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The Secrets of Interior Design

It’s said there’s a world of difference between a room designed by a professional interior designer and one done by a home decorator. From balancing colour schemes to hanging artwork, planning lighting and even positioning curtains, designers have a box of tricks that can turn an average scheme into a fabulous space. We’ve rounded up some of the trade’s best-kept secrets to take your own décor to the next level.

Plan thoroughfares

One of the most common design mistakes that non-designers make – especially in open-plan spaces – is cramming too much furniture into an area without leaving enough room for people to walk around comfortably. The most frequently-used thoroughfares in your home should be at least 90cm wide – just enough for two people to pass each other.

Nail the floor plan

Speaking of leaving enough space, it’s also important to make sure there is room to move around in less busy areas of your home. For example, you should ideally leave about 45cm between sofas, chairs and coffee tables in your living room. This gives you plenty of space for sitting and moving around without having to stretch too far for your cup of coffee or shout across the room to have a conversation.

The power of three

Three is most definitely a magic number when it comes to design – as are odd numbers in general. Grouping odd numbers of items – be it cushions, vases, pictures or candles – forces the eye to move around the display, creating a level of visual interest that symmetrical, even-numbered arrangements simply can’t compete with.

The 70-30 split

Here’s another handy trick for getting your proportions right and balancing different styles within the same space. A guaranteed way to give a room character is to decorate about 70% of it in a particular style then complete the remaining 30% in a completely different style. So you can spice up a largely traditional scheme with a smattering of contemporary items, or vice versa.

Make flooring cohesive

Using the same flooring throughout different rooms or areas in your home is an easy way to make the space feel much bigger than it is. If you have large, open-plan rooms, use rugs to break up the continuity and divide the space according to use. This will create the impression of distinct sitting and dining areas that still pull together as part of the same, larger whole.

Balance your colour scheme

Want a failsafe way to proportion a three-colour scheme? Stick to 60% for your dominant colour, 30% for your secondary colour and 10% for your accent colour and you’ll find it hard to go wrong. To add a fourth colour into the mix, split the secondary colour or, at a push, the dominant colour, but never the accent. 

Upcycle drab furniture

Being able to transform old furniture is an interior decorator’s secret weapon. Whether turning mass-produced flat-pack designs into one-off pieces or sprucing up junk-shop bargains into shabby-chic heirlooms, repainting furniture is a simple way to add colour and character in your home at rock bottom prices. Go for an all-in-one paint that doesn’t need primer to cut down on prep time.

Colour block walls

Block painting walls with harmonious or contrasting colours can alter a room’s sense of space and also give your scheme a fun twist. To get a crisp finish, always use masking or decorator’s tape. Get an instant style fix wby marking out geometric shapes and fill in the blanks with a variety of colours that reflect your personality.

Highlight a fireplace

Brightly painted fireplace surrounds have become an on-trend feature – we especially love this geometric design by Beston interior designers team. What’s more, you don’t necessarily need a period property to achieve the look. A colourful fireplace surround can become a feature on its own as an original storage solution. Fill the centre with books or candles and use the top shelf to lean art and display house plants.

Add seasonal updates

Paying attention to detail adds a professional finishing touch that creates interest and character. An effective way to achieve this is by accessorising with endearing objects that echo the current season. This autumnal display with pumpkins and lanterns will make a warm welcome for guests entering an entryway and can be easily updated for the holidays.

Style bookshelves right

Learning the art of display makes the difference between practical storage and a beautiful feature. Here’s how to make your bookshelves Instagram-worthy. Do not overcrowd the space, choose accessories in the same colour and group items together in odd numbers. Use books as objects and exhibit them both horizontally and vertically for interest. Aim for two-thirds books, one-third accessories and make sure to include either plants, foliage or flowers too.

Design around your line of sight

The best height to hang or stand a TV is at eye level in the position you’ll be watching it from. So in your living room, you’ll want it at the same height as your head when you’re sitting down. In a kitchen, you might want to hang it at your eye line when you’re standing or sitting at a breakfast bar. The ideal TV viewing distance is about 1.5 times the diagonal span of your TV screen.

Add panelling to walls

Wooden wall panels aren’t just for period properties. This decorative feature adds character and texture to contemporary homes too and is a growing trend. What’s more, it may look expensive but budget versions made from wood alternatives like fibreboard and OSB are super cheap and, once mounted, can hide wall surfaces that have seen better days. Tongue and groove panels make rustic schemes warm and cosy while framed and mid-height styles suit traditional looks and create a refined finish. Paint the panels in bold or muted tones for up-to-date appeal. 

