15 Interior Design Rules to Live By

1 Ask yourself what feelings you need to have in the room you are decorating and see if the colours you have chosen make you feel that way.

pop of pink via shoot factory (dundonald)
pop of pink via shoot factory (dundonald)

2 Make a floorplan to check that everything fits in your room and how you can arrange it within the space you have. And don’t forget to check thoroughfares and paths between. You need around 90cm for two people to pass. A dining table needs around 1m all around to allow chairs to be pulled in and out. This will be tight for someone to pass behind if someone else is sitting down. This will matter if the table is between them and the door.

3 When you have chosen your colour palette add a burst of a disrupter shade that makes your heart sing: bright orange bar stools, a metallic blue lampshade, a neon green cushion.

Kate Watson-Smyth explains how simply painting a wooden stool like this soft pink can instantly add interest to a kitchen. #kitchenstool #madaboutthehouse
interior design rules to live by: add a disrupter colour – pink stool in plain english kitchen

4 This disrupter colour should appear in other rooms to tie them together but vary the objects: in a picture here, a vase there, a bedside table or a rug detail. This is how you form a red thread: a strand of colours, textures and styles that run throughout your home to make each room link and to create a cohesive scheme.

5 Always buy the biggest rug you can fit (don’t forget door clearance) and afford. If the budget is tight buy a piece of patterned or plain carpet with a texture and have the edges bound in a contrasting colour.

Carpetright portobello riverside stripe pure wool carpet would make a great rug
Carpetright portobello riverside stripe pure wool carpet -interior design rules to live by: use large piece of carpet edged for a more affordable rug

6 If you’re not sure about what proportion of which colour try the 60, 30, 10 rule: 60 for the largest space – probably the walls, 30 for a piece of large furniture and a rug and 10 for an accent. This doesn’t include patterns which should be made up of variations on that theme.

7 When decorating one room don’t forget the views of the rooms it looks into or what you see when you walk past a doorway. Curate those views: a well positioned picture or a vase on the console will bring everything together.

view through a door at sophie robinson house
interior design rules to live by – consider the views as you walk past rooms: view through a door at sophie robinson house

8 Big is generally better when it comes to accessories: large rugs, lamps, vases will always bring a sense of expensive luxe to a room.

9 Every room looks better with something vintage in. There are no exceptions. It doesn’t have to have belonged to your Granny – if it came someone else’s Granny and you found it on eBay that’s fine.

anthropologie x soho home collaboration shot and styled by kate watson-smyth at
interior design rules to live by: big is better – an outside vase or lamp

10 Shapes are just as important as colours: rooms and furniture are often a series of square and rectangles – throw in some ovals and circles for contrast. This applies to cushions too.

11 Add something unexpected: Always add at least one thing that doesn’t appear to go, or is unusual. I have a six ft tall brass palm tree lamp, you might have a hand crocheted blanket in a minimalist space or a concrete table in a maximalist living room.

interior design rules to live by: always add one unexpected item

12 Use white paint sparingly. Do you always wear a white top with everything in your wardrobe? Sometimes another shade works better with your colour scheme.

13 Bring in as many textures as you can – especially if you prefer a restricted colour palette – velvet and linen, carpet and cashmere, silk and cotton. Don’t forget fringing and embroidery.

Paint & Paper Library Satinwood_03_HR
Paint & Paper Library Satinwood new finish – consider if white is the best colour for your woodwork

14 Large grey floor tiles look like pavements. Who wants that?

15 Don’t follow trends unless when you see them you feel like you are greeting an old friend you haven’t seen for ages or experience a coup de foudre that takes over your thoughts and leaves you thinking of nothing else.


Tags : buying vintagechoosing a colour palettedisrupter colourinterior designinterior design rules
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I thought these were very helpful. I would say choose warm LEDs 2700K and have many lights around the room at varying heights and on dimmers to give it warmth, no overhead lighting only!

  2. “Do you always wear a white top with everything in your wardrobe?” – Well, yes, I do ;-), nearly always…
    But never mind that (I just could not resist) I so enjoy your wiriting here, thank you!

  3. Oh Kate – you’ve broken my heart! Until yesterday I loved my kitchen with its big grey porcelain tiles. Pavements- sob!

  4. Great advice – also be very careful with grey ceilings as resemble very dark cloudy ominous skies and depress the hell out of ya!

  5. love this summary of rules, may I add two more potential thoughts. Buy what you love and take your time.

  6. Oh how I regret the large grey floor tiles in my kitchen… 🙁 but it is an open space and I didn’t want it to be too different from the walnut wood floor. I wonder if a kitchen rug would help or just gather dirt.

    1. My sister bought large rolls of linoleum flooring on sale. She painted them with super cool designs. She uses them all over her home because she is a clean freak and does not enjoy area rugs but loves the color blast on the floors (she rents so she cannot paint the actual floors)…perhaps an inexpensive and non dirt gathering option to consider? 🙂

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