Interior Design 101 - A Foundation Guide

June 13, 2017

Interior Design 101 - A Foundation Guide

It takes years to be an interior designer expert, but you can decorate your home like a pro using these 6 basic principles!

Unity and harmony

Harmony: The very first thing you should focus on when you take on an interior design venture is unity and harmony. Harmony could be described as visual consonance – a feeling of sameness that makes the space seem holistic and wholesome. The best way to achieve harmony in your interiors is by using a single design element in repetition. This could be done through artwork, colors, shapes, forms, wall designs or even structural liabilities like columns if your space is large enough.

Unity: Unity is when each and every elementi of the interior works in tandem to create a symphonious ambiance. Even contrasting colors balance each out. Each and every element in the interior works in physical and visual harmony to give off a unified vibe.

How to use unity and harmony in tandem?

Any designer with a good eye will tell you that too many match-ups and too much repetition can make your space look boring. This is why you should always use the concept of unity and harmony in tandem. This is where contrast and dissimilarity come in. Let’s look at these concepts in context with a relevant interior style.

  • Casual vs. Formal
  • Casual: A casual home interior consists of a relaxed vibe that is achieved through the right balance of harmony and unity. You can achieve both of these design principles in a casual home environment by using contrasting colors; line up the couch with throw pillows that complement the color of the upholstery. Or you could decorate the wall with artwork in a theme that stands out distinctively against the paint color.
    • Formal:A formal home interior is more rigid in its design constraints. This is where themes start mattering. For example, if you’re designing a living room in the formal style, use slightly classical ornamentation to imbue unity and harmony in the design. Think tall barrel arched windows at one side of the room that are visually balanced out with a chandelier in the center.

    • Traditional vs. Contemporay

    Formal interiors consists of categories that are either skewed towards extremely traditional or extremely contemporary interior design styles. Think futuristic a la Ex Machina  or Baroque. This is when small nuances start mattering according to the limitations of that particular design style. Let’s look at it in a little more detail:

      • French Country:This kind of an interior consists of delicate accessories, slim trimming and molding along with ornate furniture. You can achieve unity and harmony by creating a fantastic layout with the opulent furniture that is complemented by a single focal point like backlit windows or a centerpiece chandelier. This will cancel out the visual consistency of both design elements and create the ultimate unity and harmony. 

          • Tuscan:The Tuscan style is more rustic, which means that it is inspired by nature. In an interior with such a theme, you can imbue unity and harmony by playing on contrasting accents. For example, you could use a large number of wooden accents in obvious places like wall paneling and complement it through subtle stone accents on a single feature piece like a fireplace. Similarly you could also create a harmonious ambiance by complementing distressed finishes with antiquated accessories in strategic places.

            • Modern Contemporary: The thing about modern contemporary interiors is that they are very minimal in aesthetic. With minimal design interventions, it becomes quite challenging to achieve a harmonious ambiance. So you can either do that by issuing a contrasting color scheme between the walls and furniture – black and white is always a running success – or you could go for earthy tones a la minimalism. If you want to use a singular color scheme, then you can articulate the modern contemporary concept by using shapes and forms in the wall designs by using different tints of the same color. 


              Balance is necessary to create a fully cohesive interior space. Without balance, no amount of unity or harmony would ever work. It is the metaphorical glue that keeps all the other design principles together. There are several ways you can achieve balance within an interior.

              • Equal distribution of visual weight in a room

              Visual weight is the figurative solidness that varies from color to color. Lighter colors have less visual weight than darker colors. For example, if you put black and white side by side, black would feel more prominent and solid as compared to white, which would look breezy and almost translucent in comparison. Similar is the case with red and yellow, green and orange, etc.

              So whenever you’re designing an interior, make sure you select a color scheme that balances out each other’s visual weight. If you use two solid colors like back and red in a single room, it will end up looking claustrophobic and constrained. The overall impact would be small and disproportionate.

              But if you choose a color palate with one light color and another darker one, your room would have stylish contrast without seeming dull or small. Instead, it would look spacious and trendy.

              • Symmetrical

              Symmetry makes the design simple and keeps us happy. It is the most obvious form of balanced output in any interior design. If all design elements ate symmetrical, then the space would automatically start looking visually balanced. Symmetry is appreciated because according to professional, our brain takes in the overall output before focusing on individual elements. If there is a recognizable pattern the flows throughout the interior, it would instantly seem pleasant to the eye.

              So it is important to have at least one recognizable symmetrical pattern in your interior. You can achieve symmetry in your interior design through accessorizing – think; a matching pair of Tiffany lamps for your bedroom side tables, a balanced arrangement of photo frames or artwork on a feature wall or even a mirrored furniture layout in the living room. This will minimize the amount of information the brain has to input, thus making the design simpler, holistic and more comprehensible.