Let in natural light

There is no substitute for natural light. It not only benefits our health and wellbeing but it also affects how colours appear. Always look at the light in your room before you decorate it. South-facing rooms benefit from the maximum amount of light whereas north-facing will be darker, therefore, paint colours can seem a completely different hue in one room to another.

Wallpaper the bathroom

You don’t necessarily need to stick to tiles in the bathroom. Wallpapering bathroom walls can make a beautiful style statement and it’s a great place to use bold pattern and colour you might not use elsewhere. Large prints look especially striking in small spaces so feature wallpaper can transform cloakrooms and downstairs toilets, too. Look for specialist bathroom wallpaper that is wash and splash-resistant.

Accent with black

There is a misconception that black makes things look closed in and dreary but this isn’t the whole story. Interior designers use it as an accent because it can actually enlarge the feeling of space by placing the darkest tone on an area you want to ‘push back’. The key is to use the bold shade sparingly to ground a room and tie the scheme together. Against a pale backdrop and used in repetition, the overall contrast adds a striking punch and looks undoubtedly chic.

Dress the bed

A bedroom should reflect your personality and as the bed takes up so much physical and visual space it certainly needs attention. So, what better way to make an impact than with versatile bedlinen that can easily be changed whenever the mood takes your fancy. Look for good quality bedlinen in colours and patterns that complement the surroundings and then layer like a pro with propped pillows, a throw blanket and decorative cushions for a hotel-chic vibe.

Layer tonal shades

Using multiple shades of the same colour immediately makes a room look polished and pulled together, and it’s a trick that you can’t get wrong. Layer the same colour or vary hues, adding texture and pattern into the mix. Start with a failsafe array of sofa cushions and then move onto larger items and structural parts of a room, for instance, painting a piece of furniture the same colour as the wall behind.

Invest in designer pieces

Designer furniture only gets better with age, so it’s well worth investing. Iconic pieces with dramatic shapes make a great focal point in any room. A Fritz Hansen chair, Ercol sideboard or Arco Flos floor lamp will always attract attention and will never go out of fashion.

Fall in love with stools

Versatile stools are an interior decorator’s secret weapon. This little piece of furniture can be slotted into any design to add functionality. Tuck or stack them at the side of a room when not in use and then bring them out for extra seating when needed. Give them multifunctional purpose, for instance, a lidded stool makes an excellent side table and storage piece in one

Play around with scale

Going supersized gives you instant interior design brownie points. Not only does upscaling a key accessory or piece of furniture make a striking style statement but it also creates a comfortable, cosy atmosphere in a room. Lamps and pendant lights offer the perfect way to play with scale, as they can create a big impact without taking up too much space.

Warm with wood

If a room lacks warmth and character, there’s no better antidote than wood. While timber accessories and furniture are an easy way to lift a scheme and add texture, a 3D wall can really work wonders in a space without a focal point. It doesn’t have to cost the earth either – this chic beach house-inspired design can be achieved with narrow strips of reclaimed wood. For something more rustic, sand down the surface before installing.

Swatch your paint

Before you commit to a wall colour, it’s important to paint a swatch and observe how the shade looks in different light conditions. For a mess-free method, paint swatches on A3 pieces of paper and move them around the room throughout the day, observing how they look in different corners of the space.

Measure dining room dimensions

Dining tables often get squeezed in as an afterthought, but it’s worth thinking carefully about how much space you need to avoid bumping elbows while you eat. The ideal dining table height is 74cm, with 45cm of legroom and 75cm of space between the table and the wall so you can get up and sit down comfortably. Each place setting should be about 65cm wide.

Let floors do the talking

Just like ceilings, floors are often left as an afterthought in decorating schemes but a statement floor can create striking results that will add wow-factor to the room. The key is to incorporate balance, for instance,  if the floor is busy pattern make sure the rest of the room is pared back and neutral. Look for furniture pieces with a small footprint and lift what you can off the floor. 

Call on complementary colours

The colour wheel is an interior design essential. It can help you to plan your colour pairings or guide you out of a design rut when you’re struggling for inspiration. Use it to help you come up with complementary schemes (using colours from opposite sides of the wheel), analogous schemes (using colours next to each other on the wheel) or bolder schemes such as split complementary or triadic, which use three colours.

Obey the golden ratio

The golden ratio is a proportion often seen in nature and has served artists well for centuries. Interior designers can put it to good use too and create schemes that feel effortlessly harmonious. It works by dividing spaces into approximately two-thirds for one section and one third for the remainder. In this scheme by Sara Tramp , the bed and bedside table take up roughly two-thirds of the arrangement, while the shelving unit takes up around a third, creating a sense of balance without feeling too formal.

