Your Home’s Negative Space: What It Is and How To Use It to Your Advantage

published May 10, 2014
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

In art and design, negative space refers to the (sometimes) white space on a paper or in a painting — the space not taken up by the subject. In a home, negative space could be considered the blank spots in your home where there’s no design — no art, no furniture, no stuff. It can be just as impactful to pay attention to where there isn’t anything in your home. Expertly executed negative space can bring much-needed calmness to certain rooms and make other design elements pop even more powerfully.

The optimal goal of designing a room is to make it feel in balance — the perfect amount of furniture, art and accessories so that it feels full, sophisticated and exciting. But not so full that it feels overwhelming or like the walls are closing in. Wanting to fill every wall and every corner with a design element so a space doesn’t feel “blank” is a common design mistake. Here are some ideas to consider:

Look for negative space opportunities In writing, sentences often contain extra words that without, the sentence would sound just fine. Train yourself to look for those moments in your own home. Is there a narrow wall with a small blot of art that when taken down, would still look like a fine wall? Is there a tabletop with a fledgling vignette that would look just as spectacular if cleared off? Don’t look for places where you can take things down — look for spots that seem like they’d be just fine if you took extra accessories out of the equation.

Sit with it After identifying and eliminating a design element to create some negative or white space, sit with it. Don’t give it just a few minutes — the immediate result will be like first seeing someone without glasses when you’ve only known them as a glasses wearer. Sit with newly negated space for a few days or a week.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
Be intentional with planning it

The difference between a space in your home left blank that looks like it’s supposed to be there and one that just looks like you forgot to do something with it? Purposely leaving a spot blank and having a reason for it. In other words, having a reason why you’ve left an area blank — to let other spots in the room shine, for instance — is a better reason than just not having something to put there, and that intention will show.

Use it to tease something to come

By letting a design element slightly encroach into negative space (say a piece of art hung in the turn of a hallway in such a way that you can only see a part of it, beckoning you to explore it), you tease the viewer, pulling them into your space and creating visual tension.

Feel free to fill it if it just doesn’t feel right If you’ve sat with negative space for a few days and your new negative space isn’t bringing you a sense of relief — if it’s not breathing a fresh breath of peace to your room, but rather making you itch like you want to fill it with something — fill it with something! It might not be the right area to leave intentionally blank.

Do you have intentional spots of blankness in your home? Do you play with negative space and how to not fill it so it brings more attention to other design elements in your home? Share your thoughts in the comments below!