Design Inspiration From All Around Us

In the natural world around us, you’ll see lots of curves – the outer trunk of a tree, birds’ eggs and feathers, clouds and waves. There are straight lines, too, but they’re definitely outnumbered by curves. If you look at the rule in terms of design on a more general level, someone who really understood the power of curves, and the way they can work with straight lines, was the industrial designer Raymond Loewy. He managed to make even the most mundane object beautiful, but he’s probably best known for his designs for cars, trains, planes and even spacecraft – all sleek and streamlined, but amazingly curvaceous as well.

Somewhere along the line, decoration, age, signs of wear and the curved form started to get downplayed in many modern houses, and lines and angles began to be the hero. I have a bit of a theory that lines and angles are cheaper to build, and hence they became the norm. I bought the house I live in now for three reasons. The first is that it sits on the edge of the sea – sheltered in a way that the calm water tends to bring me peace. The second is that there’s so much natural forest around it that I could always wonder at, with its changing forms and colours in different seasons and light. The third, because not a single wall here has a corner; all the bricks are laid so the rooms are rounded, and each doorway, big and small, is an arch.

Curves, in the natural world and in the spaces around us, make us feel human, comfortable, safe. They don’t need to be a part of your space to begin with to have this effect on you: you can introduce them, and you’ll be surprised how welcoming it will start to feel – circular rugs, round lights and coffee tables. Much more subtle curves help even more – the rounded arm of an old chair, the slightly curved spine of second-hand hardback books, a folded blanket. And of course, natural objects themselves, such as branches, dried grasses, pebbles and whatever else you can find. Proportion doesn’t come into it – just because you have an enormous rectangular window doesn’t mean you have to match that equally with curves. Try to balance the ratio of curves to straight in your home for a harmonious feeling.

It can be really overwhelming trying to arrange your belongings in a space until you realise that certain patterns can help you tie it all together. The triangle, in particular, is what I’m talking about here. Creating high points and low points has been sage advice from stylists, florist and artists of any types – and was one of the first styling rules I learnt that has never really failed me. When you’ve collected everything in one spot, have a go at assembling it into triangles of various shapes and sizes. There’s no need to be too literal about it – these aren’t necessarily all simple, basic, straight triangles; they can be a lot looser than that. What you should be aiming for are high points and low points and making everything feel beautiful, relaxed and not overly thought out. At the back, you’ll have large triangles, with smaller triangles closer to the front. On shelves and flat surfaces, think about the triangle as you make little compositions – feathers or well-used paintbrushes grouped together in a jar, for instance. By the time you’re finished, you’ll have layer upon layer of triangles. It’s about creating rhythm and interest, so your eye can move from one object to the next, and take things in gradually.

In an increasingly globalised world, it’s still quite easy to find clues about how people in various countries live, and how different that is from the way we do. It’s those signs that we notice when we’re travelling or that a spatial scientist can use to help build up a picture of how a place works: the neat rows of shoes inside the front door in Japanese apartments makes me think of order and structure; the packed parking stations for bicycles in Belgian towns remind me of that nationality’s enthusiasm for community and green living; the uniform mailboxes outside houses in rural USA trigger ideas for me about culture and tradition.

Translate that to your own home – it sounds really obvious, but the easiest way to make your place memorable and comfortable is to fill it with pieces that are unique to you, and that hold meaning for you. Uniqueness creates a stamp on our memories. There are some homes we have visited – or seen in magazines or online – that we’ll never forget. I dare say not too many of these would have been standard, or on trend – but instead are unique, reflecting the person who lived there.

That doesn’t mean you can’t look elsewhere for inspiration; it doesn’t mean either that everything around you has to be handmade or custom. It’s more that you take your time to put together a unique world around you that speaks of who you are and the life you live and have lived.