6 Things Every Room Needs to Feel Complete

Essential interior design elements that give your home a sense of character and warmth

Recently, I was hired by some past clients to help them put the finishing touches on their beautiful, Hawaiian oceanfront home. We had already remodeled their master bathroom, furnished the home with gorgeous, custom pieces throughout, and made other minor renovations to the home. However, the house still felt unfinished and un-lived-in. They knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what was missing or how to fix it.

Designing and styling a home can feel overwhelming. There are so many interior design styles to choose from, and it’s easy to get lost in the maze of options out there. Here are the design elements I added to my clients’ almost-finished space to make it feel lived in and loved. These elements are tried and true, and work regardless of the interior design style of your home.

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Art

Art is the most obvious element that is lacking in an unfinished home. It is also one of the most personal aspects of a home. Art is the most subjective design element and elicits an almost visceral response in people. In general, large abstracts in keeping with the color scheme of the room are a safe bet. Landscapes, black-and-whites, and photography are also great choices.

However, if you are decorating your own home, this is where you can get the most creative and expressive with your own unique style. Perhaps you have a friend who is an artist and you want to feature their work. Or you have a special piece that has been in the family forever. Or maybe you’ve just discovered a new artist and happened to fall in love with their work. Or perhaps you’ve been inspired to create your own work. Whatever the case, find your main focal piece and work from that. It may have the signature color for the room or a pattern that can be repeated in other areas to create cohesion.

Color

A cohesive color scheme is essential to pulling a room together. The eye picks up on similar colors within the line of sight, and when several items are in the same color family, it creates a sense of unity in the space. Overuse of color can make a room feel busy and cluttered, even if it’s not.

In general, neutrals create a safe and solid foundation. White creates a clean, fresh feeling. Grey tends to feel cool and modern, and beige adds warmth and tradition. Decide on the foundational feeling that you want for your home and then use these neutrals for the main surfaces of the home (floors, walls, large furniture items) and add color in smaller pieces like artwork, pillows, throws, books, and small accessories.

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Texture

I’m a big fan of contrast, and this goes for texture as well. I love rough juxtaposed with smooth, fluffy with sleek, rustic with modern. A natural wood side table with a marble and brass lamp next to a leather chair with a cashmere throw is a combination made in heaven.

When the color scheme is followed, you can play with a range of textures and add visual interest to the room without making it look busy or chaotic. Neutral colors in particular are a perfect match for a variety of textures.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Books

Books and homes go together like avocado on toast. There are two quotes that sum up how I feel about this. The first is “A room without books is like a body without a soul,” by the Roman philosopher Cicero. A room is just a room, but the books in it tell you about the person that lives there.

The second quote is “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t f**k them!” by filmmaker and director John Waters. This is also true; books are just plain cool and sexy.

Now, I don’t mean just any random books. Choose big, beautiful picture books for your living room coffee table; interesting novels or biographies for your bedside table; cookbooks of your favorite cuisine in the kitchen. Choose books with pretty colors and covers. They are part of the décor after all.

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Lighting

Overhead lighting is great for general use, but it lacks personality and warmth. Ambient lighting can provide the atmosphere that overhead lighting lacks. Table lamps, wall sconces, and floor lamps create a variety of moods, provide customized light in specific locations around the room, and can provide a dramatic design feature in their own right. A huge, arching floor lamp beside a sectional sofa or a beautiful alabaster table lamp on a desk provide layers of depth and warmth that cannot be achieved by overhead lighting.

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Plants

There tend to be two camps in regards to houseplants; those who want an entire indoor garden and those who want nothing living inside their home (except themselves). But hear me out. Plants undeniably create a sense of life and vibrancy in a room. They add elements of color and texture (see above). They embody freshness and life. Who doesn’t want that?

If you really can’t handle the pressure of trying to keep something alive, there are a number of impressively convincing faux houseplants these days. This is actually the path I took with my clients since they only live in this home for part of the year. They were worried that they would come back to a house full of dead plants, so we opted for some high-quality alternatives.

So, there you have it: six fail-proof ways to add depth and personality to a house to turn it into a home — YOUR home, designed by you and for you. Pick and choose any of these design elements or go for the gold and incorporate all of them into your personal space.

Wellness Advocate, Interior Designer, and Founder of Terrene Living, an e-commerce platform dedicated to promoting wellness, sustainability, and social equity.