Decorating 101: Interior Design Basics

A well-decorated living room

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Some are born with the ability to imagine a room complete with furniture placement, wall hangings, and rug and accent choices. If this does not come easy to you, it is something you can develop and hone over time. Learn the basics of home decorating, including design principles, decorating styles, and answers to decorating challenges. 

Interior Design Compared With Interior Decorating

Interior design and interior decorating are often mistaken for the same thing, but the terms are not completely interchangeable. Interior design is a profession that requires specific schooling and formal training, including space planning, furniture design, and architecture. An interior decorator does not have that formal training and focuses on the aesthetics and the surface appearance of a space. Who you would hire depends on whether you have any structural work or space planning to be done or you need someone to plan the decor only.

Elements of Decor

Your first step should be to select a style for your home interior. This will promote the design principle of unity and harmony, thinking of the entire home with a unifying theme. It can be as simple as choosing casual instead of formal or traditional instead of contemporary. From there, you can refine it to a more specific style, such as French country, Tuscan, modern Victorian, or shabby chic.

Balance is another principle—distributing the visual weight in a room. You can do it symmetrically, as is common in traditional interiors, or with asymmetrical balance as seen in casual interiors.

Within each room there should be a focal point. In a living room, it could be the fireplace or a piece of art. It sets itself apart by scale, color, or texture.

Contrast and variety add visual interest to a room. Keep rhythm in mind with repeating elements of the same color, texture, or pattern, and a progression of sizes or colors.

Dark colored accent wall bedroom
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Color

Choosing a color palette is an essential part of interior design. While you could have a different style and color scheme in each room, often you will want to tie the whole dwelling together. Consider the right colors for a small room as well as colors and patterns for a large room.

Mixing patterned Rugs
Jen Talbot Design

Patterns

Mixing patterns in home decor is one of the more advanced parts of interior design. Patterns do not have to match, but they need to complement and coordinate with each other. This is done by considering color, size, and scale.

Unused fireplace decoration ideas
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Tips to Get Started With Your Decor

A major pitfall that traps untrained decorators is editing. A good interior decorator can scan a room and understand what items work in a room and when something is too much, tasteful, or requires embellishment. A few tips in this area can make or break your room's design choices.

One room element that can usually use an editorial eye is how pillows are placed in a room. Pillows can be a nice accent adding to the room's color story, or in some cases, even create a focal point for the room. However, some people have a tendency to overdo it with pillows. You do not want to overload a sofa to the point that a guest has to move all the pillows just to sit down.

Choices of artwork can be important for a room, but equally consider how you display it. A rule of thumb is to set wall hangings at eye-level. Similarly, the height you set the chandelier matters. A common mistake people make is hanging a chandelier too high or close to the ceiling. Drop it low enough that it brings light into the room and is noticed. If you hang it above a table, make sure that when you sit up from the table, your or any taller guests cannot knock into it or touch it.

Furnishings are a big investment and account for a large part of the budget of room decor. If you are on a tight budget, there are some items you should splurge on. The two most important pieces of furniture—likely the items that will get the most use—are your sofa and bed. Spend more on those pieces. Save on area rugs, accent tables, and wall art. A mixture of high-ticket items with less expensive options is a trick of the trade that makes the room still feel stylish without breaking the bank.