Basic Elements Of Home Design

If you are creative or artistic, you will derive great satisfaction from the pre-planning stages ol home-making: the colour scheming, pattern mixing and matching, and choosing suitable textures for the various surfaces. But some people find the prospect rather daunting – partly because so much mystique surrounds the subject. In reality, it is a fairly simple one. There are a few rules you can follow – and these are set out in this section — but breaking all the rules and ‘doing your own thing’ can produce some very exciting, dramatic and original schemes.


Colour is basically explained in two ways: in terms of the effect of light of varying wavelengths on the human eye, and in terms of pigments and dyes — which provide the colour used in interior decoration.

All colour comes originally from the three primary colours of red, yellow and blue. If you look at the colour wheel you will see when these are mixed they form the secondary colours: red + yellow = orange; ycllow + blue = grecn; blue+red = violet. These subdivide again to form the tertiary colours of red-orange; yellow-orange; yellow-green; blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet.

The colour wheel can be divided down the centre and on one side you will find the warm colours of yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, red, red-violet – and their various tints, tones and shades. On the opposite side of the wheel, the colours are cold — yellow-green , green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet and violet. Again, different values of these colours are still cool.

The hot, warm and strong colours seem visually to advance towards you, and the cool, pale colours recede; some very pale, cool colours almost fade into insignificance. So, if you use lots of bright, warm colours in a room, the eye jumps from one to another — highly stimulating and ideal for a child’s playroom or a cold bathroom, but quite unsuitable for a room where you want to relax. To create an atmosphere of calm spaciousness decorate with pale, cool tints.

Neutral colours do not appear on the wheel. Most people think of beiges, creams, off-whites and tones of grey as being neutral but the only true neutrals are black and white, and a combination of black and white which forms pure grey. All the other so-called ‘neutrals’ are versions of one of the colours on the wheel, and they can be cold, or warm, just like their original hue — blue-grey or greeny-grey look cold, for example, while a pinky-beige or yellowish cream are warm.

Neutrals, being subtle and pale toned usually create a quiet, relaxed atmosphere but they can be very hard to colour-match.

The colour vocabulary contains several other words worth understanding before you start colour scheming:-

Hite is used to describe a pure colour, and indicates the name of the colour.

Shade. If you take a pure hue and mix it with black the result is a shade.

Tint. If you take a pure hue and mix it with white, the result is a tint. ‘Tone. If you mix a shade with white or a tint with black the result is called a tone. If you mix black and white together the result is a pure grey which can vary in value depending on the proportions used. If you mix a pure hue with grey the result is again called a tone.

I ‘alne refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour, depending on how much white or black is added – this is usually quoted as ranging from o to 10. Maroon is a dark I>alnc of red, pink is a light value of red.

Chroma or colour intensity, describes the strength of a colour and its brightness or dullness.

Monochromatic means literally mono ‘one’ and chroma ‘intensity of colour’, so ‘one-colour’. Different values of one colour can be used to produce a monochromatic or 68 tone-on-tone effect in a room. For this type of scheme to work well there must be enough contrast of tone, from light to dark, and the colours must all stem from the same basic colour.

Greyness is a new way of measuring colour. The greyness scale shows any hue graduated from clear down through shades containing increasing amounts of grey – for example from bright clear yellow to dull gold.

Weight is used to distinguish the apparent lightness of the colours of any hue or greyness.

Pastel colour. The term used to describe a pale colour which has a large proportion of white in it.

Muted colour is either a shade or tone which has a fair proportion of black or grey added.

Colour theory in use

Look at your room critically, and think about size and aspect. If it is a very small third bedroom, you will probably want to make it look larger or cosy and intimate. On the other hand you may want a large, cold and uninviting area to be made to appear warm and welcoming, without losing the sense of space.

A cold, north-east, north or east-facing room can be brightened with a colour scheme chosen mainly from the warm half of the wheel. If it is a warm south, southwest or west-facing room, you can choose mainly from the cooler colours for your scheme.

But remember that a room decorated mainly in cold or cool colours can strike a positive chill, and one in warm colours may look a little too hot. Create a balance – or give a scheme extra impact – by introducing contrast from the opposite half of the wheel. Try soft shades of apricot in a blue and green room, a brilliant flash of Siamese pink in a room decorated mainly in tones of cool green, or a touch of jade green to ‘lift’ a brown, beige and terracotta colour scheme.

