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Three Elements of Successful Room Design

Courtesy of Sheffield School of Interior Design


At Sheffield we teach our students a simple Three-Step Method for designing every room they create:
  1. A successful room is functional.
  2. A successful room expresses a mood.
  3. A successful room exhibits a sense of harmony.
This simple Three-Step Method is the secret of every interior ever designed. We teach our students to consider these three steps every time they look at a room.


When our students mail in their design project for analysis by their instructor, the instructor starts by commenting on these three Guidelines. Of course, the instructor analyzes other elements of the project too - decor, layout, furniture, style etc. But the key to every good room - and the essential element of every great interior design - is adherence to these three Guidelines.

How do they work? How can you apply them? It's beyond the scope of this Web site to teach you every nuance, but you will get an inkling from the Room-of-the-Month Analysis that follows.

The Living Room

Some living rooms are little more than a coffee table where the mail gets tossed and a sofa where you collapse each evening. Others are too stilted and formal to be of any real use, and because they go unused their occasional visitors feel uncomfortable, as if, like the glass candy bowls and potted plants, they too are on display.

And then there are the living rooms that combine the best of both worlds, and allow for both relaxation and entertaining.

This living room really knows how to live. Here is a room designed for comfort, yet gracious and formal enough for hosting even the most important parties.

Looking at it through Sheffield's Three Principles of Interior Design, we see first that the function of this room is to welcome guests and make them feel comfortable and at home. The room is built for relaxed conversation: the two easy chairs angled toward one another, the two straight-back chairs facing one another across a small table, and the white ottoman allow for conversation among a group. And, there are enough tables so that guests can have a place for their drinks or snacks. As the Sheffield Course creator, Bill Turner often remarked, "A table for every chair!"

But another function of this room is simply for relaxing alone or with a companion. Those easy chairs are so inviting that you can easily imagine pulling the ottoman over, putting your feet up, and tucking into a new novel on a winter's afternoon.

The mood of this room is clearly one of relaxation. It's formal enough for entertaining because it's so well-designed, but the feeling is one of luxurious relaxation. The casual aspect of the mood is enhanced by the slightly messy fronds in the vases, which bring in an air of the wild outdoors and prevent the room from feeling stuffy or overdone. The open curtains, which are barely noticeable at first glance, add to this airy feeling, letting in loads of natural light.

Finally, everything in this room works in harmony. The deep egg yellow of the ceiling and upper wall matches the yellow background of the fabric. The chairs are upholstered in the same fabric used on the table and for the curtains, and the plain off-white rug prevents the floral pattern from becoming overwhelming. The flowers in the vase add a nice counterpoint to the printed flowers on the fabric.

All in all, this is a room that would give its visitors the relaxed feeling of an early summer's afternoon, at any time of the year.


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