Claire Bell’s Philosophy & Design Rationales


My mantra is that rooms look beautiful for a reason, not just because I told you so. Behind the series of great choices that make any room fabulous, there’s also a series of design rationales that guide the choices in the first place. As your partner in design, I’m here to help you figure out what those rationales are…

…Complete, don’t compete
For example, putting a large rectangular piece of artwork over a large rectangular piece of upholstery, such as a sofa, creates a competition between the two. They fight for focus. Instead of engaging in this one-on-one battle, use smaller artwork or a circular piece. Next, flank it with electric or hurricane candle sconces. Now the artwork and sconces will complete the sofa wall rather than competing with the sofa itself.

…High-contrast = glamour
When colors pop, glamour happens. Sophistication gets lost, though, the eye doesn’t know where to look. That’s why high-contrast elements (one or two strong colors in combination with each other, often neutrals such as white and espresso/black) are so important in designing. When too many colors from different families come together, like combinations of warm and cool colors, the eye no longer knows where to focus. This is why high-end interiors tend to focus either on tonal palettes that are overall cool-based (blues/greens/greys) or overall warm-based (reds/yellows/oranges).

…No-man’s-land spaces
These are areas of the house that everyone has experienced frustration with at one point or another—the ones that are hard to furnish or make use of. Sometimes you just need the right space plan in order to discover an area’s functional calling. Other times, the solution is not to place anything at all there, which leads us to the next design rationale…

…Room to breathe / negative space
As the eye sweeps across a room, it needs time to transition from one set of objects to another. Items that are grouped together, should relate to one another in ways that make sense for human use—otherwise, we know on a basic psychological level that we are uncomfortable around them. For example, when we see a chair in a corner with no table lamp or floor lamp next to it, we know intuitively that it doesn’t feel inviting due to the lack of warmth and amenity in that spot. Having said that, once functional groupings are made in the space, it’s important to let there be negative space between them. It’s really okay to leave some walls and walkways empty. The eye needs a rest and psychologically, we need “room to breathe.”

…Psychological barriers
A weak living room furniture arrangement may have a loveseat blocking the traffic pattern. This forms a psychological obstacle every time you walk by it. The result is that you become accustomed to its presence and don’t realize why it bothers you anymore. The reason is because it transmits the sense of a barrier, rather than allowing ample space to pass through. As human beings, we know intuitively when a space is ill-conceived for us to circulate through it. A good space plan solves such design dilemmas and creates a sense of openness and movement.

Email us or post to our Facebook page to inquire about some other design rationales that may help you define and enjoy your space better, such as:

  • radial balance
  • scale and proportion
  • sculptural objects always look good
  • circle-in-the-square
  • adding architectural interest gives big empty walls their reason for being
  • mirrors to replicate the feeling of windows
  • softening hard corners using circular shapes and fabrics