Interior harmony is the result of two sub-principles: unity and variety. These two principles must work hand-in-hand for a design plan to be successful, and too much of either will produce a room in discord.
Visual harmony can be likened to the dictionary's first definition of harmony, "the musical agreement of sounds." In music, there are different parts that make up a vocal ensemble—soprano, second soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. Likewise in an orchestra, many musical instruments make up the harmonious whole—string instruments, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Unto themselves, each part can be very beautiful, but when music is produced using only one "voice" (either vocal or instrumental), then after a time—sometimes a short time, sometimes a longer time—the effect becomes monotonous. We lose interest.
To further the comparison, when music is written the composer has a theme in mind, which is reflected in the title, and all the parts work toward the precisely beautiful, harmonious execution of that theme. In visual harmony, the same principle applies. First, for a room to be in accord, to feel right, there must be a theme. There are dozens of themes to choose from—and astute design professionals should find these familiar.
OTHER PATHS TO UNITY
There are many ways to unify an interior. One is through color. Selecting and adhering to a color scheme from, say, a wonderful fabric or great wall covering or one inspired by an artistic rug or other work of art, is a perfect unifying element. Color is the most powerful element of design and a variety of values (from light to dark) and intensities (from bright to dull) is crucial in making the scheme balanced.
Another unifying element is texture. Textures that are similar make the interior seem more cohesive. When most textures in a room are smooth and slick, we interpret it as International Modern; when they are refined, we think of Traditional; when the textures are coarse, we associate them with American or French Country, Organic/Early Modern, Ethnic or Environmental.
Pattern is a third element that unifies rooms and creates consistency. While some patterns are authentic to a period or specific to a style, the majority are not. Most fabric and wall covering patterns have a feeling that can transcend several themes or looks. They are planned for flexibility.
Think "look," or "ambiance," or even "mood" when making a pattern selection and carrying out a design theme. A great advantage to coordinated wall coverings and fabrics is that the patterns are already matched or blended so all you have to do is decide which walls and which furniture applications to use them on. Another advantage here is that no two rooms ever need look the same, even when the same wall coverings and fabrics are used. Each installation differs, as do the places where we use our selections and the creative ways in which we specify the furnishings.
THE SPICE OF LIFE
While it is true that the unifying effect of thematic elements in a room holds together an interior scheme, it also is true that variety is the portion of the principle of harmony that saves an interior from sheer boredom. Variety can be a surprise accent color, a piece of art or even unusual window treatment hardware. It also dictates that not everything matches, even if the look is congruous.
Variety means that any theme can turn into an eclectic interior but still possess a feeling of harmony. An artistic eye, discriminating taste and some years of experience will help the professional understand when to break the rules in order to create something out of the ordinary.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Interiors that are the most beautiful and have the greatest appeal are those with harmony. All elements are selected to feel right (unity) and interesting (variety).
To be certain this is happening along the way, identify the theme, mood or look of every item chosen for a room. Great interiors don't just happen, they are planned from the beginning with harmony in mind.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising. Interior Design Themes
Formal Traditional: Furnishings and designs from the Renaissance, Baroque, Early and Late Georgian, Federal (Neoclassic), Greek Revival and Victorian eras. Fine furnishings, elegant, refined and exquisite wall coverings, elaborate moldings, formal window treatments and Oriental rugs are in order. Somewhat intimidating, yet breathtakingly beautiful interiors.
American Country: Furnishings from the 17th century through the present, all simple with the appearance of hand-crafted work. Two versions are popular today: Upscale Country with the use of more tactile, comfortable elements and very close to Informal Traditional but with a clearly country theme in all the furnishings, however nice they are; and Rustic Country, which sports a reused, recycled quality. The wall coverings and window treatments set the theme and the furnishings have a just found it at the antique market feel.
Informal Traditional: The same eras as above, yet in the vernacular, hand-crafted or less refined version of furnishings. More touchable elements, more earthy colors, some urban archaeology without restoration (peeling paint is acceptable) is common. Comfortable and inviting.
Country French: The perennially popular style of rustic backgrounds with classic Rococo, Neoclassic or Empire-inspired country furnishings. Wall coverings include florals, ticking, toiles and moires depending on the level of formality. The terms just noted also apply: Upscale Country French is decidedly more posh; Rustic Country French elements and furnishings are very earthy.
Arts and Crafts: This style has become a mainstream theme. Also known as Early Modern or Organic Modern, the era focuses on hard, stained oak furniture with simple, straight lines designed by Gustav Stickley as well as the work of early cabinetmaker Charles Renee MacIntosh. Surface designs by William Morris contrast with complex, fresh, floral-inspired patterns for wall coverings, window coverings, upholstery and area rugs.
International Modern:Once more on the scene and loved by the younger generation who are totally wired, this look is one of ultra simplicity, hard lines and smooth surfaces contrasted with abstract patterns and unusual textures.
Environmental: Colors, textures and very subtle patterns of the earth and with long-term appeal are right—natural-appearing materials that feel authentic. Much of the Early Modern style fits into this category. All things Arts and Crafts and Frank Lloyd Wright are essentially environmental—real wood, wonderful patterned fabrics, wall coverings and area rugs by William Morris, Mission/Stickley furniture all celebrate nature.
Romantic Victorian: This style still is a favored theme for rooms with lots of pattern featuring English garden florals in dreamy colors. Both fabric and wall coverings can be patterned, and clutter decorating—especially with accessories—is part of this look.
Ethnic and Primitive: This decidedly masculine approach has many faces from African to the American Southwest, from the lodge-look to the South Seas. Heavy or tactile textures coupled with patterns that are charming because of their lack of sophistication fit here.
Fabric and Wall Coverings Themes: This is a delightful way to decorate—by selecting a great fabric or wall covering that inherently features a theme. Some examples include sea and shore, sports, outdoor recreation, kitchen or domestic elements, juvenile elements, feminine floral themes, exotic designs from far away lands, and a host of others.