IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE MATTER: EMPHASIS

We are finally getting back to our “It’s the Principle of the Matter” series exploring Principles of Design – this week it’s Emphasis!  Please check out our other posts in this series: Balance & Scale and Proportion!

The third Principle of Design is Emphasis.  Every space needs something to center the focus, an element that will create a WOW factor.  Creating and controlling emphasis is the secret tool to make make your space pop!

The powerful thing about emphasis is that it helps order a space, thereby affecting how someone experiences that space.  When someone enters your room, being able to focus their attention on one point means that their eye then moves around the space with intention – your intention! 

example of emphasis in interior design

For example, this fireplace is the central element in this Family Room.  The symmetry created in the furniture placement helps reinforce the intention to focus on the fireplace.  Everything is framing in that view.  One’s eye flows evenly back and forth in the room since the size and color of all the elements repeat on either side.

Three key ways to help create and control emphasis are contrast, placement, and isolation.  

Adding contrast is adding noticeability.  Contrast, therefore, is an excellent tool in adding emphasis in your space.  You can achieve contrast by playing with color, texture, shape, and size.  Placing bright colors over dull colors. 

example of emphasis in interior design

The contrast of the dark bookcase helps the vivid artwork pop from the wall.  The bold, colorful rug also contrasts the crisp white material covering the furniture.  

Objects near each other will have a relationship to each other.  That is why placement is a great way to add emphasis to a space.  The proximity of objects to each other can effect how they are perceived, similarity – essentially grouping objects. 


The placement the artwork over the bookcase adds a layer of depth. 

example of emphasis in interior design

The placement of the pictures on the wall together create the illusion of one large piece of artwork.  This large gallery wall becomes the focal point of this room.  The artwork reaches the ceiling, bringing your eye up to grasp the size and unique architectural features of the space. The color in those pictures is repeated throughout the furnishings and accessories in multiple textures and materials, furthering your eye movement around the room. 

Isolation can be thought of as a kind of placement, but one that stands apart from the rest in order to become more noticeable.  

example of emphasis in interior design

This bedroom is very stripped down, but still utilizes the idea of emphasis.  The black wall stands out against the white linens.  The isolation of single lamp along the black wall makes the fixture more of a focal point.  

example of emphasis in interior design

Other elements that help add to a room’s emphasis are texture and color.  This bathroom vanity repeats the square shape in many textures and materials.  The front of the cabinet has a square within a square.  The mirror is nicely framed, but also a square within a square.  The wall application behind the mirror repeats that same pattern.  Notice too the unique corners of all the elements.  The placement and scale  of that common thread help create an emphasis to the room.

So find an object in your spaces and emphasize it using these principles! Enjoy!

Contributing Author: Abby Tappendorf

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