The 7 Basics of Interior Design – Explained!

When you hear the words interior design, do your eyes glaze over? Does your mind fill with scenes of flamboyant artsy types gasping over fabrics? Well it doesn’t have to be that way. You might be surprised to hear that the basics of interior design are actually based on some really simple scientific fundamentals. Think of it as a set of rules dealing with the way our minds perceive the space in a room. Still with me ? Then read on.

You might not think of yourself as knowing anything about interior design – let alone the basics – but when you walk into a nice room, you feel it, don’t you? It’s not necessarily that everything is super expensive or glamorous, more that everything fits together nicely. A professional interior designer has a list of things that they look for to help achieve that effect. In any given room, those things can be balanced against one another to enhance the features and disguise the flaws. Here at Wonderlux, we’ve broken them down into 7 key interior design basics, so you can finally get your head around it. 

1. Space

Space is the length, width, and height of a room. It can be split into two categories: positive and negative. Positive space is the space that contains objects – furniture, or your dog – while negative space is the open and empty stuff in between. It’s important to find a happy medium between the two. Too much positive space and a room looks cluttered, too much negative and it looks bare. 

The balance depends on the function of the room. If people are going to be walking through constantly, you need negative space. It also depends on what you want for it. Some enjoy a more minimal design, with sparse furniture, others want the opposite.  But at least now you know what people are talking about when they refer to the ‘negative space’ in a room!

2. Line

You’ve got three types of line in a room. The first two, horizontal and vertical, you’ve probably heard of. The third type – dynamic – refers to diagonal, zigzag, or curved lines. Lines help to give your eye perspective, guiding you towards a particular spot and making use of the natural structural design of the room to provide a sense of harmony or contrast, but we’ll get to that later. 

Generally, the horizontal lines of a table or desk are more stable and efficient. It’s why a classroom full of desks looks so formal. Vertical lines, on the other hand, are more freeing, like a window or doorway. Dynamic lines are more energetic, and like their name suggests, they’re all about movement. The key is to strike a balance with your lines so that the perspective of the room isn’t distracting. It helps to select a dominant line to help convey a specific feeling within a space.

3. Form

Form – it sounds vaguer and more abstract than it is. Basically, form is the shape of a room and the objects within it. Anything physical is form, and there are a few different variations of it. Forms can be geometric, meaning hard lines and sharp edges, which gives a more artificial look. They can also be natural: think plants, or any other organic shape which isn’t as harsh. As with many interior design concepts, these things tend to come in pairs. So, forms can also be open – meaning you can look into them – or closed.

The point of all this is to be mindful of the proportions and scale of the room when you’re placing objects within it. Too many different sorts of shapes and a room is going to look confused and off-balance. But if you can find a way of adding forms with similar shapes, or even balancing contrasts against one another, a space will become more visually pleasing. For example, a long dining room table placed in a rectangular room looks great, but it looks even better when the light fixtures above the table are rounded.

4. Light

As you probably would have guessed, light is an important part of any space, so we couldn’t leave it off a list of interior design basics. It doesn’t matter whether it’s natural or man-made – without it, none of the other elements of a room can be appreciated to the fullest. Plus, light is important to our wellbeing. No one wants to live in a cave!

Light is split into three categories. You’ve got task lighting, like a desk lamp, which serves a specific purpose. Accent lighting is a more bit showy and aims to emphasise an object that you want to draw attention to. Then there’s mood lighting, which gives a room its ambience – the old lava lamp in the back of your cupboard doesn’t count!

Light is interesting because it’s about combining form and function. You’ve got to think about the kind of activities you will be undertaking in a given space. Sure, an office requires bright lighting so that its workers can stay alert and do their jobs, but apply that same lighting to your dining room and it’s going to look like an operating theatre. This gives you a licence to be a bit creative. Think about how light enters your home, whether through windows or doors, and how you can manipulate it. Hot tip: a mirror is a great way to reflect light back into a room and open it up.

5. Colour

This is a fun one. In fact, colour probably deserves its own article, that’s how interesting and important it is to interior design. It’s a real jack of all trades – it can give a room a certain mood, make it feel bigger or smaller, and tie its furnishings and elements together. Colour is all about psychology. Certain colours evoke memories or emotions, triggering a physical response in the body. It’s why bedrooms often feature calming pastel greys and blues, while a dining room or kitchen might be a bit warmer – think deep red or orange – to stimulate the appetite. 

Like lighting, when it comes to colour it pays to think about what you plan to use a room for, and how big the room is. A smaller space can be made to look larger with light, bright colours, for example. It’s also important to consider the way the colours you choose will look across a full day/night cycle, because changes in lighting can affect the way we perceive colour. 

Also, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Picking a colour scheme is a balance of selecting colours that will age well, but also letting your personality shine through. Bold colours can accent a space and give it character.

6. Texture

Whether it’s food or fabric, texture is all about the something feels. Glossy, fluffy, coarse…you get the idea. It’s a smaller element of design so it often gets overlooked, but can really give a room a unique dimension when used to full affect. The idea is that a textured pillow or throw blanket is great to look at, but can also be appreciated physically through touch.

Texture is something to layer over the top of your colour and lighting choices. It might sound a bit out there, but mixing in a blend of textures can give a room a sense of depth by adding detail and visual interest. 

7. Pattern

Patterns can be so much more than the ugly design on your grandmother’s drapes. They’re another element to build into your colour and texture choices and help to add to a room’s appeal. Wallpapers, rugs, materials, or even soft furnishings such as chair coverings can benefit from a patterned design, and they come in a range of varieties including striped, geometric, and pictorial. 

Remember what we learned about lines and how they draw the eye to certain spots to influence the way we perceive space? When picking a pattern, it can help to tie your decision into that. You don’t want a big abstract feature wall in a small room, because it’s going to overwhelm the space. But in a contemporary living room, a floral print can have a really great effect. Think of it as an opportunity to experiment – just make sure you’re 100% comfortable in your decision before splashing out on that zebra print rug. 

That’s it! Well done on getting grips with 7 interior design basics. For more tips and design savvy, head on over to Wonderlux or our friends at Canberra Design Co. to learn more. 

The 7 Basics of Interior Design – Explained!
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