Considering Transparency and Opacity in Decor

published Apr 23, 2016
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We often talk about color and pattern in design, but one thing we don’t always talk about is the value of transparency and opacity in the materials we choose. Depth of color often has to do with opacity as certain fabrics allow more light in, and transparent materials can allow rooms to feel lighter and larger. Here are some ways to consider how these properties can factor into your decor decisions.

(Image credit: Tamara Gavin)

Use fabrics to create a mood. One of the most obvious places to start thinking about transparency and opacity is in regards to your curtains. When choosing curtains, don’t only consider how much light you want to allow in, but also think about how intense you want the colors of the curtains to be and whether you want the play of pattern and light that can come from sheer, colorful curtains like those featured above.

(Image credit: Fabienne Ayina)

Control privacy. By thinking about how transparency and opacity work, you will be more able to control the way that light moves around a space, and how to balance shared and private spaces. In this room, the fretwork gives a sense of openness, whereas the solidity of the door helps create an atmosphere of privacy. Obviously, the dark color of the door adds to this effect, but even if it were white, the contrast between the solid and perforated materials would still create a more cordoned-off effect.

(Image credit: Heather Keeling)

Create visual space. In small spaces, consider using furniture with designs that incorporate a great deal of openness. Here, the thin metal supports and glass top make the table interesting but also allow the eye to move past it. Light, transparent materials help create a sense of visual space.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Create a sense of openness—or a sense of separation. Think about using transparent materials to cultivate a feeling of openness in your home. Thanks to the glass railing, the stairs feel like a cohesive part of the living space—the whole area is connected. Had the partition been a solid material, the space would have felt choppier, and the stairs would have felt more separated from the rest of the living area. Consider using transparent and solid materials to give your home the open—or cozy—feel that you desire.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Break it up. Often, when we focus on why monochromatic rooms work, we talk about variations in tone and texture. Those are certainly important, but as this room shows, differing levels of transparency also help give a room interest. The semi-sheer bedskirt adds a sense of floating, gauzy lightness, while the more solid color of the walls and duvet give the eye somewhere concrete to rest.