The neutral colours benefit from this treatment too, a few bright splashes of colour prevent a ‘neutral’ room from looking boring — brilliant scarlet accessories in a black, white and grey room, for example, or strong coral and turquoise contrasted with off-whites, beiges and creams.

Characteristics of colour

Colours have definite characteristics of their own and can create a particular atmosphere.

Red is a bright, exciting and dramatic ‘advancing’ colour, but pure red must be used with discretion because it can be overpowering. Don’t use too much red if you want a restful room.

If used as the major or dominant colour, it must be relieved by neutrals such as brilliant white, beige, cream or wood tones. It can be used in large rooms successfully, but very sparingly in small rooms.

It can make you feel physically warm, so it is good for a north-east exposure or a room that does not receive much sunlight. Take care when using red in a room that gets plenty of sunlight.

Greyed shades of red – such as plummy and rose tones, have a depth of warmth and interest when used in large rooms and create a cosy atmosphere.

Pink is a pale version of red, but much more restful, has a high reflective quality, and brings a light, airy look to a room which lacks sunshine. Adds warmth to a scheme. When pink becomes lilac-pink, blue has been added, so it begins to look colder.

Orange is very similar to red and can be used in the same way. It advances, is dominant and creates a warm atmosphere. When orange becomes greyed it appears as terracotta or tan, even brownish, but remember these are warm tones. It often needs contrasting, or livening up with neutrals, particularly sparkling whites or clear creamy beige, or contrasting sharply with a cold colour.

When orange becomes less intense it becomes apricot or peach and can be used like pink.

Tans are extremely versatile due to their subtle warmth and natural association with all other colours.

Yellow creates a feeling of a sunny day, and has a high reflective value. Pale tones are ideal for rooms that receive little or no light, and to make small rooms appear larger. Also helps to make a cool room seem warmer.

Bright yellows advance and are excellent used as a focal point in small amounts. Should have a neutral background when used prominently.

Muted yellows – such as gold and mustard – appear rich, have subdued warmth and can be used in large rooms where you want to create a cosy feeling. Yellows mixed with green become lime and olive. They can become cold as they go towards green; use as greens.

Green is rich and refreshing – the colour associated with nature and spring – but at the same time it can be restful, quiet and easy-on-the-eye.

As it is a cool colour it can be used to tone down sunny rooms.

Pale greens suggest coolness and are best used in a room with plenty of sunlight. They produce a spacious, restful feeling.

Deeper greens help to create an out-of-doors atmosphere. Olive can look very dark — almost grey at night. Illuminate with particular care because the colour absorbs light.

Most greens need the addition of warm or neutral ‘accents’.

Blue is one of the coolest colours and can visually change a room’s atmosphere from warm to cool, especially the deeper shades of blue; becomes warmer when mixed with red to produce violet and purple tones. It is good in rooms that receive lots of sunlight, because it is low in reflectance and helps to diffuse and soften bright sunlight.

Blues are good in rooms with southern exposure, but not in northern rooms.

Excellent for small rooms, the pastel tints of blue associated with expanse of sky seem to push back the walls, giving an illusion of space.

Dark blues need contrasting with sparkling white. Icy and navy blues need a warm contrast.

Violet or Purple. The colour of royalty and pageantry. Vibrant and demanding, the richer values should be used with care. When nearer to red, it looks warm, so use as red; when closer to blue, it becomes cold, so treat as blue. The paler version of this colour, lilac, has high reflectance value, so creates an impression of space and light. Lilac can be blue-lilac and cold, or pink-lilac and warm.

Neutrals. In the main, these ‘non-colours’ tend to make a room seem spacious and restful, but need touches of bright colour for contrast.

The warm or cold atmosphere will come from the original source of the neutral.

Black and white used in almost equal quantities create a highly stimulating atmosphere.


One of the ‘problems’ in interior decoration is deciding what goes with what. Basically, all pure colours or hues will harmonize with white or black ; shades of all kinds will harmonize with black; tints of all kinds will harmonize with white and tones of all kinds will harmonize with grey.

Many attractive decorating schemes can be achieved by using one of the accepted five ‘colour harmonies’ and this means going back to the colour wheel. For example, a triadic colour harmony is the use of three colours that are an equal distance apart on the wheel such as red, yellow and blue , yellow-green, red-orange and blue-violet.

