25 Interior Design Rules You Should Actually Follow


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Photographed by Winnie Au.

Whoever originally said that rules were meant to be broken definitely worked in interior design. It doesn't matter if you live in a teeny, tiny apartment or sprawling beachside bungalow: Decorating your home is all about throwing out the rulebook.

Why have a cookie-cutter interior when your space can reflect your beautiful, unique aesthetic? Whether you're power-clashing ikat and tartan or blending two unlikely styles together, the best things happen when you go against the grain.

That being said, there are some basic ground rules that are worth noting. Make no mistake, these rules aren't meant to reign in your personal style. On the contrary, they exist to make sure your room looks its absolute best. 

Curious to see which rules actually matter, we turned to some of our favorite design experts. Some of their answers are practical, while others are more abstract. But once you nail down these must-follow rules, the rest is up to you.

Something Old, Something New

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Photographed by Ruth Maria Murphy.

"Every room should have a vintage or an antique piece: Mixing styles and eras always creates an edited, well-collected, and curated look," shares Brooke McGuyer Hutson of Brooke McGuyer Interiors.

"For rooms primarily furnished with new items, bringing in older pieces instantly adds soul and depth to any room. This could be anything from an antique textile pillow to a vintage chest, or an antique bergère chair. "

Pay Attention To Scale

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Photographed by Marco Ricca.

"In almost every case in interior design, a nice mix of things adds interest and creates balance in a room, but not on the case of scale," says Caitie Smithe, designer at Walter E Smithe.

"This is one of the biggest challenges for people. Either the furniture looks too big or too small for the room, or it is mismatched in scale with other pieces. Pay attention to dimensions of both the room and all furniture going into in when creating a design plan. "

Stick To One Wood

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Photographed by Genevieve Garruppo

"Even if a wood finish appears to be 'close enough' to another finish being used in the room, it will be very obvious when the two are in the same room together. The room will feel off," Smithe says. "Instead, opt for two distinct, but complimentary wood finishes."

Bring On The Light

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Photographed by Helynn Ospina.

"Investing in good lighting is paramount to the quality of any space we inhabit," says Kenneth Boyer, partner at Atelier K. "One simple way to achieve good lighting is through switching your existing bulbs in your table and floor lamps to full spectrum, as color renders much better."

Form Follows Function

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Photographed by Erin Kunkel.

"When designing a space, the form should be based on the purpose and functionality first, a principle to be considered when starting any design process," Boyer shares. 

Style Your Shelves

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Photographed by Anna Alexia Basile.

"Curate your bookshelves," says Alessandra Wood, interior design expert and director of style at Modsy. "I know this is the hardest thing when you actually need to live in your space, but well-designed, visually intriguing spaces have exquisitely styled shelving. If you have a ton of books, invest in closed shelving, or partially open shelving. She adds, "Layer your open shelves with books, objects, and art."

Savor Your Spaces

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Photographed by Molly Culver.

"Preserve open doorways and walking space," she shares. "Even if you never use a doorway or a closet, or if you’re feeling cramped in a small place and need to find more room, it’s important to keep those areas visually accessible. If you cover them with pieces of furniture, your rooms will automatically start to feel off and awkward." 

The Rug Rules

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Photographed by Ashley Batz.

“Start with the carpet before you develop a palette of materials for any room," shares Jeffry Weisman, one half of the interior design team Fisher Weisman. "Working backwards to find the perfect new or antique carpet for a beautifully layered scheme makes your job twice as hard. Make it easy on yourself by finding the carpet first and using it as the inspiration of the rest of the materials.”

Start Au Naturale...

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Photographed by Amy Bartlam.

"With color, I love to start with a couple of contrasting neutrals to create an interesting, yet pleasant canvas," states Lisa Rickert, founder and CEO of Jolie Home. "It is important to select colors that work with many others. White is always a good choice to start with. Then it is time to layer in the wall art, rugs, furniture, and textiles."

...Then Pack On The Pattern

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Photographed by Helynn Ospina.

"Embrace pattern," says Amy Sklar, a Los Angeles-based designer. "It provides a major return on investment and can completely transform and bring a space to life. If you are nervous about layering them, try one bold pattern, and keep the surrounding space clean and simple."

Keep It Consistent

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.

"Continuity is one design rule that you can’t ignore," Kristen Peña, founder of K Interiors. "With more and more open-floor plans, you need to be sure each room feels special and unique but that it connects with the adjoining rooms. Ways to achieve continuity are to repeat a common color, item, or textile in multiple spaces."

