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Shiree Hanson Segerstrom Design and Wellness for Women with Arthritis and Other Chronic Pain.

Part II: The Elements and Principles of Interior Design, The Principles

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According to college design textbook “Inside Today’s Home” by LuAnn Nissen, the elements of design are space, form, line, texture, light and color while the principles of design are balance (symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial), rhythm (repetition, progression, transition and contrast), emphasis, scale/proportion and harmony (unity and variety). These terms provide designers with a vocabulary for various elements of design, as well as an explanation as to how and why the elements work together.
My last blog post covered the elements. This week’s column explains how the principles work. If the elements are the tools or “raw ingredients” of interior design, the principles are the recipe. Balance, rhythm, harmony…in design these terms explain how various visual components relate to one another and why we find them appealing.
Balance (symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial) refers to the equal distribution of weight, size or bulk of an object or space on an axis in an aesthetically pleasing composition. Symmetrical balance, also known as formal or passive balance, happens when one side of something is the exact same as the other half: a mirror image.  This type of balance can be seen in a pair of scones flanking a painting above a fireplace; two candlesticks flanking a centerpiece on a dining room table; or two exterior light fixtures flanking a front door. It is helpful to use this type of balance when placing importance on an object, such as the painting or the front door.


Asymmetrical balance, also referred to as informal or active balance, is differing objects arranged along an axis, equal distance apart but of equal weight or bulk. It’s used in casual design and is generally more complex than symmetrical balance. Rather than having identical objects on an axis, this type of balance relies on mismatched items with equal scale or perceived weight. Asymmetrical balance can be seen in arrangements of framed prints or photography on a wall; and in the floor plans of a ranch style residence.
Radial balance is identical or differing objects placed in a circular fashion. It can be seen in modern residential spaces, museums and commercial buildings. Radial balance is chairs around a table in the middle of a room; a crystal chandelier; or the structure of a circular rotunda. It directs your attention to the center of the space or object. It is the least used type of balance. If done right, a space with any of these types of balance will calm you while spaces without balance can make you feel unexplainably uncomfortable.



Rhythm (repetition, progression, transition, contrast) is a principle that suggests movement so it often refers to the transition of patterns (as in fabric and wallpaper) and the flow of rooms in the confines of one home.

Repetition is the simplest way to create rhythm and is done by repeating any of the elements listed above (line, color, pattern, etc.) in a consistent way. It can be found throughout the home in lighting, window and drapery hardware styles among other furnishings. If repetition is too simple it can be monotonous but without it, it lacks unity and leads to confusion.
above HABITUALLYCHIC.blogspot
Progression is creating rhythm through gradual yet regular changes of size or color. It’s easiest to see in items like modern paintings, textiles or pottery where one color or texture gradually bleeds into another. It can also be seen in some grand architectural styles.
above, the late JOE NYE
Transition in rhythm “gently” leads the eye in a continuous, uninterrupted way from one area to another.  Curved lines, rather than turned angles typify “transition”. The Art Nouveau style of architecture and furniture is a good example of the use of transition, with its gently curved, “organic” forms. A round table or the arch of a door are also examples.


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Contrast is a type of rhythm in which shapes, styles or colors are placed in purposeful opposition of one another to create excitement and visual interest. Squares next to rounds, red with green, old with new. It’s an exciting design concept but to be effective and pleasing to the eye, it requires knowledge and restraint. 
Emphasis is used as a way to call attention to a preferred focal point or as a way to “anchor” a space. It can be used to describe dominance and subordination in a room or home. It has to do with focal points, and places for the eye to “rest”. Color and scale are two great ways to create emphasis. Without emphasis, homes would be monotonous and without subordination they would be busy and obnoxious. Objects need to work together in a home to flatter, not overpower one another.

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Scale refers to the proportions between two or more objects. These terms can sometimes be used interchangeably. The scale of our homes and furnishings are particularly important for instance, the seat of a chair and the counters in a kitchen or bathroom must be within the human scale to be convenient. Tiny furnishings would look and feel ridiculous in a large space with towering ceilings. Conversely speaking, a small home would be unattractive and dysfunctional with large scale furniture.
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Harmony (variety and unity) is created by the repetition of design elements like color, texture and shape. Unity combines elements to make a balanced interior. Unity is generally achieved by repetition such as the same flooring or woodwork that’s repeated in the rooms throughout a home. But variety is needed too, as in the lighting that’s coordinated rather than matched from room to room. Variety brings interest to a space. When variety is excessive, without any apparent scheme it becomes confusing. Variety and unity must be balanced to be perceived as attractive.
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The elements and principles of design can’t be applied in scientific ways. It’s an art, not a science and wonderful things can happen when rules are broken. By studying the designs that have worked for successful homes, you gradually develop a sense of how the elements can be combined successfully.
These principles and elements are also seen in other areas of life such as in clothing, art and nature but they are most obvious and dynamic when seen in the field of interior design.
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“The Elements and Principles of Interior Design… PART I: The Elements”

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Interior design, architecture and art are visual fields and the language we use to describe them is often subjective.

