My Interior Design Facebook Group is full of interior design enthusiasts and savvy DIY’ers. It’s such a great community that works together to tackle various homeowner rooms that they are struggling with. And often, there are some interesting questions that get asked relating to “design secrets” that designers use.

The latest question is, “What basic design rules do you use?”

In this article, I’m going to share the 5 basic design rules that I never break! Yes – really. These are the rules that I always refer back to for every project. Some may say that these rules are too simple, but oftentimes the best designs come from the simplest of concepts and ideas.

Let’s explore the 5 Basic Design Rules I Never Break!


Design Rule 1. The Triangle of Light


The triangle of light is a little trick I love to use when designing living rooms or family rooms. You can also apply the same principle to other rooms like bedrooms too!

This design principle is actually quite simple. Think of a living room layout where there are two sofas adjacent to each other, and accent chairs opposite one sofa perhaps with a coffee table in the middle. 

The triangle of light is about adding a table or floor lamp into the gaps. This would be the square area next to each sofa, or sofa and accent chair. When you add a table or floor lamp to these areas between furniture, you create a triangle. This helps to keep the room well-lit with accent lighting for the evenings, and gives flexibility to those using the space.

In this project, you can see how the gap between the accent chairs and sofa has been used to add a table lamp to start creating the triangle of light!


Design Rule 2. Living Room Spacing


Next up, is furniture spacing specific to living rooms or family rooms.

I always allow 16” – 20” between a coffee table and sofa, or another piece of furniture to easily maneuver around each piece.

No matter what size your space is, it’s important to feel as though there is plenty of space between pieces of furniture so you can easily move around the space.


Design Rule 3. Walkways


Clearances and spacing are super important in design because without the correct clearance, no one can use the space or furniture correctly! Spacing is crucial for all areas of the home.

I allow 36” – 48” for walkways depending on if they are a main walkway or secondary accessway. 

This may be for hallways, the space between mudroom cabinetry and the wall opposite, or space that surrounds kitchen cabinets or islands.

It’s so important to allow adequate space for walkways. In this mudroom we designed, we made sure to allow at least 48″ between the left wall (a closet) and the builtins on the righthand side.


Design Rule 4. Coordination


Many homeowners believe matching all of their decor pieces create a good design or a well-designed space. This can actually have the opposite effect! This is why I coordinate items and don’t match them exactly. 

But what does this mean?

Coordinating items in interior design means using different shades of a color, rather than strictly matching the shade, for example using the same navy blue for everything can look clumsy and flat. 

Using navy blue as the example, you could use a navy blue pillow, with a series of blue patterned pillows, a neutral throw blanket, and a neutral area rug that has specks of navy blue or other shades of blue within it. Coordinating is about bringing different elements together that work harmoniously together. 

In this kid’s bathroom, we have coordinated the color scheme so items are easy to swap in and out as they grow older. Coordination allows you to be more flexible with your accessory choices.


Design Rule 5. Light Colors


This may be an obvious design rule, but one that is super helpful!

Light colors help to bounce more natural light around spaces, and this is particularly helpful when a room feels really dark. You can use lighter upholstery fabrics to help, as well as other decorative items too.

If you are looking to lighten up a north-facing room in your home, using lighter shades of colors can really help to brighten the space.

Can you believe that this family room area is in the basement?! I utilized light colors in this room to help brighten up the space!


The above 5 basic design rules I never break are helpful tools that inform the design for all of my client projects. They help to create practical spaces that are well loved by the homeowners. If you’re looking to remodel your home and not sure where to start, be sure to contact us today. We work on full service interior design projects in the Chicagoland area and also offer virtual design services in the United States.