Interior design rules, in many ways, are put in place to provide structure and prevent mistakes. Interior designers and other pros use certain guidelines to ensure the spaces they’re designing look objectively appealing and balanced. While we’re all for picking and choosing how you decorate your own space (hell yes, creative control!), some of these rules are critical to follow to ensure your room looks its best. On the flip side, other guidelines qualify more as style suggestions that are up for personal interpretation rather than hard-and-fast rules.
To help you tell the difference, we’re here to dissect which interior design rules you should respect and which you can totally skip when designing and curating your home.
Design Rules You Should Always Follow:
Rules exist for a reason. When decorating your home, these are worth your time to follow:
Be Mindful of Proportions
The proportions of a room and its furnishings are perhaps the most important consideration when decorating a space. You don’t want to end up with an overstuffed room full of furniture that’s too large for the space, or a room furnished with pieces that look like they belong in a Polly Pocket playhouse. To find a happy medium, pay attention to the size of your furnishings and how they relate to the overall size of the room. Big rooms need big furniture, while small rooms require smaller pieces to work well.
In the same vein, make sure your furnishings are proportionately spaced from one another. For instance, you want to be able to comfortably reach a drink on your coffee table, but you don’t want the table to be so close to your couch or chair that it’s a squeeze to walk in between. Think about balance as you choose and arrange furniture in the room for a perfectly proportioned space.
Measure Everything… Twice
Measurements are a critical part of the interior design process. Before purchasing any furniture for your space, measure your room, then determine the dimensions of the pieces you’re considering buying. For an added layer of certainty, mark where you’d like to place the furniture using painter’s tape on the floor. This will help you visualize the proportions of your potential layout before taking the plunge and clicking that buy button.
Similarly, be sure to measure (twice, for good measure—pun fully intended) for window treatments, artwork, shelving, and any other decor where size matters. Many pieces require proper spacial relation to look proportionate and aesthetically pleasing in a space.
A mix of textures is key to preventing your space from feeling flat or one-noted. Accent pillows, throw blankets, lampshades, and even plants can add an interesting textural element to a space without requiring a huge investment. For even more contrast, consider mixing furniture fabrics, such as a velvet couch with a leather chair, or incorporate accent furniture made from different materials, such as a wooden coffee table and glass side tables.
Rug Size Matters
Few things can make a room look more awkward than a rug that’s too small for its surroundings. Interior design rules state that all of the furniture in a given space should be able to fit comfortably on the rug, or at the bare minimum, the front two legs of each piece should rest on the rug. An exception for the two-legs rule would be for dining room tables and chairs—in this instance, you want ample space between the furniture and the rug’s perimeter to avoid the chair legs catching on the rug. If you’re unsure whether a rug is too small for your space, it’s a likely indication that a size or two larger would be a better option.
Respect the Art of Hanging Curtains
Hanging curtains may seem as simple as mounting a rod and stringing them up, but it goes well beyond that. Once hung, your curtain panels should either kiss the floor or slightly pool at the bottom. The curtain rod should also be hung in a manner that doesn’t crowd the window casing—in fact, hanging the rod closer to the ceiling will create the illusion of a taller space. As far as the number of curtain panels to hang in a window, they should never hang flat when closed. A good rule of thumb? The width of the curtain panels should be one-and-a-half to two times the width of the window itself.
Mix and Match Your Lighting
Lighting can really enhance the ambience of a space, which is why it’s so important to incorporate multiple sources of lighting in any room. In addition to a room’s natural light sources via windows, a patio door, or a skylight, work in other light fixtures in various forms. You could install an interesting overhead light fixture, add a floor lamp to a barren-looking corner, place accent lamps atop a table or two, and even hang a sconce or neon-lit wall art for an added glow in an unexpected spot.
