The dictionary defines an element as an essential or characteristic part of something abstract. In chemistry, an element can’t be broken down into a simpler substance. Interior design is abstract in that the overall design of a space is made up of many factors which boil down to concrete elements.
So what are the 7 elements of interior design? What concrete elements can be manipulated to create an overall design that satisfies the function of a space?
Interior design is, first and foremost, the design of an interior space. An interior space is defined by structural elements such as walls, ceiling, floor, and columns. In interior design, an empty space is referred to as negative space, while objects inserted into the space contribute to its positive space. A balance has to be achieved between the negative and the positive.
There are three types of lines used in interior design: vertical, horizontal, and dynamic.
Lines are the basis of all objects and forms; lines define them. Examples of objects and forms used in interiors are furniture, decor elements (pillows, vases, plants), lamps and so on. However, lines are more evident in the structural elements of a space — columns (vertical), beams (horizontal), stairs (dynamic), windows and doors, etc.
Knowing how to use lines in designing a space can be one of the greatest tools of a designer. A clever use of vertical lines can give a sense of height by directing the eyes upward. If a space has an amazing ceiling, for example, vertical lines can be used on the walls to direct the focus upward as we don’t normally notice details on the ceiling.
As with horizontal lines, they could work well in a space with a high ceiling if the feel of spaciousness isn’t desired. Also, in a hallway that is short, horizontal lines could be used on the walls to make it look longer. Dynamic lines — curved and zig-zag — are ideal in spaces that require action, such as in offices or in gyms.
Lines are the basis of forms; they’re what gives them shape. There are two main types of forms: geometric and natural. They can either be closed or open.
Forms aren’t just 2D, they’re mostly 3D. Your bedroom is an open form which you can walk into, as your shower or bathtub. Furniture, plants, and decor elements such as mirrors and lamps are closed forms.
The understanding of forms used in a space is vital to achieve the desired feel of a space. Too much use of rectangular forms in a room can give the effect of stiffness and seriousness, whereas the use of circular forms soften up a space and make it feel more bubbly and light.
Oh how could we live without light! Light is what makes us see the space around us and the lines and forms used within. Light is the essence of all the colors that we see as well as the visual textures and patterns.
There are 2 main types of light: artificial and natural. A good designer knows to plan a space and choose colors according to the amount of natural light it receives during the day while creating a balance of artificial light after the sun has set.
Artificial light has 3 types: ambient, task, and accent.
Ambient lighting fills a room with light. Examples of lamps that give ambient light are pendants (like chandeliers), floor lamps, and wall sconces. Task lighting provide light for performing specific tasks. Examples are reading lamps and under-cabinet lighting in kitchens. Accent lighting accentuates a piece of art or decor, such as lamps that light up paintings and sculptures in museums.
One of my favorite elements of interior design because of its subconscious influence on us, color is what sets at least 80% of the whole mood of a space. It wouldn’t be possible to see color without light, however, so those two elements work hand-in-hand.
Choosing a color palette for a space is one of the most important tasks in designing an interior. The correct choice of colors can multiply the effectiveness of the overall design by meeting a space’s function. The correct choice of colors supports the function of a space.
Take a bedroom, for instance. Bedrooms are for sleep and relaxing; that’s the function of a bedroom. Each color of the spectrum carries intrinsic qualities. Red, for example, inspires action. Blues and greens promote peacefulness and a certain calm and groundedness. Which would you choose for your bedroom?
There are 2 types of texture: visual and actual.
Visual texture, as with color, works hand-in-hand with light. What we see gives us an idea of what it would feel like to touch something. Actual texture is what it actually feels to touch the surface of an object.
A brick wall feels rough, at some points sharp, cold and sandy. A wallpaper with a brick-wall texture looks rough, sharp, cold and sandy. That’s the difference between visual and actual texture.
In choosing decor elements for an interior space, how objects feel isn’t always taken into account. But a good designer is aware of this vital element and will play with different textures to create balance, always keeping in mind the function of the space.
Patterns also work hand-in-hand with light. In interior design, a pattern is a repeated decorative element. Patterns don’t have to be so obvious such as on wallpapers and textile. They can also be used throughout a space to create a sense of uniformity and harmony.
These are the 7 elements of interior design — space, lines, form, light, color, texture and pattern. These are the building blocks of any interior design. They can be manipulated to create an overall design that satisfies the function of a space.
But to create a space that meets its function requires not just the fundamental knowledge of each of these elements, but also the know-how of using each element to create harmony in a space. That’s where the 7 principles of interior design come in.