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Contrast in Interior Design

Contrast is a fundamental principle of interior design – a designer’s secret ingredient for creating visually striking, memorable spaces. The key is knowing where and how to use it correctly. In this guide, we’ll delve further into how to use contrast in interior design to improve a space.

Cohesiveness is important in a design scheme, but too much of the same risks everything blending together into a flat, monotonous space. Contrast adds the balance needed to bring a design concept to completion.

Contrast can be achieved by placing two or more elements with opposing characteristics together in a space. It can be accomplished using a variety of design aspects, such as colour, shape, size, material, texture or style.

When used correctly, contrast can add a dose of visual interest to an interior space, while simultaneously pulling it together. It can also be used to highlight certain room features or other design elements.

The principle of contrast is evident across the spheres of art and design, from the yellow of Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers against the contrasting blue background to Picasso’s defining black lines that bring character to colour. It’s even seen in fashion, such as in Coco Chanel’s elegant black and white suits.

How to Use Contrast in Interior Design

When introducing contrast to a design, keep in mind that the opposing elements need to compete in a way that enhances each other, but must still work together to create a general harmony.

Here we will look further at four of the main techniques used to create contrast in interior design:


Contrast in interior design through colourA monochrome colour scheme can create a stark contrast that looks stunning and works in virtually any environment | Designed by Rodolfo Dordoni for © Minotti London

One of the simplest and most effective ways to create contrast in a space is through a carefully considered colour scheme. While there is a number of ways to use contrast in a palette, here are some of the most popular in interior design:

  • Complimentary – Two colours on opposite sides of the spectrum — such as blue and orange, red and green, purple and yellow — can create a strong impact.
  • Monochrome – Black and white monochrome is a timeless scheme that always works, but this can also serve as the contrasting element for another colour. For example, one might pair darker shades with white and lighter shades with black for the most vivid effect.
  • Light and Dark – A scheme that plays with varying tones of the same colour is a more subtle way to introduce contrast.
  • Cool and Warm – Warm colours can make large spaces feel cosy whereas cool colours can have a calming effect. Let one group dominate the space and introduce elements of the opposing group to balance it out.

When looking to create contrast, one should remember to let one colour dominate the scheme, while the other accents it. For example, this can be done by choosing one shade for the walls and the other for textiles, furniture and accessories.


In interior design, texture refers to not only how something feels physically, but how one thinks it will feel. Putting contrasting textures together can add visual weight to a space and works best when the contrasting textures are in close proximity.

One can introduce textural diversity by mixing, matching and layering a variety of materials that feel distinct from each other. Consider pairing rough floor textiles, such as seagrass or jute, underneath sleek furniture, or putting textured accessories on a smooth surface.

Texture adds pattern and dimension to an interior space, and one can achieve textural contrast by juxtaposing smooth marble with rough linen, or by adding natural materials such as stone or wood to a manmade surrounding of acrylic and metal.

One should seek to embrace textures in furniture, such as supple leather or tactile fabric coverings for sofas and chairs while plush velvet curtains will add solidity and grounding to a light and minimal room.


Contrast in interior design through materialsFrom the stoned tiled floor and the rug placed on top of it, to the sleek steel and wooden walls, this bedroom features a number of contrasting textures that work to keep it visually engaging | Designed by Rodolfo Dordoni for © Minotti London

Mixing and matching materials demonstrates the importance of contrast and is often achieved by default, particularly in the case of furniture. By purposefully choosing elements that feel distinct from each other one can achieve a more considered final design.

Combining opposing forms in concepts such as weight, permeability, temperature and coldness can turn furniture and interiors into masterpieces. Consider mixing natural materials like wood and stone against metal and glass. With fabric, think about choosing some patterned items, such as cushions, to contrast with a simple solid colour.

Furthermore, such a combination of various materials also works to bring additional textural contrast to a space.

Shape & Form

Contrast in interior design through shape and formThrough the introduction of interesting geometric shapes, one can create a more subtle yet complex contrast in a space | Designed by Rodolfo Dordoni for © Minotti London

Including a variety of shapes is another way to add contrast to a space. Typically shapes are flat areas that are either geometric or natural. Precise lines and sharp corners contrast strongly with smooth, rounded edges and irregular curves.

We commonly see this type of contrast in furniture, such as the gentle curves and rounded elements of a sofa against the straight architectural details of a sleek glass coffee table, balancing softness with strength. Even the perception of weight adds visual contrast, for example with small delicate accents against larger, sturdier pieces.

Contrasting shapes and forms can also be introduced through the space itself, such as parquet flooring, spiral staircases and architectural features such as domes and arches, though some designs work better with contrasting shape and form than others.

For example, a simple background of muted colours and simple materials will make it easier for shape and form to take centre stage.

Conclusion: Contrast in Interior Design

Contrast is considered by many to be the single greatest tool in an interior designer’s arsenal – though it’s imperative not to overuse it. Too many elements risk eliminating the considered contrast and result in something chaotic. Instead, try to select a dominant theme and then introduce contrast in accents and flourishes to add depth.

As discussed, some of the key design elements one can use to introduce contrast include:

  • Colour
  • Texture
  • Material
  • Shape & Form

When correctly used, contrast can add visual interest to a space while pulling everything together to create a stunning space.

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