A Man's Guide: How to Design a Room
Welcome to The Mittani's Guide to Design! In this article we will teach you key priniciples of how to optimally design rooms in general; these principles apply to every room in your space.
If you're new to The Mittani's Guide to Design, start with How To Design A Room, discover your personal style with How To Define Your Personal Style, then discover how to design your Living Room, Dining Room, and Bedroom the Madfern way. At Madfern, we're here to make furniture shopping for nerds like us a snap. Enjoy!
If you're successful like me, you may have bought a number of pieces of nice furniture over the years, but for some reason the items you researched and purchased don't quite fit together right. I lived for years with a 'good enough' attitude until Sara taught me the basics of how to make a room in your house not just look good, but flow smoothly.
It's easy when you understand the core mechanics; interior design is ultimately about buff stacking and specializing the functions of a room in your house.
A lot of video games include mechanics where a better looking and better flowing room increases your 'Room Score,' and thus the happiness and effectiveness of your dudes - I'm thinking of games like the Sims, Rimworld, etc. In Civ or Stellaris, specializing your cities or planets to a particular resource is par for the course.
Pick a room in your house as an example of a place you'd like to upgrade. Choose the functions you intend to execute in the room, then based upon those functions you will choose the mood you wish the room to evoke in yourself and others. We work backwards from there with some simple rules of thumb you will find on these guides.
Behind every well developed space is an obsession with function and purpose. Consider what things you personally do, or want to do better, in your spaces.
For example, a living room can have the purpose to relax solo, enhance family time or entertain a group. Our dining room table is almost never used for dinner parties, but I love sprawling strategy board games like Scythe and so the function of our dining room table is based around creating a good environment for me and my friends to geek out near the kitchen, rather than being ready to hold a dinner party once every five years and being useless for anything else.
You have to choose the function of each room yourself because this is inherently an individual process of optimizing your space for your individual goals; the key is to start with that intended function, and then continually refer back to it at each step of the process when choosing furniture, colors and accents.
Controlling the Mood
We are human beings, which means that our brains work in certain predictable ways. Your room has a focal point right now, wherever you are conscious of this or not. I personally rolled my eyes for years at stuff like 'focal points' but the underlying psychology of human behavior is that our brains are gonna focus our eyeballs on a room's focal point. The brain will find a focal point if you like it or not. In fact, if you don't like something in the space you are in, there is a good chance your brain will fixate upon it and you will be suffering negative value every time you walk into that non-optimized room.
The Focal Point
You must control your focal points, or they will control you, and anyone who walks into your uncontrolled space. How? Observe your behavior in your existing space before meddling with it and see where your eye is naturally drawn. Do you like looking at That Thing first every time you walk into the room? Do you dislike it? Most importantly, does that focal point enhance the functionality you intend to perform within the room? My trick is to walk in and out of the room a bunch and just observe what I end up noticing first, then asking myself if it enhances the function and purpose of the room.
Examples of a focal point can be a diploma in your office, a cool model, a funky piece of art, a cool piece of furniture. Your room may have a natural focal point, like a fireplace or a killer view. 'Focal Point' is a fancy way of saying 'what captures your brain's attention when you first enter a space,' and if the first thing your brain latches onto in a room is at odds with the function you intend for that space, it's time to optimize.
Start with something that really speaks to you; this could be a piece of art, a super awesome piece of furniture that makes you feel cool every time you look at it, or any other item you are personally passionate about. Get the focal point right and then the rest of the room design will be much easier, because the correct focal point will set the mood and theme of the rest of the room.
Theme, Inspiration, and Individuality
This is going to come from your inspiration piece. Try to name it if possible or do a google search to further develop the thought in your mind. For instance, a framed photo of the car you restored could create a theme like the "Cadillac Room" or "Classy Mobster", bringing in like materials and lines from the car into the room. For the geeks, to create a theme such as physics, Marvel, chemistry, or even fountain pens, the key lies into the accessories. Have the room give off a gentle nod to your nerdy passions, leaving the large pieces to be neutral while bringing in correlating materials and colors from the theme.
Color Choices Made Easy
Like focal points, color is a messy topic, but it doesn't have to be. We leverage color to achieve our objectives because color impacts human psychology, particularly mood and focus; we do not need to fumble in the dark, there is a system here that has been long established in the world of fine arts. Google 'Color Wheel' and 'Color Psychology' and voila!
Because it turns out that the principles of color theory carry over directly to optimizing a living space, and you only need to make three decisions to make this process easier.
- The Main Color: This is your walls, carpeting and window coverings. Depending on where you live you may not have options here, but you must take the wall and floor coloring into account if you want to optimize your room. Plan around it from the start.
- The Secondary Color: This is scattered through the room with your fabrics, accessories and the like. If your room has white walls as its dominant color and you have a big brown couch you love in the room, brown and wood tones are your secondary color.
- The Accent Color: This is a bold splash used sparingly. If you want to get into the weeds, I again suggest googling color wheels because certain colors are known to work better with others in this trinary configuration.
If you choose all neutral colors, use plants to add a level of dynamic to the room.
The Power and Danger of Black Furniture
Like a lot of nerds, my idea of interior design before I learned how to Madfern stuff amounted to having lots of black furniture. A black leather couch, black bookshelves, black tables, black clothes. Unfortunately what works well in clothing turns out to be the worst thing you can do for setting your rooms up for success.
Black is fantastic to create a focal point. Black draws the eye immediately. A room full of black furniture feels small and busy, but when used correctly to support a function, the right black furniture can make a room.
In my office, I have a black bookshelf where I've put brightly colored Gundam models; I want to look at the robots whenever I come into the room, and the black surface underneath the models immediately draws my eye, which makes me happy every single time I walk into that room, every day.
These little buffs to mood from effective design can make a real difference in your daily life, and you notice the difference immediately.
Core Principles of Design
Now that you understand the core mechanics of interior design from a nerd perspective, here are the main principles to keep in mind to better optimize your Room Score:
- Balance: You need to control and understand the visual weight of the objects in your room as they relate to one another. If you set the room up symmetrically, like two couches on either side of a coffee table, will seem far more formal than an asymmetrical balance. Asymmetrical is achieved when both sides of the room are balanced without mirroring each other.
Repetition: This can be easily achieved by using similar colors or shapes throughout the room. Use the same color or shape in different elements in the room like rugs, pillows and artwork.
Flow: Flow can be created by keeping the function of the room in mind at all times. All design elements must be consistently communicating the same message.
- Emphasis: If all the elements within a room carry the same weight, this can come across as boring or unfinished. Utilize your focal point and inspiration pieces to create emphasis within your room.
- Proportion: All elements in the room must be the correct size in regard to the room itself and the function they provide. A common mistake is placing a large sectional into a small living area.