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6 Design Rules Even Rebels Should Follow

Go ahead and paint that coffee table purple, but not before memorizing these design guidelines

Rules were meant to be broken, particularly in the design world, says Los Angeles interior designer Susan Jay Freeman, of Susan Jay Design. “Interior design is so personal. You should do what you like in your own home.”

But there are some interior design guidelines that even barrier-busting mavericks should pay attention to. “Good design is really about solving problems, and there are some principles you can follow to make things easier.” Here, six of Freeman’s tried-and-true maxims.

1. Sketch It Out

Whether you’re working with an interior designer, using an app or sketching on graph paper, a floor plan created to scale reveals a room’s flow and clarifies where to put furniture. “You’ll know whatever you purchase will fit,” Freeman says.

2. Light It Up

Take a three-step approach to lighting. First, make sure there’s enough ambient, or general, lighting to make rooms safe after dark—that means recessed and track lights, and chandeliers. Next, position task lighting to shine on areas such as cooktops or desks. Finally, highlight art and architectural focal points like fireplaces for extra sparkle. (Spotlights can be extra-atmospheric with a dimmer switch).

3. Fuse Your Floors

“Think of flooring as grounding,” Freeman says. Keep it in the same color tone—if not the same material—throughout the house to make your space feel expansive and cohesive.

4. Consider Scale  

Scale and proportion are key in choosing furniture. A grand sectional can overwhelm a small living room, while a standard-sized dining table can be lost in a room with high ceilings and big windows.

5. Flaunt Your Treasures

Create personal focal points by displaying collections together, such as a group of sky-blue ceramics on floating shelves or black-and-white photographs in identical frames. “Just remember that the eye needs to rest,” Freeman says. “Leave some empty space around your collections. Edit and rotate your pieces if you have a lot.”

6. Play in the Powder Room

“Kitchens and bathrooms are functional spaces for you and your family,” Freeman says, “but your powder room is a jewel box for guests. Have fun.”