Friday, February 8, 2008

Design Process: Elements of Design

An understanding of basic design elements and principles will help you start the design process. Although the concepts may seem abstract, they need to be considered and applied as you develop your own style.

Elements of Design

Color may be foremost among the design elements, but space, line, texture and pattern are also critical to a decorating scheme. As you consider the many choices for furnishings, keep those elements in mind. A successful mix will help you achieve a balanced, beautiful room.


Walls enclose and define the space called a room. How space is perceived depends on the way color, line, texture and pattern are used on and inside the walls.

  • To make a small room seem larger, emphasize openings to let the eye travel to the space beyond. Use small- to medium-size textures and patterns on walls. Employ light, cool colors on walls and ceilings.
  • To make a large room seem smaller, use a contrasting color, texture or pattern to define or create distinct areas. Use dark, warm colors on walls and ceilings. Introduce rough textures such as combed plaster on walls to advance them visually.


The "lines" of a room refer to the room's shape or the dominant visual direction created by all the decorating elements. A room can incorporate many different lines – vertical, horizontal, diagonal, angular and curved. Directional patterns on wallcoverings, decorative moldings and window treatments can alter your perception of a room's size.


Rough plaster, velvet, the softness of drapery, and the sheen of marble or glossy paint are a few examples of texture. Patterns on fabric and special paint techniques, such as sponging, possess a visual texture. Whether tactile or visual, texture adds interest to a d├ęcor, and can make it feel warmer or cooler. Texture tends to fill space and can make a room seem smaller or cozier.


Pattern brings rhythm and vitality to a room, unifying colors and textures with design. Thinking about how patterns appear on walls and how they interact will make the job of choosing and combining patterns easier.

  • Naturalistic patterns are realistic renderings of natural forms, such as flowers. Stylized patterns simplify natural designs to capture their essence; the fleur-de-lis, a stylized iris, is an example. Geometric designs such as plaids and checks are nonrepresentational. Abstract patterns are loose, artistic interpretations of realistic or geometric designs.
  • The size of a design motif when seen in relation to other motifs is referred to as scale. Some small-scale patterns are so small that they read like a textured surface. To keep a room from appearing too small, choose a pattern with an open, airy background; your eye will look through the pattern and beyond, making the room seem more spacious. A generously proportioned room will support large, brightly colored motifs, even when they appear on dark backgrounds. Because they have the effect of drawing the walls closer, large patterns can consume space and create the impression that the room is smaller than it actually is.

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