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Interior design for beginners

Glamorous and lavish, relaxed and rustic or cool and minimalist… you know the look you want for your home. But, when it comes to achieving that look, how can you avoid those all too common interior design pitfalls?
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Interior design

We’ve created this ‘back-to-basics’ interior design guide to help you to furnish and decorate your home with confidence. Packed with practical tips, basic interior design rules, and techniques to tackle tricky rooms, our guide can help you create a beautiful home.

“Every room can have its own mood, personality and charm,” wrote interior designer Charles Faudree. In a simple sentence, Faudree summarises a universal rule in interior design: aim to give each room soul and character that embodies it and, more importantly, the people within it.

But, while many of us have equally big ideas about interior design, it can be difficult to know where to start.

If you lack the decorator’s equivalent of green fingers, our practical interior design guide can help you execute your ideas in a way that actually works.

Work with the room to achieve balance

One of the key aspects of interior design is creating a sense of balance in every room, and there are three popular ways to do that: symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial.

If you’re going for a symmetrical look, the room should feel like there’s a left, right and middle to it. Choose a focal point to place in the centre, perhaps a statement mirror above a fireplace, and make sure furnishings are evenly weighted either side of it to create a feeling of symmetry. Having one large sofa on one side of the room, and a small armchair on the other, wouldn’t work for example. You’d need to balance out the large sofa with another of equal size. In fact, for a truly symmetrical balance it would help for the two sofas to be identical, resulting in a mirrored effect.

Asymmetrical balance is a little more lenient in one sense, but can actually be trickier to master. It’s all about achieving that air of symmetry, but without the mirrored feel. So, instead of two large sofas facing each other, you might have one large sofa, and two medium sized arm chairs. That way you’d get the same feeling of weightiness on each side of the room, but with a more dynamic result.

Then there’s radial balance, which is a little more unusual in the world of interior design. It also relies on a centre point, but this time, it should be directly in the middle of the room. A round coffee table, for example, or a statement, circular rug. The rest of the room’s furnishings should be placed ‘facing’ this centre point, to give the effect that they’re radiating from it.

How to start: Look at the room’s architectural features that can’t be changed, such as windows, doors and pillars. Add pieces around these features using one of the options above. When you’re done, walk around the room to evaluate the sightlines from different vantage points.

Rookie mistake to avoid: Never keep an item you’re not happy with just because it fits the pattern you’re trying to create. Trust your gut. If you’re not comfortable with an item, it needs to go.

Coffee table

Let the room give you directions

Achieve a sense of scale and proportion by working with the room and its dimensions. It’s not the best idea to try to squeeze that six-seater sofa into a tiny box room, or to leave a small armchair stranded and alone in an expansive living room. Don’t be afraid to add large furniture into larger rooms, and try to scale back when it comes to smaller rooms. If your love for outsized furniture can’t be checked, compensate for your queen-sized bed, ceiling-height shelf or large sofa by dotting smaller items around that can be moved or removed as needed.

How to start: Measure out each room so you have a sense of size when picking out your furnishings. For example, if your living room is on the small side, corner sofas fit comfortably in the space while still feeling luxurious. Opting for a modular corner sofa with individual pieces gives you further flexibility, allowing you to arrange the sections to suit the shape of the room.

Rookie mistake to avoid: Don’t forget accompanying furniture to complement your starring pieces. Your modular sofa may need to allow space for a coffee table, and your divan bed needs a bedside table for convenience. Think about how you’ll use each piece of furniture, and place useful items around it.

Corner sofa

Think function before form

If you hire an interior designer, one of the first questions they’re likely to ask is: “What do you usually do in this room?” When decorating and furnishing your home, ask yourself the same question.

Get a comprehensive sense of how you and your household use each room in your home. Then, add in design elements that work in harmony with the way you live.

Perhaps you’re a baking enthusiast who needs plenty of counter space for concocting your delicious creations? Maybe you love throwing dinner parties and are looking for enough oven space to feed your guests, or a dinner table that extends to seat everyone. You might even need to invest in a corner sofa bed for those seasoned dinner party types that keep you up ‘til the witching hour.

How to start: Start with the biggest items first when planning the layout. Consider big-ticket items such as your couch, dining set and bed as investment pieces – set aside a generous budget and choose timeless and stylish pieces that are hardwearing and durable.

Rookie mistake to avoid: Before making your purchases, consider how others in your household might interact with the items day-to-day. If you have pets or children, for example, you may need to opt for hardier furniture that’s easy to clean and maintain.

Create a focal point to draw the eye

One of the most impactful techniques used in interior design is choosing a focal point that naturally draws attention. Some common features that interior designers emphasise include fireplaces, windows, headboards, exposed brick walls and wood burning stoves.

If you’re intimidated by the prospect of creating a grand display piece, smaller focal points throughout the room can work well too. Groupings of furniture, a beautifully-designed table, unusual objects d’art or a bold-patterned rug all create focal points that draw the eye. How to start: Identify any distinguishing features that could serve as a focal point in the room. Arrange lighting in a way that highlights that area, and add accessories (such as candles or photo frames) or design elements (such as bold or contrasting colours) that command attention.

Rookie mistake to avoid: When it comes to large focal points, never use more than one in each room. If you’ve opted for smaller focal points, aim for no more than two in each room, and try not to place them near each other. Add rhythm to the room In interior decorating, creating rhythm means using one or more of the following techniques: Repetition: Incorporating the same colour throughout the room in accented or subtle ways using throws, cushions, plates or paintings.

Progression: Placing items of varying sizes in the same space, or in a radiating pattern. Contrast: Using opposing elements such as black and white pillows, circular tables with square chairs, or maroon red utensils with a fir green stove.

Transition: Using design elements to gently lead the eye across a room. An arched doorway to walk through, a curved sofa to introduce a curved window, or a graduated tile pattern to create atmosphere.

How to start: Once you’ve found a home for your larger items, follow one of these rhythm techniques to add a stylish finishing touch to each room. Don’t forget to use different textures, colours, patterns, styles and shapes.

Rookie mistake to avoid: It’s all too easy to go overboard with these smaller design features. Choose no more than two of these techniques and use the principles of balance to help keep the space feeling light, polished and sophisticated. A blank canvas awaits you as you embark on your decorating journey. With our guide as your personal interior design guru, we hope you enjoy creating a harmonious, thoughtfully designed and lovingly decorated home you’ll be proud to walk into every day.

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