Repeat home accessories

Repeating shapes throughout a scheme is a subtle way to help the human brain read a space as a harmonious whole. Here, for example, a selection of rectangles – in the pictures, sofa and scatter cushions – echo one another, as do the pair of round mirrors, round coffee table and vase. The central ampersand purposefully disrupts the repetition so the scheme doesn’t become too predictable. 

Orchestrate indoor lighting

Good lighting is often the last thing most people think about when coming up with a new design scheme, but it really should be the first. You need to carefully plan where every single light, switch and socket will go before turning to decorating, making sure you include a good mix of overhead lighting, task lighting, mood lighting and accent lighting. Using the right colour and brightness of light bulb for the right tasks will also help your room look and perform its best.

Embrace dark colours

What’s the best way to make the most of a dark room? The instinctive answer might be to paint it bright white to reflect as much light as possible. But this can give a dingy room an off-putting, grey-ish tone that feels needlessly gloomy. Instead, embrace the dark side and paint your walls in deep, rich hues to create an irresistibly cosy scheme that draws you in. Lighten the mood with a few bright accents and make sure you include plenty of layered lighting. 

Take design tips from nature

You don’t have to spend hours scouring through pretty pictures of interiors to find your dream scheme. Look around and you’ll start to see inspiration everywhere – from the soothing texture of pebbles on a beach to petrol shimmering in a forecourt puddle. Take photos and use them to help you create a concept board to inform your design. This coastal-themed room draws on the beach, from the lobster-pot light fitting to the whitewashed wood walls.

Create an outdoor room

Planning an alfresco dining room for outdoor entertaining? Treat your exterior space as you would a living room scheme and factor in rugs, lighting, comfortable seating and areas to pop drinks. Paint fences in sunny colours, display artwork (you can buy prints specifically for outdoors, to survive the elements) and hanging plants. Lastly, use an outdoor rug to ground the scheme.

Be punchy with pattern

Combining different patterns in the same room can be tricky, but a good tip is to use varying patterns in similar colours, or the same pattern but in varying scales. For example, try small florals mixed with big blowsy blooms, or go for bold geo shapes in different colourways as shown here.

Take floor tiles onto walls

Who says you can’t use the same patterned tiles on both walls and floors? Carry them up from the floor to the ceiling for a standout design with maximum impact.

Use your whole room

Don’t feel you have to line your furniture up along the walls… If you have a big living room, bringing sofas and armchairs into the centre of the space will create a cosy and much more sociable seating space. This works particularly well in open-plan spaces and you can always place a console at the back of your seating so you’re not looking at a big expanse of sofa. If your room is too small for a central sofa, keep it against the wall and arrange a few armchairs at angles (facing towards the sofa) to get the designer look.

Map out a gallery wall

A staple in the interior design repertoire, the gallery wall is an exercise in creativity and balance – but not even the experts get it right the first time. To achieve that Instagram-worthy display, map out your design beforehand. Cut out cardboard templates of each frame you want to hang and arrange them across the wall with Blu Tac until you find a combination that works, then simply swap for the real thing!

Get your rug right

Rugs are the ultimate way to draw an interior design scheme together, but go too small and the rug will look lost and your scheme will fall flat. Ideally, a rug should be big enough that some or all of your furniture’s feet can sit on it – using a tiny rug under a coffee table will only make a room feel poky. In a dining area, you should be able to sit at the dining table with all four of your chair’s feet on the rug. Consider usiing them in different ways, too – whether it’s a few rugs overlapping each other or even hung in place of wallhangings.

Add atmosphere with mood lighting

Mood lighting can instantly create the right atmosphere. Dimmer switches give you the power to use the same bulb as either general lighting or mood lighting, so installing them in every room will instantly boost the versatility of your lighting scheme. If you’re using LED lighting, make sure you choose dimmer switches that are LED-compatible so the bulbs glow brightly enough and don’t flicker. Lamps are ideal for creating a cosy glow at night, and candles, lanterns and wall lights will all help add to your room’s overall ambience. Also, try using LED-strip lights to highlight an alcove or under shelving to highlight your favourite features. 

Take the long view

Look at the flow of your home and take into account the room that’s beyond the one you’re painting. The door frame in this picture has been painted in the same pale pink as the wall in the room beyond, tying the two spaces together. It doesn’t have to be a door frame, either – look at highlighting other areas of woodwork, from picture rails and skirting to window frames and bannisters.

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