Welcome to Interior Design & You, a virtual design seminar led by Alessandra Wood, Modsy’s VP of Style. In this series, you’ll learn some of the basics of interior design, as well as how to personalize your own home. Watch session one, Unboxing Your Interior Design Toolkit, below—or scroll through the post for a recap!

Today, we’re digging into some interior design basics, which are some of the key things that interior designers think about when they’re designing a space. These five basic elements—color, pattern, scale and proportion, materials, and texture—are what designers use to create amazing spaces.

These interior design basics create something of a toolkit that gives you everything you need to think about your space in the way an interior designer does. And, armed with some knowledge about these interior design principles, hopefully, you’ll have a better understanding of the basics of interior design! So, let’s get to it and unbox your design toolkit!

Interior design basics

Color

Color is one of the greatest ways to make an impact in your space. But deciding what colors to use can be a really tricky process! We’re all drawn to certain colors, and different colors may create different feelings within you. So, when thinking through how to decorate a room and what colors to include, there are a couple questions you can ask yourself, like how you’ll be using your space, what colors you’re naturally drawn to, and how you can align your color palette with your needs for the space—on a practical level, but also a mental and emotional level. Thinking about this can help guide your basic color choices.

3 Different Ways to Think About Color

From there, you’ll want to think about the amount of color you want in a space. Ask yourself about the amount and intensity of color you want in your space. The three levels of color we tend to think about are neutrals, pops of color, and bold use of color. A neutral space will, like it sounds, use mostly neutral. In a room with pops of color, you’ll choose one or two colors, and “pop” them in small ways through decorative accents and art, or in bigger ways through a larger piece of furniture or accent wall.

Creating a Color Palette

After deciding if you want your space to be neutral, bold, or simply have pops of color, you can create an overall color palette for your space. A simple, foolproof way to choose a color palette that works is to look at a color wheel and choose complementary colors (colors on the opposite sides of the color wheel. But, if you want a more bold look, you could also go for a monochromatic palette, which uses multiple shades of one hue in a space. So, while technically the whole room relies on a single color, using different shades gives it visual depth.

You can also think about color intensity and the color families that go together. On the softer end of the spectrum are pastels. You then move into primary and earth tones. And on the more highly saturated end of the color spectrum are jewel tones.

Need some extra help with colors? Check out our guide to decorating with jewel tones, designer tips for decorating with white, our designers’ favorite neutral paint colors, and some foolproof color schemes for blue rooms.

Interior design basics

Pattern

Pattern is definitely related to color, but in interior design, it’s a category all its own. Patterns often use a broad mix of colors and they’re a way to bring a lot of personality into your space. And the surfaces on which you can use patterns really are endless.

Where and How to Incorporate Pattern

Interior design basics

“Safe” Use of Pattern

If you’re someone who likes to use patterns but doesn’t want anything too bold, you can introduce patterns into your space in a way that feels more subtle and soft. We call this a “safe” use of patterns. Often, this looks like incorporating patterns in smaller moments around your space—in textiles like pillows, throws, rugs, and drapery; in decorative accessories and wall art; and sometimes even accent furniture like a chair or ottoman. This is a great way to introduce depth and pops of excitement to your space without feeling like you’re going overboard.

Interior design basics

Bold Use of Pattern

If you’re bold at heart and love to make a big statement, you might want to try a bold use of pattern. This means incorporating patterns in larger furniture like sofas, in wallpaper, through flooring. To go really bold, you can also layer patterns and mix patterns on your walls and furniture, in addition to decorative accents, textiles, and artwork!

Interior design basics

How to Mix Patterns

If you’re wondering how to mix patterns, you’ll want to think about scale, color, and style. A great way to think about this on a small scale is through the arrangement of throw pillows on a sofa. Think about it: you want them to coordinate without completely matching. To pull off pattern mixing, you’ll want to first land on a color palette, which will create a through-line for all the patterns. And you’ll definitely want to anchor your patterns with some solid colors to help ground the look. From there, play with scale by mixing larger and smaller prints together.

