How to Think Like an Interior Designer: Shape

In previous posts, the idea of shape was mentioned.  Form is derived from shapes and should be expanded on to deepen your knowledge of the important part they play in interior design.  While form is three-dimensional, the shapes that create it are two-dimensional, simply lacking depth.


The post on form discussed how shapes are separated into geometric and organic; the former being man-made with distinct outlines such as a rectangle or triangle and the latter inspired by nature with less distinct borders such as the shape of a fruit or a plant.  A third type of shape used in design, which can be considered an offshoot of organic shapes, is known as abstract.  This is a simplified version of organic shapes that are easily recognized by the viewer.  For example, a stick figure is an abstract version of a person, but we can recognize what the design is meant to represent.


Shapes can further be described as positive and negative and well as static and dynamic.  A positive shape is solid while a negative shape has open space inside or around it.  Positive shapes appear more stable and carry more visual weight while negative shapes appear to be lighter and more fragile.  Describing a shape as static also conveys a sense of stability and repose while dynamic shapes convey movement.


The six basic shapes at the center of interior design are Circle, Square/Rectangle, Triangle, Cross, Spiral and Curve.  Circles, with their lack of beginning and end give the viewer a sense of infinite movement and possibility.  Squares and rectangles, with the latter being the most popularly used, represent stability and conventionality.  Their horizontal lines are parallel with the Earth, giving a sense of being grounded.  Triangles are a symbol of power when incorporated into a design right-side up with a strong base to support it, but if this shape is turned upside-down it can give the opposite effect of instability to the space.  Crosses, which can be used in a “t” or “x” pattern, provide balance and are not automatically seen as a religious symbol when it comes to interior design.  Vertical crosses convey strength while horizontal ones provide a sense of calm.  Spiral shapes provide natural movement and signify growth, change and creativity.  Finally, curved lines bring softness to harder, more distinct lines.  They have more movement than circle or spiral designs since their borders are more free-flowing and unexpected automatically drawing the viewer’s eye to a new region.