              • Asymmetrical

              Asymmetry helps us stay interested in our surroundings. Asymmetrical balance is a little bit more challenging to accomplish. It is achieved by creating a visual balance between a disparate and dissimilar elements in a singular space. For example, you could use oblique lines, various forms and shapes, along with contrasting colors in different areas to create a fine visual consistency in a rom. When accomplished successfully, the tonal dissonance in such interior can seem quite pleasing to the eye.

              Asymmetrical balance relies on eyeballing. Eyeballing refers to the eye’s sense of balance. It is instinctual and varies from person to person. So when you have objects of various visual disproportion arranged strategically around a room, it will depend on your inherent sense of visual balance to get the perfect asymmetrical look.

              You can imbue asymmetric balance in your interiors by playing with the height and weight of various objects. You will have to choose a ‘central axis’ around which you will have to create an ‘asymmetric balance’ by playing with the height and weight of your interior objects. For example, if you’re arranging decoration pieces on a console, then the center of the table would be your central axis, and you can play with asymmetrical balance by having a fat bauble on one side, and two tall trinkets on the other.

              • Radial

              This kind of balance could be difficult to link to other spaces but the result can be stunning. This kind of balance is carried out in round interior spaces. Traditional style homes used to have grand lobbies in which radial balance was achieved by having a spiral staircase in the center. Radial spaces need to have at least one focal point in the very middle that will keep the eye captive.

              In contemporary interiors, this could be achieved through having a centralized chandelier or ornamental dining table set smack in the middle of the room. You could even have a landscape feature like an indoor fountain or en garden to hook the eye in a round space.

              Focal Point

              A focal point is that one piece of ornamentation or feature in an interior that hooks the eye. Without a focal point, the interior design will look scattered and visually dissonant. It is important to have at least one focal point in an enclosed interior space in order to make it seem wholesome. In case of an open floor plan however, you could even use more than one focal points in order to make the flow look cohesive and to give the various areas an individualistic vibe. There are many ways through which you could create a focal point in your interiors. Let’s take a look at them.

              • Architectural feature

              An architectural feature like a fountain, sculpture or even a centralized indoor patio could be amazing focal points in an interior. You need these to be the feature elements of the space. These focal points are meant to capture the attention of the user and keep it hooked on them, so they can be flashy too. You could even create a step up divider in an open floor plan to set one area of the plan apart from the rest. Other times, you could use decorative fixtures like grand chandeliers to create an especially eye-catching feature.

              • Artwork

              Artwork is a great way to decorate your interiors and it could be an amazing focal point if you want it to be. Feature art canvases and customized photo frames are available in large sizes and dimensions. If you attach them on a feature wall – think: right above the couch – then they would provide awesome contrast and definitely keep the eye hooked while ramping up the ambiance

              • View

              If you live in a home that offers beautiful vistas of the city scape or even the lawn outside, then it can be a great way to create a wonderful focal point in your interior. You just have to orient your entire interior layout around that specific view. For example, if the north side of your room faces a French window that looks out into the lawn, then make you’re your couch units are arranged to take full advantage of that view. Not only would it act as a great backdrop to your interior design, but it would be a beautiful focal point too.

              • Texture

              Textures could be used to create wonderful accent walls, which could be used in turn as great focal points. In commercial settings – especially reception back walls – you could use this technique to draw the eye and keep it focused. In a residential setting, you could use media walls to make a great focal point – think; custom-cut while marble media wall with a single whorl of jade grain in the center. Scattered textures might seem distracting if used without context so be careful while using this specific technique to create a focal point.

              • Pattern

              While damask and Laura Ashley prints may be considered vintage, contemporary interiors use laser cut perforated screens to make patterned focal points. These could be set up as half-walls or decorative screens depending the context of the interior design.

              Proportion and Scale

              Proportion is the literal ratio of texture, shapes, forms and patterns that are distributed throughout the interior. They need to be evenly spread throughout the space in order for it to seem visually balanced. You can say that it is a ‘relevant’ design principal that depends on the individual judgment of the eye. Let’s look at all the ways you can achieve proportion in an interior setting.
              • Color Proportion

              Create a pleasing color balance by repeating colors in different places within a space can definitely create a great visual balance. Here’s where you should apply the idea of visual weight; use two dissimilar and contrasting colors in your interiors and make sure they give of a balanced look. A great example of color proportion would be painting alternating walls in contrasting colors – one could be blue and the other could be white.

              • Proportions in Shape

              Repeating shapes within a space establishes visual harmony. It is also pretty agreeable to the eye. An excellent example of this is creating a symmetrical or asymmetrical cluster of photo frames on a feature wall. The repetition of the square frame would definitely hook the eye.

