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Fundamental interior decorating tips that everyone should know

Decorating is an indispensable part of interior design. In my last post, I brought up the concept of relations between "subject" and "background" while decorating our homes. We should always prioritize their relations and interactions instead of focusing only on the aesthetics of each individual item.


In order to interpret my point, I used good and bad examples of residential rooms that were featured in either a piano or a green sofa. (To read that one first, click here.) Today we are going to continue on this subject by studying more sophisticated examples and eventually learn some essential interior design basics which will benefit us all our lives.


Exchange roles of subject and background


You can always change visual priorities between subject and background, as long as the balance is well maintained.


In the previous post, we focused on analyzing interior spaces with a couch as the focal point. When your concept is not making the couch the focus, the couch can also work together with the wall/room as the general background and let other decorative items shine. Below are 2 very good examples where the white environment and other scattered colors proportionally contribute to their harmony.


The couches blend into the spatial background since they are dressed in the same color as the surrounding walls & ambiance. This gesture gives us the opportunity of setting visual focus on other elements such as the neutral-toned wall art frames as well as the accent cushions on the couch in the first image. The accent cushions follow the general color scheme which is calm and restrained, in spite of being an accent, they don't draw all our attention on themselves; instead, they humbly complete the scene with some coziness and peace.


Images from pinterest.ca


Below is an opposite example of different subjects competing with each other. In fact, the gallery wall in this room is expressive enough by its dynamic art frames in different themes and formats, and the mustard couch below just weakens the beauty of the gallery wall by its strong, bold color and heavy visual weight. If we change the mustard color into white or black, or even a very pale color like light brown, the entire space will feel much more breathable and appear more focused, therefore, the gallery wall clearly becomes the subject of this scene and the couch plays a role of supporting background.


Images from pinterest.ca


Below are another 2 good examples that show us how the elements in both space that have the biggest volumes work: the light grey couch and the dark grey floating cabinet. In the first image, like examples at the beginning of this article, the couch has a very appealing shape but its color almost makes it disappearing, which gives the performing stage to all other fun objects that reflect the characters of people who live here.


Images from pinterest.ca


As we see from the second image above, the dark grey floating cabinet is the most voluminous item but is finished in the same color as the background wall. This makes it possible that 2 of the wall art frames in green and red stand out and become the visual focus. Talking about the design concept, the interior designer gives us no choice but to be stimulated by the 2 frames presented in complementary colors that appear very striking. Try to imagine if the cabinet is in white or some other bright and bold colors. The focused effect will be reduced significantly. This example also tells us that great interior design should be addressed as a monolithic piece instead of picking each object separately although they may be all fabulous items themselves.


Learn how to leave blank space


Let's move on to an issue, that many families who want to have an artistic living environment cannot avoid, artwork walls.


Just like in the image below, many people have their art collections and want to display them all, which is totally lovely. I love it when people appreciate art in their day to day life. The problem is that many of them don't know how to arrange the artworks in a way of maximizing the beauty of them, therefore, eventually adding visual values to their space; quite often, the way of how they hang their artworks is making the wall/room unbreathable, due to the lack of contrast and focus.


All the artworks in the photo are pretty nice themselves, but when hung together, similar sizes, formats, and random spacing between frames make the whole wall quite characterless and trigger visual fatigue. The innate beauty of each artwork is not exerting the expected impact when clustered like this.


Images from pinterest.ca


Basically, we need contrasts for our visual enjoyment. Contrasts in color hues, contrasts in brightness, contrasts in shapes, contrasts in volumes, etc. This will be discussed separately in my future posts.


Today we are only going to talk about something we usually take as "positive" and "negative" space. For example, if an oil painting on the wall is considered positive, the wall as its background is negative.


When I was an architectural student in the university, once I submitted a presentation package and there was an awfully drawn detail of a handrail among other nice drawings on one page of the package. My professor ruthlessly put a big red cross on the detail and told me "Don't put any drawings that you find ugly just to fulfill the page. Think about what you want to express the most through this page and eliminate other items if they don't support what you want to convey." I did what she said and the page got its leap. Not only did the bad detail devaluate the presentation, but the jammed space also made the page less breathable.


Ever since that hard experience, I always try to implement the principle that quantity can never make up for bad qualities.


Chineses painting has a very long history, deep-rooted in its unique culture. One of the most essential spirits of the technique/aesthetic in Chinese painting I believe is called "leaving blank space". You may feel it via this ancient landscape painting below. Not stuffing the visual or physical space really creates a powerful sensation. I am not talking about the overused motto "less is more". It's about contrast, balance, and the sense of mystery. The purposefully left empty space is so inspiring that it evokes infinite imaginations beyond the canvas.


Xia Gui (Approx. 1194 ~ 1225): Twelve views taken from a thatched hut, ink and colors on silk, 27.31cm x 253.67cm, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, U.S.A.


Great art inspires people, so is interior decor.


More successful concepts are exemplified through the 2 interior scenes below. In the first image, the majority of the view is the wall and the floor, which have a medium brightness (greyish blue and medium brown), so does the low sideboard (grey). In order to make the room feel more interesting and more exciting, we need to add some contrasts to it. So here comes a big photography wall art mainly in white (the brightest color), as well as the black shade of the table lamp and the high credenza in black, which creates darkness for the needed contrast. Now the wall art pops out easily, drawing our attention, since there are no distractions of other graphics on the wall to compete with. It decorates the wall effortlessly (seemingly, because there must be a lot of work behind the scene).


Every item in this room has its own role. They interact with each other to constitute a harmonious and beautiful interior scenario.


Images from pinterest.ca


The example in the second image is more dramatic. Big variations in the sizes of artworks make this interior scene more artistic. The leading role is undoubtedly the huge painting on the wall, and the much smaller frames overlapping in front add so much dynamics and liveness to the whole setup. Notice that there are no other decors on the wall that distract our attention from the big painting. The empty white wall is the best background or neighbor for all objects in this interior scene.



People tend to find beautiful examples from the internet or magazines, hoping to get some inspiration. However, the help from those examples is limited if you don’t know what really makes them work. What’s worse? You will easily get overwhelmed and feel lost. What’s the worst? You end up buying the same or similar items which you find appealing from different project photos.

That is the last thing you should do. Before getting started on your home project, you also need to find out what your style is. Click here to see how to avoid falling into the pitfalls of interior styles.


Shenwei Design is thriving to accommodate everyone who is passionate about life, who embraces details in the day-to-day living experience, and who loves challenges. Share your thoughts in the comment area below and let me know how your dream home looks like.



Read more:


Understanding the purpose of interior "decorating", you won't stuff your precious space with trash.

When we talk about interior design “style”, what are we actually talking about?





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