Design Guidelines vs Design Rules

You wouldn’t know it to peek inside my workroom some days, but I do like order. I like knowing where ‘that thing’ is.  My kitchen is rather like that too; there is a place for everything. Which doesn’t mean that things never get away from me and I find myself lost in the clutter. I have set guidelines for organization in these rooms; without these guidelines, they each could become a wilderness of free association very quickly.

I think Guidelines can be useful for setting us on the path of assured success. However,  if you want to bend or break a guideline, you should first know why the guideline exists and how to apply it before randomly ignoring it or drastically changing it.

Guidelines also offer some keystones for the DIY decorator.

Here’s one from the decor world as an example: The Guideline says that there should not be more than three different wood surfaces in any one room. The floor is one, the table top is one and the china cabinet is one. If you add chairs, a chair rail and wood trim, you may very well create a wood-heavy room which has trouble being anything other than a  wood-heavy room. Sometimes there can be too much wood. ( I heard the gasps…)

Why the three woods rule? Because wood items should allow the beauty of the high-quality material to be the centre of attention. A floor, a table-top and the china cabinet, made of three different beautiful woods, and chosen to complement each other will do that. If the woods are not high-quality, but are chosen just because they are wood, or are poor quality look-like woods, their value is diminished and the whole is diminished equally.
We remember threes easily; more than four items in a group tends to confuse us.


This dark brown room can’t be fixed with lamps. Furniture any color other than dark will clash with the mood and feel of the dark wood.  The dreariness just compounds itself. 


This room, for example, has almost too many wood surfaces to count but they have kept the woods within the same intensity of color, so it doesn’t appear oppressive.So if you want to bend this guideline, you darned well should know what you are doing with wood. You need to understand the undertones in the wood, and each item must be of the highest quality available.  Just because it’s made of wood doesn’t make it a work of art. Including wood in a room just because it’s wood it implies ‘Wood Uber Alles’ and will create a room lacking character and warmth, like the little restaurant pictured left. There are too many different colors of wood, it appears confused and disjointed. Which is just the opposite, I believe, of the intent.

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