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How Textures Impact Interior Design

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There are seven key elements in successful interior design.  We design our fabric tub chairs with each of these in mind.  We know the shape, the colour, the pattern, the form, the space within which it sits, the way the light works with the chair and the lines we choose are crucial.  However, more than anything, our fabric tub chairs add texture to a room.

The texture is the surface quality of the materials you choose.  This can be the tactile texture (touch), or the visual texture perceived through sight.  More broadly, texture also refers to the solidity, reflectivity, transparency and translucency of the materials chosen.

Talented interior designers know that a room needs to be a sensory experience.  It is not just about what people see; it is about the feel of the place, the different touch to each surface. It is also about adding dimension to space.  The different textures can serve to add depth, as they interact with the light that has been equally well designed, creating shadows and shine depending on the material chosen.

If you are developing a design for your personal space, then you will need this essential guide to the impact of texture.  We will consider all the relevant choices and decisions you should make, helping you to succeed in your design.

What does texture mean to the designer?

The skill of the designer is to bring a variety of choices within a unified experience.  Put more simply, you want lots of different textures, but there needs to be an overall plan for mixing these textures.  Just like you would wish to create a palette for colour, you need a palette for texture.  However, you equally don’t want an area to be too busy or for surfaces to clash.

The tactile texture is essential for the comfort of the users of the room.  This is where you consider the relief or the surface texture of a material used in your design.  You can choose something to be smooth, soft, grainy, rough, ridged, hard or bumpy.  When making choices about the tactile texture you cannot clash, and you cannot overwhelm the user of the room.  Human beings respond well to sensory information that comes through touch.  Therefore, there cannot be too much.

However, tactile texture also creates peaks and valleys of light and shadow.  This means that too much tactile texture can leave an area too busy, as much as using too much colour.  Even if our hands loved to be charmed by difference, our eyes require more subtlety and a sense of pattern and order.

This play of shadow is not the same as visual texture.  The visual texture is the pattern of the surface.  It is the grain on a wooden floor or the scallop of tiles or the different shades in a woollen rug.  Even if the material is faux, the texture created visually is of marble or silk or stone.  This is where the idea of the unity of theme becomes most important, as it is easy to collect together textures that complement and textures that clash.

Suitability and Practicality

Before we take you any further into the design depths of texture, it is essential to stop and think carefully about the use of the room you are designing first.  Here is one of the best examples: you are creating a child’s bedroom.  You know that the child would love faux furs and soft felts. You know you would love the grain of the wood to show through.  However, the child is still going through the splatter everything with food and use colour pens on wallpaper, and wooden furniture, and the bed quilt, and almost everything else.  Therefore, although you would love all this tactile material, wipe down plastic is likely the most practical option!

Another scenario could be your kitchen.  A highly polished marble floor looks stunning.  However, it is likely you are going to be more than stunned when you slide on your bottom across the kitchen with the pot roast in hand.  Then there are the beautifully expensive silk curtains in the south facing window, which deteriorate in the blink of an eye.

Before we, and you, get lost in the world of design, we should give a nod of our heads to common sense.  Sometimes the purpose of the room dictates the texture – else we would have had a cardboard bath long before now!

Choosing textures

Now we have covered the boring practicalities of actually using a space, let’s think of all the more fun and fashion-conscious reasons for choosing a texture.  As with colour and patterns, you need to select texture as part of a scheme and create a sense of balance.  You may have a relatively blank canvas of texture – so the standard paint of the walls and carpet or wooden floor.  Then, you have one big focal point of texture, such as a dramatic rug or a stone fireplace, or a large timber table.  The lack of textures elsewhere counterbalances with the exciting inclusion of one highly textured piece.

More likely, you are going to layer texture in your room.  This is how you add depth and visual weight to your design.  In normal speak, this means your room doesn’t look dull and flat.  When layering textures, it is useful to think of them as contrasting and complementing, as you would with colour.  Wood complements stone, for instance – and used lots of textures of cushions on a relatively smooth and plain sofa works wonders for the human need for touch and texture. We also love the use of exposed brickwork with glass shelves.  We think the contrast in high-end finish and exposed material creates a real point of interest.  However, you could argue that exposed brick and distressed wood may just look unfinished.

White Kitchen Style

Items with texture

You are persuaded that you need to add texture to your house.  Now you need to think what details you should design into your interior that could add interesting tactile and visual feel. Here are some of the more critical choices you should make.

The finish of furniture

These small design choices are likely to be dictated by the feature pieces in your room.  The granular finish of your furniture will create the primary focal point of the room.  It is from this significant piece in your room that you should work when layering the textures.  Your sofa, your fireplace, your kitchen table will all set the tone for the other textures you should select, complementing the best features of this piece with others.

Rugs

One of the largest surfaces with an unbroken texture is the floor.  If you choose carpet, then this naturally comes with the desired texture, and you will have to think hard about how a rug could add to this.  If you have tiles, stone or wood floors, then a rug is going to do masses for adding texture to your room.  This decision can transform a space from cold and inhuman to someone’s home.  There is genuinely something lovely about walking in bare feet across a wooden floor and then hitting a deep pile rug.  There is a child-like pleasure in this sudden change in texture that can make a room come alive.

Wallpaper

We mostly choose wallpaper for colour and pattern.  However, most designers of wallpaper also consider the texture to be massively important.  A high gloss or metallic finish can add much light to a dark room and give a contrasting sense of smoothness to an otherwise highly granular design.  There are also wallpapers with woven fabric and with satin and silk finish.  It is possible to have a feature wall dominated by texture, which can be the focal point for those entering the space.

