Design Rules: Space and Planning

So confession time:  as much as I learned all the technical stuff at UT School of Architecture, sometimes I need a refresher on the more basic, tangible stuff.  My favorite, favorite, FAVORITE go to series for this is Design Rulesfrom BBC America.  So I thought, why not distill the info in these 30 minute shows down to an easy to skim, quick hits version with some lovely pictures for our readers?  Without further ado, here is lesson 1:

This lesson looks at how to make small spaces feel larger by using a few well-known tricks of the trade.

This dining room, although quite small by traditional American standards, feels larger because of its simple, clean lines.  Too many decorative items make the eye continuously move and interpret a space as more chaotic and thus, more crowded.  A few key focal points help keep the eye’s interest while still giving off calm and restful vibes which makes a space feel larger.


An attic bedroom is not usually our first thought when considering spacious interiors, but by adding these skylights and bringing more natural light into the space, we immediately see a huge difference in our perception of the space.


You’ve heard us obsess over all white rooms time and time again, but there is an actual logic to that!  Light colors reflect light, letting it bounce around the room, while dark colors absorb light, which accounts for that feeling that the walls are tightening around you in dark colored rooms.


This might seem like a no-brainer, but smoother surfaces reflect more light than textural surfaces, which again, makes the room feel bigger.  Think of all the modern designs you see…they all feature sleek surfaces, clean lines, and less fabric and texture than more traditional design schemes.  This is because SPACE is the luxury design item of the 21st century.  All modern designs seek to emphasize the size of the space you own, thus the smoother textures on everything from flooring to furniture.


Any time you add a view to a room, you extend its visual boundary by tricking how the eye reads the room’s depth.  Being able to clearly see what’s outside opens up that wall of the room, making it harder for the brain to accurately understand the dimensions of the room and thus, making it seem bigger.


As if I haven’t beaten you over the head with it enough at this point, reflecting light is KEY to a spacious space!  Here we see light reflected off the floor and lacquered cabinet, but even more tricky is the way light is reflected off the hairs of that fur throw.  Being able to really see exactly how the light is moving in a space again reinforces its spaciousness.


Mirrors are a designer’s best friend.  Not only do they reflect the vista opposite the mirror to make the space appear twice its size, but again, they create the optical illusion of more space by allowing your eye to see multiple angles of the room while looking in one direction.  Like the windows with views outside, this makes it difficult for the brain to calculate the dimensions of the room and again increase the visual size of the room.


Although we’ve already talked about a few perception tricks, this point focuses more on using the lines in your room to create a larger looking space.  The lines created by hardwood floors are a great example.  Depending on which way you “draw” them, they can make a narrow space feel wider or a short space feel longer.  Additionally, continuous lines, like the ones created by the posts and beams in this image, make an easy line for the eye to follow up, and any time the eye can move easily from floor to walls to ceiling a space feels bigger.


There is no hard-and-fast rule for how to place furniture, but key themes are body space and less is more.  Body space refers to the distance between two or more bodies occupying a space.  Generally, people like to be able to sit so that they can see a companion’s whole face easily; if you’re too close, your eyes travel from a speaker’s eyes to mouth, if you’re too far, you can’t read expression well enough.  Furniture should be placed to allow for the right distance when conversing.  Also, when in doubt, take out that extra table or chair…remember, de-cluttering applies to all aspects of design!

If you take away one thing from this quick lesson it should be that natural light is the key to making a space feel bigger than it is.  Keep windows clear, use any and all surface as opportunities to reflect light, and chose colors that are going to reflect more light than they absorb.

Hope this gives you some home makeover inspiration 🙂 Have a great Tuesday!


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About Rachel Meyer

Free spirited and eclectic, my design style is always evolving. I recently graduated from The University of Texas's Interior Design program and am figuring things out as I go. I have a passion for personality and love a deep discussion of life, the universe, and everything. Philip K. Dick novels and YouTube comedians are my trivia specialties, so if you're ever in need of a teammate at Flying Saucer, I'm your girl.

4 thoughts on “Design Rules: Space and Planning

  1. Wonderful post and reminder of design rules. You are right about ridding ourselves of clutter. I can’t think clearly when everything is scattered and not organized..cluttered. With a family, this is easier said than done though! Doesn’t cost anything to remove clutter and it allows us to have a little order in our rooms. I love neutrals/whites.. even with a couple dogs, it’s always been my preference.


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