The top 10 rules of interior design

Melanie Whitehouse / 31 March 2016

We all need to change our homes around occasionally, repaint and update with some new accessories. Here are 10 interior design rules to make it work.



1. Plan ahead

Plan your project before you start and you’re more likely to be happy with the end result. That means making a mood board. Cut or tear out from magazines and brochures pictures of rooms you like, colour and fabric swatches you fancy and images of furniture and accessories that appeal. 

Get a big piece of cardboard or paper and move them around, discarding what doesn’t work. When you’re happy with the result, stick down your swatches etc. Thinking of moving the furniture too? Then take a piece of graph paper and cut to size some bits of paper to represent your main items of furniture (sofa, dining table etc). Move around until you have a layout that works.

Related: should you hire an interior designer?

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2. Mix old and new

You want the décor in your home to reflect who you are, your interests and passions, and be personal to you. That means creating a home that looks as if it’s evolved organically. Mix old and new, contemporary with traditional. Avoid a jumble-sale effect by grouping items cleverly, linked by theme or colour or print, and get rid of clutter - too many knick-knacks and your new scheme will look a mess. Don’t be afraid to try something new; you can always change it if you don’t like it.

Related: how to breathe new life into tired décor

3. Co-ordinate

Think about how your house flows. Even when it’s divided up by lots of doors and walls, you can make it feel pulled together and cohesive by using the same flooring throughout, or painting the walls the same shade in every room. Highlight different areas by using accessories in an alternative accent colour. The devil is in the detail, so unite light switches, knobs and handles, choosing good designs that are all the same on every floor (and, even better, throughout the whole house).

Related: how to make the most of your space

4. Use colour wisely

Don’t be afraid of colour – it really does affect mood. As a rule, use light, bright shades in small spaces, particularly if ceilings are low. However, if light is in short supply, a warm colour can give depth to a room. Stop it looking dense with lots of mirrors and framed prints on the walls, and clever lighting. Grey is the new neutral - cream is so yesterday - but it can be tricky. The warmer, pinky, oyster or dove greys are softer and easier on the eye. Dark greys look good picking out window and door frames, particularly on the outside of the house. Cold, blue-greys complement bare brickwork and suit industrial style spaces. Brilliant white can look dull, so choose a shade of white instead.

Related: choosing the right paint for the job

5. Add accessories

Scared of using vibrant shades on the walls? Then add colour with accessories. New cushions, rugs, a lamp, throws can all help energise a room and tie your decor together. And think in twos. Pairs of items – a lamp either side of the bed, a stunning cushion at each end of the sofa, candlesticks on either end of the mantelpiece – create symmetry.

Related: 7 ways plants can transform your home

6. Dress the windows

Dress windows properly and they’ll frame a beautiful view or hide a bad one. For the former, keep curtains long, just touching the floor – those that dangle mid-height never look elegant. For the latter, combine two coordinating designs, one for curtains and the other for a sheer blind that’ll let light.

Related: choosing the right curtain heading for your home

7. Remember the ceiling

If your room is tall and thin, paint the ceiling in the same colour as the walls, or even a shade darker to give the effect of lowering it. If it’s low, paint it in a paler colour than the walls to create the illusion of height. You could even wallpaper it – this works particularly well with sloping ceilings, such as an attic conversion.

Related: wallpaper design rules

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8. Make it comfortable 

Focus on comfort. Whatever your style, being comfy is key. Wooden and other hard flooring is still hugely popular but it can often be chilly underfoot and even draughty. Stuck with it? Add a large, cosy rug.

Related: how to make your home cosier to beat the cold

9. Use lighting intelligently

Don’t forget lighting. The light in your home varies through the day, so add wall lights and lamps to brighten dark corners, and spotlights for reading or highlighting a special picture. If you have an overhead pendant light, give it a statement lampshade.

Related: how to brighten up a dark room

10. Create a good first impression

First impressions count, so repaint your front door, polish knobs and knockers and put a couple of nice pots on the doorstep. Inside, add a ‘wow’ factor light in the hall such as a chandelier, clear out old wellies and tatty anoraks and put a plant on the hall table.

Related: how to add kerb appeal to your house

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.