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You can use these six elements of design to help your customers make the best possible home furnishings purchases.

There are six elements of design. Interior Designers and Decorators use these elements, almost intuitively in their day to day work. If you understand these "elements", you can put them to use in your own decorating schemes. They are: space, line, form, color, texture and pattern. The coordinating or contrasting use of the six elements will determine the total decorating theme that you will produce for your clients. Lets talk about each element individually and then about how to better understand them and how they can be used.

Space is the area in which we work. It defines boundaries and sets the limits of our design. It is limited by width, length and height. Learn how to assess the space present, how to make space smaller or larger and how to use it properly. Study space, plan it and make the most of it.

To make the space seem larger, you should use soft, light, cool colors. Another way to visually expand your customer's space is to keep the eye moving. This is accomplished by using colors with low contrast. If you want to make an area, or space appear to be smaller and more confined, you need to use patterns or dark, warm colors or intense contrasting colors that will make walls, etc., seem to advance visually.

In general terms, line establishes shape and form. It suggests movement and leads or moves the eye around the room.
Lines are either straight or curved. Straight lines move the eye and set the tone; they are considered to be more masculine. Vertical lines suggest formality and dignity. Horizontal lines are more restful, relaxed and casual. Diagonal lines create a sense of drama. Curved lines add interest and relief. They reflect the personality and ambience of a room and are considered to be softer and therefore more feminine.

The shape of an object is its form (rectangle, square, triangle, round, oval...). In any one room, the various forms should be harmonious and composed of similar types of lines. One of the most important tenets of interior decoration is that comfort and function should not be sacrificed in order to use a certain form. For example, if a chair is pleasing to look at but uncomfortable to sit in, it is not functional, and is not good interior design.

Generally speaking, rectangular shapes are more pleasing to the eye than square shapes. Rectangles are frequently the dominant shape in a room. A square shape generally suggests a rational, stable form with no directionality. A circle implies unity and completeness. A triangle is a stable, but dynamic shape.

The surface of an object, its smoothness or roughness, is another important decorating tool. The use of several complementary textures can add variety and keep interest alive. Be careful to avoid dramatic contrasts between the textures used in a decorating scheme. For example, it is not a good idea to use casual, rough burlap in the same setting with a soft and formal moiré.
Heavily textured, nubby, rough surfaces absorb more light. They are more casual in feeling; they seem to be darker and they are good at absorbing sound. Smooth and shiny surfaces are more formal; they appear to be lighter and are more reflective of light.

Pattern is the repetition of a decorative motif on a surface. It is closely related to texture, but individual elements of pattern appear as individual items and texture appears as an overall tone.

Pattern provides the spice in decorating. As with using spices in cooking, the interior designer or retail sales consultant has to be careful with its use. Scale is important in the use of pattern. If a large print is used on a small object the pattern will get lost. The skill of using proper pattern combinations is an important one to cultivate. You can safely use a floral pattern with a geometric pattern, a stripe or check. Be careful not to create an effect that is too busy. Use patterns that are in proportion to each other. A large floral would be out of proportion with a small check.

Color is one of the most powerful tools used in interior design/ decorating. Color should be studied both psychologically and emotionally to be understood and used correctly.

Learn the fundamentals of the Color wheel. Know how to select colors under different lighting conditions. The amount of light also affects Color. Dim lighting reduces a color's value and diminishes its hue. High lighting levels can either intensify the hue or make the color appear washed out. Whether the light is natural or artificial will have an effect on the final perception of the Color. Color swatches should be tested in their actual location under the expected lighting conditions before final decisions are made.
The amount of area covered affects color. Variations may be negligible in a small color sample, but may be overwhelming in the finished product, color intensifies as the area of color increases.

It is also important to remember that interior colors should be chosen inside and exterior colors outside. Once you become aware of this necessity, it seems obvious, but many people choose colors, especially exterior colors, inside.

Now that you know the six Elements of Design , how can you better understand them and how can you make them work for you? Go through your decorating magazines and find several pictures dealing with each of the Elements we have discussed. That is, find pictures dealing with:

  • Space: Look for pictures of small area rooms and large area rooms,
  • Line: Look for pictures in which "line" is quite noticeable. You should be looking for good examples of vertical, horizontal diagonal and curved lines.
  • Form: Find pictures of objects of different shapes and sizes in a room such as tables, lamps and sofas. Observe the harmony and balance of line and scale.
  • Texture: Look for pictures where texture is evident, Search out casual settings and formal settings. Are the casual settings more heavily textured than the more formal settings?
  • Pattern: Browse through wallcovering books, upholstery samples or magazine pictures looking for examples of the use and mixing of patterns.
  • Color: Look for identical spaces using different colors, e.g. the same room painted in different tones will illustrate the effect.
    Study the pictures that you have chosen relating to the definitions presented above. Start observing these six elements in your everyday travels and begin to understand them better. Then start using them in your decorating schemes,

Note: Excerpts in this article were taken from The Interior Decorating Workbook by Marlene Pearce, and the New Guide to Soft Window Treatments by National Decorating Products Association, St. Louis, MO.

Marlene Pearce is a principal of Marlene Pearce And Associates.