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Only a few things can stand the test of time, and interior design is not one of them. Interior design is widely deemed as a form of art, but as you will later see, it is neither timeless nor universal. A handful of design concepts can carry over generation after generation, but most design rules will fit in only one capsule of time. The design concepts that govern an era may not be the same ones that will take over the next. This is because most of the rules that interior designers apply are mere passing trends.

In the last decade, we saw how modern concepts took the design world by surprise. These new trends are considered fresh and exciting because they break away from the traditional rules of the older times. Today, we see unconventional design principles everywhere. And although we’re delighted and amused by them, we can’t help but notice how stubbornly they challenge the norm. Here’s a list of the old design rules that are now almost defunct because of the new trends that are making their way to the top.


TRADITION: Symmetry in every design element

Symmetry in every design element
Photo courtesy of DaviAlexandre via Flickr

If there’s one thing traditional designs are known for, it’s the concept of perfect symmetry. Every element in a room should match—the furniture, the colors, and the accessories. All dining room chairs should look exactly alike. Bedside tables should have the same decorations on top. If the sofa is blue, the walls should also be blue. At least, that’s what conventional rules taught us. But modern designs are exposing the flaws in these rules. To use the words of California-based interior designer Isla Schmidt, “A lot of people think symmetry means things have to be equal. It really just means balance. So instead of doing two of the exact same thing—matching pairs of things—try to do something a little different.”

Spaces are not supposed to look like they’re staged or that they’re boxed into one specific period. Throw in some elements that will make the space look interesting without looking disorganized. “If you layer a space with color, texture, and an array of styles, your décor choices will have a much longer life,” said designer Vicente Wolf, an interior designer based in Manhattan and the head of Vicente Wolf Associates. You can use a mix of patterns in your space to add flair to it. Schmidt demonstrated an example. She said, “Say you have a sofa and two side tables. You have a lamp on one side, [but] you don’t have to do the same lamp on the other side. You could do a vase in a similar color or a collection of objects so that they both balance, but it’s a little more interesting.” So before you purchase a new item from a Darwin furniture store, make sure you’re not being too matchy in your design. Allow for consistency and continuity, but don’t box yourself in the wrong notion of symmetry.

TRADITION: Light colors for small spaces

Light colors for small spaces
Photo courtesy of DaviAlexandre via Flickr

The idea of using light colors for small spaces is so ingrained in the laws of design that you’d probably raise your brows if told to utterly disregard it. It’s true that light colors can make a space look and feel larger, but that doesn’t mean dark colors should be avoided like the plague when painting small spaces. If you’re redesigning your home and you want to project a moody vibe in a small room without making it feel claustrophobic—you can use dark colors coupled with the right elements. As Noa Santos, CEO of Home Polish, advised, “When you’re painting a small space, use a satin or semigloss finish. The walls will have a reflective quality that preserves the light in the room.” If you do it right, painting a room with dark colors can create a dramatic feel that will make you wonder why this design concept is not garnering the attention it deserves.


TRADITION: Sofa in the living room

Sofa in the living room
Photo courtesy of Highmark Builders via Flickr

Another timely trend that is breaking the norm in interior design is the no-sofa living room. For decades, the sofa has been the single piece of furniture that defined that part of the house where the family gets together for entertainment. The sofa, an article once thought to be irreplaceable, is now being excused from its post and relegated to the library. Now, armchairs and ottomans are taking the top spots. Who would’ve thought a living room without a sofa could still look homey and gorgeous? Certainly not the interior design conformists.



TRADITION: Matching color tones

Matching color tones
Photo courtesy of mattwalker69 via Flickr

One of the oldest principles of interior design is color matching. Each room in a house should have one or two colors that govern every other design element. Colors are considered as themes that identify the mood and personality of a design space. If your bed sheets are yellow, your curtains should also be yellow. Likewise, the walls should be yellow, and the cabinets, and the doors, and the chairs and tables. As you can imagine, this kind of design will give you nothing but a headache.

Modern designers suggest that instead of picking a color as a theme choose a mood or a message that you want the design space to portray. Do you want an earth or ocean theme for your living room? A space-inspired bedroom? Once you identify the theme, you can then choose your color palette. A maximum of two colors is still recommended, but you can use the different shades, hues, and tones of those colors to achieve versatility. For example, you can have green and brown as your main colors for an earth-themed room, and blue and violet for a space-themed room. The temperatures between those two colors, plus neutral colors like white, black, and gray, can make your design space look more interesting.


TRADITION: Small furniture for small rooms

Small furniture for small rooms
Photo courtesy of Aleksey Gnilenkov via Flickr

As per interior design tradition, small rooms should be furnished with small elements. This is based on the unfounded theory that big furniture will make a small room feel tinier. And for years, this rule has been faithfully followed by many interior designers. Only when the bolder ones dared to challenge the norm was this myth debunked. With the sense of balance still in play, you can actually make a room feel bigger by adding the right furniture, regardless of the size. There are varying techniques you can apply, depending on the existing elements in a room. Sometimes, adding low furniture of the same size can make a space feel wider. Other times, adding tall furniture like a high bed or a tall headboard can make a room grow. You still need to consider unique factors here.


TRADITION: Real plants as design elements

Real plants as design elements
Photo courtesy of KaboomPics via Pexels

Never use synthetic plants, they said. But that’s not always possible. Not everyone can keep anything other than themselves alive. Plus, there are people who are allergic to pollen. But these are not the only reasons why the no-fake-plant rule is growing weaker. Don’t get this wrong—plastic plants will always be a terrible design element. The faux plants we’re talking about here are those made of silk. These don’t look appalling, and they can make any design space look more alive. You also don’t have to water them every day—a dusting spree once a week will keep them in great shape.



TRADITION: Expensive decors and accessories

Photo courtesy of Aleksey Gnilenkov via Flickr

Gone are the days when interior design meant going on a trip to a home depot to buy expensive furniture and accessories. DIYers are now making a wave in the industry, so much so that interior design has never been so affordable and creative. Many homeowners are taking the DIY road to style their own homes and display their own homemade decors. This has truly redefined the industry.


TRADITION: Standard designs with no personality

Photo courtesy of Chris Ford via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Chris Ford via Flickr


For many years, our concept of design has been boxed in one standard idea—an image that many of us considered as the archetype of designs. But if there is one interior design tradition that needs to end, it is precisely this. Personality doesn’t need to be sacrificed for the sake of conventional elegance. At the center of today’s design trends lies one important principle: personalization. You can go crazy with your ideas as long as you put to heart the basic principles of design. Want to display your children’s artwork? No one’s stopping you anymore. Feel like painting the ceiling in spite of the explicit rules against it? Go ahead, you’ll get the support you need. Want to tweak a vintage piece to suit your taste? The design world will have your back. The point is clear: if you want your home to look unique, you’re free to do so.


Embrace these improvements in the laws of interior design. No one can say whether they’ll be obsolete in time or etched in the design rulebook forever. But one thing’s for sure: these new trends are what are in now. So you’d be better off ditching the old rules and applying these new ones in your next home renovation.

Emily Harper is an Environment/Sustainability/Health and Women Advocate. She is also fond of analyzing home structure and design and has been a Home Stylist and Consultant. She is also an active community member, concerning community improvement and security. She loves to write about her two kids, home and living.