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Interior design basics

Interior Design & You: Unboxing Your Interior Design Tool Kit

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!

Watch Session 1

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!

Want help from an expert designer for your space?

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the render podcast

(Episode 4) The Render Visual Companion: Where Do Interior Design Trends Come From and Why Do They Die?

Welcome to the visual companion to the fourth episode of The Render. The Render is a podcast hosted by Modsy’s very own Alessandra Wood and Maddy Warner, and is all about the untold stories from the world of interior design.

In our fourth episode, Maddy and Alessandra are joined by special guest, Danielle Walish, the creative director of The Inside. Together we dive into the world of interior design trends and discuss what trends are, where they come from, and why they eventually die.

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The Render is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts!

the render podcast

Ever wondered where your favorite (or least favorite) trends got their start? Or what’s happened to them since their fall from popularity? Then you’ll want to tune in to our fourth episode of The Render, which is all about iconic interior design trends, where they come from, and why they die.

We’ll be giving you the inside scoop on why avocado kitchens were big in the 70s, what was up with the granite countertop craze of the 90s, and our take on the edison bulb/mason jar everything trend of the 2000s.

We’re excited to be joined by an awesome guest, Danielle Walish, the creative director of furniture company The Inside. She gives us her take on the all-time best and worst interior design trends and dishes her tips on how to spot the next big trend. Then we’ll finish with a fun game of Love It or Leave It, trend edition.

A Brief History of Interior Design Trends

Rococo Interior Design StyleFrench Rococo Style

The 18th century is when interior design trends first emerged on a larger scale, with the birth of French Rococo style. Prior to that, interior design was much more focused on the architecture of a space, if it was considered at all—but with Rococo design emerged a celebration of lavish handmade designs that transcended a home’s architecture.

Rococo style has all the opulence of the Baroque period before it, but it has a much more lighthearted and airy aesthetic. It relied on light pastels and whites, as well as gold, silver, and marble, to create an ornate look. And this wasn’t just in the furniture and architecture, but showed up in places like silverware, paintings, and decor as well. (Not to mention in fashion.) The trend spread like wildfire throughout aristocratic circles in France and reached its height of popularity in the time of Marie Antoinette.

Top-Down vs. Grassroots Trends

There are two primary ways trends show up in culture, from fashion and interior design to music and art: top-down and grassroots. Top-down trends come, as they sound, from the top. In interior design, that’s the elite tastemakers, professional designers, industry experts, and those who are manufacturing and designing the goods we’re purchasing. Grassroots trends, on the other hand, come from the people and make their way up the trend ladder, becoming popular cultural moments.

The Devil Wears Prada Cerulean Belt

Who can forget this moment in The Devil Wears Prada, where Miranda Priestly berates Andy Sachs for her cerulean blue bargain bin sweater—a color which originated in high-end fashion houses. (The direct result of a top-down trend.)

 

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Influencer Trends

If you’ve ever lusted over a “War Is Over” print, you’ve dabbled in a grassroots trend. Today’s grassroots trends tend to come more from influences. While they’re certainly tastemakers of some sort, they’re much more “regular” people than the industry elite who are creating trends, being more removed from the industry in which they’re creating these trends.

Millennial Style

A great example of a grassroots trend in interior design? The ubiquitous “Millennial Style.” It grew more out of social media than Architectural Digest, and has now become the style you see in every trendy home goods store. Can’t you just picture it?

“A basketlike lamp hangs overhead; other lamps, globes of brass and glass, glow nearby. Before you is a couch, neatly tufted and boxy, padded with an assortment of pillows in muted geometric designs. Circles of faded terra-cotta and pale yellow; mint-green and mustard confetti; white, with black half-circles and two little dots — aha. Those are boobs. You look down. Upon the terrazzo nougat of the coffee table, a glass tray trimmed in brass. It holds a succulent in a lumpy ceramic pot, a scented candle with a matte-pink label. A fiddle-leaf fig somewhere looms. Above a bookshelf (spines organized by color), a poster advises you to WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE.” –Will the millennial aesthetic ever end?

3 Iconic Interior Design Trends From History

Avocado Green | Green appliances, 1970s, Vintage house

Avocado Kitchen Trend

Remember the avocado green kitchen your grandmother had when you were growing up? Or perhaps hers was a rusty brown or a burnt orange. In the 1970s, avocado green kitchens became all the rage.

With the early 1970s came a newfound interest in the earth. We had just put a man on the moon a few years prior and gotten our first space-eye view of our humble earth. There became a growing interest in being outdoors, in being environmentally conscious, in learning about nature.

So, interior palettes began taking on earth tones—not just avocado greens, but burnt oranges, earthy yellows, and browns. And hey, if you can have an avocado green fridge, why not go for it? (Rumor has it that this trend may actually be coming back around.)

