5 Key Interior Design Principles [And How to Use Them]

Want to decorate your apartment like a professional designer? Here are five interior design principles that’ll help you create a stylish and cohesive space.

Want to decorate your home like a professional interior designer?

It’d be nice to be able to hire a real pro to decorate your house. But, considering the average interior designer charges $2,000 to $5,000 for their services (and that doesn’t include the cost of furniture), that’s not in the cards for most of us.

Luckily, you don’t need to hire a professional designer to make your home look elegant and stylish. All you need to know are these interior design principles:


Every room should have at least one focal point. There has to be an item that captures your eye’s attention as soon as you walk into space.

Typically (though not always), the focal point is the largest item in the room. In your bedroom, the focal point is usually the bed. In the living room, it’s probably the couch.

Once you’ve identified a room’s focal point, you’ll decorate with items that emphasize it.

For instance:

If you want your bed to be the focal point of your bedroom, don’t hang a large, distracting painting on the wall behind it.

If you did that, the painting itself would steal attention from the bed and become the focal point. To avoid that, you need softer, quieter wall art that makes the bed more visible.

Ultimately, the goal is to draw attention to certain things while letting others fade into the background. Think of it as a way to shine a “spotlight” on certain items without actually having to light them (although lighting can be a helpful tool here, too).


When designers talk about balance, they’re talking about how to distribute items around a room’s focal point. The goal is to have a similar amount of visual “weight” on each side of the focal point.

Now, this doesn’t mean that every room has to be perfectly symmetrical. In fact, you probably wouldn’t want every room to be perfectly symmetrical. It might make sense to put matching lamps on each side of your couch, but there’s no reason to put matching dressers on each side of the bed.

However, you might put a shelving unit, bookshelf, or bench on the other side of the room to balance it out. Even if the items look different from one another, it’ll give the room a sense of visual evenness.

Keep in mind that asymmetry can be a very powerful technique, and you shouldn’t be afraid to use it. Making one side of the room “lighter” than the other allows you to emphasize certain furniture pieces or decor.

It’s almost a way of saying, “Hey, look over there!”


Harmony is similar to a balance in that it describes a sense of equilibrium. However, where balance is mostly about visual weight, harmony is a more psychological principle. It represents a room’s ability to make someone feel calm and relaxed.

Obviously, some rooms are very anxious and hectic. A space cluttered with furniture, crowded shelves, and electronic cables wouldn’t make a person feel at ease.

But, a room with carefully spaced furniture and strategically placed decor can feel serene.

The key to creating harmonious spaces is to consider how you move through the room.

Are you afraid of bumping into things and knocking stuff over, or can you walk through it in a carefree manner? Does it feel closed-in and claustrophobic, or do you have plenty of space to stretch out and lounge?

There are no hard-and-fast rules to achieving harmony in a room’s design, but once you learn how to use it, you’ll be much more comfortable in your space.


Use repetition to create a sense of continuity and rhythm in space. By using specific colors, shapes, materials, or textures in repetition, you can create a “theme” for the room.

If you’re going for a rustic theme, for example, you’ll probably have a lot of visible woodgrain, earthy tones, and organic materials around the room. If you’re going for a traditional Victorian design, you’re likely to have a lot of finished wood, neutral colors, and metallic accents.

This accomplishes two things:

First, it gives the room a specific aesthetic. It lets people know what look you’re going for and what kind of experience they can expect when entering your space. When items or elements repeat throughout a room, they add up to convey a message about who you are and what type of home you keep.

But on a more formal level, repetition keeps the eye moving throughout a room. The human brain instinctively looks for patterns, so if you see one swatch of argyle fabric in a space, your eye is going to look for others nearby.

Therefore, rooms with a lot of repeating elements have a more dynamic sense of movement.


Proportion describes the way decor looks in a specific space. Some rooms are bigger than others, and those rooms demand more decor. Unless you want your furniture swallowed up by the space, you’ll either need larger furniture or more pieces.

This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a taller couch if you have a room with higher ceilings, though. You can use visual tricks to make the room appear fuller. For instance, you can build a tall bookshelf or hang a large artwork that distracts people from looking too high.

This rule applies to smaller rooms, too. Decorating a tiny apartment with small-scale furniture will make the room seem bigger. Plus, it’ll be easier for you to move around, which will make for a more comfortable living situation.



Interior decorating is a creative activity. You’re supposed to experiment and have fun.

These principles are just guidelines to help you create a cozy and cohesive space. You should adjust them to suit your taste and ignore the ones that don’t work for you.

Now get out that tape measure, pull out the paint swatches, and start decorating!

Author Bio:

Bobbie Peterson has been in the multi-family housing industry for 14 years and is currently the Regional Vice President for Bria.