The Principles of Interior Design, Part One

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The principle of interior design are not hard and fast rules to be followed unvaryingly in every decorating job. Rather, they are guidelines that will help you create satisfying rooms even while you are still developing your natural instincts for design. You can use those guidelines at any time in your career to analyze a troublesome problem and come up with a solution. For example, if you enter a client’s room and feel that the room seems to tilt, oddly, how can you eliminate that sensation? Apply the principle of balance. Is it the heavy visual weight of the baby grand piano against one wall that seems to tilt the room? To balance that heavy weight, you might paint the wall opposite the piano a dark color. Or use a bright attention-getting print of the sofa or draperies on that opposite wall.

Once you have studied design principles and have practiced applying them, you will be able to analyze such problems and find solutions for them. Do you remember what I said are the principles of design? They are balance, scale, emphasis, and unity. 


Good balance implies a state of equilibrium or poise, the “just right” place between extremes. In interior design, good balance requires distributing visual weights or form or colors or textures throughout a room so that no part of the room is annoyingly heavy or disturbing important or too empty and unimportant.

There are three types of balance that can be used in a room: formal balance, informal balance, and radial balance. You have previously learned about formal and informal balance, but radial balance will be new to you in the discussion which follows:

Formal Balance

In formal balance, a center line divides an area into two matching parts. One-half is the mirror image of the other half. The center line is the balance point or pivot point for the arrangement. This balance is static and formal.

A typical example of formal balance, as you know, would be a sofa centered on a wall with identical tables and lamps on either side and a pair of matching chairs next to the tables. Over the sofa is hung one large centered painting with a pair of small paintings on either side.

This describes a well balanced arrangement in formal balance, but one that may not be as interesting or as exciting as a decorator or a client would wish. To add interest to such an arrangement, the decorator can vary some of the parts of the composition. For example, the lamp and the table on the right could be replaced by a lamp and table similar in size, but different in shape and appearance. The chair at left could be covered in a print. Print cushions could be placed on the right of the sofa to balance the print chair. After those changes, the balance would still be formal, but it would be much more interesting and eye-catching than the original decor.

Formal balance is also known as symmetrical balance. It is used in formal settings and with formal styles of furniture.

Formal balance is found in arrangements on fireplace mantels and tables and chests, as well as in furniture arrangements. It extends to groupings of objects and even to flower arrangements.


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