Rhythmic Interior Design: Creating Visual Engagement

July 18, 2017 | Apartment Living

One of the best ways to create an interior that draws a visitor in is the use of rhythm. Not the sonic version, but the visual kind of rhythm — one that involves a repetition of a specific element. But it’s not all just about doing the same thing over and over; that quickly gets either boring or trite. Using rhythm in interior design is actually all about creating the sense of variety. There are four basic types of visual rhythm: repetition, contrast, transition, and gradation.

The most obvious kind of visual rhythm is also the one most closely associated with the sonic version. It’s based on having multiple elements in a room that all share at least one aspect — for example, shapes, lines, textures, patterns, forms, or color. In the extreme, putting identical small shelves with nearly-identical small plants on either side of a hallway — or more usefully, creating a living room that has one throw pillow, one picture frame, one throw rug, and one random knickknack that are all a standout shade of orange.

Contrast creates rhythm by drawing the eye from one element to a directly opposing element and then to a third element that also opposes the second (and generally speaking loosely matches the first.) Many living rooms achieve this by default when they put a rectangular, dark coffee table between two puffy, lighter-colored seating elements. A careful interior design expert can use the effect more deliberately, for example, by putting two similar bright, leafy plants on either side of a loft apartment’s exposed brick wall. This creates contrast between the right angles of the brick and the curves of the leaves, but also between the opposing colors — green to red to green.

Transition is more difficult to pull off, but the effects are striking when it’s done well. Rhythmic transition requires the interior design expert to unite elements by pairing aspects of each, but using different aspects for each pairing. For example, imagine a cherry-stained, curving bay window that is matched by a curving sofa below, but to the side, the long, straight, cherry-stained wood uprights between the panes of the bay window are matched by long, straight, cherry-stained wood uprights of a bookshelf. The visual transition — from soft curve to soft curve-with-uprights to uprights — creates enormous visual pull within the space.

Gradation is akin to transition, but takes place entirely within repetitions of one aspect within the space. The most obvious one is the origin of the name: in color, when you ‘fade’ from one hue to another over a distance. But it’s equally possible to create visual rhythm by grading other aspects. For example, picture a hallway with pictures that go from small near the public end to large near the far end, or a living room that moves from mostly-plants on one side to mostly-artifical-decorations on the other, with token elements of each in the middle that unite the sides without interrupting the use of the space.


By putting these basic forms of visual rhythm to use in your interior design, you can create visual ‘pull’ in any room that will draw visitors in. Then all you need to do is make them feel welcome!

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