Interior design employs various tricks that allow visually altering the size of a room, its proportions and its mood.
Think of the way a visitor forms their first impression of a room:
- First, the visitor takes a sweeping glance over the space as a whole, noticing the colors of the walls and the height of the ceilings. Then, as the visitor advances through the room, the floors add to the perception of the room’s size and mark different zones. After that, the visitor’s attention is captured by architectural details: doors, windows, columns, mouldings. Without even realizing it, the visitor has made the first contact with the interior and got the first impression of the space: was surprised, excited, reminded of pleasant or unpleasant memories, etc.
- Later, interior compositions and large surfaces of carpets, curtains, significant interior objects attract the attention of the viewer, as they become aware of their function and size. The visitor unconsciously sizes up the objects, thinking if they like them and would enjoy using them. This way, the first impression of the level of comfort in the room is formed.
- And finally, the visitor’s attention is focused on the most prominent accent items. The glance is captured by groups of items related through color, form or texture. The visitor subconsciously analyzes whether they are tempted to come closer and touch them.
This is exactly the sequence that should be followed when planning the impression an interior should make.
Level 1 – architectural surfaces
On this level the basic impression of a space, its function and atmosphere is created. The color scheme of the space, wall coverings, flooring and ceilings is essential here.
At this point it is important to avoid the most common mistakes:
- Too bright and aggressive wall colors. The larger a surface is, the stronger and darker its color appears. When you are choosing wall coverings based on small samples, bear in mind that the same color will look much brighter on your walls. So when ordering your wall finishes, it’s safer to pick a lighter shade of the color you liked on the sample. In a mild climate, an interior that is too bright becomes a statement. It is worth considering your ultimate goal: if you are creating a party space, bold colors could work for you, but if you are aiming to create a relaxing and cozy home, bright colors are probably not what you are after.
- Overly bright or contrasting colors for small architectural elements (mouldings, cornices, door casings). This would make the surface visually fall apart. Also, architectural elements are mostly valued for their shape, which would be partly swallowed by a bright color.
- Dramatic change of color palette from room to room. Such change could be justifiable if the design concept is based on contrasts and is thoroughly elaborated. Still, unrestrained use of multiple color palettes would rather suit a hotel or some other pubic space than a living space, as it could make the space lose its integrity.
An interior’s atmosphere is mainly created by the walls as the most prominent surfaces. But starting the work on an interior by choosing colors for the walls can prove difficult, as there are too many options, which may be all good choices. So in my opinion, taking decisions on the color scheme of the walls and ceilings can be postponed, especially since technologically this is not the most pressing concern.
On the contrary, flooring is something that should be considered in the very beginning of the work on the project. Floor is the basis of an interior, quite literally. For living spaces it is important to create an impression of solidity and quality, which depends a lot on the choice of flooring. So I prefer to start putting an interior together by taking decisions on the flooring materials and colors.
Walls are the next big factor which might pull a space together or apart. The most obvious and simple solution is to use the same flooring color for all rooms. This would weld the rooms together and produce the impression of a bigger house or apartment.
As for the most common mistakes in flooring choices, I would mention “patchwork” of different materials or colors on the floor, which is often made without any regard for other elements of the interior and its zones. Such patchworks appear unnatural in an interior and become annoying over time.
However, I am quite enthusiastic about use of geometric floorings: such patterns make a room more organized. For example, in a hall with multiple doors a rectangular ‘carpet’ made of tiles or wooden flooring could pull the space together and accentuate it. Rectangular tiling patterns are a very good solution for such spaces and are rarely regretted afterwards.
‘Carpet approach’ is often a good idea for accentuating specific zones in open spaces, if these zones need to be highlighted or lack coziness (for example, a flooring pattern could be used to accentuate a set of sofas in a TV zone of a large room).
There are different approaches to wall finishes. For example, all walls in a house or an apartment can be neutral in color – resulting in a seamless, but somewhat dull impression. In this case it would be reasonable to use interior items in contrasting colors (especially those with eccentric shapes). This approach is often used in European interiors where reconstruction and refurbishment options are limited by the historical status of buildings. Such interiors are based on iconic furniture staples. They can be classy and stylish, but in my opinion, sometimes lack personality.
Another approach is switching between different color schemes in different rooms or zones. In this case it is better to avoid using bright colors. Sticking with a light or subdued color palette would make for an overall balanced color effect and smoother transitions from one zone to another.
If you have decided to use different colors for different zones it is advisable to think of how the color scheme evolves through the zones and culminates on the main wall.
While working on wall and ceiling designs it is important to keep in mind a few things: architectural specifics of the space, natural lighting (orientation of the windows), the way you want to alter perception of the space, what kind of atmosphere you are trying to create. There is plenty to consider, but there are even more available options for materials and their combinations. Finding the perfect option may take a lot of time and effort. To make sure that the chosen finishes are the perfect ones it is advisable to place (or paint) a sample exactly where you intend to use the material: this way you will see how the finishes work in a specific place with specific lighting.