              • Proportion of Space

              This refers to creating a visual balance inside a room with clever placement of objects. For example, you could arrange a chesterfield at one of the living room and balance it out by placing two armchairs with a small table in the middle to make it seem proportional.

              • Proportion of Light
              Light is said to be the fourth dimension. It has the power to alter human perception of any space. So creating a fine proportion of lighting in an interior is always a must. You can do so by creating a larger halo of light on the spaces you need to highlight in your interior. The dark corners are automatically glossed over by the eye. For example, you could install a nice ceiling design over the sofa arrangement in the living room and adjust some manual lamps in the alcoves you want to keep private.

              • Textural Proportion
              Textural variety adds richness and interest to an interior space. Designers may use wall texture – paper or paint – to highlight a focal point. A great example of this would be the media wall, which could be installed with a nice laminate or cladding to make it the central focal point of the room.
              • Scale

              Scale is the literal size of the object within the context of a space. The ‘object’ here refers to all the accessorizing or ornamentation that is being carried out through the interior; furniture, artwork, decorative baubles and even lighting fixtures. Both the objects and the space have to be complementary in order for the interior to look good. For example, your furniture cannot be too large in a space with small dimensions and vice versa.


              Movement of the eye by playing with a repetitive pattern in a space is called rhythm. It keeps the eye engaged, which makes the interior more interesting. Here are a few ways you could incorporate rhythm in your designs:

              • Repetition: The idea here is to keep the eye engaged, and by repeating similar lines and patterns you could do just that. A good example would be a repetitive linear design in a long hallway.

              • Gradation: This one means from smaller to larger. Gradation uses size as a design element to keep the eye interested. A good example would be an indoor planter arrangement of different sizes. This could also be achieved by using color gradient in the same room.

              • Transition: Rhythm from one object to the next one will definitely keep the eye moving. You could incorporate this by transitioning the form of one object to another in a visual harmony – think: a curved sofa set up against a curved wall.
              • Contrast: This is basically visual dissonance. You could use dissimilar colors to keep the eye moving. You could even use juxtaposed decoration styles within a single interior to achieve rhythm by contrast – think: Retro artwork in a shabby chic style interior.

              • Radiation: Having a central axis in your space and repeating decoration radially from it is a nice way to keep the eye engaged. The best example of this is a circular lobby with a feature staircase; its vertical glide is the best kind of rhythm you could ever achieve.

              Color and Patterns

              • Color Basic

              Color theory is a veritable science. It needs to be intimately understood in order to create the right contrasts and color combinations. Let’s give you a small crash course on the color wheel.

              The color wheel is a circular culmination of all the hues, tints and tones that you will ever need. It consists of Primary colors (Red, Yellow, Blue), Secondary Colors (Green, Orange, Purple) and Tertiary Colors (six hues that could be made by combining the previous two).

              The easiest way to create the best contrast is by pairing warm colors with cool colors. The brighter, edgier and more vivid colors in the spectrum are warm (Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow), while the dull and darker ones are considered cool (Blue, Purple, Green). Use one warm and one cool color to make the best color palate, but do not leave out the size of the space while considering. Too much warm coloring in a small space can make the space seem overwhelming. Similarly too many cool colors in a large space can seem disenchanting. 
              • Psychology of Color
              Color psychology dictates the effect of a certain color on the mood of the user. Here’s a small list that could come in handy for a beginner:

              - Red: Stimulates hunger and camaraderie

              - Brown: Invokes a natural ambiance.

              - White: Gives impression of a clean space.

              - Yellow: Introduces cheerfulness.

              - Black: Gives a bold and elegant vibe.

              - Blue: Imbues a royal, opulent ambiance.

                • Texture

                Texture is the natural surface quality of any material. It adds a visual dynamic to an otherwise simple interior. It could be rough, bumpy or even smooth. They could be either:

                - Tactile: Meaning felt when touched.

                - Visual: Only perceived but not actually there.

                Textures add to the stylistic impression of any interior space – think: exposed brick walls, wooden cladding, stone accents or even high gloss laminates.

                • Partterns

                Patterns on the other hand are needed to add visual diversity in your interiors. They could define the scale and proportions of an interior. Here are a few ways you could use patterns to make your interiors more visually dynamic.

                Wallpapers: Think Damask, digitally printed or even mass produced.
                - Upholstery: Chintz furniture is a great vintage addition even in modern interiors.
                - Perforated Screens: Trendy and stylish these could be used as half-walls.
                - Decoration: Wall hangings or artwork is a good way to incorporate patterns in interiors.
                - Floor Tiles: These are a great but subtle way to add a little dynamic to the space.


                  These 6 design principles, when used in tandem, could definitely articulate your aesthetic in the best possible way – even if you’re a rookie or an amateur

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