Adjacent colours involve the use of colours which lie next to each other on the wheel, and which are ‘good neighbours’. Any portion of the wheel can be chosen, but some colour combinations are more attractive than others, for example, yellow harmonizes with yellow-orange and yellow-green.

Complementary colour harmony means using colours directly opposite each other on the wheel, for example, red and green or blue-green and red-orange. In this harmony the selection does not have to be too strict, since red and blue can look as good together as red and green, and blue-violet can harmonise with red-orange.

A split-complementary colour harmony occurs when a basic hue is combined with two that lie adjacent on the opposite side of the circle: for example, red with blue and green , or orange combined with blue-violet and blue-green.

Monochromatic colour harmony is when only one basic colour is used in varying values and intensity; this needs to be combined with a neutral – usually black or white, off-white or cream — and should have a few sharp ‘accents’ introduced in accessories, to prevent the scheme from being boring.


It is important to use colour in the correct proportion. You can apply the ‘rule of three’ – 60 per cent of the room’s surface in one basic colour ; 30 per cent in a second colour and 10 per cent in a third or possible third and fourth colour , with a linking neutral used for woodwork and ceiling.

If you decide on a monochromatic scheme, you will need to achieve balance with the different weights of colour you use, by using a neutral effectively, and adding bright ‘accents’. A green monochromatic scheme for example, might have an olive green carpet; paler grey-green walls; an even paler ceiling; with all these tones of green used for the curtain fabric. Sparkling white woodwork would bring in a neutral, and the upholstery could then include three items in different tones of green and one in brilliant scarlet. This contrast colour could also be used for some other accessories.

If you want to base a scheme on two main colours, use these in exact proportions, separated by a neutral. For example, in a kitchen with 50 per cent of the surfaces in dark brown, the walls could be orange; the ceiling apricot; the floor brown and orange in equal quantities; the work-tops a neutral beige. Jade green or strong turquoise could provide ‘accents’.

If you want to play safe, base a room on different values of a neutral colour, creating basically a monochromatic scheme, but bringing the ‘accent’ colours in fairly 70 strongly. You might have a beige carpet, soft cream walls and ceiling, brown upholstery and creamy-white woodwork. The curtains could be in browns and beige on an off-white ground, but with coral flowers. Use coral and green for the accessories – lampshades, scatter cushions, pictures and house plants.


Consider the characteristics of the various colours, and make them work for you to create atmosphere.

In a cold room, use warm colours, with contrasting colours to emphasize or accentuate them.

In a warm or sunny room, use cool colours, with warm colours for contrast.

As a link or contrast, use neutral colours. Introduce strong ‘accents’ into a mainly neutral scheme.

To bring a monochromatic scheme to life, use a bold, contrasting colour.

In large rooms, use strong advancing colours. In small rooms, or to create a feeling of space, use pale receding ones.

For a relaxed atmosphere choose from the pale tones and cooler colours, and don’t mix too many in the one scheme.

To stimulate, use vibrant tones. Two colours facing each other on the wheel, used in equal quantities, make the most stimulating scheme of all.

If you want objects to merge into the background, use closely blended colours to conceal them.

If you want something to stand out, use contrasting colours for emphasis.


Start with an idea of the atmosphere you want to create and the colours you want to use, then do what most professional decorators do — choose the flooring first. This is often the largest, uncluttered area of a room since most walls are ‘broken up’ with doors and windows, or have furniture standing against them, and ceilings are not frequently looked up to!

When deciding the type, quality, colour and design of floorcovering, you may well find two or three ‘possibles’. Ask for samples of all of them, and if the shop can’t supply them, write to the manufacturers for adequate samples. You can then take these with you when you select the wallcovering or paint; paint for the woodwork; upholstery and curtain fabric, etc.

NOTE: if you are a first-time colour schemer, or find colour-matching very difficult, start off with a patterned item which incorporates several colours. This can be a floorcovering, wallpaper, or curtain or upholstery fabric. Then use one of the colours in the design for your flooring; another for your upholstered furniture; another for walls and woodwork, and a fourth for ‘accents’ and accessories etc. – depending on the item selected for the starting-off point.

The importance of ‘sampling’

Nobody can ‘carry’ colour accurately in their eye, and there is nothing worse than a mismatch, so get samples of all the items you intend to use before spending any money.