Kitchen surfaces

There was a fashion not so long ago for concrete kitchen surfaces or surfaces made from reclaimed wood.  The idea being to give a sense of boho charm, we guess.  These highly textured surfaces provided a tactile experience for those using the kitchens – as well as looking dramatic.  The design of a kitchen is more than not designed around the textures used, whether it is granite and marble, or wood and stone.  The kitchen is one room where texture seems to play a massive part in the quality of the design created.

Throws and cushions

An obvious way to make a living space three-dimensional is by using a variety of throws and cushions.  Using cushions with lots of different fabrics and textures is wholly acceptable and adds an instant injection of texture into an area.  You can also achieve a glossy shine to a finished design with some silks.

Throws and Cushions

Texture and Different Looks

Rather than starting with the furniture you own, when designing texture, you might instead choose a design look that you like.  This could be chic or luxe, it could be urban or bohemian.  Whatever the look, there are accepted palettes of texture that will help you achieve the design look you are aiming for.

Luxe

If you are looking for luxe, then you are looking for sophistication. You want the textures in your home to scream opulence. The line between classy and sleazy is a fine one when choosing textures in this scheme.  You obviously want the high gloss finish of marbles and metallics.  It is also likely that you are going to want much glass.  However, without points of contrast, this could quickly look like something out of an edition of Playboy.  So, it would be best if you introduced some polished timbers and some cashmere for softness.  These softer and warmer materials will complement the high-shine of the deluxe items while adding some level of subtlety and maturity to the design.

We always recommend our faux leather black tub chairs in such a design, for another complementary texture.  The duller shine and light contrast form the leather texture works in a high-shine luxe interior design.

Urban

The point of the urban look is simplicity.  It has been primarily influenced by Scandinavian design, so the mix of untreated wooden surfaces and smooth single texture expanses.  The point is to be pared back – with very little variety of texture, colour and pattern.  The primary sensation would be smooth, with sharp lines.  However, unlike the high-shine finish of luxe, the urban room with have a natural, hand-made feel.  There may be accents in the room – such as metallic cushions or a woollen rug, but these number in the handful and are there to bring some relief from the perfect lines.

In an urban design, texture seems less important than light.  However, oddly, the cleverness of the light in an urban room is created using appropriate textures.  Adding a shiny wallpaper can sometimes do more for light than adding a lamp!

Boho

Some believe the alternative name for Boho is cluttered.  There is a fine line between intelligent design and completely untidy in this look.  The choices you make when piling in the different throws, cushions, rugs and more are essential.  One misstep and the room can tip over into messy.  Therefore, the textures chosen in a boho room need to be more deliberate than any other.  Yes, the ramshackle muddle of silks, wools, faux fur and more on the sofa looks casual and throwaway, but each should be chosen to complement the other.

We often think that our winged back chairs, in a mooted fabric, work well in a boho room.  You may think these chairs are more suited to your classic drawing room but throw in some cushions and a blanket over the back, and it starts to carry of the casual.  The formal, upright chair creates a wonderful point of contrast to the comfort and craziness of the rest of the design.

Chic

How can you achieve elegance and lived in; sophisticated and homely? This is the dilemma of the designer looking to create a chic look.  Chic is often best achieved with natural materials, such as the smooth buttery feel of the aged leather mixed with the rough natural beauty of exposed timber.  Add to this some natural fabrics, like linen and cotton, and you start to create a chic look, but with the sense it is a room meant to be lived in.  You should walk into the room and want to slide your hand along different surfaces – and then sink back into the fuss-free sofa that is left relatively free of clutter to give a sense of space.

When choosing textures for a chic look, you almost want to appear casually unconcerned.  It will seem that the small touches of texture are there purely by chance because they are essential parts of your home.  However, in reality, these choices of furniture or soft furnishing have been purposely selected and positioned to suggest this casual carrier of fashion.

In short

There is much detail here on the sort of choices you could and should be making.  Let’s quickly summarise the important ideas to consider when designing texture into a room.

Top of the shop of concerns should be practicality.  Think carefully about how the room is to be used and select suitable surfaces for this purpose.  There is a reason a kitchen and bathroom requires wipe down surfaces – sometimes look comes second to use.

Next, you need to start with your focal point or the design look you are going for.  There are definite choices within schools of interior design regarding texture, which will help you make your decision.  Alternatively, maybe your home sets the tone for the complementary textures you choose.  If you have stone fireplaces and exposed beams, then the rest of the textures you select are going to be window-dressing.

Then, it would help if you considered texture to be like colour and pattern.  It is possible to clash textures, just like it is possible to put bright orange and bright together and wonder what the hell just happened to your room.  This means you can create a scheme of texture for your room, where the different tactile and visual textures create a sense of unity.  It is easy to tip over into clutter!

Finally, the texture is as much about light as it is about the running of a hand across a surface.  There is great beauty in the peaks and valleys of different materials that can be more pleasing to the eye than anything else in your home.  Therefore, think about how natural and artificial light will interplay with the different surface textures you create.

Bottom line, however, is that texture is about comfort.  The way our home feels is crucial to how welcome we feel there.  Sometimes a big fluffy woollen pillow on the sofa is more about wanting something to hug while watching a horror film than it is about the way your room looks to a stranger.

Anna Sharples

Office and marketing manager for Sloane & Sons Stylish Chairs, who sell a range of high-quality tub chairs, accent chairs and more.

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