Your 5-Minute Interior Design Fundamentals Crash Course

KHD Interior Design Fundamentals

Good design is simple. Class dismissed. Go ahead and design your space now! If only simple were that easy. Good design is like an iceberg. You can see the tip of the iceberg. It is beautiful in its simplicity, but the real work and intricacies are hidden beneath the surface. That is to say, we might be giving you a quick and dirty 5-minute crash course, but good design takes time, effort, and a willingness to experiment before you come to a point where you can easily create something both functional and visually pleasing for your space. Without further ado, let’s jump into our lecture!

Design Fundamentals

Design is a balance of form and function. From an interior design perspective, form should always follow function. Essentially, it should be aesthetically pleasing but must also serve a purpose. That purpose or function could be utilitarian or hedonistic and emotional.

  • Form & Function – each element must be both functional and aesthetically pleasing
  • Relationships – each element of the room must relate to another through positive and negative space, symmetry, scale, colour, rhythm, texture and pattern

Relationships & Hierarchy

This rule is the mother of the others. Each rule points to relationship and hierarchy, and you’ll see these words dotted throughout the blog.

In any given space, objects speak to one another. Don’t worry! There have been no spells cast on your furnishings and décor. They will not magically break into a Disney rendition of “Be Our Guest,” but they have their own dialogue. If they don’t relate directly it is best to keep them apart. The following rules will describe how spaces and objects relate to one another within a home.

Negative Space & Positive Space

Sometimes it’s not about what is there but what is missing that gives a space its gravitas. Negative space is a powerful tool that designers use. Offsetting an art piece may create more interest than placing it squarely in the middle of a wall. Ask yourself, does the negative space detract or allow you to focus on the focal point of the room? If it detracts, then it’s not working. Though there is nothing there, the negative space should create balance and interest.


Scale is connected to negative and positive space indirectly. When you play with the elements of negative and positive space, you should also be aware of the scale of the pieces you incorporate. Don’t be afraid to play with scale. A larger piece may be used as your focal point in the room and things of lesser impact may be on the smaller side. Scale can create relational groupings and a hierarchy.  There is a careful balance between interesting verging on cluttered. One of the more common mistakes is adding too many minor (read small) elements and not having one or two stronger (read larger) elements to anchor a space or a wall.


There are two main types of symmetry. Axial is linear along a plain or an axis like a double vanity, and radial is on a circular or polar array like a clock face.

When we speak of symmetry, we do not necessarily mean that you have the exact same thing on either side of a line. Sometimes something is symmetrical because of asymmetry of the scale between the objects. Two smaller objects may equal the visual weight of one larger object. It goes back to negative and positive space and on to scale.

The Golden Section – Fibonacci’s Law

You may not have heard of Fibonacci’s Law or Fibonacci’s Spiral unless you are interested in some form of design. But you’ve definitely been in the presence of the Golden Section or the Golden Ratio, which uses this equation. Many famous architects have used the golden section in buildings you may have visited, like the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Each rectangular section includes a spiral and directly relates to the other in a perfect mathematical equation. Have we lost you? Hopefully not!

Essentially this section helps you determine the hierarchy of your pieces and their placement. Imagine a Golden Section over your furnishing placements, art arrangements, and décor and see if you appreciate each element more when they’re in the golden section. You can use it as many times as you’d like to create a layout as it fits within itself.

Below we’ve placed a Golden Section over a living room we designed for a client. If you look closely, you can see how there are a few areas where the golden section is repeated.

Design Fundamentals Golden Section

Repetition, Pattern, & Rhythm

You’ll often hear designers speak of rhythm and repetition. What do they mean by that? Repetition is a single element repeated throughout a space. Repetition could be a circle shape repeated in a light fixture, the shape of a rug, and in an art piece.

Pattern is a more complex version of multiple repetitions as seen in wallpaper or tile. Rhythm is the pace at which the element or pattern is repeated. It could be how many sconces there are in a hallway to break up the pace of the wallpaper. Using the same shape or colour in a rhythm will tie things together and give a room a logical order.

Using Texture, Pattern, & Glass

Not every room must have bold colours. A place of rest such as the bedroom should evoke a feeling of calm, not invigoration. There is a lot that can be done by layering texture and pattern. Scandinavian design is a prime example of this. It utilizes similar shades and tones and creates interest using delicate patterns and textural variations through fabrics and woods.

Another way to create interest is by using glass and other mirrored surfaces. This also adds light and creates a spacious feeling in smaller rooms.

Below you can see the use of mirrors and repetition.

Interior Design Pattern, Texture, Mirrors

Colour Theory

There are many schools of thought on colour theory, and we risk becoming Alice falling down a rabbit hole on this subject – it may need to be its own blog. This section will be as brief as possible.

You can choose complementary colours or contrasting colours to create hierarchy and logical relationships. The most prominent colour will be the highest order and all other colours should relate to it. If you’d like to know what emotion each colour evokes, check out this article from the London Image Institute. Please note that colours are a very personal thing. Some may be calmed by red because of a positive association, while others will be impassioned by it.

Striking a Colour Balance

Overusing colour does not give the eye a chance to rest. This is why we speak of rhythm. Having a foundational neutral gives the eye a chance to appreciate the colour story. You can have a vibrant room full of luscious colours, but it must be grounded with something neutral.

Using too little colour is only a problem if there is a lack of shades, texture, and pattern which we will cover next. Whether or not you use a lot or a little colour, they must all relate to one another in some way. Design always comes back to relationships and communication.

Colour can:

  • Frame something
  • Break up monotony
  • Create logic and hierarchy
  • Create an interesting contrast or clash

Below you can see that your eye has a difficult time focusing on the left because there are so many beautiful bright colours. On the right, the lovely colours are broken up with a neutral, as well as some interesting shapes. This gives the eye a story that it can follow.

Interior Design Fundamentals - Colour Theory

All of these elements are incorporated into every design we create — It’s just a matter of really understanding how people want to feel in the space. Armed with this information, and all the tools at our disposal, we layer these and other elements to create hygge, people-friendly spaces.

This was a lot of information crammed into a short blog. We hope it gave you some basic design principles to start reimagining your space. Interior design takes years of training and practice to hone, so be gentle with yourself if you don’t get there right away. We’ve been there and done that and we’d love to use our experience and expertise to help you when you’re ready. When you’d like to learn more about how Krista Hermanson Design can help with your interior design project in Calgary, let’s talk.