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The Definitive Guide to Layering in Interior Design (What it means and how to do it right)

Some spaces are instantly engaging. They tell a story with every meticulously placed element – a trinket sitting on the edge of a mantle or an intricately patterned rug placed atop a seagrass mat. On first inspection, it’s difficult to pinpoint just what exact details make such a space so special. This is the magic of layering, the secret weapon of interior design.

You’ve probably read countless articles about layering, but what precisely is it? Layering is the designers secret of overlaying compelling elements of contrast unity and texture. Get it right, and your room is transformed into a haven of intrigue.

Designing your space

Once you have an understanding of layering being a harmonious sum of its parts, it’s time to get planning. Think about your room and each physical component that makes it.

Apply each of the below elements as its own layer and consider how each will interact together, building the room floor up, from scratch:

  • Flooring: Tiles, floorboards, carpet, vinyl, tiles
  • Walls: Paint, wallpaper, exposed bricks
  • Furniture: Sofas, feature chairs,
  • Textiles: Pillows, blankets, rugs, mats, bedding, throws
  • Lighting: Spotlights, lamps, feature lights, mood lighting
  • Wall hangings: Paintings, mirrors, tapestries and artwork
  • Decorative elements: Plants, trinkets, sculptures, personal pieces from travels

Opposites attract

The overall aim of layering is to strike a harmonious balance in your space, but the cruicial point here is to emphasise contrast in some (not all) of your elements. It helps each piece shine and creates that sense of wonder that a well-layered room fosters. There aren’t any hard and fast rules to applying contrast, so don’t be afraid to play with your elements to find the right combination.

Here are five pointers to guide you in the right direction:

  1. Pattern: Pair intricate or heavy designs with block colouring so they attract focus and don’t lose impact.
  2. Colour: Think back to the colour wheel, use tints and shades opposite from each other for maximum complementary potential.
  3. Materials: Partner man-made materials with natural ones, such as wood, leather, cotton or stone.
  4. Texture: Contrast softer textures with hard or solid items or smooth with rough.
  5. Proportions: Mix it up, complement small items with large ones, this will emphasise each others’ size.


Once you’ve nailed your contrasting elements, it’s time to consider the flipside of the coin  – consistency and harmony. Nestled in-between the contrasting counterparts you need to have some recurring threads to create unity. Without these, a space loses focus and feels haphazard. By including similar layers amongst the contrasting ones, such as wooden floorboards paired with accented wooden sculptures, you’re constructing a deliberately designed space. It’s a delicate balancing act, but worth the effort.

Pulling off the art of layering may seem like a challenge only conquered by designers, but that’s not the case! Start small with one room and consider each layer before bringing them together. Follow this process, and it will soon become second nature.

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