Design Principles: Rhythm & Emphasis

22 02 2010

I am going to try and make this post short and sweet since I think that rhythm and emphasis are 2 of the easier concepts to understand.


Personally, I think the hardest part of rhythm is spelling it!!

The Definition: Rhythm is based on the repetition of elements in space.  This repetition not only creates visual unity but also induces a rhythmic continuity of movement.

Since rhythm it is all about repetition we can take any type of item from furniture to structural elements like a column and repeat, repeat, repeat in a pattern or line.  This establishes a unity within the space that is three dimensional and easy to follow.

The picture above from Coastal Living-Jan 2010 shows an elegant use of rhythm in the columns adjoined with lattice work.  They also used the principle in the ceiling, seating and fans.  By using the same elements over and over they really pulled together the space and made it one inviting patio!


The Definition: The coexistence of dominate and subordinate elements in the composition of an interior setting.  A design without any dominant elements would be bland and monotonous.

However, if there are too many assertive elements the design would be cluttered and chaotic, detracting from what may be truly important.  Each part of design should be given proper significance according to its degree of importance in the overall scheme.

It is obvious what Kerry Delrose (designer) wants you to notice in her design featured in House Beautiful (July 2009).  This chair is an excellent point of emphasis since it has such subdued surroundings in black, tan and white.  The pop of red-orange is just want this room needed.

It is more of a subtle approach in this all white kitchen design seen in Metropolitan Home Magazine.  But Melissa Palazzo of Pal + Smith knows where to make her pop of color count.  The simple artwork in aqua next to its complimentary color of orange and a little green really make this room stand out (even though its main color is white).  She even put a glass vase in the foreground to really drive home the emphasis that turquoise makes in the room.  In my opinion, well done Melissa!

So there you have it.  Like I said, short and sweet.  Don’t you think that emphasis really adds to the room in a way that none of the other principles can?  Basically saying, it is what you focus the room around when you are making a design.  What is your favorite emphasis in your own house?  Is it an old heirloom that has been passed down thru the years?  Or may be it is a fantastic piece of art that you have displayed in all its glory.  Since I love hearing from you fill me in with your favorite bit of emphasis.


Design Principles: Unity & Variety

15 02 2010

Picking up where we left off last week with harmony, variety shares a common thread in creating visual interest.  Harmony when carried too far in the use of elements with similar traits can result in a unified but uninteresting composition.  Variety, on the other hand, when carried to an extreme for the sake of interest can result in visual chaos.  It is the careful and artistic tension between order and disorder-between unity and variety- that enlivens harmony and creates interest in an interior setting.

Adding variety, but maintaining unity is as simple as :

  • Varying size
  • Varying orientation
  • Varying detail characteristics
  • Varying texture
  • Varying color

Here, the designers, Garcia & Lavin used similar content in a variety of frame sizes to make an impact along an entire wall, showing a mix between harmony and variety.   The spiral layout helps to reinforce the unity of the entire collection.

In the picture above, John Hix (designer) used pictures of bubbles to create unity within the art pieces, but chose to offer a variety in the orientation.  This style could have caused visual chaos like I mentioned before by changing too many elements, but he kept a consistent size and content which helps to keep harmony within the pieces.  I also like that he used variety when picking pillow fabric, but kept them unified by keeping them the same size as well.

The collection of pottery from Heath Ceramics shows how small detail characteristics make a big difference within interior accents.  While the overall shape of each vase is circular the height and openings are different adding visual interest through variety.

Variety doesn’t just come in different shapes, it can also come in textures ranging from acrylic to wood.  All the display boxes show a variety of textures available at  If you put some of these on a wall and varied a couple of them to a different texture it would add a lot of visual spice to any wall.

In the art above, the backgrounds change color, but they find unity in their square shape and building content. The stacking of 3 sets really helps to fill the wall and balance out the window to the left of the paintings.

You can also check out what we have covered so far in our design principles series by clicking here.  So far what is your favorite design principle that we have covered?  How do you use it in your home to make the space feel unique?  Look for our last installment of the series next monday when we cover, Rhythm & Empahsis.

Design Principles: Balance & Harmony

8 02 2010


Balance in a space is not that far off from balance in our lives.  When our balance is off personally, we can see it, feel it and fix it, same goes for in a space.

The Definition: Each element in the ensemble of interior space has specific characteristics of shape, form, size, color and texture.  These factors along with location and orientation help to determine the visual weight of an element, thus showing us the attention that an individual element will attract.

