Why Space Is Important When You Decorate

Every home decorator should know about the interior design concept of SPACE. Let's learn about positive space and negative space, proportion and scale, and how light in a space affects it. Space is an important part of decorating.
EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SPACE IN A DINING ROOM

Let’s talk about space and how it works when we decorate our homes.  Space is something we think about without really thinking about it. It is part of our unconscious makeup. But as a decorator being aware of the space we live in is VERY important. Let’s discuss this important element of decor.

To show you examples of how space works in a home I’m using our dining area as an example. Even though this is a very open area, the walls and architecture, and even the rugs define this space.

Our eyes and minds work together to take clues from the architecture to create boundaries for this room. Pretty cool, right?

EXAMPLE DESIGN CONCEPT OF SPACE

Let’s talk about the design element of SPACE!

Why is it so important to learn about the design element space?

Because if given the proper attention, a room can be more beautiful and more balanced if space is considered. You would be surprised how knowing about space in your home can add or detract to the comfort and appeal of every room!

Simply put, space is the amount of area in a room.

And a room’s space is limited so we need to best know how to work within it. Space is defined as the walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, and architectural things in a room. It is the space contained within these things.

EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SPACE IN A DINING ROOM

I think the usage of space to create a dining area is easy to see in this room.

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE

EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SPACE IN A DINING ROOM

There is both positive space and negative space in design. Empty space is called negative space. And anything inserted into a room is called positive space. Simple so far, right?

Think of positive and negative space this way. Let’s say we are getting ready for a special dinner out with friends. Our bodies are negative space. And every little thing we put on them is positive space.

We need enough positive space to not be indecent when we go out. We need positive space to adorn an outfit with jewelry and shoes and handbags and maybe a wrap. Makeup and hair bobs also add to the positive space.

But if we put on too much jewelry or add too many layers of clothes or add tons of makeup we will look overdone, to say the least!

When we dress for an evening out our goal is to look attractive, have enough clothes on to be respectable, and add just enough embellishments to add to our overall look.

Now take that example and think about a room in your home. 

There is 100 percent negative space in a completely empty room.

The negative space in a room needs to be filled with just enough positive space to look “well dressed”. Not overdressed and certainly not underdressed!

The dining room is a great example of positive and negative space because it is so easy to see both. Most of the positive space is in the center of the room, while most of the negative space is around the perimeter of the room.

CREATING THE ILLUSION

EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SPACE IN A DINING ROOM

Although a room has a defined amount of space it has, we can make it seem bigger or smaller by what we put in it.

WHAT WE PUT IN A ROOM CAN AFFECT HOW BIG OR SMALL A ROOM LOOKS

The more we put into a room the smaller it can look. That is somewhat common sense.

But did you know that the proportion of things we put into a room can make a room look bigger or smaller?

Big furniture in a room will fill up the positive space making a room look smaller.

And small furniture in a room will leave more negative space and tends to make a room look bigger.

It should be our goal to use the right proportion and scale when adding furnishing to a room.

We want to be like Goldilocks! We want furniture that is just right! You can read about Scale and Proportion HERE.

HOW LIGHT AND COLOR EFFECTS SPACE

Here’s where light can also be a player in a room! The more light and airy a room looks the larger it appears. And the darker and more moody a room is the smaller it can look.

The same with color because color is all about light. Rooms that are painted whites and other light colors tend to make a room look more spacious. And rooms that are painted darker tend to make a room look smaller and more closed in.

When we bought the Tanglewood House, the entire thing was painted tan. Walls, trim, ceilings! Everthing. It looks so closed in!

So before we moved in we painted the whole thing Simply White by Benjamin Moore. What a difference! Our open concept home looked much more open and bright and happy!

THE CHALLENGE

EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SPACE IN A DINING ROOM

The big challenge for a home decorator is to strike the perfect balance between positive and negative space. We need to fill up a space with just the right amount of furniture, layers, texture, accessories etc to make it comfortable to live in and attractive as well. But we also need negative space to give our eyes, mind and soul rest! 

We need to think about how we use spaces in our home and balance negative and positive space accordingly.  

Many decor enthusiasts might tip the scale in favor of positive space. Try giving a room with lots of trappings a little more negative space. 

Too much of a good thing, like positive space, is not a good thing. Filling too much of the space in a room with decor will make it look uncomfortable, crowded and drive our eyes crazy! The need negative space to “rest”!

Furniture and all the supporting accessories and decor we put in a room must strike that sweet spot between positive and negative space.

Truth be told, most of us over decorate! The rooms in our homes would look so much better with less stuff!

Here are two posts every decorator should read: The OverDecorating Dilemma and Less Is Best Decorating.

EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SPACE IN A DINING ROOM

If you are like me the balance of positive and negative space in decor is not always easy. It’s really a matter of trying and retrying and editing and adding. Think of it as “playing”. The better you are at using the design element space the more beautiful your home will look.

YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE OTHER DECORATING POSTS…

The Elements Of Design Series is to teach the basic and most important elements of design that we as home decorators should understand and use in our homes.

