Interior Trends 2012 – The Anatomy of GREAT Design – Part 1

Veranda Magazine February 2012 Cover Design by Kelli Ford & Kristen Fitzgibbons. Photograph by Max Kimbee

Rather than set the same stupid resolutions for 2012 that fall flat annually, I am thinking different for the year ahead. I have decided that my goal for 2012 is to teach the art and practice of seeing.

Years ago, I gave children private art classes. There were no brown tree trunks, blue sky, or staying within the confines of line drawings in my class. The first class was always the same – putting down pencils and paper and going outside. The first lesson of design is learning to see – there are colors in those shadows….

So let’s begin.

Now and then, I run into a design so exceptional in merit that its casual nonchalance creates a summit for imitation. In my opinion, Veranda Magazine’s February cover is one of those designs. Exceptional design or performance creates an indelible memory, like the mark the gazelle-like Nancy Kerrigan made on the ice, or even more enduring, Da Vinci’s haunting image of the Mona Lisa.

When people enter a room bathed in great moments, they tend to take it in with a resigned sense of awe and defeat. Beholding the Mona Lisa or an Olympic figure skating performance triggers that inner voice that says “I can never do this…” making you feel grateful just to pay to watch or admire. But design that you live in does not involve the flow of magic ju-ju genius from hand to brush, nor training 6-8 hours a day before you are old enough to twirl spaghetti. It is a process of trial and error, predicated on understanding 4 vital concepts.

Dissecting this or any magazine cover reveals the simple anatomy of GREAT design. It breaks down to 4 vital parts.

The basic concepts of shape, balance, space and color used by Da Vinci, with a dash of that je ne sais quoi, (which translates from French literally to ‘I don’t know what’…) that we’ll call “The Unexpected”(like Mona’s coy smile) make that indelible impression.

Breaking down the four elements above may demystify the process.

Let’s start with shape – Da Vinci would NOT appreciate this…

The Interior Vetruvian Man – Drawing by Leonardo DaVinci, cover by Veranda Magazine

Think of it like this – Da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man drawing explained the symmetry and function of the human body. A room has function as well.

Louis Style Chair illustration, based on a Chair from Ceylon et Cie

Or…like a chair, supported by ( 4 ) legs. Without the contribution of the 4 equal supports, the chair would collapse, regardless of the quality of fabric covering the pointless seat and back.

Shapes in master works are laid out in “compositions” – just like rooms. Master works all feature layered compositions that include basic forms; triangles, rectangles, and circular shapes. These can take some pretty sophisticated forms.

A ceiling elevation of Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church image from

An overall room layout is called a ceiling elevation. They demonstrate placement and flow, broken into all those very basic shapes.

A photo of Da Vinci’s last supper mirrored on itself reveals a labyrinth of basic shapes (below)

Photograph of The Last Supper mirrored on itself, by Derek Blair

See some common threads?

This room design is the “I Spy” of triangles, rectangles and circular forms.

Layers of shapes whose repetition and position in this space function to create a dialogue between all elements, that is both explicit and implied. Explicit shapes can be seen in the floor pattern, and are implied within the empty space that resides between the sconces and framed artwork. Yes, empty space also contributes to the shapes seen in the cover design. These explicit and implied shapes function to lead the eye around the composition in a manner which is so subtle you may not consciously see it – but your brain does, even if it cannot form an response that it can describe to you.

Like an orchestra playing tuneless geometry, there are many contributors to the layers of shape that achieve exceptional design. Symmetry plays shape like a finely tuned string section. Symmetry is creating balance and flow here, which we’ll discuss in depth at another time. Symmetry is a style of composition that lends equal balance to equal halves of a design. Our cover makes the most of this vehicle. People who are not interior or other designers will find that symmetry is as reliable a friend as A-symmetry is a fickle nemesis – more later on this later. A-symmetry is deftly infused here, represented in the compositions of wall art prints. This is a great trick that anyone can use!

The resulting balance achieved by this design is like the Cirque De Sol of composition, relieved only by the introduction of the organic yet symmetrical presentation of the flowering branches.

Color forms multiple layers of shape in this space. We can go way into depth on how to achieve this later, but the placement of this lively color palette repeats shapes seen by the brain throughout this design, in layers that are conversing with the shapes in the floor and accents, and branches.

Greens converse in patterns unseen by the eye to the brain, drawing the eye imperceptably around the design.

The introduction of the je ne sais quoi in the Veranda Cover design is courtesy of the eclectic mix of disparate styles. We’ll explore this in later, too – but above, this mix is like a party filled with intriguing individuals of vastly varying persuasions – artists, writers, business men, and astronomers all managing to dialogue in a single tongue, creating a lively exchange, enjoyed by all but dominated by a traditional theme. Traditional style here is the gracious host creating the venue for all these intriguing personalities. Elements like Chagall, a cherry chachka, Louis sconces and chairs sporting Ikat upholstery, and Ming vases all mingle in this traditional format and seem at home.

Come again for more on mixing styles, color, and more this coming week and throughout the new year!

Visit to get great design delivered to your door!