Interior Design Intro

Form follows Function in Interior Design

October 25, 2017
Form follows Function in Interior Design
Form Follows Function in Interior Design: A Short Background

Form follows function. This has become a credo in the world of design since the 20th century. The phrase was coined by Louis Sullivan, an American architect also known as the “father of skyscrapers” and the “father of modernism”. He coined the phrase in an article he published in 1896 titled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered:

form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows functionThis is the law.

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During the bloom of modern architecture, form follows function implied the simplification of design by designing buildings without unnecessary decoration. But Sullivan didn’t reflect this rigid implication of his infamous phrase, as clearly seen in his own work (the Sullivan Center as an example). 

Form follows Function in Interior Design

How about in interior design? How does this design principle apply?

Let’s ignore the implication that form follows function means to design without unnecessary decoration. Without decoration in interior design, spaces would be bland and boring. Form follows function in interior design simply means that the end result of the space should be designed around its function.

What is Function?

In interior design, function basically means the function of the space. For example, the function of a laundry room is to sort, wash, dry, iron, and fold clothes. The function of an office is to get work done with minimum distraction. The function of a kitchen is to cook and prepare meals, and in some homes, to eat in.

A room’s function may sound obvious and simple, but it gets complex when you see how differently we use these spaces. How a family uses their kitchen or their living room, for example, varies from home to home.

An interior space’s function depends largely on the lifestyle and habits of the people using the space.

That’s why an interior can’t be designed around its presumed function. It should be designed around the habits of the people who use that space day in and day out. Where homes revolve around families, offices revolve around colleagues. And even work habits differ from office to office where their specific work culture sets the tone of the function of their office.

So, the function of a space revolves around the lifestyle and habits of the people using it.

What is Form?

Different from form as in the 7 elements of interior design, form is the end result or the finished product of the designed space. Form is everything that is formed around the function. Form is everything you see — the space layout, the furniture, the color scheme, the lighting, the decor of the space, and so on.

How should Form follow Function?

Form follows function. We’ve defined what form is and what function means in interior design. Great, we understand that form should follow function, but how should it follow?

That’s where design techniques and know-how come into play. With a good understanding of an interior’s function, design elements and principles are tools to meet and satisfy it. To satisfy a function, the most important elements to play with are space, light, and color.

Space — look carefully at the extent of space you have. With its function in mind, can you move things around to create a better flow around the most important area of the space? And what is the main area of the space? Or what will get used the most? Are furniture or appliances placed in such a way that allows a smooth flow within the area and between different areas within? How can you optimize the space?

Light — do you have enough lighting around the most important tasks to be carried out? Is the type or shade of lighting the best option for the space? Does the lighting give off the mood you wish to have?

Color — does the color scheme of your space encourage the main activity to satisfy the function?


Form follows function, a design credo coined by Louis Sullivan, has become a staple principle within design since the rise of modernism. It implied designing without unnecessary decoration, but Sullivan’s work didn’t reflect that rigid implication.

In interior design, form follows function basically means that the end result of a designed space should revolve around its function. All spaces have presumed functions, but the true function of a space is defined by the lifestyle and habits of the people using it. And that’s what interior design should be centered on: people. 

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