It is important to remember that combination of colors on different surfaces produces a joint impression and can alter the optical perception of the space. For example, a colorful floor plus white walls and ceiling expand the space but make it grounded and comfortable to be in. On the contrary, colorful walls and ceiling make a room appear reclusive and claustrophobic, whereas light-colored floor does not provide a good support visually. If the back wall is different in color from the other walls it has its own visual effect: a color that is darker than the other surfaces makes it the focus point and the staple of the room. Contrasting back wall serves as a background for the furniture composition and emphasizes it.
Perception of a space can be managed on a subtler level by using patterns and lines. For example, pattern on the back wall of a room is one of the strongest tools for correction of the room’s proportions. Horizontal colored stripes on the back wall expand the space but make it visually lower, the back wall also seems to move closer to the viewer. Wide vertical stripes, on the contrary, make the room visually taller, and the back wall seems to move back from the viewer. A fine pattern on the back wall of a room, otherwise painted with light colors, visually expands the room and lifts the ceiling. Large scale pattern on the back wall makes the room shorter and catches the eye. The logic of visual effects comes indispensable when ceiling height or the room’s proportions are not as good as they could have been.
Color and texture work together to make a visual impression. For example, a wall covered with matte paint appears solid and massive. It is important to choose the right color shade, which would create the right atmosphere. If the wall covering is a mixture of several shades, it makes a more complex impression – deeper and subtler. The weight of the wall is alleviated and the space expands visually.
It is important to take into account that walls are the largest surfaces of an interior, so they have to be interesting to look at.
Level 2 – creating interior compositions
The next level of planning the impression is creating compositions of furniture and other interior items, which requires an architectural approach to placement of objects in a certain space.
When ordering kitchen furniture bear in mind that this is different from playing with a Lego set, although this is exactly what I often see kitchen furniture sales managers doing. A sales manager normally does not have a proper understanding of the room dimensions and specifics and is only driven by determination to use as many elements of the furniture collection as possible and showcase all the technical features. This is why I would say you should not give in to a manager’s persuasion too much and go for colorful elements in random places of the kitchen furniture set or order merely decorative non-functional elements. Such elements, if you choose to have them, should comprise a balanced composition which fits your particular interior.
Colorwise, interior objects that we use daily should look universally attractive and comfortable for all family members, and look good in any lighting. The simplest and most error-free color solutions are those that most people associate with comfort, reliability and warmth.
It pays to avoid making these furniture compositions dull.
Interior items compositions should be proportionate to the room, although there are certain nuances. It is not advisable to have smaller objects in a large room, because they will look diminutive and lost in it. However, if the room is not very big, you might do better with larger objects in it, as long as their size allows convenient use. This is a trick to enlarge the room visually.
Furniture compositions may help to create symmetry in a room or balance a space. For example, if one part of the living room has a soft zone with large sofas, the opposite part of the room should have a balancing visual accent – a floor lamp, tall vase, sculpture or some other interesting object. This would allow to align the space and create a more relaxed atmosphere making the room more comfortable psychologically.
Level 3 - decorating
The next level of planning the impression is creating the right atmosphere. This is achieved through decorating the space. Decorating involves filling the space with fabrics, vases, pictures, flowers, sculpture, etc. Decorating an interior breathes life into it, strengthens the overall impression, subdues or emphasizes certain elements, expresses the owners’ individuality.
The extent to which an interior is filled with décor is always subjective, and I would not say a lot of décor or not so much of it is necessarily a good or a bad thing. An interior can be tasteful in both cases.
At this level it is important to avoid disrupting the interior balance. This can often happen when wrong kind of curtains are purchased: unexperienced people tend to go for massive piles of fabric which do not match the style of the interior.
Large elements should fit into the general color scheme. Colors of the major surfaces should be chosen with an architectural approach, as they will impact the overall impression significantly (these are bed covers, curtains, tablecloths, wall closet doors, etc.). Although these items are normally purchased at the last stages of the renovation process, they will take up a lot of surface area and catch a lot of attention, so it pays to think their colors through in advance and stick to the chosen color scheme.
Also pay attention to the pattern of decorative items. It should go well with the patterns used in wall and floor finishes – in terms of style, proportions and color. For example, if you have chosen wallpaper with a fine pink and white gingham pattern, this gives off a romantic countryside vibe, so a dark green-burgundy tartan armchair will not go well with the wallpaper, since it points to a totally different style.
Decorating is fine tuning of an interior, adding the nuances for a more profound impression.
Accent items form the ultimate image of an interior composition. They are the interior staples, highlighting its style. Accents liven up the interior and catch the eye of a visitor, make the interior emotionally attractive and sophisticated. It pays to think their placement and lighting through.
I would like to emphasize that all three levels of impression planning are important. At each level you are faced with specific tasks and if one of the stages is skipped the interior may appear unfinished. The elements chosen at each stage should work together to create a balanced impression.