According to Ching, characteristics that enhance visual weight of an element and attract our attention are:

  • Contrasting shapes (ie. circle vs. square)
  • Contrasting textures (smooth vs. rough)
  • Unusual proportions
  • Elaborate details

There are 3 types of balance: symmetrical, radial and asymmetrical.

Symmetrical balance works off of an axis (which is an invisible line that runs down the middle of a room) where both sides of the axis are exactly the same (similar to the way a palindrome works ie: racecar.)

Radial balance results from the arrangement of elements positioned around a center point.  This produces a centralized composition which stresses the center as a focal point.

Asymmetry is the lack of correspondence in size, shape, color, or relative positioning among elements.  By using visual weight of individual items we create balance in the overall room without having to duplicate items.  Asymmetry is not as obvious visually as symmetry, but since it is capable of expressing movement and change it is more flexible and can readily adapt to any room.


I am sure we have all witnessed a harmonious moment such as 3 kids in the back of a car on a long trip that all get quite and start playing the license plate game.  No fighting, just pleasing agreement.  This is exactly what it is like in a room as well.

The Definition: consonance or the pleasing agreement of parts or combination of parts in a composition.

While balance achieves unity through the careful arrangement of both similar and dissimilar elements, the principle of harmony involves the careful selection of elements that share a common trait or characteristic.  Examples of these are:

  • Common size
  • Similar colors
  • Common shape
  • Similar materials

Harmony, when carried too far can get pretty predictable quickly so by adding variety we carefully add interest.  The prints on the wall display this well.  Next week we will cover unity and variety as we continue in our Design Principles series.

So what kind of balance do you prefer?  Can you guess which I do?  I do have a favorite but before I share I want to get your take on which you like and why.

Design Principles: Proportion & Scale

1 02 2010

Most of the question I receive these days pertain to how to pull together a composition, whether setting a mantle or table scape, everyone wants theirs to be interesting to look at.  As a designer, I don’t have a “one way fits all” answer to how to pull it together—but we do have rules that we must live by called design principles.  In the next few Mondays I am going to be tackling a few of these rules and try not bore you to death.  Hopefully they will be short, sweet and informative (and mostly pictures.)

Defining: Proportion and Scale.

Both proportion and scale deal with the relative sizes of things.  The difference is, proportion pertains to the relationships between the parts of a composition, while scale refers specifically to the size of something, relative to some known standard or recognized constant.

Let’s first talk about scale because I think it is easier to illustrate.  I have always been a person drawn to things that are out of scale.  Whether it be a jack that is much too large to play with or a pear that is basically half the size of your microwave (FYI, the microwave is a standard size.)  Give me a choice between an acoustic guitar and a ukulele and I’ll pick the ukulele hands down.  If it is extremely large or very small, I find it FUNNY!

When we introduce things in a scale that is unexpected we add interest to a composition.  These are two examples found in my very own home as ways that I have jazzed up the top of something ordinary using scale.

Moving along to proportion…this one is a bit tougher to explain.  As we said above, proportion pertains to the relationships between the parts of a composition.  Since there are no hard and fast rules that guide composition, proportion can be found many different ways and they are all correct.

In the following picture, the proportion of each vase adds something to the total composition.  Varying heights, different shapes, but all in the same color and material add visual interest.  It isn’t one piece of the puzzle when you are talking proportion but the sum of all goods.

The following pictures illustrate strong uses of both scale and proportion.

Aren’t the globes ultra chic in this picture?!  How often have to looked at a globe and thought, “you would really make a difference in *blank* room.”  I would venture to guess-probably never.  The combination of the huge map and the varying globes really show you that what you use isn’t really as important as how they work together.

I think this picture shows a grand use of scale.  If you put something small where the vase currently is everything would look out of sync.  But since they used a tall, singular vase on the right, they offset it on the left with a tall plant, a couple medium sized items (picture frame and blue box) and a couple very small items like the star fish.  All together this composition has great balance.

This picture shows a beautiful use of proportion.  They have a HEAVY table with much lighter seating and used an ultra thin hide as the rug that pulls everything together.  They used a large chandelier that is about the same width as the table, but kept it high and added a delicate table scape to add contrast.

So, do you have a favorite item that is out of scale, like our pear?  Tell me what you have at home and how YOU combined it with other items to really show off its size.