Key Interior Design Principles and How To Incorporate Them

ECOS Paints 09/03/2021

When we think of painters, we often picture a free-wheeling artist who tosses their emotions onto the canvas. However, far more planning goes into painting than people think. A trained artist usually has principles like line, balance, and contrast to help create a piece that expresses the sentiment they want to convey.

The same is true of interior designers. In fact, many of the concepts we see used in art are also used in design. And when you understand these key interior design principles and how to incorporate them into your space, you can create a room that looks like it was designed by a professional.


Those new to room design often make the mistake of thinking creating an appealing room means adding pretty things into a room. But good room design considers what is in the room and what isn’t in the room. This idea is embodied by the idea of positive, negative, and three-dimensional space. Below we explore these terms and what they refer to.

  • Positive space: refers to the amount of space taken up by objects in the room.
  • Negative space: refers to the space surrounding the objects in a room.
  • Three-dimensional space: in art, these are the techniques artists use to create the illusion of three dimensions of space on a two-dimensional canvas. In room design, think of this as using the length and width of a room as well as the height.

Create a Sense of Calm and Balance

If you have ever visited a webpage that was overloaded with images, links, and a multicolored background, you know they are less than user-friendly. Overwhelmed with visual stimuli, you aren’t sure where your eye is supposed to focus, leaving you stressed just looking at it.

The same can happen in an overly busy room loaded down with furniture, accessories, and patterns. Allowing unoccupied negative space gives the person stepping into the room a little more visual breathing room, making the space feel much more peaceful.

Highlight Room Elements

The 1851 painting George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware River is full of positive space taken up by the water, the ice, the boats, the soldiers, and of course, a then-General George Washington. This is balanced by empty spacing taking up the top half of the painting, especially around Washington himself. This highlights him in the viewer’s eye, showing him to be the main point.

In a room, you can use this concept to create a focal point. If there’s a piece of art or an architectural feature in your room, the best way to highlight it is to put space between it and other elements in the room, such as other wall art or furniture. This also gives the room design a greater sense of order and purpose.

Make Room Appear Bigger

Because we place so much emphasis on our floor plans, the third dimension is often underutilized when it comes to room design. But just like paintings that emphasize the sky, room designs that allow space between the floor and the ceiling often make the space seem bigger. You can emphasize the room’s height by choosing lower-standing furniture and painting the ceiling a lighter color than the walls.


In art, light can dramatically impact the mood of a piece. A scene painted by candlelight, like An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright, can appear dramatic and mysterious compared to pictures that are full of sunlight, like Albert Bierstadt’s Among the Sierra Nevada, California. This is a key interior design principle to incorporate when trying to achieve a transformed space.

Highlight Color

Color is light. So, it makes sense that a room’s lighting would impact the way we perceive color. Different types of light fixtures may have warm, neutral, or cooler undertones. That means that the lighting can completely impact the color scheme of a room. Warm lighting will make warm tones warmer, and vice versa.

This idea also impacts the feeling you may have about the room itself. For instance, warmer lighting makes a space feel cozy and relaxed, which is ideal for spaces like a dining room or bedroom. Cool lighting lends itself to productivity, making it better suited for a home office or gym.

Adjust the Perception of Space

Along with color, light can also change how you perceive space. Rooms with ample lighting tend to feel more spacious, while rooms with dimmer lighting tend to feel more intimate. Rooms that you want to feel more open often benefit from large windows and more light fixtures.

If you want to make a large space feel more intimate without it feeling shadowy, a simple solution is to have ample recessed lighting attached to a dimmer switch. This way, your room will feel more intimate without feeling dark.

Pattern and Motif

In interior design, a lot of emphasis is placed on color, such as color schemes, warm and cool colors, and color psychology. However, less attention is placed on the idea of patterns and motifs in a room, or the way colors, shapes, and lines repeat in a room, such as polka dots, squares, or other shapes. These can add a great deal to the space.

Incorporate Themes

Adding a theme to a room is a common stylistic choice. However, not everyone wants to create a garishly obvious theme replete with tacky accessories. Adding a motif can help you nod to a theme subtly. Here are some examples:

  • Toile or floral print can add to a cottagecore design.
  • Blue and white stripes can add to a coastal theme.
  • Aztec-inspired patterns can add to a southwest theme.
  • Plaid can add to a rustic aesthetic.

Again, these patterns do not have to be the central focal point of the room. But if you have color schemes and furniture choices associated with a theme, adding the patterns in subtle ways such as through drapes, throw pillows, or rugs will bring home the theme without barraging the eye with it.

Color Accents

Designing rooms based on neutral color schemes is a popular design choice, especially for newer homes. Even so, adding a colorful accent to the space adds visual interest and greater depth to the room. Patterns are an excellent way of adding this element, and the contrast may even create a focal point in the room.

These color pops can be done on a small or large scale. For instance, painting an ombre accent wall may add a large color pop, while choosing colorful throw pillows for a neutral-colored couch may add a smaller yet still eye-catching touch.

No interior design is complete without a new coat of paint. Here at ECOS Paints we have all styles and colors of non-toxic* interior paint to help bring your vision for your room’s design to life.

Non-toxic - Conforms to ASTM-D4236, specifically concerning oral toxicity, skin irritation and respiratory effects.