I’ve mentioned this a few times over on Instagram of late, and I thought it was about time I explained what i’m actually going on about. Negative space isn’t a space that’s got “bad vibes, man”. Negative space is a good thing and every room needs it in order to function, to offer visual balance and to zone spaces.
The chimney breast was left clear, offering the room some negative space to balance out the alcoves, both of which were filled with furniture, mirrors, books and accessories.
Positive space = the space that’s taken up with actual “stuff”; furniture, lighting, artwork, accessories….
Negative space = the “empty” space around and in between everything else, more often than not highlighting and showcasing everything next to it.
“The use of equal negative space, as a balance to positive space, in a composition is considered by many as good design. This basic, but often overlooked, principle of design gives the eye a “place to rest,” increasing the appeal of a composition through subtle means.” Wikipedia
Ok, I think you guys have got it now. Let’s take a look at how it works in practice. We’ll start with this chair:
Frame Armchair from Made.com in the Upper Brook St Project
As the name suggests, the chair “frame” works beautifully because of the space around and inside the brass frame. The space and light that passes through allows you to see the shape, design and structure of the frame, highlighting the soft, clean lines of the velvet seat. I purposefully didn’t add cushions or throws to these chairs. It would have ruined the shape and line. And that’s what you’re paying for here. The line.
Imagine i’d added a basket down by the side of the chair and wanged a cushion on.
Now, some of you might prefer that, but to me, it’s ruined the design of the chair. The delicacy and simplicity of the frame. A piece like this needs “negative space” around it in order to work. It wouldn’t work in my house as my room’s proportions are way too small. I don’t have the space to pull a chair away from a wall, into the room and leave space all around it. But for this period property, it was perfect.
Top Tip 1 – Choose furniture that’s right for your home and room’s proportions. Don’t choose a piece based on how it looks online or on a shop floor. Visually place that piece in your room. Where is it going to go? What view will you have of it? Will you get to see the design you’re paying for?
Onto another example:
See that big white wall? The one that runs all the way up our new staircase with TONS of negative space? Well i’ve been waiting to hang a piece of art on that wall for months. The reason i’ve not done so yet is, we still haven’t got our new handrail fitted. I know. It’s taken a long time, but hopefully this time next week it will be in. And hopefully in another month or so, we’ll have our new carpets fitted too. I would have loved to have kept the whole staircase and landing open, but as we have a four year old to keep alive and still need to get our build past building regs, a handrail is a must.
This is the plan. Cue, crude mock up:
As you can see, the strips of plywood take away a lot of that negative space. In fact, so much so, I probably won’t be wanting anything on that back wall at all. A piece of artwork would get completely lost whilst completely ruining the look of the vertical spindles in the process.
Let’s test the theory:
For me, that’s too busy. The artwork fighting with the handrail and vice versa. One’s gotsta give and with the handrail being an absolute must, the artwork shall be sacrificed. By having both, there’s an overload of positive space.
Top Tip 2. DO NOT choose artwork or accessories until the very end of a project. Wait until everything is in the space, stand back and see where you need to break up the negative space. The number of times I get asked at the beginning of a project, what piece of art will hang here? **waves at wall** is bonkers. My answer? I dunno know yet. I need to see the room come together. Maybe none. Let’s see…
Negative space isn’t something only used in minimal design, although there is generally lots more negative space used in minimalism. Less is more and all that jazz. Negative space is required in maximalist design concepts too and I have a perfect example of how it’s so important.
The coffee table from the final reveal post wasn’t really supposed to be in there. But we ran out of budget. So we stuck with what they had originally and it looked ok. But for me, the top was too heavy, visually. The solid surface really wasn’t doing it for me.
A few months after I completed this project, the homeowners finally got their hands on the coffee table that was always meant to be in this room.
Aula Brass & Glass Table from Made.com
The Aula with its glass top was the perfect piece for a number of reasons. Firstly, the glass reflected the light from the pendant light above.
Secondly, the glass allowed the light to pass through, offering the illusion of negative space which gave the room a greater sense of expanse and light. Visually, the Alua table took up less space, despite being larger than the original solid top table.
Top Tip 3. Choose your materials wisely. Solid, boxy furniture can be great for anchoring and punctuating spaces, where as lightweight frames and transparent surfaces can often make a room feel larger and lighter. If you are leaning towards furniture that allows light to pass, make sure what you can see on the other side is worthy of being seen.
And that, is the end of Lesson 1 for today everyone. I hope it’s helped explain some of the finer details of design. This is all stuff I learnt years ago throughout my dance training. I specialised in choreography where spatial layout, balance, weight, light and shade, were all integral parts of composition. Everything completely transferable to interior design.
I’ll be writing up a second post very soon. Lesson 2 will focus on Negative Space in Maximalist Design. There seems to be a burgeoning trend where negative space is becoming a long and distant memory. And i’m not 100% sure about. So I will be taking a closer look at Maximalism, who does it well and why it’s still crucial to consider the element of space.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this one peeps. I’m sure for some of you this is old hat, but for some, maybe you’ve learned a little something? As ever, i’d love to hear your thoughts on this grey and drizzly Bank Holiday Monday.