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Principles of Interior Design
 by: Kathy Iven

Whether you are working with existing furnishings and fabrics or “starting from scratch” with an empty room, you should always use the elements and principles of design as a guide in choosing everything. The elements are your tools or raw materials, much like paints are the basics to a painter. The elements of design include space, line, form, color, and texture. The principles of design relate to how you use these elements. The principles of design are balance, emphasis, rhythm, proportion and scale, and harmony and unity.

Principle #1: Balance

Visual equilibrium in a room is called balance. It gives a sense of repose and a feeling of completion. A well-balanced room gives careful consideration to the placement of objects according to their visual weight. The elements of line, form, color and texture all help determine an object’s visual weight, which is the amount of space it appears to occupy. Balance also refers to how and where you place the elements (line, form, color and texture) within a room. To maintain balance, try to distribute the elements throughout the room.

• Formal balance, often referred to as symmetrical balance, creates a mirror image effect.

• Informal balance uses different objects of the same visual weight to create equilibrium in a room. It is more subtle and spontaneous and gives a warmer, more casual feeling.

Principle #2: Emphasis

Emphasis is the focal point of the room. The focal point should be obvious as you enter the room; it is the area to which your eye is attracted. Whatever is featured, as the center of interest –a fireplace, artwork or a window treatment framing a beautiful view – must be sufficiently emphasized so that everything else leads the eye toward the featured area. You can add emphasis to a natural focal point or create one in a room through effective use of line, form, color and texture.

Principle #3: Rhythm

Rhythm supplies the discipline that controls the eye as is moves around a room. Rhythm helps the eye to move easily from one object to another and creates a harmony that tells the eye everything in the room belongs to a unified whole. Rhythm is created through repetition of line, form, color or texture. It can also be created through progression. Progressive rhythm is a gradual increasing or decreasing in size, direction or color.

Principle #4: Proportion and Scale

Size relationships in a room are defined by proportion and scale. Proportion refers to how the elements within an object relate to the object as a whole. Scale relates to the size of an object when compared with the size of the space in which it is located.

Principle #5: Harmony and Unity

A well-designed room is a unified whole that encompasses all the other elements and principles of design. Unity assures a sense of order. There is a consistency of sizes and shapes, a harmony of color and pattern. The ultimate goal of decorating is to create a room with unity and harmony and a sense of rhythm. Repeating the elements, balancing them throughout the room, and then adding a little variety so that the room has its own sense of personality accomplishes this. Too much unity can be boring; too much variety can cause a restless feeling. Juggling the elements and principles to get just the right mix is a key to good design.

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