Beginners Guide to Interior Design

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Imagine your new home filled with light and space, a spring morning and breakfast in the garden or by an open window. Cascading drapes and sheer fabric coupled with comfy sofas and elegant dining furniture embellish your new space.  Making this a reality unfortunately is not as easy as it seems and we often feel disappointed with our efforts.  Some of us are lucky to know instinctively what’s needed, possess creative and spatial awareness, although most of us need more help and advice.

In this article we look at key areas that will help you to define, plan and create your ultimate home.  Here you can read about the basic principles behind good interior design, with tips from designers and links to leading design resources. You can also read about individuals who have successfully decorated their homes talk about their triumphs and failures, and their suggestions on how to avoid their mistakes.

The topics covered in this article are:

  • Exploring your Inner Style and Defining your Expression
  • The Purpose of a room
  • Spatial awareness
  • Use of light
  • Effective use of colour and colour therapy
  • Use of shapes
  • Furnishings and fabrics
  • Wall Art
  • Buying accessories
  • Final touches

Exploring your Inner Style and Defining your Expression

Although synonymous with the fashion sector, “inner style” is fast becoming a mantra in home design. Exploring your inner style is about developing and trusting your creative instincts in defining your expression.

To define your style where better to begin than with the innovator and design guru, Terence Conran, whose contribution to design over four decades has defined the British home. His book “The Ultimate House Book: For Home Design in the Twenty-First Century” discusses in great detail everything you need to know from buying to building, improving to decorating, furnishing to fitting out. Combining inspiration with practical advice, and including in-depth case studies with hundreds of illustrated examples, this is the bible for modern living and design.

The Ideal Home Magazine provides the latest trends on how to decorate a room with colours and furniture. Reading design articles and reviewing pictures of designs will help you define your likes and dislikes. Develop and trust your instincts:

  • Read design articles for information and helpful tips
  • Gather visual reference material from design and home magazines
  • Visit fabric stores and familiarise yourself with different types of fabrics and colours
  • Visit showrooms/houses to pick up tips on the use of furniture, fabrics, accessories and colour
  • Visit shows specialising in design and the home
  • Visit outdoor spaces and look to nature for natural colours and shapes
  • Visit gardens to get a sense of size, shape and colour

The Purpose of a Room

Rooms should be used to their maximum potential. Thinking about a room’s purpose is an important aspect of design. A room often needs to be many things; a social area; a sanctuary; play area; a study and a place of rest. With budgetary constraints often a house is not big enough to accommodate a family or what is in the mind’s eye. However most rooms can have a dual purpose, for example:

  • A dining area can also double up as a study as it would have the least disruption.
  • A bedroom, if space permitting, can have an area with a small sofa, side table and table lamp for when you need to get away and relax.
  • A small desk can be placed in a child’s bedroom, where they can do their homework
  • You can create a play area in the dining room or lounge.
  • Use the bathroom, corridors and hallways for easy access storage

“Interiors by Design” by Ros Byam Shaw gives helpful hints on how to plan the rooms in your home. The case studies in this book give you the broad picture and cover the entire home, whatever its size.

Spatial Awareness

Spatial awareness is about understanding the dimensions of any given space, inside or outside. This size of the room determines the size of the furniture and where it should be placed.

A 16ft x 20ft room’s layout is determined first by function; where as a large room’s function is dictated by what you put in it.  So buy according to the scale of the room.

The scope for your expression is far greater in large rooms. Large rooms can take patterns and textures all at once. To avoid the “Christmas tree effect” work with the principle of shades and tones originating from the same colour palette.

