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  • Writer's pictureCoralee Beaulieu

7 Basic Design Ground Rules You Need to Know

Updated: Oct 2, 2018

Most of us have a good understanding of what we like and dislike when styling or decorating a room - we've read enough magazines, watched enough TV shows, pinned enough pins on Pinterest, and have certainly shopped in our favourite furniture stores til our feet hurt. But decorating takes more than just a great sense of style to get the look right - proportions and design rules are equally important.

So what are those often heavily guarded and all-important interior design rules that should not be broken? Well, I'm here to shed light on the most common decorating dilemmas, once and for all. Follow these rules and your rooms will always have a high-end, well put-together look.

How to buy a Table

It can be a challenge to visualize how many guests you'll be able to fit at your dinner party or in the office meeting room (or how many chairs you should buy.) When looking at table options, keep these easy calculations in mind. Basically, each seat should have at least 24 inches of space at the table (30 inches would be preferable as it allows for some extra elbow space.) So this means a 72-inch-long rectangular table would sit three people comfortably on each side with one on each end. If you want the elbow room, you could have two on each side and one on each end. Doing the math for you, you would need six to eight chairs, depending on how much room you'd like to give your guests. The calculation for a circular table is just as easy; measure the circumference of your dining table. Divide that number by 24 inches; that will tell you how many chairs will fit around it.

Workaround: Make sure to have a couple of extra chairs, and pull them out for larger dinner parties or meetings. Most people don't mind squeezing in to accommodate a cozier grouping. The more, the merrier, right?

How to buy Seating

Has this ever happened to you? You sat down somewhere, and you were unable to fit your legs under the table. Or you could rest your chin on the island counter? I hate to say it, but these things often get overlooked in homes, public spaces and restaurants everywhere. When considering chairs (and a table for that matter) height matters. Most dining room chairs have a typical height of 18 inches and most dining room tables 30 inches. The same consideration goes for bar-height tables and counter-height islands. Follow these recommendations:

  • Standard Height 28 to 32 inches from floor to seat. Best for: 41- to 43-inch countertops, bar tops or pub tables.

  • Counter Height 24 to 27 inches from floor to seat. Best for: 35- to 37-inch countertops.

  • Extra Tall Height 33 to 36 inches from floor to seat. Best for: 44- to 47-inch countertops or bar tops.

  • Short/Table Height 23 inches or less from floor to seat. Best for: Standard height dining tables.

Workaround: Don't break this rule! I know this is harsh, but it's annoying for everyone involved. If you have no option, I suggest buying swivel stools that can extend or retract to a height you need them to be.

How to Hang Curtains

Getting ready-made (or store-bought) curtains to look high-end or professionally installed is often challenging, but keeping these hints in mind will ensure they look (almost) custom-made. I always suggest you hang your curtain rod a minimum of six inches past and 12 inches higher than the window frame. This installation trick will make your windows feel more prominent than they are and allow in more natural light. Customize store-bought curtains by adding a simple or elaborate banding to the leading edge of a drapery panel. Got solid coloured panels? For the DIY-er, add a custom feel by stencilling on a pattern in the colour that compliments the room!

Workaround: Try not to hang your curtains lower than what was suggested above - you can always install higher. In fact, your curtains can be installed just a few inches below the ceiling, this will give a sense of height to your room. Another tip (well a recommendation), always ensure the curtains reach the floor once installed. Trim added at the bottom of the curtains can help to lengthen them while also making them look custom-made by matching other fabrics in the room.

How to buy Paint

Always confused about how many gallons of paint you need to purchase? There's an easy tip for this too: one gallon of paint typically covers approximately 400 square feet. With your handy measuring tape, measure your ceiling height plus the length and width of each wall. That said, a 10 x 12-foot room with nine-foot ceilings is about 400 square feet of wall space. And speaking from experience, you'll likely need at least two coats, so hint-hint get a little extra. Looking no further for a little color inspiration!!

Workaround: Time & money saving tip - try out the painted half and half wall trend, where you paint colour in a controlled way on the top or bottom section of your walls.

How to pick a Pendant lighting

Don't let choosing light fixture(s) be a daunting process for you. Get it right the first time by following these simple guidelines:

When selecting your pendant lighting fixture, the light should be about one-third to two-thirds the width of the table. In the kitchen, to get the right number of pendants, divide the length of the kitchen island by four. Living rooms are a little trickier, first and foremost the size, scale and the height of the ceiling need to be considered. Larger rooms will often require a more substantial chandelier (and sometimes even more than one). This simple equation is all you need to determine the recommended width of your light. Merely add the width and length of your room. IE. Width 15 feet plus Length 12 feet equals 27 feet; this means a 27-inch chandelier is recommended. Bedrooms are generally easier to pick a chandelier for. Typically most bedrooms are between 150 to 200 square feet. We suggest you match the scale of the room by choosing a light between 24 inches and 36 inches.

Workaround: Go "BIG" to make a huge impression in a room. Or when dealing with an extra-long dining table, swap your single chandelier for two light fixtures.

How to Hang Art

You know when you're looking at a piece of art in a room and it just looks off? Chances are it's hung too high, too low or it's just not right for that spot. Art should be viewed at art level, and many experts suggest hanging the piece between 57-60 inches above the floor. Whatever you decide, just make sure you go with this hanging height for all art pieces. When considering artwork for over a significant furniture piece like a sofa or console table, it's best to pick something that's at least 36" wide (bigger is preferable) and it should be hung no higher than six inches above the sofa or table.

Workaround: While I would never recommend hanging art higher than eye-level, you can break the rule by leaning art against the wall either on the floor or on a piece of furniture for a relaxed look.

How to pick a Rug

We can all be tempted to get a smaller rug when it means saving a few hundred dollars, but smaller is not always better. If you're trying to size out your living room rug, the rule-of-thumb is that the rug should be dimensioned correctly and fit under at least two of the front feet of your furniture; ideally, all legs of your furniture should fit on the rug. And ultimately, one side of the rug should be long enough to sit parallel to your sofa.

Workaround: If you've fallen in love with a rug that doesn't come in the size you need (or a size you can afford), cheat by layering the rug on top of a less expensive natural woven rug like a jute rug - that way, your rug won't feel like a postage stamp in the middle of your room.

Like what you read? Or need more tips? Leave me a little note in the comments box. I will try to get that information to you pronto. And please stay connected for more designer tips + tricks, resources and insider info.

Cheers Cora

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