Architects and interior designers use a basic set of building blocks when creating. They apply principles and elements to design beautiful objects, satisfying a human instinct for visual order. The Elements are the individual tools used to create, while the Principles are the guidelines that dictate how they are used. It has been the basis of architecture for thousands of years. Structures from the Pantheon in Rome to Gothic cathedrals around the world use the same set of rules. The big question is, how do we apply these architectural principles to an ordinary house? You will be surprised to find that you are already using them. All you have to do is reinforce these principles. Have you ever walked into a room and immediately thought she was beautiful? The room probably used a few of these classic rulers, appealing to your natural penchant for order.


Using line thicknesses is an easy element to apply to a part that requires a bit of extra adjustment. Vertical pieces, like a large free-standing lamp, will give the impression of a column, making your eyes follow upwards. This effect can also be achieved with tall plants, mirrors or long curtains.

Using horizontal lines can visually connect the whole room and bring the height of the room down to human scale. Something as simple as a few floating shelves will allow your eyes to horizontally follow the space, giving the perception of a larger room. Another way to make your room bigger is to hang slightly oversized pictures in a landscape orientation that are longer in width than in height.

Traditionally, homes have used large baseboards and decorative moldings to visually enlarge a room, while giving the perception of a lower ceiling height. Before air conditioning became commonplace, ceilings were high, allowing heat to rise and space to cool naturally. Many older homes used a large decorative molding, using several horizontal lines to give the illusion of extra space. Within your own home, you also need to think about finishes and surfaces. The design of the ceiling is important because it houses the lighting and reflects daylight. On the walls, you can use color, pictures and other decorative elements to show your personality.


Floors are where you put your furniture, and the placement of rugs can help organize the way you move around the space. To organize your furniture for maximum circulation, first check whether the scale of the furniture fits into the space. Always add large furniture for large rooms and small items for comfortable quarters. If your sofa is long, choose a series of three frames or canvases and arrange them vertically behind the sofa. If your sofa is smaller, add a large horizontal piece of art behind it. Make the entire living room a focal point of the room. You can do this by using carpet tiles if the room has a solid surface floor. Consider getting a modular rug suitable for furniture, which can showcase a well-planned social space.

Light and accent

The element of light is not limited to the installation of a luminaire. It’s the daylight flowing from the windows, the reflection of the walls and the luminosity of the bulbs. If your room has dark-toned walls, you’ll need brighter lights, additional accessories, and lighter-colored furniture. Dark tones absorb light, so you will need bulbs with higher lumens, a unit of measurement for the amount of light emitted per second, to increase the brightness of the room.

With light-colored painted parts, be careful not to over-light. A space that is too bright will wash off the colors of your furniture and excessively stimulate your eyes.

For ceiling lights, look for a simple geometric shape. A round or oblong luminaire shifts linear elements in the room. Plus, fixtures can direct your eyes to other design features in the same space. This is why a large chandelier above the dining room table is often a popular choice. Yes, its purpose is lighting, but that signifies the importance of the room as a gathering point – an example of the principle of accentuation. Close-knit quarters may require a smaller pendant fixture to reduce the visual height of the ceiling.

In a bedroom, you can add a surface mounted light to diffuse a softer glow through the ceiling. Reflected light in bedrooms should have a calming effect, rather than bright direct lighting. Use soft ambient lighting to help you relax. Reading areas and the kitchen would require point lighting – a light to perform specific tasks.


Color is an element that refreshes and updates a space. Try to find a few decorative elements that contrast with the main color of the room. Look for framed pictures, rugs, and shelving to see where you can add visual interest based on the color. Some people find that organizing their shelf by color creates a series of exciting patterns. Also look for items related to your personal interests. Frame a map, find an old camera, or place a vase full of colorful items on the table. If you choose interesting decorative items, you will always have great talking points.

You are probably already using some design principles and elements throughout your home. We all use them because the natural order is in our DNA. We intuitively apply the principles when arranging furniture, organizing shelves or hanging pictures. When these design tools are used effectively, the spaces will engage your eyes and create positive emotions.

Pro tip:

When you design, think holistically. All walls and surfaces must be part of a successful design. Think about how each element fits into the context of the whole room.

Travis Kelly Wilson is professor of interior design at Western Kentucky University. He is the author of a series of books for young children, “The Aspiring Architect”. He and his wife reside in the beautiful town of Falls of Rough, Kentucky, and love to travel the world to explore architecture.