The Last Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools: Stewart Brand ...

Whole Earth Catalog

Stainless Steel + Subway Tile

Today, it may feel like the only real choice for a kitchen is white cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and a white subway tile backsplash. (This is what we call a trend, my friend.)

Everything You Need to Know About Buying Antique Appliances ...

1950s Colorful Kitchens

Post WWII kitchens were also colorful, but with a more playful and youthful palette. Think: pinks, jade greens, sunshine yellows. It’s like the sun finally came out after a long winter and people were ready to play.

Sample chip of vintage formica laminate design #6959-58, Aqua ...

Raymond Loewy Boomerang Design

Think the boomerang design trend will ever come back around?

I don’t really care about what they say / I’mma come back like a boomerang

Kitchen Debate - WikipediaThe Kitchen Debate

Colorful kitchens aren’t all fun and games though—they’re actually a symbol of American freedom. Case in point: During the Cold War, then-Vice President Nixon had a conversation with Russia’s Khrushchev, where Nixon was arguing that the choices Americans have in the color of their appliances is a direct illustration of the freedoms we have in America—versus in Russia, where, at the time, everyone got the same government-issued refrigerator.

Granite Countertops in Garfield, New Jersey | Flemington GraniteGranite Countertop Trend

In the late 90s and early 2000s, suddenly every kitchen redesign included granite countertops. For a while it was seen as a high-end luxury—but soon they were in nearly every modern kitchen in America. But how did this trend start?

A classic top-down trend, granite countertops came onto the scene in the mid-1980s and was seen as a highly luxurious material. It had to be imported, and then fabricated into a countertop—making it both super expensive and a sign of the elite. It began gracing the kitchen being featured in high-profile design magazines and became this aspirational ideal.

Then, in the 90s, the supply chain for granite suddenly improved, and turning granite into countertops became much less expensive. So, more and more sources began producing granite. With that, it became the material of choice for real estate developers building homes with a sense of luxury—and soon a granite countertop made its way onto nearly everyone’s “must-have” list when house-hunting.

But, now that it’s seen as an “accessible luxury,” granite countertops have all but lost their mass appeal. And so the trend cycle moves ever forward.

 

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Edison Bulb and Mason Jar Everything Trend

Around the time that Pinterest came onto the scene, so did the advent of replacing a regular ol’ lightbulb with Edison bulbs. America was in the throes of The Great Recession, and people were looking back to simpler times. So, on to the scene came the Edison bulb and mason jar everything craze. People used them for canning and pickling, yes. But also as DIY wedding reception centerpieces, vases, drinking glasses, soap dispensers—and the list goes on. Thus evolved the Pinterest-hipster aesthetic, which also involved an endless supply of bearded men.

There’s a sense of nostalgia that comes with Edison bulbs and mason jars (perhaps less so the bearded men). It’s a nod to the perceived cozy comforts of “the good old days.” And, since the rapid rise of social media now allowed the mass sharing of images, soon everyone picked up on this trend which has now become known as the Brooklyn Aesthetic.

Though this trend never truly died, it did dissipate a bit. But in these uncertain times, we wouldn’t be surprised if there was a second wave of this trend. At least now they’re making energy-efficient Edison bulbs!

The “HEMLINE INDEX” | The Leading Business Education Network for ...

Hemline Theory

There’s this idea called the Hemline Theory in fashion, which essentially says that you can tell how well the economy is doing by the length of hemlines in women’s dresses and skirts. Think of it: in the 1920s, dresses and skirts were shorter than ever before. People were living fast and loose, having fun and taking risks. Then the stock market crashed, and all of a sudden hemlines got longer and more demure and conservative.

There’s a sense of that showing up in interior design as well, where people gravitate toward more traditional styles in times of uncertainty. Traditional design is certainly on the rise right now.

 

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Mario Buatta, AKA “The Prince of Chintz”

Mario Buatta, a renowned designer in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, became known as “the Prince of Chintz” for his love of florals and English country style. His maximalist British aesthetic is experiencing somewhat of a comeback with the advent of “grandmillenial” style.

Americana designGranmillenial Style

Grand Millennial (or “granny chic”) style leans traditional—with a tendency toward floral patterns and ruffles, and an appreciation for heritage and vintage influenced styles. It stands in stark contrast with mid-century modern or even the farmhouse aesthetic. It’s cozy and personalized, and it’s definitely a trend on the rise.

British Maximalism

This desire for cozy comforts is also why British maximalism is becoming the new interior design darling. The layering of patterns and materials brings a sense of comfort and creates really joyful interiors. The British impulse of decorating really seems to be about joy and comfort and the sense of celebrating something being quaint and cute.

2020 Trends: What’s Next In the Interior Design Trends

Where does the Mid-Century Modern trend go from here?

