When Tension is a Good Thing: How To Avoid Rooms That are Too Perfect

When Tension is a Good Thing: How To Avoid Rooms That are Too Perfect

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Eleanor Büsing
Mar 27, 2015
(Image credit: Wanderer's Palace)

During my career as an interior designer, I've been involved in several full-scale home designs. It's a fun gig, but when everything from the flooring to the dishes are chosen at one time, you do have to beware of falling into that particularly dangerous trap— the interior that looks too perfect.

Above: Mismatched lamp bases subtly make this bedroom shine. Photo: via Wanderer's Palace

At a rustic-industrial dining table with mainly wooden chairs, a white fiberglass number looks wrong... and right.
Photo via The White Buffalo Styling Co.
(Image credit: The White Buffalo Styling Co.)

To guard against the dreaded matchy-matchy, I always like to go in at the end and, well, mess things up a bit. Add an unexpected accessory, hang something off-kilter, or paint a piece of furniture a really weird color. Others might consider this creating a mismatched or eclectic look, but I think of it as creating a bit of tension.

A more subtle mismatch in this airy space, the two related-but-different black chairs keep things interesting.
Photo via Wit & Delight
(Image credit: Wit & Delight)

Tension, in design, is that thing that keeps brings life and energy to a space, and that catches you slightly off-guard, though it may not be immediately obvious. It's a pendant hung slightly off-center over a dining table, or one random neon cushion on a sofa full of floral prints. It might not be the first thing you notice in a room, but it's the thing that will keep you from getting bored in there.

The neon door works perfectly in an otherwise neutral and polished home. Photo via Lemon Stripes
(Image credit: Lemon Stripes)
Pink table legs. Enough said. From Steph & Phil's Reimagined Victorian
(Image credit: Steph & Phil's Reimagined Victorian)
Off-center artwork works particularly well in formal spaces, as this dining room proves. Photo: Bo Bedre via Apartment Therapy
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
This glam kitchen could look a bit stuffy and cold, but not with that fun, oversized floor lamp in the corner. Photo via Shelterness
(Image credit: Shelterness)
A random boulder in the dining room? Why not?
From Lyndsay and Fitzhugh's Summer Cottage in the City
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
Adding visual tension can be cheap and simple, too. This rustic, global-influenced bedroom looks perfect with a hint of neon washi tape on the wall.
Photo via EyeSwoon
(Image credit: EyeSwoon)
A bright space with a cottage feel gets a double dose of tension: bright blue chairs and a striped rug laid at an unexpected angle. Photo via SF Girl by Bay
(Image credit: SF Girl by Bay)

Does this type of intentional tension make sense to you? Or would you call it something else? Do you decorate this way?

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