Some people try to play safe with a neutral scheme, but neutrals can be diehardest colours of all to match. Off-white furniture, for example, comes in many different tones of creamy white, so you could put an off-white carpet with it only to find this makes the furniture look dirty – or vice versa. Just as much care has to be taken with colour-matching for neutrals as it does with the strong primary colours.

When shopping, always try to see as large a piece as possible. Fabric should be 71 unrolled, and seen as a ‘drop’; rolls of wallpaper unwrapped. The same applies to flooring — in the case of tiles, look at these forming a square of at least I m – or in a mirrored box, which creates the impression of a much larger area. Items should be looked at on the correct plane – flooring horizontally and at ground level; wallcoverings vertically, both opposite and next to the light; curtain fabric vertically, and against the light; kitchen unit colours vertically and their worktops horizontally, and so on.

Making a colour board

This does not have to be a complicated production – use a piece of stiff card or an offcut of hard-board and a bulldog clip. Clip your scale room plan and room measurements to the board, plus a note of the various quantities you will require.

Add any catalogues, samples of existing items, or other colour guides, and clip your new samples to the board as you get them.

If you find it difficult to reach a decision, and have several different options open to you, make several colour boards for the same room. When your board is complete, take it home and look at the samples in the room where you will use them and on the actual plane they will be used. Look at them in daylight and the artificial light under which they will be seen. Leave the board in the room for a few days until you, and the family, are sure which scheme is the one you all like.

Light and colour

Colour-matching in different lights is important because colours can look quite different according to the type of light, and can also seem to change depending on the surface on which they are used.

Quite often, the same-coloured floor-covering used throughout the ground floor of a house appears to be a slightly different shade in each room. One wall -often the one opposite the window – can seem to be several tones lighter than the other three, even though the same paint or wallpaper has been chosen. This is because the light bounces off the surface in a different way.

The texture of a surface can absorb light differently too, and this makes colour look different. Smooth surfaces, which reflect light, make colours seem lighter, brighter and more intense. Rough surfaces, which absorb light, make colours appear darker and reduced in intensity. Consequently, a shiny gloss paint will look brighter or lighter than the same colour in a matt emulsion; the colour of a tweedy-textured fabric may seem more subtle than a brocade or a moire taffeta, even though the same dye has been used; a ‘velvet’ pile Wilton carpet will look quite different from a cushioned vinyl in the same colour. So it is important to collect actual samples when colour-matching and judge the effects of light on the different surfaces. Daylight, domestic and shop lighting are all likely to affect colour in different ways. You may choose something in a shop under fluorescent lighting and find it looks totally different at home in your own domestic lighting. This is particularly true of some shades of grey, green and gold, which look fairly clear and bright in daylight or under shop lighting, but look very drab and dull at night when the curtains are drawn and the lamps are lit.

Blending old and new

Usually, when you are redecorating and planning a colour scheme you will have to incorporate existing items into the new scheme. Whether they be carpet , upholstery, curtains or possibly lovely accessories , this old friend will become the starting point for your new scheme, and you will need colour samples clipped to your colour board when you shop around for the rest of the scheme.

If you don’t have a spare piece of carpet, cushion or button from the upholstery, or extra wall tiles, etc., colour match to wool, cotton, paper, embroidery silks – even a paint manufacturer’s colour chart. If the existing item is patterned, try to take samples of all the colours – also, half-close your eyes to get the overall impression of colour and take a sample of this, too.


Pattern and texture must be chosen as carefully as colours and blended together with equal skill. Colour creates the atmosphere, but it is the pattern which sets the style. Certain traditional designs are necessary if you want to decorate in a specific period style. Some pattern should be introduced into a scheme to give contrast and an extra visual dimension.

Even ‘plain’ colour will not look absolutely plain because the surface may well have texture interest and look different in different lights. Plain items can also be mixed together to create a patterned surface — tiles laid chequer-board, dog’s tooth or herringbone fashion, for example, or a group of pictures or prints arranged together on a plain wall.

Where to find pattern

Pattern can be printed on papers, wallcoverings and fabrics; stencilled, or painted on walls; added with friezes and borders; woven into carpets; printed on other floorcoverings; sealed into ceramic tiles; laminated on to work surfaces and so on. Pattern can also be provided by light filtering through shutters or a blind; the silhouette of a carved chair-back; the basketweave texture on cane furniture, or the grouping together of a collection of objects.