All this doesn’t mean the Mid-Century Modern trend is going away. In fact, MCM is almost at a point where it’s been immortalized. It’s a style that always feels fresh and relevant. But, the way it comes to life will probably be mid-century with a more collected, eclectic approach.

Case study conservation on the Eames' Case Study House - Los ...Eames House in Pacific Palisades

The Eames House in Pacific Palisades is a perfect example of this. It has a timeless mid-century style that continues to feel fresh, decades later.

Our Blogs | Eames Foundation

The Eames’ Tumbleweed

Danielle’s Tips for Identifying New Trends

When it comes to trend forecasting, Danielle recommends staying inspired and being in touch with your own sense of what feels fresh. She says that, when you look at the same type of imagery and the same type of interiors over and over again, it becomes difficult to know when something feels fresh and truly relevant. So, you have to get out of the Instagram algorithm—because that will only continue to show us the same type of thing over and over again.

Danielle says it’s also important to have an interdisciplinary approach to thinking about what’s relevant and what’s a growing trend. So, look at fashion, music, food, even the auto industry. (They’re always on the cutting edge of trendy colors!) If you’re in a big city, walk the streets and start noticing the colors you’re seeing in clothes, signage and cars. But really, what it comes down to is staying curious.

The “Trend” of Fast Furniture

The fashion world is moving away from fast fashion and toward a more slow fashion approach. And that idea of sustainability and made-to-order products versus having a warehouse of inventory is a direction that the furniture industry is moving as well.

3D technology is allowing companies to disrupt their supply chains and show their products in different colors and fabrics without actually producing those products. With that, some companies are opting to not even produce a product until an order has been placed. Danielle thinks that that sort of made-on-demand supply chain is going to start to get adopted by a lot of bigger retailers.

How to Balance Trends and Personal Style?

Trends are fun. But most of us don’t have the luxury of switching up our home’s design with every new trend. So, how do you balance trends and personal style? Danielle says, if a specific trend is bringing you joy, why not dabble in it? Make sure your big furniture pieces are reflective of your overall style—but then incorporate trendy pieces in your accent decor and even light fixtures, which can really change the overall vibe of a room.

And if it’s a trendy color you love? Don’t be afraid to paint your walls! This is a great way to infuse a trend into your space.

With that, don’t be afraid to let your style evolve over time. You don’t have to love the same things today that you did when you were 20. We’re all ever-evolving and growing and changing—and that means your preferred style, too!

Love It or Leave It: Trend Edition

At the end of the episode, Maddy took Danielle and Alessandra through some iconic trends and asked if they loved the trend or would prefer never to see it again. You’ll have to listen to the episode to hear what they said—but here’s the trends we touched on.

How to Sponge Paint a Wall

Sponge Painted Walls

Forget rollers! In the 90s, we painted our walls with sponges. It created a textured, layered look that our 90s selves couldn’t get enough of.

mint blue and white chevron accent wall in a home office

Chevron

For years, we saw Chevron patterns on everything, from rugs and mugs to notebooks, dresses, and about any other surface you could add a pattern to. Some called it a trend, others argued it’s a timeless pattern.

How Terrazzo Moved Out From Under Our Feet to Absolutely ...

Terrazzo

Terrazzo is a type of tile that consists of chips of marble, quartz, granite, or glass, held together by a binding. It creates a lovely mosaic vibe. But, more recently, terrazzo patterns have been, like chevron, co-opted by the masses and applied to the likes of bedding, lamps, and art prints.

 

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Shiplap

Joanna Gaines may have made us all love shiplap in the last several years, but it’s a wall treatment that’s long been used in coastal homes to give a space that seaside vibe.

 

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Glass Block Walls

Need a wall but want to still let natural light in? Enter Glass Block walls. They had a major moment in the 80s, and some people are still installing them today for their light-filtering-but-not-translucent properties.

 

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Houseplants

Sure, houseplants have always been around, so can you really call this at trend? We’d argue, yes. In the last decade, bloggers and influencers have started filling their homes with fiddle leaf figs and succulents galore, and suddenly houseplants went from being a dusty dinosaur that was always in the corner of your grandma’s living room to a major decorative choice.

So, what are your thoughts with these trends? Love them or leave them?

Thanks again to Danielle for joining us!

Danielle Walish is the Creative Director and Co-Founder of The Inside, a digitally native home furnishings brand that’s making furniture fun, with access to more design for more value. She holds her MA in design history from Parsons, The New School for Design and has taught courses on the history of Main Street, rebranding post-war Italy, and the history of objects. She is an interior designer by trade, and prior to The Inside, Danielle co-owned an interior designer studio whose work has been published in Architectural Digest, Vogue, Refinery29, and Southern Living. Danielle truly believes in the power of design as an agent for change and the joy of decorating. Her personal mission is to help leave the world more beautiful than she found it.