• Joshua Allen Design Team

Our Eight Essential Rules for Interior Design

Master bedroom staging by Joshua Allen Design
Master bedroom designed and staged by our team.

As an interior designer, I am constantly being asked the question “What is your interior design style?" When I started my venture into the interior design world, I used to panic when asked this question. All sorts of styles would run through my head. I would ask myself “Am I feeling modern today? Maybe traditional? Transitional? Oh no, wait, I know! Coastal?!" I eventually found these labels exhausting, boring and limiting. Quickly I realized that I didn’t need to pigeonhole myself into one specific style, because I could deliver a comprehensive design experience bigger than one label could describe. Today when asked “What is your interior design style?” I bypass the names of the generic style types -- I’m much more interesting than "transitional" -- I instead answer with something along the lines of “I design first through the eye of the client, and let varying styles come together along the way." I am a firm believer in combining traditional design styles to create a space as unique as the person living in it. And, instead of focusing on a specific style label to fit a client or a space, I take inspiration from the client and layer in my Essential Eights; the eight guidelines I have created for myself and my team to use as a basis to design spaces that transcend labels and capture the client as an individual, rather than slapping a label over the situation. So, I am sure you are curious what these “essential eights” might be. Well, you’re in luck, because here they are!

Essential Rule #8: Listen and Watch

Every client is extremely different. Each has their own set of requests, demands, requirements, wishes, likes, and dislikes. I have found that simply listening to the client tells me nearly all I need to know. I’m sure you’re saying “Yeah Josh, of course. You are listening, they are speaking”. Well, what I am actually talking about is the subconscious messages the client is communicating, not necessarily the words they are saying. More times than not, I have found that most clients don’t really know what they want at all. They might know what they don’t like, and maybe even what they do like, but they almost never know what they want. They may say they love modern, clean lines, but more than likely, they’re talking about lamps or side tables that look modern, rather than modern style couches or modern patterned bedding. If you listen to the client during the consult and continue listening throughout your relationship with them, read between the lines and pay attention to their body language and facial expressions when working through the selection phase of a design project, you can quickly pick up on on exactly what they are looking for.

Essential Rule #7: Accent Spaces / Walls

Contrary to the trend, I am a HUGE fan of accent walls and accent spaces when appropriate. Now, don’t stop reading! I didn’t say I think shiplap should be placed on every wall in your home, or that every space should somehow incorporate a bold colored wall. The accent wall concept I am referring to falls into two categories. First, is the wall a focal point of the space, standing out in such a way that the accent color will enhance the already prominent wall? If so, accent away! Second, does the space (not necessarily a wall) stick out like a sore thumb? Would trying to make it fit the rest of the room feel like a mistake? In this case, an accent color would also be the best option. For example, if you have recessed built-in cabinets in the center of your living room wall, painting the walls surrounding the built-ins a different color to allow the cabinets to become a focal point in the space. Or, if you have an exposed drain pipe in a finished basement space, leaving it white or painting it the same color as the walls in the room would seem as though you were trying to cover the pipe. Rather go for a bold color choice to allow it to be what it is. Attempting to hide an imperfection like this will only draw more attention to it. Since the imperfection will gain attention either way, why not build it into the design of the space?

Essential Rule #6: Appropriate Artwork

Scale is extremely important when selecting artwork. The shape and size of a wall, room, or space will determine the correct size of artwork to decorate with. Narrow walls tend to be better suited with vertically positioned artwork, whereas wider walls could be filled better with horizontal or multiple horizontally placed pieces, sometimes in sequential order. Not only is scale a factor, but color plays a (possibly) even more important part. Adding pops of color to a space using artwork will completely transform it. Hone in on color elements in the furnishings and give a nod to that color in the artwork. This will create a sense of harmony in your design, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Essential Rule #5: Layers, Textures, and Patterns

In my opinion, a room should be designed similar to the way you would build an outfit. You wouldn’t dress in head to toe orange plaid, or (god forbid) a single colored tracksuit, hello 1990s, so treat your space with the same respect. Definitely layer fabrics, colors, textures, and patterns but also set a limitation for yourself. Choose three colors, two patterns, and two textures -- one bold and one light -- and you have the perfect recipe for a captivating design.

Essential Rule #4: Decor, Candles, and Clocks

In my mind, these accessories should define the person living in the space. Accessory selection can make or break a design, in most cases even more than other variables like wall color and flooring type. Decor items should be chosen to suit the vision developed with the client. Candles add a sense of elegance to any space, and clocks add movement that is unsurpassed by any other single accessory.

Essential Rule #3: Antiques

My basic philosophy as an interior designer is that a room is not complete unless there is at least one antique piece and one black piece. Antiques add a sense of history and tell an interesting story, where modern or store bought pieces fall flat. Having one or a few interesting antique pieces can really start up a conversation too! Think, “Hey Josh, how and where did you possibly find a working antique gumball machine?” See? Adding an antique to any space (no matter how modern) is an easy, relatively inexpensive, and fantastic way to add character. And let’s face it, antiques are more forgiving -- they’ve already been worn in and loved by someone in another lifetime!

Essential Rule #2: Lighting, Lighting, and Lighting

Selecting the right light fixture can completely transform a space, selecting the wrong one can completely destroy it. But don’t worry, picking the right one can be easy! It is important to determine the style of the room you’re designing before you choose the fixture. I know, I said no labels but try to base your choice off the overall feel of the space. It’s important to allow the fixture to be its own focal piece, so please don’t just choose the cheapest (boob shaped) ceiling light you can find at the Home Depot. Once the light fixture is selected and determined to be an element of the room, you can build the rest of the room off the fixture. Side note, don’t forget about table lamps and floor standing lamps! Adding these along with your ceiling fixture creates a sense of warmth and comfort that you simply cannot replicate with other accessories.

And finally,

Essential Rule #1: Matte Black

That is all. Just matte black. You can quite literally never go wrong when adding a black piece to a space. This can be a black piece of furniture, a black light fixture, or even black accessories to decorate your shelf or table with. The bottom line is that matte black should be incorporated into every space. Yes, I said every space. It is possible, somewhere, somehow.

And there you have them! My Essential Eights. The eight fail-proof rules I have created for myself and my team as guidelines for interior design. These rules help us navigate every single design job we have. Give them a shot, and let us know what you think in the comments! I doubt you’ll be disappointed!