Looking to learn about interior design, but don’t know where to start? Look no further! Teaching yourself interior design can be a fun and rewarding experience, and it’s easier than you might think.
In this blog post, I’ll break down the first few steps to take to learn the basics of interior design, and give you the tools you need to get started. We’ll explore the differences between interior design and decorating, and why starting with decorating might be a great first step.
I’ll also help you navigate your learning style and give you the resources you need to teach yourself the principles and elements of interior design. So, let’s get started so you can start your learning journey!
Start Learning with Interior Decorating
Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating
As you learn about interior design, it’s important to know your terms. You may find that people use interior design and interior decorating interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Interior designers plan, select, and coordinate the design of a space. Generally, interior designers work with contractors who do this type of work. This process usually requires permits to begin construction.
For example, an interior designer may suggest gutting your kitchen in order to restructure its layout. They will then work with a contractor to rebuild the kitchen from the bottom up and conform to any state and federal building codes. This is because the envelope and structural integrity of a space may be affected during the renovation.
Envelope: The physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building…Wikipedia
On the other hand, interior decorators may suggest a new color scheme for your kitchen. Or they may change out the cabinet handles and countertops and select new counter stools and drapes for your kitchen window. The decorator may hire an installer for the countertops, but no permits are required to do this. Thus, all changes are strictly cosmetic and not structural.
In other words, interior designers are often interior decorators as well. However, most interior decorators are not interior designers. This distinction mostly lies in the scale of a project and whether or not the structure of a space is affected in the design process.
Why Interior Decorating?
When you’re just starting to learn about interior design, start with interior decorating. It’s more practical for a beginner as there’s less information and knowledge you have to contend with. Also, because interior decorating projects are generally small-scale in size, they are significantly more manageable for beginner interior designers.
Below is a table with all the pros and cons for each.
|More likely your design will be cohesive and therefore professional looking
|Cosmetic changes (paint, décor, drapery, furniture & furniture layout)
|More creative control
|Less time to complete
|Requires knowledge & experience to achieve successfully
|Full renovations cost more money (usually in the thousands)
|More design restrictions
|Spaces may not look “complete” or professional
Even if your goal is to someday become a professional interior designer, you will nevertheless have to learn about interior decorating. For this reason, starting with interior decorating is the perfect place to start.
Determine Your Learning Style
The best way to determine whether you’ll be persistent with learning interior design is by knowing how you learn best.
Some people are visual learners, others learn best through practice, and others still prefer text and note-taking. Figure out what is best for you. A visual learner might have better success at learning interior design if they search for resources on Youtube. A traditional learner will probably appreciate a textbook and this blog post significantly more.
I bring this up because it’s easy to determine whether you’re interested in a hobby or a career, but it’s so much more difficult sticking through it till the end.
Once you’ve established what works for you – and it could be a combination – then you can move on to actually learning.
Learn the Basics of Interior Design
There are so many facets to consider when you learn to design a good space, but given that you’re a beginner, I suggest you start with the basics.
Make a list of the elements and principles of interior design.
I have blog posts on the elements and principles that go into the nitty gritty details if you want to learn more. But, considering both have their own nuances that will take some time to thoroughly learn, I’ve condensed most of that information below.
Elements of Interior Design
Line: Two points that connect create a line. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, and straight or curved.
Shape/Form: Shapes are two-dimensional outlines, like a rectangle. Form is three-dimensional, like a cube.
Space: The demarcated area in which you are designing. This space can be positive or negative.
Mass: The mass of an object is its density. It can be literal weight or visual weight.
Texture: How a surface feels or appears. It can be smooth, rough, opaque, or translucent. These are all types of textures.
Color: Refers to the hues used in a design. This can also be a color scheme.
Pattern: When a motif is repeated over and over again. A motif here refers to a decorative design (stripes, florals, etc.)
Light: This can be natural or artificial (window light, overhead lighting, lamps, etc.)
Principles of Interior Design
Scale: Scale has to do with the literal size of objects. A large table accommodates more than twelve people. A small-scale table may only comfortably accommodate four.
Proportion: Proportions of objects have to do with how all pieces work together to create a whole. For example, if you are evaluating the proportions of a table, you’d have to look at the size of the tabletop to the size of its legs. Is the tabletop well-proportioned to the legs? Is a large top supported by wide legs? Learn to associate proportion with ratios.
Balance: Balance is when we create something that has reached equilibrium. It has to do with how a space looks. Generally, we determine balanced in a space based on the literal and visual weight of furnishings and accessories.
Rhythm: Rhythm exists in a space when there is some aspect of it that is repetitive. A flight of stairs has rhythm as does a series of evenly-spaced windows.
Emphasis: Emphasis is like shining a spotlight on some aspect of a design. This “spotlight” feature is known as a focal point. A fireplace can be a focal point if you have seating placed in front or around it. An accent wall can be a focal point as well.
Harmony: A space is considered harmonious when it successfully balances unity and variety. Variety implies more than one of something – like variations in shape, patterns, or emphasis. Unity on the other hand refers to whether a design feels whole. Ask yourself, Do all of these design components work together so as to seem cohesive?
Again, this is not everything to know about the elements and principles of interior design. This is only the bare minimum information. However, assuming you are a beginner that knows nothing, it’s best to work with the information above so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Learn Through Analysis
Now that you have a list, I want you to pull up an image or a video of an interior you really like. This can be an image from Architectural Digest, an advertisement for Studio McGee, or your favorite episode of Fixer Upper.
Using the list of elements and principles of design, you will now analyze the interior space you have chosen.
We’ll do a practice run with the image I’ve selected below.
Here’s what I did:
- I went down the list of elements and principles of interior design and tried to identify as many relevant examples of the terms in my image.
- Once done, I then determined which elements or principles were used most often and in what manner.
I now have a clearer understanding of how to design a similar space to the one above. I can select a similar color scheme if I find that is what drew me in. Or maybe this interior really stood out to me because of its symmetry and balance.
I suggest you keep your list somewhere easily accessible to you so you frequently conduct this exercise. You can create a note on your phone or keep the list on a sticky note on your desktop.
This is so that you:
- Remind yourself that you have a list of terms you should be learning.
- Actually reference your list when you’re flipping through a magazine or scrolling the internet.
Your capacity to learn is largely determined by how much time you dedicate to a subject. It’s easy to forget things from the day prior if you’re not consistently trying to learn. I hope that by familiarizing yourself with the elements and principles of design, you will gain a better understanding of how designers create good interior spaces.
With practice, you will inevitably recall the elements and principles without actively sitting down and memorizing terms. If you have the time and attention span to learn the vocabulary, then I encourage you to do so. By doing so, you will begin to understand why you are attracted to particular design styles and you’ll be more aware of how to recreate them.
Learning interior design is a fun and fulfilling way to give your home a fresh new look. By starting with interior decorating and understanding the basics of interior design, you can begin to build a solid foundation for creating beautiful and functional spaces.
Additionally, by determining your learning style and utilizing vocabulary such as the design elements and principles, you can begin to develop your skills and understand spaces that reflect your personal style. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process.
If you’re just getting started on your interior design journey, let me know in the comments if this post was helpful to you. I’d love to hear any comments & suggestions!