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Interior Design Training: Principles of the Four Basic Style Categories
If you are starting out your coursework or driving lessons to become an interior designer, you want to have a firm grasp on the basics. Whether you’re decorating a dorm room or an entire house, bungalow or penthouse, you’ll find that many specific design styles fit into four broad general categories. This comprehensive guide defines casual, formal, traditional and contemporary style so you can continue your studies and career with an understanding of the design principles of each category.
Elegant Ritz-Carlton hotels and public government buildings like the White House look formal. While homes today aren’t typically built with 12″ high moldings, hand-laid herringbone wood floors, or elaborate carved plaster ceiling and wall decorations, there are elements of a formal decorating style that you and your clients may want to use in a project.
Symmetry is one of the key elements of the interiors and exteriors of homes designed in a formal style. Windows, furniture, paintings are elements that are most often arranged in pairs with a straight axis dominating each room. The room will define the focal point, and this can be a beautiful wall of windows overlooking the perfect lawn, a large stone fireplace in the middle of one key wall or a beautiful piece of furniture. A formal decorating style suits homes with high ceilings, large and tall windows and architectural features such as beautifully paneled walls, columns and pilasters.
Formal style interiors are decorated to attract attention and show wealth, so they include highly polished wood, gleaming mirrors, highly polished brass window and door hardware, sparkling crystal chandeliers and sconces, and unique and interesting pieces of fine wood and upholstered furniture.
Furniture and accessories in formal interiors are often antique or fine reproductions. The woods used are generally dark and rich looking, but lighter woods are often used for decoration and marquetry. Imported oriental rugs cover polished hardwood floors. Original works of art are often elaborately framed in hand-carved gilt frames, and stone or bronze figurative sculptures will be displayed on plinths.
Contemporary decorating is for those who like to follow the latest styles and enjoy things that are in today. While modern interiors are thought to be cold and minimalist, today’s contemporary interiors are often comfortable and welcoming without being crowded and dark. It is a style that is equally suitable for offices and homes, lofts and shops.
A modern style home can be quiet and peaceful and can act as an Asian meditation space. Simplicity, subtle sophistication, texture and clean lines help define contemporary interiors. The center of gravity of each room is the quiet space rather than the equipment. By focusing on color, dimensions and shape, contemporary interiors are stimulating, elegant and fresh.
Neutral, black and white are the main colors in modern interiors. The palette is often highlighted with bright and bold colors and, within several style variants, decorated with patterning and shiny ornaments. Black is often used to ground and define a room. With the walls painted in a basic neutral color, you have the background for bold color accessories.
The line is a key design element. It is found in the architectural details and is defined by the use of bold color blocks, high ceilings and bare windows. Geometric shapes are used in wall art and sculpture. Free space remains on the walls, between pieces of furniture and up in overhead areas and becomes just as important as areas filled with objects.
In contemporary interiors, less is more, as space creates perspective and dimension. Each piece of furniture stands out as individual and unique. Contemporary style uses structural elements as decoration. Air ducts can hang from the ceiling, textiles and bricks provide texture and stability. Structural details can be painted in bold contrasting colors or simply exposed and painted the same color as the wall to reduce their importance.
The casual style room is cosy, warm, comfortable and welcoming. For TV viewers, it’s like going on stage Friends or The big Bang Theory. Who doesn’t want to be comfortable at home? To put together a room in a casual style, learn the basic elements that come together to create a casual, modest room. Casual rooms have simple details, textured elements in fabrics and accessories, soft upholstery in neutral colors, low-gloss surfaces, structural elements and furniture arrangements that avoid perfect symmetry.
The details are simple and the elements are rectangular or gently curved. Decorated in a casual style, the room has simple details, but it’s the perfect place to add an unexpected touch of whimsy, like an old, refurbished birdhouse or a cone on a lamp base. Casual decorating can easily be incorporated into such specific styles as rustic, cottage, beach, French country, shabby, or American country.
With people enjoying a more relaxed lifestyle, many homes today are completely decked out in casual decorating elements. But any home can incorporate elements into a guest room, country kitchen, TV room or bathroom. Elements of a casual decor style can penetrate most any room and feel comfortable.
Traditional decorating is calm, orderly and predictable. Maybe you grew up in a house that was decorated with traditional style furniture. The furniture is classic and may seem dated, so nothing surprises. The pieces fill the room and match and are consistent.
Furniture pieces are often reproductions. They are part of dining sets, living sets and bedroom sets, and all room sets are similar in style. Furniture and accessories are placed in pairs and tend to be centered in each room. There is nothing out of place or significantly different in style.
Traditional rooms are not ostentatious but rather informal, so all age groups feel comfortable in traditional style homes. It’s a familiar look that you may see in magazines or in furniture showrooms.
The upholstered furniture in the traditional room has classic lines and understated details. They may have decorative details, but they are functional, unpretentious and relaxing. The edges are soft, smooth and blend into the whole. Fabrics are generally neither too shiny nor too textured. Simple colors, florals, muted plaids, subtle stripes, geometric shapes, tone-on-tone and small all-over patterns are common.
As you proceed your education, knowledge of the four broad general categories of Casual, Formal, Traditional and Contemporary, you will lay a good foundation for your career. Once you’ve researched them well and broadened your studies to include specific styles, their history and sources, you can confidently guide your clients through their various projects so that each one is a unique expression of their taste and your design skills.
(c) 2012 Elizabeth McMillian
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