Interior Design for Non-Designers

Creating a pleasing room for the rest of us.

I’ve never been that good with decorating, but I want my home to look nice and reflect who I am now. So I decided to do a little research into Interior Design. I wanted to find out the basics, so I can make the rooms in my house work well, have flow, and look pleasing to the eye. No mean feat, right?

Well, I started digging around for free info. Lots of designers have their own ideas. Of course they do, or who would hire them, right? What I wanted to find out was the elements of interior design. You know, what makes a nice room. I’m not interested in the history of design, or the mechanics of building a space, I just want to decorate. So I dug down deeper to the good stuff.

There are two aspects to designing a good room – the aesthetic and the physical attributes.

The aesthetic attributes are all about the atmosphere of a room, the beauty of the space and furnishings. When you walk into a room, is it pleasing to the eye? Do you feel good in the space? Does it make you feel welcome? Is it comfy?

You need to think about space, color, texture, light and scale. These are what are called the elements of design. There should be a variety in colors (blending or contrasting) and textures (soft/rough, wood/metal/fabric,etc). In an old Better Homes & Gardens decorating book it suggests something like “something dull, something bright, something dark, something light”. Speaking of light, make sure the room has general light as well as task light – for reading or handwork. As for scale, the size of furniture and accessories should be right for the size of the room.

In this picture below, notice the softness of the couch, the brightness of the lamp and picture frame, and how the colors blend. The color scheme may have come from the artwork – the browns of the mountains, the blue from the sky. The lamp provides task lighting for reading or working. The shade is a gray blue color that blends well with the couch. The walls are a muted tan, the floors wood (brown). It looks pleasing to the eye.

Photo by Rachel Claire on

The physical attributes of a room are more about how the room is used, and does it function well. The size of the furnishings in relation to the floor plan. Large, open rooms can handle large, overstuffed furniture, but that furniture would overwhelm a small room. Is there room to walk around the furniture? Can you reach the lamp from the chair? Can you see out the window to enjoy the view?

So, when decorating a room, we need to take into account the physical space we have to work with, the size of the furnishings, and then the colors, textures, and light in the room we’re working on. Also, think about the mood you want in the room. A quiet dining room will be decorated differently than a busy family room with the tv and games.

Here’s some steps to redecorate a room. These are just suggestions, you do what feels right for your space.

  1. Decide how the room will be used – eating or cooking, tv watching or reading, crafting or computer work for example.
  2. Choose a theme – farmhouse, mid-century modern, shabby chic, cabin/lodge, beach house, western/southwestern, or english garden…the theme will give you your color palette and your accessories.
  3. Pick 3 colors – a main color for the walls, carpet, and background fabrics. A second color for fabrics and accessories. A third color for accents. If your room is already painted and you like that color, make that your main color. And remember, ‘wood’ is considered a color.
  4. Find the focal point in the room – usually a fireplace or a view, but it can also be a piece of artwork or a large piece of furniture. This will be what the furniture is arranged around. You can also pick your colors from your focal point, especially a view or artwork.
  5. Make sure the furniture fits the space and function of the room. Only use overstuffed furniture in large rooms. Make sure there’s room to get around things and keep traffic patterns open. Keep seating within about 8 feet for conversation areas. Keep tables and lamps within arm’s reach. Make sure all seats can see the view or the tv. Make sure everyone has light, and a place to put drinks. Don’t be afraid to come into the room with furniture, don’t line it all up against the walls.
  6. Let there be light – general room light, either natural light thru a window or general overhead lighting. Make sure chairs and the sofa have a light for reading or handwork, like knitting.
  7. Decorate the floor – If you have carpeting, keep the color pattern in your main color. If you have wood or vinyl floors, think room size rugs under the couch and chairs, or runners for hallways and traffic paths.
  8. Bring in accessories – books, pillows, pottery, baskets, vases, collectibles, drapes, throws, candlesticks, etc. Use various colors and textures – a soft chunky afghan, a woven basket, and a brass pot with a plant in it is a good example of mixing textures. You can mix patterns (plaid,floral,check,stripe) if the background colors are the same. It helps if you vary the size of the pattern, too, not all tiny or all large.
Image from

Remember, the room should reflect you, so inject your likes and interest in the colors and accessories of the room. The room above looks very pretty and put together, but it looks staged, not lived in. That’s fine for a formal living room, where you greet visitors, but not for a family room, where you want more personal items around you.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match, and use things you already have along with new items. You can mix up vintage and modern, too. Redecorating a room doesn’t have to be expensive. Sometimes, just moving things around or changing out accessories makes a huge difference.

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