A sense of proportion

Big bold patterns or very busy ones are dominant, just like the strong advancing colours, so they create a lively, stimulating atmosphere. They can be just right for a large forbidding hall, a chilly bathroom or a child’s playroom; they can also make a room look very small and claustrophobic, so avoid them if you want to create a feeling of space.

Small patterns can add interest to a scheme without spoiling a restful mood. You can use them to create a spacious atmosphere because, seen from a distance, they look like an interesting surface rather than a definite design, so they act rather like a pale, cool receding colour.

Simple stripes and checks can give patterns interest too, without looking too hectic — like neutral colours they can provide a link between patterns of a different size or type, or between patterned and plain surfaces.

Scale is important too. Very small patterns look lost on large areas of wall, floor or fabric. Big, bold designs look silly on small surfaces, particularly if the pattern repeat is not fully shown or it has to be cut at an unfortunate place. 72 improved with a breath of ‘country air’ provided by a floral pattern.

Mixing of scale is easier with geometries than with florals – a small squared pattern on the floorcovering can be echoed in a large squared design on the wallpaper, but geometries must be similar in type if they are to settle happily in the same room. Some can have a distinctly traditional look, although most geometric designs nearly always look modern, and are better used in a fairly sophisticated setting in a modern home. They also tend to create a rather stark atmosphere and to be highly stimulating, so do not use them for a room where you want a restful or cosy atmosphere.


Translating the effect of a small sample on to a large area can be difficult. So try to see as large a sample as possible, or a picture of the pattern used in a room setting, or two pieces of wallcovering or widths of fabric side-by-side. As rich and strong colours and patterns advance, they will look much bolder and will tend to dominate a room when used over a large area. Pale colours and small patterns recede and so they can fade into insignificance when used over a large area.

A sense of balance

In a well-balanced scheme, probably two or, at the most, three surfaces should be patterned, unless specifically co-ordinated designs are used, when more are acceptable. It you mix together too many patterns, particularly of different types, the result could be a mess.

Pattern can be practical. Choose a hard-wearing patterned floorcovering for areas used by all the family, or in heavy traffic areas such as the hall, kitchen, family living rooms and childrens’ playrooms. Where walls take a lot of punishment from sticky fingers, a washable patterned surface is practical. Similarly, upholstery in a family living room should not be perfectly plain. Some compromise will be necessary, however, since all these surfaces cannot be too busily patterned.

Avoid using very strong, dominant pattern on surfaces which are difficult to change. Kitchen worktops, for example, are better with simple, textured effects in fairly quiet colours; bathroom tiles can be simply veined with colour, or have a stippled effect, and have a few patterned tiles let in.

It is sensible to use the bolder patterns in a room on the surface which is easiest to change – the walls, for instance, which can be re-papered or painted. Use simpler patterns and textured effects for floor-coverings and upholstery, except in areas like kitchens and bathrooms, where a good design can offset the often heavy look of plain units and bathroom equipment.

Pattern types

Pattern breaks down roughly into three types – florals, geometries and the more ‘neutral’ stripes, checks and abstracts. Florals can be used together successfully, so can geometries, but the two types of design do not mix together very well, though the more ‘neutral’ stripes, diamond trellis and checks can be used with either, to help create a balance.

There are also specifically traditional patterns which can be used to create a period scheme, such as Regency stripes, Tudor tapestry, classical Greek-key and so on, and certain distinctly ‘foreign’ influences such as Oriental and ethnic.

Romantic or Impressionistic, slightly misty floral designs can create a soft, pretty, feminine room. In a small room, or an attic with sloping ceilings a tiny mini-print floral looks effective; the definite flowing florals in the art nouveau style are particularly right in a Victorian or Edwardian housej ust as the more modern abstract, geometric, or stylized floral treatments suit a modern house or flat.

Try fresh looking florals in a kitchen, conservatory or sunroom. Small town houses, dark basement rooms, rather dreary or characterless flats can often be

Large, bold designs can make a surface look smaller and can create an oppressive atmosphere in a medium-sized or small room; some of the smaller patterns and lighter looking designs can make a room seem more spacious and bright.


If you want to use several patterns, but are a little unsure how to combine them successfully, use one or the co-ordinated ranges available at all prices. ‘Co-ordinates’ as applied to home decoration can mean a matching design printed on wallcovering and fabric -although they rarely completely match because they are printed on different base materials; co-ordinated designs within a separate fabric or wallcovering range, or a combination of both.

