Interior Design Basics: What You Need To Know Before Getting Started

Are you redecorating your home but don’t know where to start? Have you got an abundance of home accessories but don’t know how to style them? If you’re in need of some advice or guidance, you’ve come to the right place. Laurie Davidson interior writer & stylist has rounded up her top 7 interior design tips just for you. These interior design basics will give you everything you need to know before you get started.

alto living room

I’m often asked what the secret is to creating a beautifully decorated scheme and I’d say that it’s simply to make sure that everything in the room works well together. It’s not about picking the most expensive curtains, or having the latest on-trend wallpaper – it’s about taking things that you love and layering them up to suit your style. Easier said than done, though, right? So, when it comes to planning a scheme, I don’t think you can go wrong with these seven key principles of interior design – they’ll have you well on your way to styling your home like an interior designer in no time…

orrick bedroom

1. Find your room’s focal point

If you’re unsure how to go about decorating a room, then finding the focal point and decorating around it is usually a good starting point. The focal point is the area on which you focus when entering the room – for example, it might be a large window overlooking a garden, a fireplace or even a large seating area. If you don’t have a particular feature that stands out, however, then it’s easy to create your own point of interest; you could paint or paper a wall in a bold colour or pattern, or choose some stand-out furniture on which to make the focus. Then, once you’ve found your focal point, use it as a base from which to decorate, tying in smaller details in the same colour, design or material.

kemble bedside table

2. Go for odd numbers

It’s a common mistake that many of us believe you have to have an even number when it comes to grouping furniture or objects in the home, when in fact, odd numbers often look more aesthetically pleasing. Group items in sets of three or five to create a relaxed look and play around with varying heights and shapes to add even more interest. This is a rule that as a stylist, I use in almost every shoot I do and it’s served me well over the years.

alto coffee table

3. Keep furniture in proportion

How many of us have walked into a room that feels cramped because the furniture is too big or, to the other extreme, looks lost in a space that could have taken a much larger table or sofa? Although it’s easy to judge by the eye in many cases, there are a few measurement pointers that it’s worth taking into account. Firstly, leave around 15 inches between a coffee table and sofa to keep a feeling of space. Unless you’re going for the ‘cinema screen’ effect, try and keep your TV in accordance with your room size – a good tip is to multiply the diagonal length of your TV by two, then keep your seating that many inches away from the screen. Lastly, when it comes to rugs, make sure they are large enough – there’s nothing worse than a dining table that is just as big, if not bigger, than the rug it stands on.

kemble dining set


4. Don’t fill every area

As tempting as it is, try and leave some areas free from clutter, in order to ‘breathe’ – sometimes less is more. It’s a hard one to adhere too, especially if, like me, you love shopping for homewares! However, it does make a real difference and the same principle applies to the floor – the more of it you see, the more spacious the room will appear.


stockholm lamp by oak furniture land

5. Layer your lighting

There are three types of lighting that you’ll want to take into account. Ambient lighting (the main overhead light), task lighting (used to light a specific area, such a desk or kitchen worktop) and accent lighting (to highlight a particular item, such as a painting, shelf, or even a tree in the garden). Using a combination of all three lights will create the perfect ambience and make it easy for you to adjust as you need, dependant on the time of day and how you’re using the room.


original rustic dining room

6. Combine different materials

Variety is the spice of interiors and creating interest with different materials, textures and shapes will only add to your overall scheme. Be careful not to overdo it though, as rooms with too much contrast can look disjointed. It’s all about the balance.


original rustic dining room

7. Form over function?

This is an age-old question and a lot of it depends on the size of your interior. In my experience, those with small spaces should try and opt for items that offer both form and function, with pieces that are just as practical as they are interesting. Coffee tables with drawers for extra storage, sofa beds to accommodate guests and round or extending dining tables that fit into awkward spaces and soften hard lines all make good multi-functional pieces and can be equally stylish and functional. In fact, these days, there is such a variety of space-saving solutions, it’s easy to use the room you have in creative ways.


Now that you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time for the fun bit: shopping away to your heart’s content! Good luck!


Laurie DavidsonLaurie Davidson

Interior writer and stylist, Laurie Davidson, has worked in publishing for over 20 years, writing for a range of leading interior publications such as Ideal Home, Style at Home and Good Homes to name a few. Whether it’s shooting real homes and makeovers, creating beautiful imagery or compiling the latest decorating and trend pages, Laurie has a wealth of experience.

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