But there is terminology used in the professions of architecture and design and there are explanations as to why a space appeals to you. It’s not only a matter of personal taste or the styles you’ve been exposed to, though that has a lot to do with it too. It’s also because it employs principles and elements of design that we as individuals are naturally attracted to, somewhat like the attraction we feel towards water and fire.

According to college design textbook “Inside Today’s Home” by LuAnn Nissen, the elements of design are space, form, line, texture, light and color while the principles of design are balance (symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial), rhythm (repetition, progression, transition and contrast), emphasis, scale/proportion and harmony (unity and variety). These terms provide designers with a vocabulary for various elements of design, as well as an explanation as to how and why the elements work together.
Space- An interior space is created simply by putting walls together to form an enclosure but there are appealing and unappealing enclosures. An architect or designer controls and improves a space by using certain design elements to achieve a sense of spaciousness, or the opposite of spaciousness: intimacy.
There are many ways to increase the feeling of spaciousness in a space such as keeping furniture and accessories to a minimum; using small scale furniture and textile patterns; selecting colors that are cool and light with little or no contrast; placing furniture close to and paralleling walls; use of windows; and using mirrors to create reflected space.

To create feelings of intimacy or “coziness”, you can subdivide the space by placing furnishings perpendicular to the walls to form “room dividers”; use warm, dark colors; and choose varying heights of furniture to obstruct the views around the room.
Form and shape- Forms and shapes fall into three basic categories: rectilinear, angled or curved lines that become the geometric shapes of the square, triangle, circle, or in solid form, the cube, pyramid, sphere, cone and cylinder. In design, these shapes serve as the basis for buildings as well as the products that go in them. Not every shape can be identified as one of these shapes obviously, but every shape contains at least one of these basic elements.
Line- In design, line usually describes the outline of a shape or space but it also attributes to our perceptions of masculinity, femininity, playfulness, or austerity depending on the line’s direction, angularity or amount of curve.
Vertical lines evoke feelings of formality and aspirations. Horizontal lines are restful and informal and are often used in contemporary designs; diagonal lines are active and dynamic and suggest upward or downward movement; small curved lines are playful; and wide, horizontal curves suggest gentle, relaxed movement. Line is seen in the lofty height of a vaulted entrance, or the low and restful, horizontal surface of a bed.
Texture- Smooth or rough, texture describes the tactile feel or appearance of the surface of an object like stone, mohair or chenille fabrics, or a woven basket. Texture can be ornamental; it can absorb or amplify sound; and is a factor in the maintenance of an object. The shiny surface of a glass table is easier to clean but shows every little smudge. The rough surface of a stone hearth shows little dirt but is harder to clean.
Light- Light is important to our physical and psychological responses. It affects our mood and can change the appearance of our surroundings. The style of your home’s architecture will play a part in the amount of indoor light you have. Spanish Revival style is known for romantic, nuanced light play. Modern architecture with its wide expanses of glass brings the outdoors inside. Each has a prominent place in design but aging is a factor in all of us. If you are planning your forever home, plan one with plenty of natural light.
The amount of natural light a home has is subject to design trends. Today’s homeowner seems to prefer a light filled home. Skylights and solar tubes have been a boon to many dark and dreary interiors.
Color- Color is a powerful design tool. The various theories about color are based on art, science and psychology. To accurately describe a color you would refer to the terms hue, the actual name of the color; value, the lightness or darkness of a color; and intensity, how pure versus how muted or grayed the color is.
There are primary hues, secondary hues and tertiary hues. Primary hues are colors that can’t be mixed. They are primary red, yellow and blue. Secondary hues are mixtures of primary colors: orange, green, and violet. Tertiary hues are mixtures of secondary hues. Combinations of harmonious colors include monochromatic, which is based on various values and intensities of one hue; analogous, which is based on two or more hues that are next to one another on the color wheel; and complementary, which is based on colors directly opposite one another on the color wheel.
Reaction to color is highly subjective. Each comes with its own personality and/or stigma attached. For instance, yellow can be sunny for some of us, or signify cowardice for others. Pink is a pretty, feminine color that some love and other’s find cloying. Black can be classy or morose. White can be pristine and bright or overly sterile. Red can be vibrant and classic or it can be cheap and gauche. The affect depends on the context in which the color is used, what it’s placed next to, and the individual’s emotion towards it. And sometimes it’s based on effective branding, such as the green of a Starbuck’s logo or the orange packaging of luxury brand Hermes’.
above via CITY SAGE blog
Next post…If the elements are the tools or “raw ingredients” of interior design, the principles are the recipe. In two weeks from today, Part Two: The Principles of Design.
above via SUNSET LANE blog
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