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7 Interior Design Rules for Simple Styling

When it comes to home (or cooking and fashion for that matter), my mantra is “do what works for you.”  However, a good rule can make things easier. Here, I’ll be sharing the most helpful interior design rules. You might be thinking, oh here she goes telling me what’s right and wrong. No way! So, instead of thinking as these as “right or wrong” let’s think of them as handy little tricks to help you make styling decision! 

entryway with table interior design rules

1. Rugs Should Be Larger Than Furniture

Generally speaking, rugs seem to work best when they are slightly larger than the furniture that sits on top of them.

This works whether it’s a couch, bed, or any other piece of furniture.

Why?

Yeah, let’s talk about why. Well, there’s a couple reasons. First, function – the rug just lays better and doesn’t get rolled or tripped on.

Second, when the rug is too small, it looks like it’s “floating.”

We don’t want that. Our eyes are happy when the rug does the anchoring and settles the space.

Examples:

I get it, this can sound like mumbo jumbo. Let’s look at a couple examples.

These are stock photos of two VERY lovely rooms. I mean, they have some really pretty elements, but we can see the difference between a just right and a too small rug (like Goldilocks).

 2. Rule of Three

There’s a spin on this rule for all sorts of things. For interior design, the rule of three refers to items grouped together in threes. 

It can also be expanded to include room layout, shape of objects, landscaping etc.  It can be very subtle (see example below) and be a mix of items.

Why?

Well, it’s been found that items grouped in threes (or odd numbers) are generally more pleasing to the eye. From shelf styling to coffee table decor and kitchen design, this rule has universal appeal. 

Example:

organic modern living room styling

We can see the Rule of Three here all over the room:

  • Three baskets for wall decor
  • Three art prints on shelf ledge
  • Trio of decorate throw pillows
  • Mix of three plants on back table
  • Group of three on coffee table (plant + basket + books)

3. The ⅔ Rule

Just like the rule of threes, the ⅔ rule is a bit of magic number game that can be applied to just about anything. It’s also called the golden ratio and means that many items work best when in ⅔ proportion to each other. 

Why?

By being ⅔ the size, items innately feel like they are proportionate – not too big or too small. 

Example

  • Couches works best ⅔ the length of the wall or space
  • Art or Wall Decor  ⅔ the space of what is below it (like a table)
  • Coffee Tables work best ⅔ the length of the couch
  • Furniture placed in a room with ⅔ of it one on side and ⅓ on the other
entryway with console table and artwork
Example: table is about 2/3 the length of wall, art is 2/3 length of table

4. Hang Artwork at Eye Level 

You might’ve heard this before, art work works well hung at eye level. This universal rule seems easy enough until you start to think about it. 

Whose eye level? Since I’m a shorty, it can’t mean me. And are we talking the top or the bottom of the frame?

Well, we’re going with average here, so that would be about 57”- 60” above the floor.  And we’re going with the middle of the artwork, whether it’s a frame art print or a collection of baskets, it would be hung with the middle about 57” above the floor. 

Why? 

Well, hanging art at average eye level makes it functional – it’s just easier to see it that way. Personally, I think our brains automatically detect when something is dysfunctional and so then it feels “off.” 

Like, we may not have any interior design training but see an art print hung way up high and our brain is like, whoa something just ain’t right here. 

Example

modern dining room with black wall, table, and artwork

5. Layer Lighting

This rule is one you might do automatically, but if not, it can take everything to the next level. 

By layering lighting, we’re essentially adding different types of lighting sources to one space. 

This often includes overhead lighting, lamps, and natural light but could also be under mount lights, spotlights, track lighting, sconces, etc.  So you’re starting with 

Why? 

Layering is an important concept in design in general. It adds depth and interest. When it comes to lighting it softens a space and adds interest. 

Sometimes, it’s easier to picture what it isn’t. Think of places without layered lighting. Hospitals, grocery stores, office buildings – all very stark and fairly uninviting. Our brain typically fatigues in these spaces and it’s hard to relax (for good reason!). 

Example:

traditional kitchen with navy cabinets, white subway, and woven chairs

Layered kitchen lighting:

  • Overhead can lights
  • Hanging pendant lights
  • Filtered natural light
  • Downward sconce lights

6. Install Curtains Above Window Frame

Ok, this one is controversial. Partly because some folks have done it one way for so long. And partly because each window situation is different.

That said, a solid general rule for interior design indicates installing curtain rods a good couple inches above the actual window frame (so it’s not just right above it). 

Why? 

Well, this is a bit of a visual trick. By installing the curtain rod above the frame, you’re automatically adding height – something most spaces severely lack (we humans tend to keep things low) but our eyes LOVE roaming around and upward. 

Also, it gives the window room to breathe a little so it’s not all smooshed together.

With that out of the way, choosing curtains the just barely skim the floor make it all feel cohesive. 

Too short – feels a bit like cropped pants, works for some but not many. 

And well, I know some folks out there love curtains puddling at the floor but since I am a functional designer – I know that’s just not, well functional (try sweeping or vacuuming!). I firmly believe our brains resist something as not inherently functional as feeling off. 

Example

white transitional living room with chair, couch, fireplace, curtains

7. The 60/30/10 Rule

Who doesn’t love a good recipe? This interior design rule is a bit like that and makes choosing colors easy. I like to expand it a bit to include elements like wood, plants, metal, and texture.

This rule indicates that a room feels balanced with a 60%, 30%, and 10% color proportion. 

To break it down, a room would be 60% a dominant color, 30% a secondary color or texture, and 10% an accent color.

Why

Now, this is just a general guideline so no need to bust out a calculator. However, it can be helpful when trying to figure out how to balance a space. Often, we see spaces that are 90% and 10% (remembering those all gray with pops of yellow trends…) but with this proportion, the space feels more authentic. 

Example

dining room with organic modern interior design with black table, woven chandelier, and wood floor

Organic modern dining room:

  • 60% white, pale colors
  • 30% black accents
  • 10% woven & wood texture

Apartment Therapy shares more examples using color in a space.

Interior Design Rules Summary

In general, firm rules can be kind of intimidating. However, if we look at interior design rules as more of guidelines or recipes, it can make it easy to choose decor and style our home in a way that feels natural and authentic.

Check out my posts on the top Interior Designs Questions for my home and Interior Design Styles for 2024.

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