5 Interior Design Rules That Are Made To Be Broken

One of our favorite sayings is “rules are made to be broken.” As interior designers, it confirms our belief that creativity and the great work it yields can’t be pigeonholed, quantified or broken down into step-by-step directions anyone can execute. When you add high levels of luxury to an interior design initiative, which is important to our clients, standard-issue interior design rules not only don't always produce the best results—they can lead to costly mistakes.

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A setting of imperfectly matched pieces can have more aesthetic allure than one that is meticulously coordinated. (Image: Architectural Digest)

We’re not saying that all rules are made to be broken. The entire quote, which many people haven’t heard, is even more fulfilling to us as interior designers. General Douglas MacArthur said, “Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.” It can be easy to follow rules, but breaking them, and thinking outside the proverbial box, takes a lot of effort, insight, imagination and guts.

Here are examples of what we mean when it comes to interior design rules. They all confirm our favorite moral: interior design rules can be a good place to start, but use them as a guideline.

Image No 2 Symmetry

Symmetry isn’t necessary to achieve order, balance and beauty in a space, as the home office above attests. (Image: Houzz)

1. Symmetry Doesn’t Have to Reign Supreme

From centering seating in front of a fireplace to hanging art in a rigorous grid, symmetry adds order and balance to a room. In fact, it’s the easiest way to shape a room. But it can also be oh-so-boring! To channel Marilyn Monroe, “imperfection is beauty.” We’ve seen that concept play out in great beauties, fine art and fabulous homes. Asymmetrical elements can add adventure and intrigue to a room. But they also require us to carefully consider the size, scale and shape of every piece in a room—and more. Color, texture and pattern also count. While it takes skill and experience to design rooms that don’t rely on symmetry, we’ve found the results are worth the extra effort and time it takes.

Image Matchy matchy

An intriguing yet eclectic assortment of books and decorative objects from a range of historic periods, anchored by a handsome Empire chandelier and iconic modern Eero Saarinen table, prove that matchy matchy is overrated. (Image: Country Living)

2. Matchy Matchy Is Monotonous And Lackluster

We blame this interior design rule on the perfection-oriented mindset of the mid-20th Century, when coordinated outfits and matching suites of furniture ruled our wardrobes and homes. Dining sets, nightstands, textiles, woods, metals and more don’t have to be fastidiously coordinated in a space. By mixing up everything—from formal dining sets to the types of metals, woods and stones we use in a kitchen—we add excitement to traditional or transitional settings and bring warmth to the sleek contemporary or minimal settings we design.

Image No 4 Mixing Styles

Modern meets rustic with a hint of chintz in this eclectic dining room, which also manages to incorporate several different types of wood and metal without looking busy or contrived. (Image: Erika Brechtel)

3. There’s No Reason To Stick To One Style Or Period In A Space

Paring pieces of different periods, such as modern with traditional or country with industrial-chic can make a space feel much more interesting and personal. If every item in a home is from the same style or time period, it can be mind numbing. But while blending pieces from different periods and styles leads to character-rich spaces, they must not be ad hoc. If a place is traditional, it doesn’t mean you can just throw a modern chair into the mix. To use multiple styles, we’ve found that you need a common denominator, be it a theme or specific color and pattern, to tie things together.

Image No 5 Rule of 3

Forget numbers and go for impact, balance and effect when grouping objects and art. For example, one sconce, four chairs and 13 paintings are perfect in this dining room. (Image: Avery Street Design)

4. Challenge The Rule Of Three

According to this rule, we should arrange things in odd numbers. It makes sense, because our brains are programmed to think in patterns, and three is the smallest number that can be used to form one. Patterns make information and objects more manageable for us to digest, intellectually and visually. On the other hand, we’ve found sometimes a pair can add the right framework to a setting, such as framing a brash and irregularly shaped piece of art. It also may take five, seven, or even nine of a diminutive collectible to give a grouping the significance it needs to be visually compelling.

Image No 6 Small Space

Don’t let a small space lure you into choosing tiny pieces that don’t deliver needed function and comfort. Do opt for fewer pieces. (Image: Read Cereal)

5. Do Put Large Furniture In Small Spaces

Logic tells us not to stuff a small room with large furnishings. But diminutive furniture may not only look silly in room, it can be uncomfortable or inadequate to accommodate the tasks at hand. A trim, three-seat sofa can be far more comfortable and useful than a tiny loveseat, the same way a desk that actually holds office supplies will be far more functional than one meant only for show. We put function first, letting key pieces anchor a small space and take center stage, then fill out the rest of the room accordingly.

17 Oct 2016

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