Smaller rooms require greater consideration. Here are some tips to help maximise a small space:

  • Use variations of shades and tones from a preferred single colour
  • Add more texture than patterns
  • Avoid hanging light fixtures from the ceiling. Invest in good scone type light fixtures and fixtures close to the ceiling
  • Have a multiple of floor lamps directed to the ceiling for greater light and sense of height, especially at night
  • Use a light shade of colour on the ceiling and a slightly darker shade on the walls
  • Ensure that all the wood; skirting, window panes and frames, doors are the same colour as the walls to give it a sweeping feeling
  • Hang the curtains from the ceiling to the floor. Alternatively use blinds to maximise space. To soften the effect of blinds, drape curtains either side
  • Us a multiple of single seating arrangements, with one medium size sofa
  • Avoid centre tables. Place side tables strategically on the sides of any seating
  • Use mirrors to reflect light and space
  • Use slim vertical and horizontal photographs, paintings etc in the wall art to elongate the size of the wall

To give any room an open feeling, ensure that nothing is placed near the entrance or behind a door. The room must be comfortable and allow interaction and free movement.

Use of Light

The most important use of light is day light especially on a dull day to lift the spirit. Bring in natural light by keeping the window dressing to a minimum. To maximise light in any room and in particular dark rooms and corners ensure that you:

  • Use light shades in your fabrics and furniture
  • Use glass panels in the door to bring in more light
  • Use light colours such as sand or light gold on the floor to reflect light
  • Avoid solid furniture, give them legs and space for light to travel through

Create atmosphere by using ambient lighting; wall lights, lamps and even candles.  A multiple of lamps/lights can be used in a single room to change and control the atmosphere or purpose.  A room used for social settings should have lamps at varying heights. Faces lit from the waist and hip are far more attractive to those lit from the ceiling.

Caring for the environment and effective lighting can go hand in hand. Use energy saving lower wattage bulbs in all your lamps. The Energy Saving Trust has extensive suggestions on how to conserve energy and save money.

Effective Use of Colour and Colour Therapy

Using colour with a purpose for a particular room can bring instant results in defining its function.  Kevin McCloud’s “Choosing Colours: An Expert Choice of the Best Colours to Use in Your Home” is taken from a wide variety of sources. He introduces an eclectic approach to bringing in colour – historical, regional and cultural; colour palettes that are made up of a collection of 3-16 colour swatches, and demonstrates with photographs how those colours can be used in period or contemporary settings. A palette based on old Chinese silk, for example, is seen in a New York apartment, while the colours of eighteenth-century French porcelain are translated into contemporary country chintz.

“For my first home I was very specific and I knew what I wanted and that was the way it was going to be – so it took me a long time – the blue had to be a specific blue, the terracotta a particular shade”.

Colour is extremely subjective but effective use and combination of colours is needed to bring a room together. Many interior designers use the principles of colour therapy. Using bright colours as accents such as yellow evokes feelings of joy where orange stimulates the intellect. Green is a colour for relaxation and contemplation, red is passion and so on.

Anna Starmer’s “The Colour Scheme Source book: Learn How to Combine Colours to achieve the Look You Desire” is a helpful guide in avoiding expensive mistakes, demonstrating a calm and considered approach to colour and techniques.

“I wanted to maximise the light coming through my windows and getting good energy throughout the house with a lot of orange colour everywhere, in the flowers, paintings that I have and poster prints”.

Dulux provide an inspirational and entertaining way to discover your preferences by providing colour charts and graphic programmes where you can manipulate colours a wall against your choice of furniture. You can explore the site and save the colours and images that inspire you. Add them to your scrapbook to keep your favourites all in one place to help your colour scheme. Bring your ideas to life in real room sets by taking your favourite scrapbook colours and images to Mousepainter. Or start experimenting straight away with the starter pack of popular colours.

Use of Shapes

Objects and sculptural shapes in a room bring a tactile feeling and meaning to a space. Objects that capture the imagination induce an automatic response to touch, ensuring engagement and conversation. Vases and sculptures are particularly tactile and add a focal point to the room or a corner.

Because space is limited, it’s a good idea to keep to one to two shapes in a room. Circles and semi-circles in a room are conflicting for example, a round dining table accompanied by half-moon tables take up more space and are not pleasing to the eye. Contrasting the circular table with a square cabinet brings balance to the room. The shape and size of an object or a piece of furniture can help bring balance and aesthetics to a room. For example a long narrow furniture in a small room helps expand it.

