My Interior Design Course Part II: the Principles of Design


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 post covered the elements. This one 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 so 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 none 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 attempting to place importance on an object, such as the painting or the front door.



Asymmetrical balance, also referred to informal or active balance, is differing objects arranged along an axis, equal distance apart but of equal weight or bulk. It is still balanced but with items or components that are different from one another. 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.  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 above (line, color, pattern, etc.) in a repetitive, consistent way.

Progression is creating rhythm through gradual yet regular changes of size or color.

Transition in rhythm “gently” leads the eye in a continuous, uninterrupted way from one area to another. 



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. 

Emphasis is used as a way to call attention to a preferred focal point or as a way to “anchor” a space. Color and scale are two great ways to create emphasis.

Scale refers to the proportions between two or more objects. 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 right height to be convenient.



Harmony (variety and unity) is created by the repletion of design elements like color, texture and shape. Unity combines elements to make a balanced interior.  

Tomorrow we will explore ways to make a home more comfy and how to combine styles and eras. 

Hope you can make it!

Also, if you want to dive even deeper into design and wellness download my five freebies on topics ranging from design; a healthy lifestyle; managing your thoughts; and taking excellent care of yourself with chronic pain.

and Creating Self Care Spaces for Women With Arthritis, a chapter from my first book.




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