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Design Element 101 – Shape

Interior design is highly subjective and an extremely visual form of art. Most people I work with have a hard time visualizing their completed space or communicating what they like or dislike about a design. Our reactions tend to be visceral and emotional so we either like it or hate it, and we may or may not know or be able to explain why.

In an effort to help client’s communicate their design preferences more freely, I’ve dedicate this article to a second critical design element. Last week we discussed the concept of colour and how it has an impact on the look and feel of our homes and this week I’d like to discuss shape.

As per Wikipedia, “shape is defined as two or more dimensional areas that stands out from the space around it due to a defined or implied boundary, or because of a difference in value, color, or texture.”

Shape can therefore be in reference to a specific object but can also be formed through a combination of objects or additional shapes. Be it a room, a floor plan or a specific piece of furniture etc., all elements of your home have a definitive and cumulative shape that impacts how you feel about the design overall.

Shape is reliant on its counterparts such as colour just as these other elements rely on shape. Perhaps that’s why people struggle with visualizing a space or often feel overwhelmed at the thought of decorating their home. The art of design truly lies in coordinating all design elements and principals in order for it to be a success. If not, our eye is drawn to a particular item or the wrong area and we may not feel as comfortable or as appreciative towards the intended design.

Similar to having a favourite colour, I often find clients are equally drawn to certain categories of shapes. I for one tend to prefer square, symmetrical and more architectural objects while others prefer circular and more fluid forms.

One way to determine your preference is to consider two of my favourite design periods that are close in time frame but very different in terms of their distinctive characteristics and predominant shapes.

Art Nouveau is a design style popularized at the turn of the century, characterized by free flowing, asymmetrical and organic forms. Think of the Metro underground signs in Paris or the nature inspired creations by Antony Goudi in Barcelona. If you’re drawn to these sorts of more freestyle shapes you may be less linear in your design choices.


If you prefer symmetry, geometry and shapes drawn with a ruler you’re most likely drawn to the Art Deco period and its distinctive style familiarized around WWI. Quintessential Art Deco shapes tend to feel more controlled and as such translated well into skyscraper designs like the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in New York. South Beach, Miami Florida is another area predominantly built during the Deco period and is therefore another great example of its classic shapes.


As mentioned, I tend to prefer more architectural forms and therefore find I am often drawn to Art Deco styles over Art Nouveau, although I have a strong appreciation for both. The nice thing about Art Deco is that it often incorporates some smooth, almost aerodynamic and strategically placed round edges in addition to its square shapes; perhaps as homage to its predecessor Art Nouveau.

Similar to designers during the Art Deco movement, I believe it’s important to keep things interesting by mixing different shapes and forms in a space. By playing with other design elements and principals such as colour, size or texture you can play up or play down a certain shape or area so your space is still visually interesting without sacrificing function.

Whether it’s design elements and principals or styles and time periods I’m a firm believer it’s important to mix and match to achieve a unique yet balanced look. I therefore prefer and often challenge clients to play with various shapes within their homes. For instance, if you have a rectangular dinning room with an equally rectangular table, try contrasting both with rounded chairs or an oblong chandelier. Playing with shape is as important as playing with colour to define and represent your unique style at home.

Although important to know the elements as a foundation, there really are no rules when it comes to designing in 2014. Creativity abounds, as do influences from various design periods. The important thing is to follow your instincts, take risks where you can afford them and have fun with various shapes.

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