Skip to content

11 basic rules of interior design everyone should know

These are the tenets to true design success in the home

By Vogue US | April 19, 2021 | Category

Ask any interior designer about the secrets to styling a beautiful home and they’ll invariably say something along the lines of: “There are no rules to design”. While there’s certainly no magic formula for establishing a perfectly curated home (wouldn’t life be boring if there were?), there’s a lot to be said for laying down some ground rules and covering the basics. After all, it can be pretty daunting choosing furniture, lighting, art and paint colours, and then combining them in one cohesive space. Who wouldn’t want a guiding hand?

To help you, we quizzed 13 leading designers, architects and interior specialists on the basic rules of interior design. Even if you’re not currently building or decorating, think of this as the life advice that will hold you in good stead— from planning and measuring, to key spatial and light considerations, and everything else in between.

1. Know thy basics

Not everyone possesses the eye of an interior designer, but there are key considerations to take into account in any room. “When designing a new space, I focus on three elements: volume, light, and depth,” says interior designer and real estate developer Amalia Graziani of Noor Property Group. “This sounds abstract, but considering all of these factors when choosing pieces or designing a room makes a huge difference.”

Graziani suggests that depth can be achieved with furniture choices, such as low pieces to highlight a large window, or with colour, since lighter colours draw the eye. She plays with volume by opting for oversized doors and windows or by adding a single, oversized piece of furniture as the focal point of a space. Lastly, “light can be manipulated through furniture choices and building materials—lighter colours and reflective materials (think: glass, chrome, marble) move light around a room.”

2. Consider comfort

“Don’t get drawn into trying to make a space look so cool and trendy that its not a comfortable place to sit or relax. For the sake of a few photos or occasions when you can show off, it’s not worth it!” says Nick Cryer, managing director of UK-based construction company Berkeley Place.

“We believe it’s important to apply practicality and liveability to every project,” agrees Miriam Fanning, principal at Mim Design. “A home must respond to the needs of its occupants, therefore we always challenge ourselves to design with purpose and intent.”

3. Vary your lights

“Don’t rely on only one light source as it can make the space feel flat,” says Sanjit Bahra, founder of London lighting company DesignPlusLight. “It’s better to layer the lighting with table and floor lamps so that you can make your space more flexible.” He cautions against too many downlights, which can often read as harsh—especially at night. And be wary of how you use them, too. “When you use recessed downlights, don’t put them in a grid to just light downwards—it’s very developer-y and can make the space feel oppressive. Better to angle them onto surfaces that need to be lit, like kitchen cabinet fronts, over tables and onto art.”

4. Consider flow

“Think about how you are going to live in the property and make sure you use each area to the best of its potential,” says Nicky Mudie, interior designer and founder of Violet & George. “Do the spaces flow and make sense? Can you get to the dining table easily if you have people milling around the kitchen? Can people get to the loo if you have a dinner party and there are lots of people around the table? Make sure that you design for being home alone and for entertaining.”

5. Bigger is better

“When in doubt, go big! The number one mistake I see homeowners make is not taking scale into consideration and selecting pieces that are too small for their space,” says “Meg Lonergan of Meg Lonergan Interiors. “Make sure your furnishings all sit comfortably within your rugs, that your draperies have enough length to hang close to the ceiling and that your chandeliers are sizeable enough to make a statement.”

6. Plan, then plan again

“Planning is key!“ stresses Elizabeth Krueger of Elizabeth Krueger Design. “It’s worth investing a little time to figure out who you are and what you need from a space before making any purchases. Whether it’s for myself or a client, the design process always begins with discovery and questions like ‘Who am I now and what do I want my space to reflect?’ The result of that conversation is so telling and provides a touchstone that I go back to time and time again when I find it difficult to make a design decision.”

7. Strive for balance

“Everything in design is about balance,” says Joyce Pickens of JDP Interiors. “For instance, if you use a white oak wood which can be a prominent orange-toned wood, repeat that tone elsewhere in your room. This could even be in a bowl.” She suggests using the same principle with colours. “If you decide to do a pop of yellow, repeat it elsewhere, even if it’s just in the florals. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense as a whole.”

8. Keep an eye on colours

“Pay attention to undertones when working with any colour—and more importantly, neutrals,” cautions Sarah Stacey of Austin-based practice Sarah Stacey Interior Design. “Learn your undertones and your colour wheel, and you’ll be successful in selecting paint colours and coordinating fabrics. For example, there isn't really a true grey. They usually have a purple, green or blue undertone.” Stacey explains that, because of this, “grey can look purple when paired with beige, since yellow and purple are across one another on the colour wheel. Since they are opposites, the colours pop more.” For a more complementary pairing, choose a green-grey that’s closer to beige on the colour wheel.

9. Live with your paint choices

This doesn’t mean choosing a paint and hoping for the best; it means taking the time to test out prospective paint choices in all types of light, says Sara Barney of Bandd Design. “See how the shade looks in the morning, during the day, and at night to get a better understanding of how it’ll look in your space at different times. Also, look at it with the lights off, then some lights on, and with all the lights on.”

10. Measure up

“A comfortable space is all about scale,” says interior designer Stefani Stein. “Always confirm the measurements of prospective furnishings in your home. Looks can be deceiving; just because something looks like it's the right size online, doesn’t mean it will work in your space.”

Paul Conrad, director of Conrad Architects, agrees, adding that aesthetics and scale are everything. “If you get the proportions of a space correct, and direct or control the way natural light enters the space, then the detail and finishes are less critical,” he says. “No amount of gold leaf will save a space that has a poor quality of light or awkward proportions!”

11. Art matters

And no, this doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive art, argues Alexandra Donohoe Church, founder and managing director of Decus Interiors. “Confidence when it comes to selecting art is crucial. When assisting clients with building their own collections we always encourage decision-making based on an immediate visceral response to the work. We also stress that quality pieces sit naturally in quality interiors. Less is more sometimes. ”

Written by Yeong Sassall.

This article originally appeared on Vogue Living Australia.