Even if you’re not a professional interior designer, there are some basic design principles anyone can use to make their home look and feel harmonious. Regardless of your favorite type of design style and motif, these principles will help you cohesively showcase your unique personality. If you’re planning to update your living room’s design, you can use these design principles to make the process easier. The core principles of interior design are balance, proportion, rhythm, emphasis, and harmony. Let’s dive more deeply into each of these living room design principles, along with a few examples, so you can see how they impact your living space.
In interior design, balance refers to the visual weight or equilibrium of a room so that everything is equal. This involves examining the placement of furniture and other objects within the living room based on each item’s visual weight. Details like color, texture, and line all determine something’s visual weight. This “weight” isn’t measured in ounces or pounds. Instead, it refers to how much space the object will take up in the living room (and in any other room, too). Distributing these objects evenly creates a harmonious sense of visual alignment that can actually cause a psychologically calming effect. Using balance also makes your living space feel warmer and more inviting. Here are some examples of how to achieve symmetrical balance in your living room design.
- Try to “ground” your largest furniture on an area rug to create a communal, balanced space. Placing large seating pieces like sofas, loveseats, and chairs on a rug provides a balanced feel. You don’t have to push all of your furniture against the wall to make your living room look balanced. Simply grounding each piece on a central object like a rug can do the trick.
- Lighting can also play a role in the balance of your living room. Layer your lighting and add overhead lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting to give the space a balanced look that also gives you lots of functionality, depending on your needs.
- Balance the texture in the living room by combining various textures like glass, metal, wood, and softer textures such as faux fur or velvet. Don’t overuse one type of texture. Instead, select a main texture like leather furniture, then bring in smaller décor items and accessories in a complementing texture for tactile and visual balance.
- If your living room has tall ceilings, use a tall potted tree or a tall floor lamp to fill in some of the empty vertical space. Slender, tall vertical storage pieces can also help fill the gap and bring the living room a balanced look.
The principle of proportion relates to the shape of an item and how it relates to other objects in the living room. Unlike scale, which refers to how something looks in relation to the size of a room or another object, the idea of proportion is all about silhouette. If you place a rectangular table on top of a circular area rug, the proportions may seem unbalanced or incohesive. But a round coffee table on top of a round area rug brings a much more visually balanced effect. Both scale and proportion relate to how each design element relates to the other, but the proportion is more about the overall shape or silhouette rather than the size.
- While large furniture works well in large living rooms and vice versa, you can use the same concept with proportion. Combine heavy furniture and décor pieces together or group lighter and more delicate objects together to keep things proportional.
- Use your anchor piece of furniture to set the tone for the proportion in your living room. A large, overstuffed sofa looks great with a chunky solid wood coffee table, while a smaller-scale modern couch looks ideal with a simple metal table with tapered legs in front of it.
- Keep the height of items in your living room in proportion to the ceiling height. Low-profile furnishings work best in living rooms with a standard ceiling height, while taller pieces (like a high-back chair or furniture resting on taller legs) work best in living rooms with tall ceilings.
- Try to keep a slightly empty or “white space” above and around the furniture so that it’s not crowded. This gives every piece an opportunity to stand on its own and prevents the room from feeling cluttered.
- Use smaller prints in small living rooms, and larger and more colorful prints in bigger living rooms.
In the world of interior design, rhythm is used to create a sense of movement in the living room. This is done by incorporating repetitive elements or patterns, but it doesn’t mean that it should be overwhelming. Progressive rhythm in design means that an object gradually increases in size, like a small stripe leading to a larger one. Flowing rhythm is more fluid and can be represented by squiggling lines or swirls that represent the movement of water. The term regular rhythm refers to a repeating pattern like basic stripes or even a floral print. Here are a few tips to help you bring a sense of rhythm to your living space:
- You can easily create rhythm with color. Use a color palette in similar hues, like greens or blues, to give your living room a nice flow of progressive rhythm with darker and lighter shades.
- An example of progressive rhythm is to use different objects in gradually taller heights or broader widths. Place several candles or vases at gradually taller heights to give your living space a progressive-inspired touch.
- Regular rhythm is easy to create by adding something in a consistent visual pattern, such as striped wallpaper or a geometric area rug in a repeating design.
- The key to the rhythm interior design principle is to incorporate some type of repeating pattern. For example, a curved sectional sofa behind a curvy coffee table creates a nice, cohesive look. Finish the rhythmic pattern by hanging a work of art above the sectional featuring similar shapes.
- If you have herringbone floors, add a cabinet or table with a herringbone inlay to the living room to help carry the same rhythm throughout the space.
The word emphasis is another way to say focal point. Every living room should have at least one main piece of furniture, object, or area that draws attention. Walking into the living room, your eyes should immediately be drawn to this area. Not only does emphasis help you carry the main style of your living room throughout the space, but it also helps to anchor the room. For example, if you love modern design, a gorgeous mid-century modern sofa emphasizes that style and sets the stage for everything else in the room. Try these tips to help you create the right emphasis for your living room.
- Use a large entertainment center to create emphasis and make it the centerpiece of the room by placing your seating furniture in front of it. If you don’t have an entertainment center, hang the television set on the wall or place it on top of a television stand or console to make it the focal point.
- Decorate a fireplace with beautiful tile or add an intricate mantel to draw the eyes directly toward this popular focal point and add visual interest.
- Large wall décor, a visually striking mirror, or a bookcase can also become the emphasis in your living room.
- A feature wall, mural, or gallery wall are all easy ways to bring emphasis into your living space.
- Living rooms with large windows can become the emphasis and encourage people to enjoy the view outside. Enhance large living room windows with quality window treatments like a pair of lush velvet curtains that go from the ceiling all the way to the floor.
- If you prefer a more minimalist home design, even an empty white space or negative space can become the focal point. Use a large blank wall to draw the eye into the room and group your furniture on the opposite side.
While each of these design principles is important for a living room, harmony is perhaps the most important of all. The concept of harmony in design means that everything should work together to create a sense of unity and cohesion or coordination. Whether it’s through color, furniture, or artwork, a harmonious living room has an almost instantly recognizable style. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your living room should be completely uniform. However, harmony does mean that every single item you choose to use in this space should work with everything else. Try these tips to help you create a beautifully harmonized style, mood, or general living room aesthetic.
- Start by choosing a color palette. Whether it’s neutral tones, bright colors, or light pastels, the color palette in your living room serves as the base for the rest of the items you bring into it. Earthy tones like light green, sandy beige, and dark brown work well together, or try a combination of rich jewel tones like emerald green and ruby red to give the living room a lush, high-end feel.
- Choose the overall texture you want to bring to the living room. Try a mixture of furniture made of natural materials like rattan and bamboo, then finish it by adding some beautiful houseplants. For modern living rooms, combine materials like metal, velvet, and wood or glass to create a harmonious space.
- Incorporate patterns that work well together to give your living room a sense of harmony. Mixing thin and wide stripes adds a sense of cohesion in a space. You can do this with virtually any patterns you like, as long as they play nicely together.
- Keep in mind that not everything has to match in order for the living room to be harmonious. As long as everything works together without clashing or standing out too much, your design plans are a success. Feel free to combine things like leather furniture with metal accents or top your floors with a shag area rug to add a different element.