7 Fundamentals of Good Design

Interiors / June 26th, 2011
Mary Cook designed model interiors in a condominium in Chicago
Model interiors designed by Mary Cook & Associates in the Van Buren Lofts in Chicago are built around lifestyle and incorporate her seven design fundamentals.

When designing residential and commercial spaces, Chicago interior designer Mary Cook relies on what she refers to as “design fundamentals,” or seven characteristics that she says must be present in interior spaces in order for them to be successful. Here’s how she defines them:


1. Function: “Whether we are planning for specific small-scale functions like study, rest, or family dining, or much broader functions like large-scale community interaction,  careful thought needs to be given to those for whom the area is intended, realizing both the primary use of the space as well as the many possible alternate uses which may come into play,” she said, adding that many people expect multi-functional spaces now, too. “For instance, in a private residence, a dining table may also function as a desk, conference table, craft space or homework area,” she said.

2. Proportion: “Just as, when designing a new building, consideration is given to the structures that will surround it, when the design process continues at a smaller scale, consideration is given to dividing the spaces, placing the furniture, selecting the furniture, and the size and placement of art and ornament,” she said.  To underscore the significance of scale and proportion, she went on to quote the 19th century decorator Edith Wharton, who, in her famous book The Decoration of Houses, said proportion “is that something, indefinable to the unprofessional eye, which gives repose and distinction to a room: In its origin a matter of nice mathematical calculation, of scientific adjustment of voids and masses, but in its effects as intangible as that all-pervading essence which the ancients called the soul.”

3. Light: “General lighting plans mostly consider function and intended use of the space,” said Mary, who added that with “a deeper knowledge and understanding of the user demographic, it is possible to greatly increase activity and wellness by adjusting lighting accordingly.” She’s created environments that improve well-being, for example, by introducing lighting that mimics daylight.

4. Color: “Huge impact can cost as little as a gallon of paint, and can greatly increase the value and enhance the quality of other fundamentals in the space,” said Mary. “Color can subdue or ignite a space, it can add formality and sophistication, or create a relaxed and casual atmosphere. We use it in tandem with other principles to help balance proportion, define space, highlight areas of architectural interest, increase perceived size, or improve overall function.”

5. Pattern and Texture: Like color, said Mary, pattern and texture are essential space enhancers. “Without them, spaces can feel emotionally flat or seem lacking in physical dimension,” she said. “Together they can also help to balance proportion, create dimension, define space, and add interest.”

6. Demographics: In order for any design concept to be successful, it should answer the  who, where and what questions relevant to the project, says Mary.

7. Significant and Relevant Ornamentation: This fundamental, according to Mary, is “the final layer of interior design.” Assuming “appropriate attention to ornament and detail at the architectural stage has been completed,” she said, “ornament in a room should be of the proper proportion, and generally speaking, should pay homage to vernacular, architectural style, or heritage of the occupants, should be of relevance to those who experience the space, and should support an overall theme if in a public place. If in a personal place, the art and ornament need be of significance only to the owner, but should enhance the overall room by contributing to its harmony,” she said.

To find out more about Mary Cook, visit her Web site.


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