The same pattern can be used in different scales; one can be the positive and the other the negative of the same design; or one can be the mirror image of the other. Sometimes a fabric or wallcovering is printed with a fairly bold design and the co-ordinate has a repeat of part of the design – perhaps as a background, or a single motif repeated on a plain ground, or part of the design printed as a border down the edge of a plain fabric or wallcovering, or printed as a separate border or frieze on paper. Linens, curtains and bathroom accessories can be similarly co-ordinated. All these ranges are easier to work with than trying to co-ordinate two or more individual designs.

Remember, co-ordinated designs create a spacious effect, so carrying pattern through from one area to another can make a small house or flat look much larger. ‘Through’ living rooms, or separate sitting and dining rooms with a dividing door or wall between should be decorated harmoniously, but often coordinated designs are more successful than using exactly the same scheme throughout. Main bedrooms with a bathroom en suite and kitchen/dining rooms also respond well to this treatment.


Texture applies to the surface character of a material – how it feels to the touch and how it reflects or absorbs light, sometimes making identical colours look quite different when they are used on two separate surfaces.

Some colours appear dull and lifeless on a flat surface while on an interestingly textured surface they can look positively vibrant. Smooth surfaces reflect light and consequently show up any faults, so gloss paint or foil wallcoverings are not a good idea for poorly plastered walls. Dull, warmer textures absorb light and so help to disguise a bad surface.

Texture types

Basically, texture divides into the same three groups as colour – cool, warm and natural.

The cool ones feel cool to the touch, and are often shiny. This group includes ceramic tiles, laminates, chrome and glass, gloss paint, mirrors and metal.

Warm textures feel warm to the touch and are frequently matt, such as flock wallcoverings, tweed, fur, dense-piled carpet and velvet.

Natural textures are normally rougher and ‘honest’ – cane, cork, brick, slate, wood, hessian, Berber-style looped pile carpet and so on.

Balancing textures

Texture is both visual and sensual – you have to ‘feel’ your way towards using it skilfully. Getting the correct balance of textures in a room is as important as mixing the right colours, or patterned and plain surfaces. A room composed of all shiny materials, for example – foil wallcovering, mirror tiles, chrome, glass and laminated furniture, satin drapes and a silky nylon carpet could be as disturbing to the eye as a room decorated with unrelieved bold patterns. At the other extreme, a room entirely decorated with matt surfaces can look dull and lifeless. So combine warm, matt surfaces with cool, shiny ones, and introduce natural textures for contrast, or as a link. This is particularly important it you are building up a monochromatic scheme – there should be enough texture contrast to make the scheme interesting.

If you have created a scheme where the balance of textures is too weighted in one direction, you can save it by introducing the contrast in ‘accents’ and accessories, just as you can enliven a boring colour scheme by bringing in sharp splashes of colour, or tone down an over-busy room by painting at least one wall with matt emulsion, and adding plain, natural-textured accessories.

Atmosphere and style

Textures create atmosphere too, and help to set the style of a room. Ceramic tiles, gloss paint, plastics and laminates are cool and efficient; shaggy-pile carpets, woven wool fabrics, leather upholstery and velvet are cosy; silks, brocades and satins are luxurious and elegant; lace and open-weave sheer fabrics are fragile and feminine.

Texture, like certain patterns, can also help to create a definite style or a period flavour. Exposed brick, slate and stone, wood cladding, chrome and glass are all distinctly modern in feeling, while wood 75 panelling, brass, wrought iron, velvet and lace are more traditional. Some, like the moire stripes, and brocade fabrics and wallcoverings are almost synonymous with the Regency style of decorating, while flock wallpaper, plush and chenille fabrics and brass oil lamps are all ‘Victorian’.


Colour, pattern and texture are all used to transform a room – to give it a certain atmosphere, to make it practical and functional perhaps, or to suggest a period flavour. But it is also important to relate colour, pattern and texture to the architectural style of the house. If you have a very modern home with large picture windows, vast areas of exposed brick, stone or slate and very little wall surface that needs decorating, it makes sense to use bold pattern or interesting texture on the curtain fabric, with plain colours and subtle textures on the walls to enhance the brick, slate or stone- and to furnish mainly in modern style. Flock wallcovering, Regency-striped brocade and Dralon velvet upholstery would look out of place.

