Vail Design at Altitude column: Designing with principle 

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If you’ve tried to design a home, or a room, you know there are a lot of moving pieces to making a cohesive look that reflects you and your personality. We use design principles daily, but they become second nature. Principles, in theory, are great. We’ll share with you how to apply them to your home and your design style.

We’ve all bought a pair of shoes that are gorgeous but simply don’t work — they pinch toes or are too uncomfortable. Homes need to have the same function — an impressive dining room table might look, and seem, amazing, but if it doesn’t fit the space, it’s no good. Too big or too small, function and form are critical.

Similarly, make sure the furniture is arranged to best fit the space. This is an easy and very inexpensive way to update your home. Create a deliberate seating area in your living room; allow space for guests to move about and make easy conversation.

Depending on your level of perfection, there are several ways to figure out the best flow for your room. There are apps or good old-fashioned graph paper. Mark doors, windows and outlets and then add in your furniture pieces. Arrange and rearrange without pulling a muscle. This insures you have a great flow and the room feels balanced.


Balance or scale and proportion make the room feel right. It’s what attracts your eye: accessories, art, lighting, furnishings — pay attention to proportion and scale.

Senior designer Frances Karsh remembers a home that should have been beautiful but was out of proportion. “The home had beautiful furniture but the proportion was way off: There were small sofas with huge side tables and massive lamps. Gorgeous rugs that were way too small and lost in the space.”

Once proportion is figured out, use your focal point. Think of a fireplace — it naturally draws the eye. No fireplace? Highlight a piece of art, bookcase or other furniture.

With the trend toward smaller living spaces, furnishings often have to do double duty. Design associate Tessa Hyatt happily incorporates the look.

“I love the trend towards seamless functionality … function, flexibility and storage need to be well designed,” she said. “Multifunction furniture pieces are well thought out and fluidly incorporated into the space. This includes items like modular units (tables, sofas and cabinets) and multi-function pieces.”


Color, patterns or textures are obviously a necessity for creating a warm, inspiring, inviting home. Find an inspiration piece — something that speaks to you — a picture from a magazine, a favorite piece of art or even a piece of clothing. What do you love about it? The design? The pattern? The color? Live with it for a bit before diving in. And keep in mind sometimes the absence of color can be just as bold.

Senior designer Marilyn Smith Heaney loves the boldness of white walls.

“There is a striking contrast between the darker millwork and white-plaster walls or white-painted walls,” she said. “My clients have personal art collections, and they wanted the art to ‘shine,’ not the color of the walls. I have to say, the properties look great with the white walls.”

Try a dominant color that might be more of a neutral, for walls or carpet — the larger aspects of a room. A secondary color works in accessories such as throw pillows and blankets, vases and other items of decor. Finally, use an accent color in bursts or pops that give a little energy to a room.

Patterns: Stripes paired with paisley, dots with checks. Yikes. You can mix it up a little, but the patterns should share color and scale. If you’re going bold with color, lay off the crazy-colored patterns. You don’t want to be buzzing in a room.

Lastly, texture. Similar to pattern, use it sparingly and use what you love. Shiny coffee table with shiny accessories and art in shiny frames — you’ll feel like you need sunglasses.

Frances Karsh, Marilyn Smith Heaney and Tessa Hyatt bring a sense of style to their projects, whether small-cabin remodels or building a new project in Palm Springs. See their work