Tips for a great interior design


Sarah Stone DesignsIn order to produce good design, whether in the form of graphics, painting, sculpture, architecture or interiors, you must have a sound understanding of the elements and principles of design.

The elements of design are the materials from which all designs are built. The principles of design might be defined as the rules, which govern the way the elements may be combined. As an example, if you were baking a cake, the elements would be the ingredients and the principles the direction of the recipe. In other words, a principle is a law of relationship or plan of organization that determines the way in which elements must be combined to achieve a particular effect. The elements of design are:

Line - Lines can be horizontal, vertical, dotted, zigzag, curved, straight, diagonal, bold or fine. They can be used to show direction, represent an object divide a space or communicate an idea.

Direction - The four primary directions are horizontal, vertical, left oblique and right oblique. Direction relates to line.

Form - Form is derived from the basic geometric shapes: the triangle, square and circle. An oval is a variation of the circle; the rectangle, a variation of the square. The diamond is derived from two triangles: a sphere is a 3-dimensional circle. The free form is a more complicated version of the circle.

Scale - Lines and shapes and the space intervals between them may differ in measure. Those that are of similar size will be harmoniously related; those that differ greatly will be in strong contrast.

Space - Space refers to the positive and negative areas of a composition. The positive area is the part that you are first aware of – the combination of shapes that form the images you see. The positive area is the part that you are first aware of – the combination of shapes that form the image you see. The negative space is the background area, which is created when shapes are put together, or the space around the shapes.

Texture - This is the surface quality of any material. It can be of two types; actual (tactile) and implied (visual). Tactile means something that can be felt – it is 3-dimensional and directly related to the sense of touch. Sandpaper is rough, velvet soft and smooth. You can actually feel these textures. A photograph of a brick wall, which would look rough but would be smooth to the touch, might show an implied visual texture.

Value - Refers to the lightness or darkness of an area. It’s extreme areas white and black with all shades of gray ranging from very light to very dark.

Color - Color, like sound, is a vibratory phenomenon. Each color is like a musical note, red having the longest wave length (like a deep low-pitched sound) and violet, the shortest (like a very high-pitched sound). Color is a form of radiant energy and its range is unlimited. It consists of several ingredients: hue, value, and chroma. Hue refers to its redness or blueness, etc.: value refers to its lightness or darkness and Chroma or its intensity refers to its brightness or dullness.

Knowing the principles of design does not guarantee success – each individual interprets them in his/her own way, some more successfully than others. Individual interpretation begins with awareness. Learn from others, from nature and from the past as well as the present. You will discover as your ability to recognize the principles and elements of design, the more it will enhance your appreciation of the world around you.

Proportion- Proportion is the relationship of the size of the parts of a design to one another and to the design as a whole. Generally speaking, proportions that are unequal in size are more interesting than equal.

Balance - Balance is the feeling of stability produced by having both sides of a design in equilibrium. Symmetrical balance is produced when both sides of a design are exactly alike. Asymmetrical balance results when the visual weights are equivalent but not identical so that the design does not appear lopsided. Asymmetrical balance is more difficult to attain but is more interesting, freer and more spontaneous.

Rhythm - Rhythm is created through repetition of line, shape, color pattern, and texture. It can lead the eye to a given point. These lines and shapes do not have to be identical but must be compatible and flow smoothly together from one area to another.

Emphasis - Emphasis is given by creating a center of interest that brings into focus the most important part of a design. It can be achieved by making one shape larger than all the rest, or by using strong contrasts of light and shade, color, texture, etc. As an example, if all the shapes in a design were textured except one, the one remaining plain area will stand out from all the rest.

Unity - Unity is the quality of oneness achieved by massing or grouping the various elements in such a way that they make an integrated whole. Each part must enhance the other parts and all work together successfully to create a unified whole.

Variety - Variety is created by making the sizes and shapes, color and textures, different from one another. It adds interest and relieves monotony.

Opposition - Opposition is created by contrasting between the elements, such as light against dark, rough against smooth, vertical against horizontal, or opposing diagonals.

Progression - Progression or Gradation is created by repeating a shape, line, color, pattern or texture in different sizes from large to small or vise versa. It is another kind of rhythm.

Radiation - Radiation is created by having elements originate from a common center extending outward from a central axis. It is another kind of rhythm.

Source: Interior Designers Institute. (IDI)

Preparing Your Home

When some people think about getting older, they think about keeping their good health and also staying in their home. In order to stay at home safely and comfortably, some modifications may have to be made.

The cost of modifying your present home compared with the cost of a private room in a nursing home should be considered. The average cost of a private room in a nursing facility is around $80,000 per year. The cost to modernize your own home and stay in place could be a fraction of that.

A qualified professional can help custom tailor solutions to meet your needs. Your home will not need to look like an institution in order to achieve a safe and functional environment. Here are some potential modifications for you to consider.

One of the first elements that may need to be modified is lighting. Falling is one of the most common problems with the elderly. Sometimes dim and incorrectly placed lighting can create a hazard. Light switches should be placed at the entrance to all rooms and hallways. The switches should be no higher than 48 inches from the floor.

Keeping spaces open and free of clutter is important, especially when you need to use wheelchairs and walkers. Use low profile carpeting with firm padding.

Hallways should be well lit and be a minimum of 36 inches wide or wider for wheel chair access.

Adding hand rails in specific area may also help prevent falls and assist in mobility.

A zero-barrier entry providing a flush level with the exterior allows safe and easy access to your home. An exterior sensor light which illuminates the front door entry lock is recommended. Non-slip flooring in the entryway is also a smart choice.

Barrier free showers and walk-in bath tubs can provide safe access in bathrooms.
Thermostatic or anti scald controls should be considered to prevent hot water burns. Lever faucet handles or pedal controlled water fixtures may be needed.

In a multi-level residence, at least one wheelchair maneuverable bathroom should be on the main level and provide a 60 inch turning radius. There should be bracing in walls around tubs, showers, shower seats, and toilets for the installation of grab bars, which can support up to 300 pounds. Bath tubs should be at a level for easier access. A fold down seat should be added to a walk-in shower.

Toilets should be 2 ½ inches higher than a standard toilet, which is between 17 to 19 inches.

A wall hung sink with knee space and panel to protect the user from pipes is recommended for wheelchair access. Slip resistant flooring in the bathroom and shower area should be used.

Adjustable counters and shelving in the kitchen are a wonderful addition for easier access and mobility. Lowering upper cabinets at least three to four inches will allow better reach for individuals in wheelchairs.

Consider adding contrasting edges on counter tops to provide visual orientation. Extra counter space adjacent to appliances and prep areas is advisable. Removable base cabinets as well as base cabinets with roll out trays and lazy susans are also beneficial.

Side by side refrigerator/freezers and microwave ovens at counter height will provide greater access, while raised dishwashers with pushbutton controls and electric cook tops with front controls and level burners should be considered for safety. Easy to read controls are important.

The washing machine and dryer should be raised 12 to 15 inches above the floor. Front loaders are a must for ease of use.

Stairways should have hand rails on both sides of the stairway that are at least 1 ¼ inches in diameter. A contrast strip should be place on the top and bottom steps. The stairways should be well lit, and at least 4 feet wide to allow for a chair lift to the upper floor.

There should be numerous windows for natural light with window coverings that are easy to operate.

Adjustable rods and shelves should be used in closets. Closet doors should be at least 36" wide to allow for wheel chair access. Closets should have overhead lighting.

Thermostats should be pre-programmed and easy to see and read. Homes should be wired for security with a direct line to the police and fire department.

Interior and exterior finishes should be low maintenance.

Carports and boarding areas should be covered and may have to be wider to accommodate lifts on vans. Allow at least five feet between a van and car in the garage for wheelchair access.

Aging in place with these suggestions will not only improve your quality of life but will add value to your home. With the help of a qualified interior designer and licensed contractor you can maintain a lovely home that will be safe and comfortable through your golden years.

(Savvy about lighting)

Sarah Stone Designs

So you think you found the perfect color for that room...think again! Have you tested it yet?

Before you paint the room, invest in some “draw downs.” Ask your painter to prepare some large samples…usually 11” x 14” and tape them up on the walls. Check the color in the day light and in the evening under artificial lighting.

The direction of the natural lighting will determine if your color will be truly perfect.

Keep in mind that the lighting from the North windows will cast a blue color over whatever it touches. Usually the bluish cast intensifies later in the day.

A Southern exposure will cast a yellow-orange light onto your color. The lighting from the East will be yellow and the West will be orange-red.

Let’s say that you selected a nice mid-range blue for the room. The blue lighting from a North window will intensify the blue but there may be other factors that will affect the color. Keep in mind that less natural light in your room will make your color look darker. A brightly lit room could wash out your color.

A Southern exposure will...well, what do you get when you mix yellow-orange and blue? You’re correct; your perfect blue may look somewhat green and drab. If your perfect color choice is red…say more on the maroon or burgundy side, you will experience the same changes. The yellow-orange lighting from a Southern exposure will intensify the red...which is an effect that can be absolutely stunning. The Northern exposure will cast a blue light and you will see...what do you get when you mix blue and red? ...purple! Did you pick a perfect yellow? I think you’re starting to see the light (pardon the pun).

What do you think is going to happen to your yellow color when you put it on the wall with an Eastern exposure? You’re absolutely’s going to intensify your yellow. Now I know you’re already thinking about that Northern exposure. You’re right again...that blue light is going to mix with your perfect yellow color and give it a nice green cast.

What happens when you test your color at night under your artificial lighting?

Lamps usually have incandescent bulbs which cast a yellow light which cause blue tones to appear dull or drab. You can switch to fluorescent lighting; however, you still need to check the color of the lighting. It could range from yellow to pink.

Overhead lighting could be another challenge. The bulbs in the fixture may be suitable but the glass shade over the light may be distorting the color. Recessed cans usually have incandescent lighting which you already know casts a yellow light. Halogen lighting is usually more forgiving in most cases but should be used with a dimmer due to the intensity.

Don’t get discouraged. There are many ways to make these discoveries work to your advantage.

Once you’ve completed all your day and night testing and you experience the results, it should be clear what you need to do.

If your color looks great in the daytime but disappoints you in the evening, change your lighting.

If you are dealing with a pronounced color change, ask your painter to make some adjustments to the color, and prepare some more samples. Once the adjustments are made, you should then have the perfect color for your room.

If you’re not getting the results that you want, remember that a professional interior designer can help.

Keep in mind that interior designers are trained professionals in color and lighting. Along with thorough education and training, we possess years of experience. We want to help you avoid mistakes and save you money and time. We work very closely with the professional painter and lighting contractor to give you the best results.

The Basics

Sometimes when we look at a building or a room, we don't think about all the parts that fit together to make it a whole. These are the elements of design that are essential to any structure or simple room arrangement.

The first element is line. The vertical lines of a column give a building strength and support. The vertical lines of draperies add height to a room. Horizontal lines emphasis width and suggest rest and repose. A diagonal line suggests motion as in a person running. Zigzag lines create a sense of restlessness and activity. Curved lines are seen more in nature and are used frequently in comfortable sofas and chairs.

Good design is a combination of vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curved lines.

Color is another important element of design. We use color to reflect our taste and preferences.

We use color to accent or showcase certain objects and to make things seem larger or smaller.

Blues and Greens are called receding hues because they make walls appear to be further away. Reds and Oranges are called advancing hues because they makes walls seem closer. A color wheel, which can be picked up from any art and craft store, is the best way to see all the different color combinations that can be used in a scheme.

Value is the lightness or darkness of a hue or color. White is considered to be the lightest value with black being the darkest with all shades of grey connecting the two extremes. A good example of different values used in the same scheme is called monochromatic. Using only one color; blue, for example, would mean using navy blue on a sofa, with midnight blue accent pillows, pastel blue on the walls, and sky blue draperies. It's a difficult scheme to achieve; however, when done correctly, it can be very striking.

Color psychology is used extensively in commercial design. The exterior color and signage on a building will attract or repel customers based on their subconscious responses to the colors. Red used in restaurants and bars stimulates the senses and causing salivation. People usually want to eat and drink and stay awhile when surrounded by red walls and furnishings.

Form used in interior design is defined as the shape or visual appearance of an object. It could be one of three basic shapes: a circle, square or triangle. Mixing rounded and angular shapes add more drama to a room. A sofa with rounded arms looks great with a Parson table with straight legs.

Texture is also a key element in a room. Mixing a soft velvet drapery with linen chairs along with a long woven thick ply area rug creates more visual interest.

Space, another design element, is usually paired with scale or proportion. Filling a space with furniture that is the correct proportion to not look too large or over-scaled for the room is the ideal. Small pieces of furniture look lost in a large space. Combining various sizes and shapes and not over-crowding is another good practice.

Consider all these elements as ingredients in a recipe. You need them all to create your masterpiece. You can either follow them to the letter or you can modify them and add your own special touches, so the results are uniquely your own.


Modern Style, which was part of the Modernism movement, originated in the 1800's. It was made famous by the German Bauhaus school of design, which was founded by Walter Gropius, in 1919. It literally meant "school of building". The Bauhaus had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design.

Sleek, smooth and polished surfaces are part of a modern interior. White walls and a neutral color palette are used on furnishings. There is an emphasis on clean lines and strong geometric and angular shapes and unadorned windows.

Concrete and granite and other hard surfaces are used for flooring. Chrome and stainless steel are used in the kitchen on appliances and fixtures. Lacquered finishes are commonly used on kitchen cabinetry.

There is a focus on art and accessories in a Modern interior. Sometimes the only striking color is in the art and accent pieces which are used sparingly.

Scandinavian Design is also considered Modern and it emerged in the 1950s in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. It is a design movement characterized by simplicity, minimalism and functionality.

Scandinavian design often makes use of form pressed wood, plastics, anodized or enameled aluminum or pressed steel. If you've ever visited an Ikea showroom, you'll see good examples of Scandinavian design.

Contemporary Style became popular in the 1970s and was originally a blend of styles such as Modern, Art Deco and Futurism. Art Deco first appeared in France after World War I and is an eclectic style that combines traditional craft motifs with Machine Age imagery and materials. Futurism, which originated in Italy in the early 20th century, emphasized the future, including speed and technology.

Low-slung sofas with rounded arms alongside glass topped tables are common in Contemporary interiors. Art work featuring cars, airplanes and other futuristic motifs are used in dens and family rooms. Kitchens and bathrooms can feature smooth surfaces such as granite or marble with simple designs on counter tops and back splashes. Black and stainless-steel appliances and fixtures are often used.

Both Modern and Contemporary interiors are uncluttered spaces with minimal furnishings that feature reflective surfaces such as exposed metals and glass. Sofas, chairs and ottomans can have simple, exposed legs in both Modern and Contemporary. You won't find heavy elements or ornate designs in Modern or Contemporary interiors.

The basic difference between Modern and Contemporary design is that Modern interiors stay true to natural materials, geometric and angular shapes and neutral colors. Contemporary interiors have more variation in colors and use more curves in furnishings and accessories.

Modern and Contemporary design have sometimes been classified as the same among the general public and even among sales people in some retail furniture stores. There is obviously a difference between Modern and Contemporary design, not only in the origins, but in the interior spaces as well.

A trained interior design and a sophisticated consumer will be aware of the differences.


Interior Designers, Architects, and artists generally talk about the importance of balance, scale and harmony. In order to achieve a great design, we follow a set of established rules or design principles.

Keep in mind that these design principles are only guidelines, and the best designers sometimes disregard them. If you have the skills, you can try creating your own "out of the box" experience. Otherwise, it is best to abide by the principles to achieve the best design result.

Balance is one of the first principles to consider. There is formal balance and informal balance. Visualize a sofa on one side of a fireplace. Now visualize identical sofas on both sides of the fireplace. Those are examples of informal balance, and formal balance, respectively. In the two-sofa example, you could also use two chairs in place of one of the sofas to create a feeling of formal or symmetrical balance. It's usually described as a "mirror image," where the grouping on the left mirrors the grouping on the right.

Informal is also known as asymmetrical balance. That is when you use; for example, an L-shaped sectional sofa in a room. All the weight of the grouping is on one side of the room. To create balance, you need to place a chair with some visual weight opposite the sectional.

Proportion is another design principle. Have you ever seen a tiny chair used with a very large table? The scale is off and it looks peculiar. One rule of thumb for a sofa length is that the end table should not be more than half the size of the sofa. The ancient Greeks referred to this as "The Golden Section" and reduced all proportion to a simple formula. The ratio of the smaller section to the larger section and the larger section to the whole. A tall lamp placed on a very small table also looks out of proportion; however, some designers do it anyway.

Rhythm is the use of patterns of repetition and contrast. Let's say you're using yellow as an accent color. You used it on a couple of pillows on a sofa in the living room. Using it once more, like on the dining room chair seat cushions would tie the two rooms together. A general rule would be to use the color three times in the same area. Using the same finish on light fixtures and door handles throughout a home is repetition on a larger scale. It adds continuity and harmony.

Have you ever seen a room that had the same print on everything? The wall covering, draperies and sofas were all the same? That is repetition to the max! Make note, that too much repetition may not be harmonious to some viewers.

When discussing color, we talk about value, which is the darkness or lightness of a color. This is also referred to as tone. When two colors are used together in a color scheme, it's best if one is darker or lighter than the other. If they are exactly the same value or tone, the effect is not as visually pleasing. That's why it's best to have contrast between the two colors. For example, navy with peach or pale blue with a deep russet tone.

Designers also use paint to highlight certain elements in a room. An attractive window could have a contrast paint or stain trim around the frame which will cause it to be noticed. This is an example of emphasis, which is another design principle. Many times, a fireplace is used as a focal point in a room. If you don't have a fireplace or other unique feature to emphasize, you can create your own. Paint one wall a contrasting color or hang a large tapestry or painting. It will definitely add more interest to an ordinary room.

The last principle of design is unity or harmony. When you put everything together in a room, you hope that you have created a place that feels and looks "put together" or unified. One way to accomplish this is with one color. Shapes, sizes and textures should vary in order to keep it from looking boring or monotonous. Use "The Golden Section" and take special notice of scale, balance, and proportion. Also, use contrasting colors, and create a focal point in a room. Placing a formal or asymmetrical grouping of furniture in front of a fireplace is one way to achieve that.

A harmonious and unified scheme can be achieved by using basic design principles. The goal is to have a place where you can relax and entertain. A place that showcases your interests and taste, and that is uniquely your own.


Green design, also known as environmental design, is a way of creating a living space that is healthful and sustainable.

It is the act of recycling your existing building materials, fixtures, flooring, and appliances, rather than throwing them away. It is creating an environment that reduces toxic fumes and harmful substances. It is using energy-efficient appliances, water-saving fixtures, and natural materials.

Why do we need green design? There are many reasons. Many individuals suffer from illnesses, such as asthma or COPD. The best way to provide a "breathe easy" home is to use hard surface flooring, a good air filtration system, low-emission paints, non-toxic fabrics and carpets, and hypoallergenic landscaping. Some homes without good ventilation have consistent mold and mildew problems, which can be very unhealthy and cause illness. Additionally, many people like the idea of being Earth friendly, and want to do their part to reduce the amount of materials being thrown into landfills. Finally, it can be a great way to reduce your household expenses.

