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13 Design Elements That Complete the Look of a Room

What's My Room Missing?

So you've decorated a room in your home, but it feels like something is off and you can't figure out how to fix it. Do you need to swap out your coffee table? Perhaps paint an accent wall? Add an area rug?

To help you determine what you need to complete the space, first take photos of your room. It will give you a totally different perspective. You can also draw a room sketch with its current furniture layout—or use a variety of design apps to create a mock-up and play with your space. 

If you want, create a physical mood board or collect room images you find online. This will help you figure out your design style and clarify what you want the finished product to look like.

As you review photos and sketches, consider these 13 design elements that will help you create a more personalized space that looks both finished and welcoming.

  • A Focal Point: This is the heart of your room. It should instantly draw the eye and provide a visual anchor. This could be a statement piece of furniture, a stunning piece of artwork, or simply your fireplace. It helps to create a sense of purpose and direction in the room.
  • Walking and Breathing Room: You and your guests shouldn’t have to squeeze, shimmy, or sidestep their way through a room. While it might be tough to give up treasured pieces, you may need to remove furniture (as well as clutter) to give your room space to breathe.
  • Height Variation: This is especially important if you have high ceilings. Basically, you want to balance low lines such as a sofa and coffee table with vertical interest. Think artwork or a mirror, tall plants, a bookshelf, an oversized vertical headboard, or a stunning chandelier.
  • A Cohesive Color Palette: This one might require further reading, but the basic premise is to start with your favorite color. Then layer in a complement, various hues, as well as warm and cool tones. Play with combinations of furniture and accessories until it feels just right. 
  • Pattern and Texture: From a geometric rug to a chunky throw, there are so many ways to create more visual and tactile interest while staying within your color palette—even if your color scheme is neutrals. Feel free to collect things over time to continue building layers.
  • Curtains & Window Coverings: Don’t skip this even if you have perfectly practical blinds in place. Various blinds, sheers, rolled shades and curtains can drastically change a room, adding warmth and personality (as well as color, texture and pattern) to your space.
  • Non-Boring Walls: While drab grey paint is out, walls can still end up feeling meh. So, be bold with paint or opt for wallpaper, a curated gallery wall, wood slats, board and batten, wainscoting, beadboard, or molding/trim details. Consider spicing up your ceiling, too!   
  • Artwork: In tandem with sprucing up your walls, art can bring energy or calm, feel playful or formal. As for size and scale, it should take up 60-75% of the available wall space and between 2/3 to 3/4 of the width of a furniture piece, then hung 6"-12" above the top of it. 
  • Closed Storage: Clutter can turn a relaxing room into an overstimulating mess. So, add storage to alcoves, nooks and dead spaces. Ottomans and coffee tables with storage are great as well. Baskets and other containers can also be used to neaten open shelving. 
  • Layers of Lighting: Ambient lighting is general purpose and includes recessed cans and kitchen island pendants. Another layer is targeted task lighting for your desk or reading on the couch. Finally, there’s accent lighting to highlight artwork or architectural features.
  • A Fabulous Rug: A rug can add warmth, anchor furniture, and define a space. Choose one that complements two or three colors in your palette but doesn’t compete with other patterns in the space. Ideally, at least the front legs of all furniture should sit on the rug. 
  • Real or Faux Plants: Plants of varying heights are a must-have to complete any room. Just keep in mind that they can quickly become visual clutter! And of course, if you don’t have a green thumb, dried flowers and quality fake plants are great, maintenance-free options.
  • Your Personality: Family photos, trinkets from traveling, sports memorabilia, your favorite books, and other meaningful items should absolutely be incorporated into your decor. For best results, be sure to edit and thoughtfully curate what pieces you choose to display. 

Most importantly, don’t rush the process. Most people don’t buy a couch, rug and accessories all in one place. Shop around. Add items you find at flea markets, vintage stores, or pop-up markets featuring local artisans. And return items if you get them home and they don’t feel right. 

In time, you’ll see your home sweet home come to life.

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