Interior design basics

Scale & Proportion

Scale and proportion are all about how pieces physically fit in a space and how those pieces relate to each other; together, they help create a sense of symmetry and visual balance in a room. Technically, scale and proportion are different things—but colloquially these terms are often used interchangeably. Scale most often refers to the size of a piece within a specific space and its architecture, whereas proportion is often used when describing the size and shape of one object in relation to another in the space. But, for our purposes today, we’ll just use the two terms interchangeably.

Below are some different ways and times to think about scale and proportion within a space.

Interior design basics

Scale Within a Space: Footprint

Think about scale within your space when you’re thinking about the footprint—so, the actual size of the space. This is a determining factor in how you design the floor plan and what pieces of furniture you pick out. Here’s how this works: Larger spaces can handle larger pieces of furniture and more zoned floor plans, while smaller spaces should have smaller pieces. Scale is the reason why you don’t want to cram a huge sofa in a small living room or an apartment-sized sofa in a large or long living room. This might seem obvious, but it’s important to think through. How do your pieces fit within the footprint of the space? You want to pick out pieces that will create balance and make the room feel thoughtfully full, but not too full.

Scale Within a Space: Decorative Accents

You can also think about scale within a space in how you use decorative accents. This gets into the idea of how a piece is used in relation to other pieces within a space, and how they create balance.

Rugs are a great example of this. This is a place where a lot of people get it wrong. Rugs not only have to fit with the scale of a room but also with the furniture that it’s arranged with. This makes it more of a challenge! So, you want to make sure your rug is the right scale for both your room and furniture. If this idea feels overwhelming, check out our guide on how to find the right rug size for your living space and our bedroom rug size guide. Layering rugs is another great way to visually play with scale if you’ve discovered your current rug is too small but you don’t want to get rid of it!

Accent tables and lamps are another realm where scale and proportion can feel challenging—whether that’s a floor lamp or accent table in relation to a chair or sofa, or even a table lamp in relation to the accent table it sits upon. You can dig deeper into this topic with our guide to scale and proportion!

Interior design basics

Materials

When designing a room, a designer always considers a mix of materials. This is an easier concept to grasp, as it refers to what each piece in a room is made of. Look around your space. You’re probably surrounded by quite a mix of materials! Maybe wood, leather, textiles like wool or cashmere, fur, metal. Each material in a room brings in different colors, textures, and reflects light differently, which creates visual drama and intrigue to your space.

A room with only one material would feel pretty flat. It may even begin to feel institutional, evoking visions of white padded rooms. And no one wants that in their home! When you have a room that’s layered with a lot of different materials, you have a lot of different ways that light is playing with and interacting with a space, which creates a lot more visual interest.

Interior design basics

Texture

A close cousin of materials is texture. Texture is the tactile feeling of all those materials in a space. It’s really reactive to how light reflects and streams through your space. Mixing materials is the key to creating a space with layers of texture. Bringing in multiple textures and layering within your space keeps it from feeling one-note and creates depth and warmth.

Some simple ways to incorporate texture into your space are through layering materials like weathered wood, lacquer, marble, and metals; upholstery like wool, velvet, cotton, and linen; or woven natural materials like jute, rattan, or seagrass. You can have natural or manmade materials. But all of these different materials, when combined, create different touchpoints in the space that reflect light differently and keep your room feeling dynamic.

And there you have it! These interior design basics have hopefully given you a starting point to think about how your space works together and can transform into something really special! We know all this can feel a little daunting to get right. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to figure this all out on your own. With Modsy’s online interior design services, you can work with an expert designer to figure out everything from your floor plan and color scheme to designing the space with furniture and decor.

And if you’re feeling energized and want to dig a little deeper into the world of interior design, learn more with our interior design 101 guides, discover how to decorate a room in 10 easy steps, and get inspired with some interior design ideas! And don’t forget to check out session 2 and session 3 of Interior Design & You!

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