Have you ever watched in fascination as an experienced artist painted a picture? Do you wonder how the artist knew which colors and values to choose? Or what forms to use? Or how large or small to make those forms in relation to each other? Why did that artist end up with a good painting—a good design—while another person would not have succeeded?
Through study and experience, the artist has developed his instincts for handling the elements of design (line, color, form, texture, pattern, light and space) by applying the principles of design (balance, scale, emphasis, and unity).
An interior decorator deals with the same elements and principles of design as an artist. In fact, the decorator is a artist! So, the decorator must also learn how to handle those elements and principles.
Most people have some natural instincts for good design. Many are able to appreciate good design when they see it, though they are not aware of the principles and elements involved. The interior decorator does not know the principles and elements and uses them as tools in creating the picture a room presents to the viewer.
Elements of Design
Line, form, color, value, texture, pattern, light, and space—the elements of design—reach us through our senses of sight and touch. They all exist in nature and it is from our relationship with nature that we have learned to analyze them. You may, at some time, read an explanation of the elements of design written by a writer of ancient times. He may sound as if he invented the elements. He didn’t. Nature did. All mankind has done is to study what nature has done and to formulate nature’s doings into guidelines for man’s artistic endeavors. Elements and principles of design are what mankind has learned from nature.
The first element is line. Line involves motion. Line leads the eye. The eye follows a line as it travels, whether through a landscape, around a room, or over an object. A line my be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. A horizontal line appears restful and stable because it is itself at rest, in harmony with gravity. A vertical line seems to resist gravity and suggests strength and dignity. A diagonal line (neither vertical nor horizontal) seems to be restless and dynamic—neither up nor down, but rather “on the move.”
In nature, a horizontal line is found in straight horizon lines. A soaring vertical lie is found in tall trees and cliffs. A diagonal line is found in the slanted sides of mountains. The sweep of a bay or the tops of sand dunes or low hills from curved lines.
An awareness of these lines, to which we are conditioned by nature, can be used to create, alter or modify moods in interior decorating. Line can create or destroy the overall intended effect in a room. It can make a room dull or chaotic.
Too many horizontal lines may make a room monotonous. Too many vertical lines may make it too imposing. The designer’s job is to find a balance of lines that will create a unified but interesting room. If most of the pieces in a room are low, the monotony should be broken by adding a taller piece.
Too many tall pieces, on the other hand, can sometimes create too strong a feeling. To “quiet down” the room, you would break up the vertical feeling by adding some lower, horizontal pieces.