bohemian layout.
With all these styles in mind, you can choose your favorites and start redesigning your home room by room.
Your full-service dining room won’t be complete without a breathtaking centerpiece. Discover: 5 Swoon-Worthy Centerpieces to Add to Your Eating Area
3. DIY Home Redesign
What’s involved in a home redesign?
Spoiler alert: It might not include what you’re picturing.
Redesigning is often confused with remodeling. When you’re redesigning a home, you’re simply updating its look and feel. You’re leaving the original purpose alone.
In other words, if you redesigned or renovated a bathroom, you’d change anything but the fixtures. There would be no plumber necessary (unless you needed some help changing the faucets and showerhead).
Some simple ways you can redesign your home without the expense and headache of renovating it include:
- Installing stained glass windows in place of your current standard panes
- Swapping out manmade furniture and decor with natural pieces
- Learning the DIY art of hodgepodge and shiplap to redecorate outdated or mismatched furniture
- Changing the entire look of a room with two words: removable wallpaper (yes, it’s as life-changing as it sounds)
When you’ve decided on an interior design style, you must base your redesign elements on that selection. You may spend money to revamp a space, but you shouldn’t have to hire a professional contractor to get the job done.
You may also like: The Best Rainbow Wallpaper for Your Home [+ Additional Decor]
4. Organizing Small Spaces
Whether you have a million ideas or a handful, pulling the look together with limited space can be challenging. Luckily, we have many tips for you in this category.
Each room has its own set of obstacles to overcome and various accessories to help you optimize the space available. The trick is to learn what’s out there, then narrow down your options to those that will maximize your problem areas.
Let’s look at typical spots in a home where space is often limited:
In the Kitchen
You’ll need extra room for pots, pans, dishes, and pantry items. The right tools can expand the space that’s already there, nearly doubling your storage capabilities.
For more advanced kitchen upgrades, see our full guide to kitchen renovations.
The Living Room
This is where you’re supposed to be able to get comfy and relax. Cutting back on non-essential furniture and choosing multi-functional products can boost your storage while reducing clutter.
Unfortunately, our bedrooms tend to turn into catch-alls for most of us. If there’s nowhere else to house your “junk,” you can still keep it all in order with organizers and storage tips.
As the smallest “rooms” in the house, bathrooms are often overlooked. Because of the humidity and moisture natural by-products here, redesigning the bathroom requires extra TLC.
Pantries & Closets
Last but not least are the pantries and closets around the home. These little spaces make a massive difference for miscellaneous items. With careful organization and the right tools, you can quickly reduce clutter in your tiny pantry or small closet.
Organization and redesigning go hand-in-hand. The right accessories and know-how get everything out of your way so you can concentrate on bringing out your personality with style and flair.
Have you heard of the KonMari Method? Learn more: Here are 7 Ways to Organize Your Interiors
5. Decorating for Personality and Special Occasions
The final touch in a room’s redesign is to instill your personality or decorate for a special occasion.
This happens after your home furnishings are in place, the color palettes are set in stone, and you’ve organized the essential storage aspects.
One method people incorporate in home design is to bring their hobbies into the decor. This serves the dual purpose of decorating and figuring out how to store or display memorabilia and collections.
You can also use holiday decor all year-‘round, making adaptions as the seasons and occasions change.
The best part about these decorating themes is that they’re entirely up to you. As long as you’re happy with them, you can’t go wrong.
If you want some pointers, though, we’re happy to guide you along the way in your interior design journey.
Bring your guitar pick collection, your Star Wars memorabilia, or your grandmother’s teapot heirlooms, and we’ll help you decide how to make the most of them in your home. It’s a judgment-free zone!
You could have a degree in fine arts before you design your home, but it’s not necessary.
Choosing upholstery, adding colors and patterns, and picking out window treatments is a matter of taste mixed with a bit of guidance and a few design rules.
Whatever the next step is, we have the info you need right here. Even for niche interiors such as: