Breaking Design Rules
May 18, 2011
A reader recently wrote in and asked an important question when it comes to designing a space. Leah W. wondered whether some design rules were made to be broken and were there a few examples or illustrations for successfully breaking those rules?
I asked Courtney to tackle this topic, and he is back this month with his fabulous insight! Courtney asked a group of designers to look at issues that they encounter on a regular basis with their clients, and asked what are those design rules or commandments that are made to be broken?
Design Commandments Made to be Broken, by Courtney Lake
“When I was researching this article, I was reminded of the countless essays I wrote in high school where I used the definition of a word or phrase to introduce an idea. Strangely, using this clichéd approach makes sense when you are writing an article on breaking design rules. There are some deeply held beliefs that have engrained themselves within our design psyches. For better or worse, they prescribe how we have decorated our homes for decades. So when you “break” them, what exactly are you doing? Well according to Webster Dictionary you are breaking:
One of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere…..
Design rules give guidelines for how furniture, lighting and accessories should relate and interact within your home. But what if you “rocked the boat” as every good designer does, picking those which make sense for your space and tossing out the rest? Before you break these design rules, it’s best to understand why they are important.
A solid understanding of the principles of design is crucial if you want to break them successfully, so I asked four design experts their opinions on what design commandments should be tossed aside. They each gave insight on some old and new rules that we all should gleefully break to get the homes we want.
Design Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Not Place Large Furniture in a Small Room
Common sense tells us that if a space is small, we should scale the furniture to fit the room. Wrong! Design legend John Dickinson built a career out of placing out of scale furniture in rooms. A large bed can easily be placed into a small bedroom or a large couch in a small den. The tricks to bending this design commandment are placement and color. As long as the furniture doesn’t block the natural sightlines of the room and is within the same color palette, the furniture will read as a unified whole, tricking you into thinking the room is larger.
Design Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Mix Loud Colors & Patterns
Decorative painter Kristen Fountain Davis of K.F.D. Designs in Atlanta, GA ignores this rule when talking with her clients. Bold colors with loud patterns are normally avoided because it causes visual chaos if done incorrectly.
However, Kristen has “a passion for loud design” and thinks that if bold elements are tempered by other features such as a solid color wall or neutral furniture, then bold color and pattern can peacefully cohabitate. The key to breaking this design commandment, says Fountain Davis, is “remembering to give the eye a place to rest.”
Design Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Not Paint Your Ceilings
Interior design partners, Deb DePeter and Becky Tellefsen of Living Livelier don’t understand the current pre-occupation with white ceilings. Historically, ceilings have been painted with murals, covered in gold leaf and adorned with mirrors, so when did ceilings become an afterthought? White ceilings were originally were thought to expand a room’s height and reflect more light. DePeter and Tellefsen consider the ceiling a 5th wall and give it the attention it deserves!
The secret to breaking this design rule is actually quite simple according to the design duo; “paint the ceiling a few shades lighter or darker than the walls.” But if you want to go bolder, they also love the idea of going for a really outrageous color or stencil on the ceiling, and having the more neutral walls below take second stage to what happens above.
Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Not Have a Ceiling Fan
Ceiling fans get a bum rap as unsightly dust magnets in a room. However, if you have ever lived in a humid state or a state where AC is not the norm, a family comes to depend on them for air circulation.
Bryn Dunn of Bryn Alexandria Interiors believes that function trumps aesthetics in this case, stating “I personally love the feeling of a fan on me while I sleep and I would never replace a fan in the bedroom with a chandelier as so many decorators do.” According to Dunn, you can have a ceiling fan in your room, “but you have to make sure it’s good looking or blends in with the ceiling so it somewhat disappears. Keep it simple and sleek.”
Design Commandment #5 Thou Shalt Not Mix & Match Metals
Mixing metals has considered dangerous territory for a long time. The idea of matching finishes was created to give visual harmony, which it does, but it also makes for a room that is flat. Fortunately, designer Nichole Loiacono of NL Design thinks this rule is antiquated and believes that various metal tones can occupy the same space.
To successfully break this rule one must understand the patina of the metallic pieces you are bringing into the room. Weathered brass, antique silver and muted golds play well together without clashing; the patina of the metals becomes the unifying factor rather than the metals themselves. Loiacono likens breaking this rule as a “metallic free for all” where “silver and gold can be together at last.”
Cardinal Design Commandment: Thou Shalt Not . . . Follow Any Rules!
When all is said and done, design is about style, form and function. Each space will have its own unique challenges which may not always fit an existing design rule or commandment. As the definition states, rules guide a particular activity but just like anything, they change to fit our needs. So who cares if you break a few to get a space you love. Throw caution to the wind and be a design rebel. By breaking a few rules, you just may make a new rule of your own.”
Wow, Courtney, so inspiring! Thank you for taking the time to answer Leah’s inquiry and for giving us all a few examples of how to break design rules with flair! I love breaking that last commandment, I always mix metallic sheens.
Be sure to hop over and say hello to Courtney at his blog Life Out Loud, he’s always creating something marvelous.
Naturally this article begs the question . . .
There are a lot of design “rules” – which ones have you broken?