On the other hand, if you have a fairly modern ‘box’ with square rooms you can add character by decorating in either modern or traditional style- or a mixture of both. But beware of over-powering pattern or texture on small areas. And if you have a modern pseudo-Georgian home or a property built m the 1930s, you do not have to stick slavishly to the style of the times, although it is worth considering taking the best of design from the period, and combining it with modern materials, textures and colours.

If you have a genuine old house, never be tempted to over-modernize it. By all means add up-to-date plumbing and central heating but if it has beautiful architectural features, decorate to emphasize these, and choose colours, patterns and textures to create the correct style, [fyou live in a thatched cottage, with exposed beams, cross-beaming on the walls and small lattice-paned windows, paint the wall area between the beams in a plain colour to show them off to advantage, or use small mini-print floral wallpapers 111 the bedrooms and choose small traditional patterned fabric for curtains.

If, however, your house is a vast Victorian vicarage you can use bold design and strong colour as dramatically as you like – again search out the right type of pattern – one which might well have been used by the Victorians, but possibly with new, more acceptable colouring. Look for large items of furniture of the period, and make them individual by stripping or painting and rc-upholstering. That is the essence of interior design – putting together various materials to create a scheme which will dramatize or enhance a room – give it atmosphere and style, while not losing sight of the fact that homes are for living in.

Search for inspiration

If you don’t have a natural flair for colour scheming and pattern mixing and matching, don’t despair. Look at books on the subject, and read the specialist home-making magazines. Collect a file of pictures and schemes which attract you, cut from magazines, newspapers, etc. and try to analyze why they are successful. Look at the ‘sets’ for television dramas, stage productions and films with a ‘designing eye’. Professional set designers always plan with a person and a certain lifestyle in view and have thought about the architectural style of the set. Occasionally the end result is purposely a mistake or a mess but, particularly with period drama, the greatest possible attention is paid to accuracy and authenticity, so period sets are most helpful if you want to recreate the same era and flavour in your own home.

Visits to museums which have specific-displays of furniture, rooms, wallcoverings and fabrics are also helpful, and local art galleries and craft shops can be a rich source of ideas. A lovely painting can provide a good starting-otf point for a colour scheme, or a hand-crafted item can become a focal point for a room design.

Creating an illusion

For most of us, the home of our dreams is likely to be on a small scale, and with rooms which are far from perfect; but with clever use of colour, pattern and texture you can emphasize-good features, tone down bad ones and play all sorts of eye-deceiving tricks.

I J a room is very small, you can decorate-in pale receding colours, use mostly plain or muted patterns on the mam surfaces and choose some shiny ‘reflective’ textures. A monochromatic scheme, with the ceiling, walls and woodwork all decorated in the same pale tone will create an illusion of space. It also helps to increase the apparent size of the floor, by choosing a plain, light-coloured flooring and painting the skirting boards in the same colour – or by having floor or carpet tiles in two different colours laid diagonally, so the eye is drawn from corner to corner , or chequer board-fashion.

Mirrors can increase the size of a room visually and, strategically placed, give reflected light as well as a mirror-image of 76 creating a cosy corner. The furniture arrangement can also help. A settee, facing the sitting end, might be placed at right-angles to the long wall and backed by a sideboard or units facing the dining area. Split-level treatments also help.

To make a room look longer and narrower, use a strong vertical pattern on the side walls and a plain treatment on the end ones. You can also lay a floorcovcring with a definite linear pattern to run the length of the room. ‘I’he height of ceilings is another frequent problem – they are either too tall or too low. Many Victorian and Edwardian houses have high ceilings which looked right at that time because of the large, heavy furniture, and the ornate fireplaces and ovcrmantles. Once this type of room is modernized and furnished with smaller pieces, the room can look top-heavy. surrounding wall area to contrast. This is also a good way to treat a large characterless area of wall, and used on one wall only of a long narrow room can make it look more square.

It the ceiling still seems disproportionately high, don’t resort to false ceilings. Add some tall pieces of furniture or mount a wall of book shelves, from floor to ceiling. Put back a correct style fireplace, if the original one was removed , fill the opening with a sheet of slate, marble or laminate and stand an electric fire on the hearth.

In some conversions, where one room has been divided to create two or three , you can make a visually decorative false ceiling. Pin white-painted garden trellis to battens suspended across the room at picture-rail height, after painting the area above the trellis with a strong or rich colour. Slatted wood or a special the room. In a small bedroom, a wall of units with mirror-faced doors are practical and decorative.