Shapes generally play an important part in the decorating a home. Understanding how shapes work help when planning. For example the use of round shapes in a child’s room will be more welcoming for the child as studies show that children respond particularly well to round shapes. Adding softer shapes throughout the house in proportion to its size ensures balance, a sense of an open space, bringing a sense of calmness and serenity.

Furnishings and Fabrics

Furnishing and fabrics add softness and sensuality to a room. There are no hard and fast rules about which fabrics to use. Covers made out of wool, dense prints on a pair of curtains in a light and airy room brings drama. Often an eclectic approach brings an aesthetic and individuality to a space resulting in a very personal style. For example, staying within a colour range you can bring in prints from different parts of the world; Indian paisley and animal prints contrasting with traditional English patterns. Below are some suggestions on how to optimise the effect of furnishings and fabrics.

  • Choose a variety of sizes for cushions, use plain designs and as an accent a contrasting texture
  • Have both functional and decorative fabrics on furnishings and accessories, highlighting special areas such as a cabinet
  • Use washable fabrics, especially if it’s a busy household with children
  • Decide the style of the patterns, if stripes then stay with stripes and keep circles with circles
  • Use bold designs and colours as accents
  • Keep drapes to a neutral colour
  • Use patterns and bold colours for floor cushions
  • Use bright colours for dark corners
  • Use fabrics as wall art – these can be framed or hung in the style of a tapestry

Wall Art

Wall Art can be used in any space in the house from the lounge; dining area; hallways; kitchen; bathroom and bedrooms. The beauty of using wall art to enhance a living space is that it can be moved around the house. A bright painting hanging in the lounge may have done its work and can be moved around to the hall way to give you a different perspective.

Choose wall art according to who you are and what the room’s purpose is.  Art can be anything you want it to be; playful, mysterious, powerful and profound, art has the capacity to inspire, bring joy, arouse passions, tell stories, reveal hidden truths and bring deep insights.

Abstract Art particularly is considered to have a high trigger for visual sensation. Work by artist like Jason Pollock or Mondrian has encouraged responses like experiencing a sharp taste or fragrance.

Many designers use the size of the pictures to enhance the space of a room. For example:

  • Long slim vertical frames push the ceiling up
  • Long slim horizontal frames push the walls out, giving the wall greater length
  • 3 or 4 frames should be hung equal distance, measured from the centre of the room
  • A small wall should have one large frame or a series of small frames

“I like to have flowers and pictures. We have an image of the Great Wall of China, its one of the places we want to visit. We have scenes of a sunset on a beach, calming pictures. I wish there were more.”

Buying Accessories

Buying accessories can be an activity over a period of time, bringing in items which are both pleasurable and functional. They can be a bold or a subtle part of the personality of the house. Tableware, ceramics, dry flowers, plants, if placed strategically and with purpose can enhance the ambience of a room.

  • Place bright cushions on a plain sofa
  • Use glass, functional and ornamental objects such as fruit bowls to add light
  • Use vases for dry flower displays
  • Use sculptural pieces to add interest and art into the room
  • Material such as metal and wood give a tactile feel

“I’ve always wanted my home to be my sanctuary, a space which has a profound and truly healing effect on the way I feel and behave.”

Final Touches

What are final touches? And are they necessary? Without that final touch, a room and your vision is incomplete. Placing paintings, ceramics, photographic prints, glass ware, fabrics in accordance with the theme of a room or the house ensures continuity in style and colour scheme:

  • Group the set of cushions together
  • Complete the window dressing
  • Finalising and displaying the wall art securely and attractively
  • Place objects such as vases, glass ware, sculptures strategically in an aesthetically pleasing fashion
  • Display photographs of loved ones or of an artistic nature to their full potential
  • Add fragrance to the home

The final touch is considered a point of completion or a full stop in bringing the mood and essence of the home to fruition.    

Source: Beginners Guide to Interior Design

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Author: Amy Luebbert

Amy is an Interior designer. She has a spare, modern aesthetic with a warm soul. Her interiors showcase signature designs that are sophisticated, elegant and functional.

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