The captivating beauty of contrast in interior design

Contrast is where two or more elements that have opposite characteristics are placed together. It is not as simple as black versus white or solid shapes versus fine lines or even the combination of organic and geometric shapes. Using any of the elements of design, a skilled designer can create a dynamic composition through the use of contrast.

Contrast is one of my favorite design principles because the visual impact it can make on the viewer is striking. If you are a regular reader of my column, you have probably heard me talk about “feelosophy,” which is a word I coined to express the evocative power of good design and the impact on a space’s occupants. My opinion is that good design must make one feel enjoyment (joie de vivre). It is a way or methodology of how I approach design work with my clients. Let’s dig deeper into what contrast is and can be:

• Light versus dark

• Bright versus dull

• Big versus small

• Ornate versus plain

• Organic versus geometric

• Feminine versus masculine (one of my favorites)


Think about contrast in terms of creating tension between opposites. Again, the composition a designer creates can generate a breathtaking focal point as well as a thoughtful and interesting point of convergence.

Here is one of my favorite examples, creating a dynamic visual for some clients who carried an incredibly large piece of furniture, ornately carved and quite beautifully crafted, from their former home in McLean, Va. The style of the piece is very traditional; many colonial antiques still live vibrantly in that area of the country. The furniture was very special to my clients, Dan and Robbyne, and Dan carefully disassembled the entire piece and restored it to its original beauty.

While they both wanted a contemporary style home, he was not going to part with this amazing item. We (the clients, architect and myself) decided where in the house this beauty could live. A special place was dedicated for it, and the architect artfully planned around it.


The task was to create a sense that this antiquity fits perfectly in a modern home. The right spot in the house was key because it would be in a location that would be captivating and enjoyed every day by Dan and Robbyne.


The walls throughout the home are a beautifully crafted, custom-colored off-white diamond-finish plaster. Working with the plaster color and sheen, I chose white pebbles for the risers on the stair steps to add texture and soft visual interest to the composition. Dark wood contrasts with the white and marries nicely with the dark piece of furniture at the top of the hall, while the hand-wrought ironwork lends an artisanal feel that echoes the carving on the furniture. The final expression of contrast comes in the form of large, glossy black spheres, the perfect and final touch to this design. While there is a lot of contrasting elements, this composition is balanced and harmonious and emphasizes the variety of materials.


Lisa Samuel ASID, IIDA, is a Santa Fe native and principal of Samuel Design Group, located in the heart of downtown Santa Fe. She is an award-winning interior designer known for creating unique interiors imbued with warmth and elegance. Lisa ( is passionate about good design that supports well-being.

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