If the room is box-like as well as small, this can be corrected by treating one wall differently. Use either a slightly different colour, texture or pattern on it , or even paint a mural simulating a vista. If this seems too ambitious, ‘pattern’ one wall with pictures and prints grouped round a mirror. You can also make it look more interesting by putting up coving, painting the ceiling a tone or two lighter than the walls and picking out the coving in a neutral colour.

If a room is long and narrow, as often happens when two rooms are made into one, you will need to make the two smaller end walls appear closer to one another. If there are windows at both ends, you can achieve this by having boldly patterned curtains, from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. If there are windows at one end only, use a co-ordinated range of wallcoverings and fabrics, so you can still use the same design at both ends, or use strong, plain colour in interesting textures for the wall and window treatment. Another alternative is to treat just the chimney-breast on one long wall differently – and boldly, so it draws the eye towards it – or treat the recesses each side of the breast dramatically. You can also make a break in the floorcovcring, so that the sitting area is more clearly defined. Use the same flooring throughout, then place a large rug or carpet square at the sitting end of the room,

The solution is to make the walls look less tall by colour-matching the ceiling and floor and picking out cornices, covings or ceiling mouldings in a contrasting neutral, such as white. Any other horizontal line -such as a picture rail or frieze – picked out in the same neutral will also help, and so will a definite horizontal pattern on the walls and at the windows. Wood cladding, fixed horizontally, is another good decorative treatment. You can also make wall panels by pinning up simple picture-frame beading – have a bold pattern or strong colour inside the panel and paint the 77 system of slats like Venetian blinds can be similarly used to make an attractive false ceiling, without being too oppressive.

When ceilings are too low, try the reverse treatment – strong vertical patterns on the walls or at the windows, wood cladding fixed vertically, or ceiling and walls all painted in the same pale neutral with toning vertical Venetian blinds forming a wall of window. Remove any horizontal lines such as picture rails, and take the decorations up to the ceiling. Use a contrasting floor colour and furnish with low, very simple designs. Don’t forget that ceilings can be mirrored effectively.

If the ceiling slopes, as in some attic rooms, conversions and extensions, decorate the walls and ceiling as one, using a plain colour or small overall floral pattern – avoid stripes, geometries or very strong colours. Wood cladding on the sloping ceiling and walls of attics can be an efFective treatment too, and provides extra insulation.

Ugly features can be hidden or disguised. If there are old, large radiators, for example, or a wall is festooned with pipes, paint these in the same colour as the wall so they merge into the background. An even better treatment for runs of pipes is to > decorate the wall with a patterned paper and paint the pipes to match the predominant colour in the paper. If a fireplace is ugly, paint this the same colour as the chimney-breast or wall.

If you want to draw attention to a decorative feature, paint it to contrast with the surrounding area, or paper it boldly and keep the other surfaces plain.

If you are a little nervous about the various decorative treatments suggested, first make an elevated plan of the room, and then add overlays on tracing paper or acetate sheets, or make a model.


The importance of the right finishing touches is often under-estimated. But, in fact, the addition of pictures, lampshades, cushions, ornaments, plants and flowers can unity a bitty scheme, save a dull one or tone down a too stimulating atmosphere. A group of objects always looks more interesting than a few things placed sparsely round the room. Think of unusual ways to display a collection and it will more than double its effectiveness. Glass, for example, always looks better with the light shining through it, so if you have blank windows which are not overlooked, fix narrow glass shelves across the reveal and display a collection of coloured glass there. This is also a good treatment for ‘porthole’ type windows and small recessed ones each side of a chimney-breast.

Small, colourful objects look even more efFective arranged on a piece of mirror glass — and this treatment works well with flowers and houseplants, reflected from behind or below. Houseplants also look marvellous if they are grouped on a glass-topped table, and illuminated from below.

Always choose accessories in a variety of shapes and textures. Scatter cushions, for example, can be made from a mixture of pattern and plain fabrics, or embroidered, patchworked, crocheted, knitted – and in several different sizes as well as shapes.

One nice way of displaying small pictures, and other objects, is to hang an empty frame on the wall and group the objects interestingly within it.

Don’t underestimate the use of bath-roomjars, cosmetics, etc. in the bath-room and bedroom; the addition of storage jars and attractive cooking implements in the kitchen; table linen, china and glass in the dining room. 7«

Basic Elements Of Home Design

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