Don’t Let Aesthetics Get in the Way of Function
This is basically interior design 101: Form shouldn’t come at the cost of function. That means you shouldn’t sacrifice comfort and practicality for aesthetics. While a chair that resembles a work of art would undoubtedly look stunning in your space, if it’s super uncomfortable to sit in, what’s the point? The perfect piece is one that offers both form and functionality, so keep looking until you find an option that checks both boxes.
Get Creative, But Keep It Consistent
You should by all means get creative when styling your home, but do so in a way that lends continuity to your space. From furniture to lighting to decor accents, everything should be complementary. Work with a cohesive color palette and a few varying design styles that work well together. This will give your space a fun and interesting feel while ensuring you’re not incorporating too much variance, ultimately helping you avoid a confusing and clashing aesthetic.
Make It Your Own
With so many rules to follow, aesthetic directions you can take, and endless products to choose from, it’s easy to become paralyzed with decor indecision. But at the end of the day, your goal should be to make your space feel like you. If you love a certain color scheme or decor style but are hesitant to implement it in your space because it doesn’t fit with the current trends or popular aesthetic, we urge you to trust your gut and decorate in a style that speaks to you. This is your space after all—its elements should reflect your personality and interests and no one else’s.
Design Rules You Can Ignore:
Some rules are meant to be broken. These are the guidelines we give you full permission to disregard:
No Dark Colors in Small Spaces
Traditional interior design rules say that dark colors make small spaces look even smaller, but we’ve seen plenty enough dark-painted rooms to know that rich, colorful tones can make a small space look delightfully dramatic. Whether you’re looking to pack a punch or create a cozy ambience, painting a room in deep tones is a surefire way to make a statement.
Keep the Ceiling White
Similarly, most ceilings are painted white to help make the room feel more expansive, but don’t feel like it has to stay that way. Painting your ceiling the same color as your walls gives a bold monochromatic look, while opting for a contrasting ceiling color is just as dynamic. The ultimate power move, however, is wallpapering your ceiling. Our advice: Don’t ignore that fifth wall. Adding color or pattern to the ceiling not only contributes an additional visual element to your space but can also change the entire feel of the room, depending on how the color or pattern impacts the lighting.
Don’t Mix Patterns
We’ll admit that mixing patterns can sometimes result in a space that looks too busy, but it’s also totally possible to pair patterns and prints in a fun and stylish way. To successfully do so, vary the scale of the patterns—for example, pair a large geometric-print rug with smaller geometric-patterned or striped accent pillows of varying sizes. You could also incorporate various patterns using complementary colors and contrasting materials—think an emerald Art Deco-style wallpaper with a neutral rug in an abstract motif. There are many ways to play with pattern, and it’s up to you to decide whether certain combinations give the desired aesthetic.
Invest in Matching Furniture
Forget the days of full matching furniture sets. Instead, curate a variety of pieces to create a more dimensional, dynamic space. You could stick to one particular style (like boho or mid-century modern) and create an amalgamation of that type of furniture in different colors or materials. Or you could get even more playful by introducing furnishings of various styles—perhaps industrial and farmhouse—to create an eclectic atmosphere.
Artwork Must Be Hung at Eye-Level
Most professional interior designers will tell you that art should always be hung at eye level. While this advice makes the most sense in some cases, we’re here to tell you that bending this rule can be even more engaging. For example, maybe you prefer the laidback look of this TikTok trend in which the art rests on an almost floor-level shelf. Or maybe you have a high-up shelf where you like to display large framed pieces intermixed with trailing plants. Neither of these scenarios involves art hung at eye level, but the setup can be aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.
Instead of adhering to a specific rule, consider the proportions of the decor and furnishings surrounding your art, and hang (or lean) the piece in a manner that flows with the entire setup.
Only Use One Type of Wood Finish
Don’t feel bound to using a single wood finish in your home. In fact, mixing distinct wood finishes within one space can create a captivating visual. For instance, you could pair a dark, espresso-stained dining room table with a set of chairs that feature a gorgeous natural oak finish. The key here is that the finishes are different enough that they complement one another rather than clash.