The best way to determine if you want or need to make changes in your environment is to ask yourself some questions:

Is your home moldy, dusty, dry, or damp?
What things about the house no longer work for your needs or lifestyle?
Do you or a family member have any health issues?
Is increased water efficiency a goal?
Does your home provide you with the desired amount of daylight and sunshine?
Do your utility bills too high?
Are there hot or cold spots in the house?
Do you have to wait a long time for hot water to reach certain fixtures?
How long are you planning to live in the house?

The last question is the key to whether you choose to remodel or move. Yes, it will be an investment to remodel your home. However, if you like your home and the location, it could be well worth it.

Once you have decided a "green" design is for you, it's time to take action. First, hire a contractor and design team who are experienced in the process of deconstruction. A critical part of the green process is preserving your existing plumbing fixtures, floor joists, front door, light fixtures, lumber, flooring materials, and even your kitchen sink.

You and your design team will determine which existing items will be recycled and which will be replaced with "green" products. For example, you may discard your old kitchen counter top and use a new concrete top which is more sustainable, inhibits the growth of bacteria, and is easy to maintain. You may also use hard surface flooring with area rugs instead of your existing wall to wall carpeting.

Common "green" items include hard surface flooring like cork or wood from sustainable managed forests; low-maintenance and non-toxic fabrics and furnishings; cabinets finished with low or no volatile organic compounds; high efficiency appliances; solar-supportive power sources; and interior finishes that support good indoor air quality.

Additional design elements will be accomplished using LED and compact florescent light sources, a Hepa-type water filtrations system, and temperature and water flow settings. Energy will also be conserved with smart-control thermostats with large readable displays, and auto-controlled window treatments that screen out the sun's glare and harmful rays.

Once you have accomplished the task of upgrading your home to "green," you can rest easy knowing that you have created an environment that is healthy and sustainable for many years to come.


Sarah Stone Designs

So how do you start with your favorite color and create a color scheme that works for your home? A good place to start is with a color wheel, available at most paint and arts and crafts stores.

The easiest color scheme combination is Complementary, which are colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, or blue and orange. If red is your favorite color, you could choose a Burgundy, and Pastel Green as the complementary color. If blue is your ideal, then you could choose Navy and Peach.

Another color scheme is Monochromatic, which means using one color only; however, this is one of the hardest schemes to achieve. If blue is your favorite color, and you want to try to create a Monochromatic color scheme in your home, then you will choose the very lightest shade of blue and then go to the very darkest shade. You will want to mix the textures of the fabrics and accessories in the room to add interest. To do it properly, each fabric in the room would have to be in the same blue color family.

Analogous colors are those that are adjacent or next to each other on the color wheel. You could choose a cool Analogous scheme, which could be green, blue, and purple, or a warm Analogous scheme, which could be yellow, orange, and red-orange. Pick at least 3 colors, but no more than 5, to create your scheme.

Now that you have your favorite color, and know your color schemes, it’s time to get started!

Start with the basics: flooring, walls, ceiling, counter tops, cabinets, anything that is more permanent. They will serve as a foundation for your scheme. Make sure the colors are perfectly matched. This is critical. If one color is off it will be much harder to coordinate window treatments, furniture, and accessories.

Remember the cool and warm aspect. As a general rule, chrome, pewter and other silver metals work better with cooler colors. Bronze and golds look great with warm colors. There are always exceptions to every rule. Just try and be consistent with your choices to give your color scheme continuity.

Once you have all your samples together, which should include paint chips (or larger swath of the color), flooring samples, fabric swatches, etc., you should place them the way they will be used in each room. For example, tape the paint chips on the wall, place the carpet sample on the floor and the granite sample for the new counter top on top of the existing counter top. In this way, you will be able to really see the true color of each selection.

Be sure to look at the samples in the daytime and also in the evening under artificial lighting. Live with them for a few days before you make a final decision. Remember, you’re going to be living with these new selections for quite a while, so take your time.

Creating a great color scheme for your home can be a very rewarding experience. The enjoyment and pleasure are reinforced every time you enter each room. Savor it and enjoy!

Need a little help? Interior Designers are trained and experienced in all aspects of color selection, and know how to make colors, fabrics, and materials come together beautifully.