The Design Concept Of Balance

The Design Concept of Color

The Design Concept of Rhythm

The Design Concept of Visual Weight

The Design Concept of Scale And Proportion

EXAMPLES OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SPACE IN A DINING ROOM

34 Comments

  1. A good article. Negative space can be a challenge, especially in a home of 2000 square feet or less!

  2. I have not thought about space as positive or negative. My floor plan is open so it is difficult to section off areas. My front door opens to the entire living, dining, and kitchen! I do have 2 beautiful columns that separate the dining area but the rest is open. It is a challenge to place furniture so it is balanced in an open floor plan. Your information about space and balance is very helpful. I wondered where you kept your extra dining chairs and now I see there is one in the foyer! Good idea!

  3. Very interesting lesson this morning. I have found that if I feel a sense of discomfort while in a room that it is generally due to what you call positive space that has been overdone. In my own home I know it is time to remove that extra pillow or one too many pieces of artwork on the walls ect. When I feel a sense of relaxation I know it’s right for me.

  4. Very interesting comments, I never thought of space being negative and positive . I guess that is why I never liked thing in the corners. Our first home was a VA track(builders choice). All the rooms were painted with a color called Desert Rose. It was small enough with out the paint. But we loved that little house. We also live and learn. Thanks for the examples.

  5. Yvonne… I’ve been reading your blog for years, and listening to your DTT podcast since the beginning. I had to take time to comment that I love this new Elements of Design Series that you are doing. Learning so much from your explanations and the photos that illustrate them. BTW, I’ve been searching forever for a lamp similar to that in your foyer, and I hope one day I will find one just like it!

  6. Great post, Yvonne! Learning lots! You have been a great influence on me for quite some time, both in decor, and in things of the Lord! 😉 Hugs!

  7. Easy to see when off, but hard to get just right, for me. I like the Japanese term “ma” empty space filled with possibilities

  8. It’s a fine balance. I’m decorating with more big, less small. When I create a vignette for the season, I like to walk away, come back with fresh eyes, many times removing an item.

  9. We are planning to downsize soon and although our square footage will be going down I still plan to brining in some larger pieces such as an armoire for a smaller TV in our keeping room, the bottom of an older hutch to be reworked into a kitchen island, etc. I have read that you can still use a large piece in a small room if done right. My wall colors will all be very light, simple draperies in solid cream color, and I do not do a lot of knick knacks, but use simpler larger items to display. Hopefully, this will all work out in our new space. Decorating a home is a lot like wearing jewelry – you don’t have to wear everything you own at one time. I enjoyed this post very much.

  10. Yvonne, I love your Blog and have enjoyed the article in “Cottage” featuring your home. I am searching for your neutral wall cover paint on your blog. Can you possibly post your color numbers? thanks for such a great blog.

  11. Hi Yvonne, my home is French style, but I have always loved the way that you decorate. Today, I really looked at your photos as I read your excellent insight and realised why I love it and eagerly look for it to turn up in my inbox. My home iis in similar colours and I am drawn to your balance and symmetry which is like mine and gives me a sense of calm.I believe that calm is added to by the negative and positive space that you shared about. Thank you for your sharing your lovely home and blog. Looking forward to your next post.

  12. Great information. I have been leaning towards more negative space, lately, and now it makes sense. It is much more calming. Thanks, once again, for explaining this concept.

  13. As always, I love, love, and love all your decorative tips. I never seem to go wrong each time I am able to implement them. Thank you for always given such excellent decorative tips, no matter how big or small.

  14. I am new here and am completely amazed at how helpful your tips are. Thank you very much for sharing such jewels with us! Where did you find your nubby rugs? I’ve looked everywhere and even ordered one but it was waaayy too thick and uncomfortable under foot. Thanks again for sharing your beautiful eye for decorating!

  15. Trying to practice your great advice. Learning not to fill every shelf with decor, rather leaving some empty. Also, using monochromatic color schemes, and focusing on textures. Especially love bigger is better, and less is more. Thankful to have you as my personal decorating consultant.

  16. I live in a 1000 square feet house I love, and since we do think of it as our forever house and adore it, I am content to accept just having less stuff than people do who live in larger homes. I aim for the highest quality individual item I can get, and I do consider budget and hearing you speak of positive and negative space encourages me about my walls I love leaving empty (I do have art up in some areas, including my own landscapes and animals I painted). I always heard in design magazines don’t leave a wall empty, but it would be so busy to me if I fill every white wall! I think it is hard to advise to someone in a small home yes, you should have less stuff than your neighbor whose house may be bigger than yours, but I think it feels bigger in here for my having less stuff, and the house does not feel like “stuff” is closing in on me. The home is light, bright, and airy, and if I clutter the space, the physical house’s best aspect of its features will feel diminished by clutter. I have a pretty vaulted ceiling. If I clutter the walls, the openness of that feeling of space going up is gone. A lot of things I consider like that.

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