Interior Decorating Rules of Thumb

Do you ever walk into a room and feel like something is just off? Maybe all the individual pieces of the room are beautiful and interesting. You feel like it shows your personality, and you love everything in it. Something isn’t quite clicking, though. I’ve been there a million times. I find my home is a constant work in progress, and a lot of the time it takes a few tries to get things right. In my case, when something feels off it usually comes down to proportions. Something may be too small, or too big, or hung too high. Traffic flow feels awkward. The easiest way to diagnose the problem is just to try moving things around until it feels right. I’ve learned some interior decorating rules of thumb along the way that have helped me have a higher success rate with proportions. Hopefully these are a helpful starting point for making a space you love!

Interior Decorating Rules for Space Planning

Here are some quick tricks for planning for spacing of furniture and fixtures:

  • Rugs: Go for the largest rug your room will fit. At a minimum, make sure the front legs of all seating are able to rest on the rug with enough space to move around. In a bedroom, the rug should extend beyond the width of your nightstands, and at least the front of the nightstands should rest on the rug.
  • Dining tables: For a comfortable amount of arm room, plan 2 feet of table width per chair. But most people won’t mind if you squeeze a bit to accommodate a fun party!
  • Dining chairs: Plan for a foot of space between the seat of your dining chair and the top of your table. Dining chairs vary in seat height, so absolutely measure this! I’ve made the mistake of not measuring and ended up awkwardly hunched at a table.
  • Walking room: Plan about two and a half feet around furniture in major walking routes. You can fudge this a bit between a couch or chair and a coffee table so you can more easily reach things on the table.

Rules for Decor Placement

  • Art: Hang art so that the center point of the artwork is at eye level. For average height this is around 60 inches. If your family is taller or shorter, adjust it to what feels good to you. I’ve found that most of the time when a room feels off, the art is hung too high.
  • Mirrors: This one is pretty straightforward-unless it’s part of a gallery wall or arrangement, hang mirrors at a height where it’s easy to see your reflection. I always get this one wrong because I hate walking into dark rooms and seeing my reflection in a mirror.
  • Curtain Rods: The key phrase for curtains is “high and wide.” Hang your curtain rod halfway between the top of your window and the ceiling or any trim you have. The exception to this rule is super high ceilings-there you’ll have to play until it looks good to you. Hang the rod so the edges of the curtains sit outside the sides of your window. I promise you, this will always make your windows look bigger, even if you have to splurge on longer rods.
  • Curtain lengths: The bottoms of your curtains should kiss the floor when your rod is appropriately positioned. Some people (myself included) like a little more of a puddle of fabric on the floor. The thing that looks really weird is if your curtains are too short. It’s much better to buy them long and adjust than have them hang short of the floor. Young House Love has two helpful methods for shortening curtains. One is a new-sew version using hem tape and the other is a fold over version using curtain rings (scroll to the very bottom of the post.)
  • Light fixtures: Light fixtures are one area where it’s fun to play with scale. A good starting point for ceiling fixtures is to add the length and width of your room, in feet. Then divide that in half, and that number in inches should be the width of your chandelier. For example: 10′ x 12′ room would need an 11″ chandelier (10 + 12 = 22; divide in half to get 11.) If the fixture is going over a table, aim for half the length of your table. Hang chandeliers with at least seven feet between the bottom of the fixture and the floor so people have plenty of space to walk under it.
  • Lighting types: To make a room feel cozier, add multiple light sources beyond the ceiling fixtures. If you’ve ever put on makeup at a mirror with only a harsh light over the vanity, you know how unflattering that overhead light can be. Living spaces are the same deal. Everyone looks better with more ambient lighting.
  • Light bulbs: Chris Loves Julia has a really helpful guide to understanding lumens (brightness) and Kelvins (temperature) of light bulbs. I personally like 2700 Kelvin temperature bulbs. I find they’re warm and cozy.
  • Lamps, shelves, and furniture: Think of your room like a skyline. Having varied heights of all the things in it helps add visual interest.

Final Thoughts – Balance

The last thing to look for isn’t as easy to measure. If something feels off, trying giving the room a hard look to make sure things are balanced. Does it feel top-heavy? Adjust your shelf styling or artwork so the darker pieces are on the bottom and the lighter pieces are on top. Do you feel like you’re leaning to one side? You may need to rearrange your furniture if you have a mix of big, solid pieces and small or airy ones. You can also add blankets or pillows to smaller chairs to balance them against a more solid one.

I hope these interior decorating rules of thumb gave you a good jumping off point for designing your home. With that said, I firmly believe rules are meant to be broken. Some of the most breathtaking interiors I’ve seen have played with proportion. The most important thing is how your home feels to you. Don’t be afraid to play and move things around until it all jives.

You can find tours of our own favorite spaces here. We’d love to hear about what you love about your home. Share pictures of your spaces with us! Drop us a comment below, or find us on social media.

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