Defy Gravity With Your Drapes

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Photographed by Ana Kamin.

"Hang your drapes close to the ceiling," advises Jessica Davis, founder of Nest Studio. "It just makes your room look taller. If there is a large swath of wall between the drapes and above the window, you can always fake the height with a bamboo shade inside the drapery."

Create A Conversational Corner

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Photographed by Jessica Sample.

"When creating seating arrangements, pull the furniture in close to each other to create conversation areas," interior designer Angie Hranowsky says. "No bowling alleys between chairs, tables, and sofas. You want your rooms to feel inviting and cozy."

Scale Down Your Prints

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Photographed by Mikola Accuardi.

"One rule that I feel is often forgotten, but is very crucial, includes using a small pattern in a small space," says interior designer Jess Cooney. "Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t make the space feel bigger — it actually does the opposite!"

"Using a larger floor tile in a small bath with fewer grout lines can make the bath feel more spacious. People often mistake this for the opposite and I think it is super helpful and important to note during a renovation!"

Find Your Center

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Photographed by Jessie Webster.

"A room should always be designed and centered around a focal point that helps to guide your furniture placement and draw your eye," shares Meghan Hackett-Cassidy and Erin Hackett of Hackett Interiors. "This should be a statement piece that stands out from the rest of the room such as a fireplace, mirror, series of prints, or accent wall. It never fails!"

Keep It Comfortable

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Photographed by Molly Culver.

"Never sacrifice comfort for style," notes Nicole Gibbons, interior designer and founder of Clare. "There’s nothing worse than a beautiful space that’s too uncomfortable to live in. Good design is both beautiful and functional."

Place Your Furniture On Your Rug

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Photographed by Stephen Busken.

"Your rug shouldn’t be floating in space," shares Jodie Fried, co-founder of Armadillo & Co. "Tweak your furniture layout so that either all furniture legs are on the rug or at least the front two legs of furniture are sitting on it." 

Embrace The Third Wheel

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Photographed by Delbarr Moradi.

"As much as we strive for symmetry when considering the overall design of a space, we also love breaking up the symmetry by arranging objects in odd-numbered configurations," shares Melissa Benham, principal of Studio Gild. "While three always seems to work, amp it up with five, seven, and beyond. In general, odd numbers cast more visual interest.”

Mix Your Metals

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Photographed by Tessa Neustadt.

" Rest assured that metals can and should always be mixed together," says Danielle Fennoy, founder of Revamp Interior Design. "Too much of any one metal or finish is overkill, so it’s the blend of a few that creates balance and texture. "

Take Advantage Of Texture

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Photographed by Carol Varizi.

"Whether one is going with a more colorful space or a more tonal space, texture makes everything more dynamic," Fennoy shares.

Measure Up

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Photographed by Amy Bartlam.

"Measure everything! Before buying anything, measure your space and make a plan," shares Abbe Fenimore, founder of Studio Ten 25. "If you don't have access to an online floor-plan program, draw the room on graph paper and make cutouts of your furniture to scale and see how the fit in the room."

"This will prevent you from purchasing pieces that are too large or too small for your configuration, giving you the opportunity to make any changes before moving forward."

Master The Balancing Act

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Photographed by Claudia Uribe.

"Symmetry is always pleasing to the eye," explains Caitlin Murray, founder of Black Lacquer Design."There's definitely a time and place to go asymmetrical but generally, it's all about creating balance!"

Go With Your Gut

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Photographed by Winnie Au.

"I find that when I’m designing a space, I sometimes worry I’m designing with a style or detail that will go out of trend soon," shares Joy Cho, founder and creative director of Oh Joy!

"But, here’s where I just go with my gut. If it’s a look or color scheme I’ve loved for a while, then I still go with it. Your instincts know, so it’s okay to trust that!"

Make It Personal

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Photographed by Sabrina Bot.

"Every space should include elements representing the client’s interests, hobbies, or history whether it’s a photograph, a collection of art, or a stack of books that have been read and revered along the way," says interior designer Jean Liu. "Otherwise, it'll look like a hotel room."

Take Your Time

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Photographed by Ana Kamin.

"I prefer to go slowly and collect mindfully," shares Amy Ilias, executive vice president of art and design at abc carpet & home. "I find that the most interesting spaces are those that wholly reflect the person that lives there and are never 'perfect,' but truly lived in."
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