Designing Better Interiors with Negative Space

October 10, 2018

It’s easy to overlook the small stuff when you’re in a rush to design your perfect dream home. You’ve picked out your beautiful furniture, you’ve chosen those chic accessories you fell in love with, and the color, lighting, and flooring choices are all squared away. But even if you think you have everything in order, it’s often not until all the pieces are in place that you have time to consider the last important details.

Sometimes it’s not the details you can see with your eyes that worry you the most, but the ones you can’t see. It’s the space between the accent chairs, the empty wall behind your dinner table, or that bare spot on the chimney breast. In design, these blank areas, unoccupied by furniture, art, or accessories, are called “negative space.” Whereas positive space—the areas of the room that house your design pieces—is often made to be the focal point of any room, negative space is just as important and worthy of a designer’s attention.

Title Image for the blog Designing Better Interiors with Negative Space

Why Negative Space Matters

It can be hard to plan for negative space when designing a room, but it’s incredibly important establishing a cohesiveness in your overall design. We’d all love to have endless space in our homes, if nothing else for the boost to the property value! But space is limited, so we have to be as economical as possible in doling it out. Understanding negative space means using the little space you have in the wisest way possible. Designers can use negative space to showcase certain design elements, let the furniture take center stage, and maximize the functionality of each room.

We often talk about our expertise in assessing scale and balance here at Mathison Interiors. It’s a signature part of what we offer our clients that they can’t get anywhere else. When assessing scale, every inch is important. You must get a sense of the overall scale of the space you are designing. What’s the square footage? How high are the ceilings? How big are the windows? Where are the exits and entryways? You take all these factors into account, and then you determine the placement of your furniture. When you’re assessing the scale like this, you’re planning for negative space. You can’t just bring in the furniture items and carelessly drop them into unoccupied spots around the room.

Designing with Negative Space

Negative space enhances interior design pieces in a few ways. To begin, negative space is a wonderful conduit for light and flow traffic. It’s harder to walk through a room that’s filled with sofas, ottomans, and coffee tables than a room that’s mostly clear, and windows allow more natural light through when they aren’t covered in drapery. That’s not to say that drapery and furniture get in the way of negative space. They don’t, and they can often be beautiful, but overstuffing a room with these sorts of items can impinge on the negative space that will enhance the beauty and comfort of the design.

Using negative space correctly will also highlight the functionality of each room, which contributes to the overall look. Consider this beautifully designed bathroom in one of our client’s homes.

Farmhouse bathroom with brand new bathtub and great attention paid to the negative spacei in the design

For this client, a beautiful bath signified comfort and privacy, an isolated area where one could retreat to and be away from the stress and problems of the day. To achieve this look, we thought it would be important to have beautiful appliances, yes, but also for that area to not be encroached on by unnecessary additions to the design. The negative space here invites the natural light in and allows for comfortable, free movement throughout the large bathroom. There are no distractions to catch the eye, just a space with enough area to relax and get away.

Bathroom exit/entrance, tiled shower with glass doors

On your way out of the bath, you’re not met with a busy room that reminds you of all the day’s problems. Instead, the negative space allows for a comfortable transition from the privacy of the bathroom to the rest of the house.

Bathroom sink faucet built into the mirror with stone basin

Part of designing with negative space is using as little space as possible. Only the functional elements of this sink take up any visible space, while the rest of it is concealed behind the mirror.

Carefully planned negative space can be easy to miss, but that doesn’t mean that your efforts will go to waste! Small tweaks can have dramatic effects. No need to go over-budget for an extra item just go get the rest of the design looking “right.” Sometimes, the next step to achieving your desired look might be subtracting rather adding. Designing with negative space in mind means that a half-empty shelf or an unoccupied corner can contribute to the design just as much as an expensive furniture piece. Space, scale, and balance are opportunities for being economical in your design. Paying attention to negative space is like being an editor for a magazine article. The intention is to cut, reduce, and snip in order to add to the effect of the whole.

Recessed bookcase built into wall

This bookcase was built into the wall, thereby prioritizing the negative space in the hallway.

Floating shelves holding high-end accessories

This client prioritized their negative space so much, they installed a recessed bookcase and floating shelves. The bookcase was built into the wall, meaning its edges don’t hang out over the wall and take up space. The floating shelves are another nice touch—you can’t see the bones of the shelving, just the base and the items placed on top of it. The effect is splendid. It’s a clean, distraction-free design that showcases the charming accessories and hides all the components that don’t need to be seen.

It may seem a little counter-intuitive to design with negative space in mind. When you’re creating your dream living space, you want to beautify every nook and cranny while leaving no stone unturned. But it’s important to keep the end result in mind. The space as a whole, the entire ensemble, is what your guests are going to react to first. If you want the design to resonate with people, you can’t overload their senses. The home features, furniture, and accessories will work together to wow your guests, like a beautiful symphony. The negative space around your design pieces will give them room to shine.

Our team is here to assist, whether you’re struggling to find the right placement for your furniture and accessories or you need new ones altogether. We love helping clients in any type of way, and no job is too big or too small!