Interior designers are always talking about the merits of adding texture to a room. But what do they mean by texture, exactly, and how and why should you incorporate it into your decor?
In an interior design context, texture refers to the use of furniture, textiles, objects, and finishes in a range of materials that play off of one another to add both visual interest and tactile variation to a room design. A room without enough texture is like a dish that lacks salt: flat, boring, uninviting, unfinished. Adding texture can make a room feel more interesting, welcoming, and enjoyable to behold and inhabit.
What is texture?
In an interior design context, texture refers to the use of furniture, textiles, objects, and finishes in a range of materials that add visual interest and tactile variation to a room design. A room without enough texture can feel flat, uninviting, and unfinished.
Every element of a room—flooring, wall finishes, furnishings, objects, accessories, art, and decor—is an opportunity to incorporate texture. You can start with an empty room, juxtaposing materials with different textures—hard, soft, shiny, matte, smooth, rough, etc.—as you build your design step by step. Or you can give existing decor a lift by building on the textures that are already there and adding more layers.
“Texture is all about the details,” says interior designer Jenn Pablo of Jenn Pablo Studio. “Playing with heights and scale can also draw more interest to a space. When it comes to dressing a room, I love to layer accessories, books, pillows and throws throughout. I consider tactile features in the choice of fabric or finish as well.”
One of the easiest ways to add texture to a room is by using a mix of textiles in everything from rugs to window treatments, throw pillows and blankets, bedding, and furniture upholstery. Experiment mixing fabrics such as leather, velvet, silk, bouclé, wool, cotton, and linen depending on the feel you want to create. Soften up a cool leather armchair with a plush velvet throw pillow. Create a cozy cold weather bed by mixing linen sheets, faux fur throw pillows, a chunky knit blanket, and a natural leather upholstered headboard.
Finishes and Materials
After the years long domination of pristine white walls, there’s been a renewed interest in textured finishes such as textured wall panels or plaster that is applied by hand. Adding embossed, woven, colorful, or graphic wallpaper to a plain wall can add a textural note. Complement shiny lacquered cabinets with matte black cabinet pulls. Lighten up a formal wooden dining table with upholstered lucite or vintage metal chairs. Use textured tiles on your kitchen backsplash, or install a rough-hewn stone sink in your powder room.
If you live in an older home with features such as hardwood floors, rustic beams, stone walls, or patterned tiles, balance those original features with shiny metallics, mixed textiles, soft furnishings, and modern art to add textural balance. Soften a cookie-cutter contemporary apartment with vintage art, antique gilded mirrors, or handcrafted textile wall hangings.
Try a Tonal Look
A modern way to add texture is to stick to a neutral design scheme. An all-white room would look like a mock-up for a theater set if everything was decorated in the same shade of white. Instead, use multiple shades from snow white to warm creams, beiges, and light grays. Dress the sofa with throw pillows and blankets in mixed materials such as linen, silk, and wool. Add metallic, mirrored, or natural accents in wicker or wood.
Mix Color and Pattern
If you prefer a more visually stimulating environment, try blending patterns such as stripes, polka dots, check, plaid, and florals in a similar palette to create texture. For a monochromatic look, be sure to vary finishes, materials, and shades of a single color to add textural interest, just as you would vary fabrics if you were wearing a monochromatic outfit. Place a chocolate brown velvet upholstered sofa in front of a matte cocoa brown painted wall accented with high gloss window trim, and add a glass coffee table with walnut legs and some sculptural vintage brass wall art to lighten it up.
Interior designer Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors likes to use artwork to add texture to walls. “While it may be more straight-forward to create textural elements with textiles and bedding, I also love adding texture with various types of wall art,” Lester says. “Artwork always catches your sightline first so it just makes sense. Create a gallery wall of unexpected art, like framed pieces of wallpaper, simple streamlined pencil sketches and more graphic art as well as photography in ready-made frames. The result is dynamic, curated, impactful, layered, and way more interesting than a single piece of expensive traditional art.”
Mix Old and New
To help add texture in an organic way, mix old and new furniture, finishes, objects, and architectural elements. A vintage side table or an antique mirror with a well worn patina and some industrial lighting fixtures will help give a contemporary apartment character and a sense of decor that was assembled over time rather than purchased from a catalogue.
Patricia Sicat, head designer at AHG Interiors, says that layering antiques and modern pieces should feel effortless. “Focusing on textures is an important aspect,” Sicat says. For a 200-year-old farmhouse dining room remodel, an updated dining table on a jute rug “allows for dialogue to bounce in a room,” she says. “It's the imperative anchoring piece that re-introduces the antique sideboard, painted panelings, and gorgeous molding to have a say in the conversation. In a historic home, texture on modern furnishings brings invigorating energy.”