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Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design: 10 Practical Ways to Apply It

Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design: 10 Practical Ways to Apply It Harnessing Gestalt Principles: The Impact of Figure Ground Designs in Interior Design
Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

Meet the Author and Your Future Designer: Julio Arco is a passionate architect with years of experience in architecture, interior design, urban design, and housing. He studied at prestigious universities across North America and Europe. 


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Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

In the vast world of interior design, many guiding principles shape the spaces we inhabit. One such principle that may not be as well-known as color theory or symmetry, yet is incredibly impactful, is the Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design.

Evidence-based design, a field that merges scientific research with design decisions, highlights the profound effects this principle has on the way we perceive our environments. We understand that this principle is rooted in our cognitive ability to differentiate an object from its surrounding background – a cognitive process that we employ in interior design, architecture, product design, and even logo creation.

This principle is not only observed in the realm of design. It also resonates strongly with the field of psychology, where it aids in understanding visual perceptions and how the human brain processes information. What makes this concept particularly fascinating is its universality – applicable to various fields, from the physical world to digital interfaces, to art and even typography. But how does this relate to interior design?

Simply put, the figure-ground principle guides how we arrange elements within a space. It encourages us to view objects (the figure) as distinct from their surroundings (the ground). This principle is key to creating spaces that feel balanced and harmonious, encouraging our eyes to move naturally through the space, guided by the contrasts between figures and their ground. This Gestalt Principle, among others like proximity, continuity, and similarity, gives us a language to understand and organize our environments.

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Without further ado, let’s explore the intriguing world of the Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design. Here are ten practical ways to apply this principle, ensuring your spaces are not only aesthetically pleasing but also harmonious and engaging.

  1. Contrasting Colors: Make key furniture pieces stand out by painting the walls in a contrasting color. The color difference will highlight the furniture as the figure against the background, making it more prominent in the space.
  2. Lighting: Use both natural and artificial lighting strategically to highlight specific areas or objects within a room. This will create a figure against the background, drawing attention to the highlighted elements.
  3. Focal Points: Identify focal points in a room – such as a fireplace, an artwork, or an architectural detail – and design the rest of the space around it. The focal point becomes the figure, and the surrounding space serves as the ground.
  4. Texture and Pattern: Mix different textures and patterns to create visual interest and differentiate between the figure and the ground. For example, a smooth, shiny marble waterfall countertop stands out against matte, textured kitchen cabinets.
  5. Furniture Arrangement: Arrange furniture in a way that one piece or a group of pieces stands out. This could mean a grouping of chairs in an open-concept living room, creating a distinct figure against the ground.
  6. Spatial Organization: Use rugs, screens, or shelves to delineate spaces within a larger room. These elements act as figures that break up the ground into distinct areas.
  7. Scale and Proportion: Play with different scales and proportions to create a figure-ground relationship. A large piece of furniture or artwork can become the figure in a room with high ceilings, offering an intriguing visual contrast.
  8. Symmetry and Asymmetry: Utilize both symmetry and asymmetry to define figures and ground. A symmetrical arrangement can emphasize a central figure, while asymmetry can create dynamic, interesting grounds.
  9. Biophilic Elements: Incorporate elements of nature, like plants or water features, as figures. Their natural forms and colors can stand out against a minimalist, modern ground.
  10. Negative Space: Embrace negative space – the space around and between objects. This ‘ground’ allows the ‘figure’ elements room to breathe, highlighting their importance in the design.

In essence, the Figure Ground principle encourages a dynamic interaction between objects and their surroundings. When used effectively, it can significantly enhance the visual appeal and functional flow of a space. 

Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

My personal encounter with this principle came when redesigning a small living room in an old Victorian house. I realized that to accentuate the original features – like the hardwood floors and the fireplace (our ‘figures’), I had to carefully select colors, textures, and lighting (the ‘ground’) that allowed these features to stand out.

By choosing lighter wall colors to contrast the dark mahogany of the hardwood floor, I created a distinct separation between the figure and the ground. Additionally, the strategic placement of artificial light sources accentuated the fireplace, making it a focal point in the room.

Applying the figure-ground principle in your interior design strategy allows you to harness its power in creating visually pleasing, balanced, and functional spaces. Consider how the arrangement of furniture, the selection of color for your walls, or even the positioning of focal points such as art or mirrors can create impactful contrasts that define your space.

Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

Moreover, this principle goes beyond aesthetics. The Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground can influence how we feel within a space. For instance, biophilic design, which emphasizes our innate connection to nature, leverages this principle by creating a clear distinction between natural elements like houseplants (the figure) and their urban surroundings (the ground). This contrast can induce feelings of relaxation and reduce stress, thereby enhancing our mental well-being.

Ultimately, the Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground invites us to recognize and appreciate the dialogue between objects and their surroundings. By understanding this concept, we can become more attuned to our environment and design spaces that not only serve our practical needs but also elevate our experiences within them.

Interior design, then, becomes not just about creating beautiful spaces, but about sculpting experiences that positively impact how we live, work, and interact within them. And that, in essence, is the power of interior design.

Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

Without a shred of doubt, the magic of interior design lies in its ability to create environments that speak to the human brain and reflect the soul’s unique landscape. The Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design, deeply rooted in our cognitive processes, serves as a guiding beacon, an invisible hand that shapes our spaces into sanctuaries of comfort, joy, and self-expression.

In exploring the myriad facets of this principle, we’ve journeyed through the realms of contrasting colors, lighting, textures, and patterns. We’ve learned how a smart furniture arrangement can transform a simple space into a work of art, how different scales and proportions inject life and character into our rooms, and how symmetry and asymmetry can dance together to create a harmonious visual symphony.

Now, allow me to share a personal revelation. Years ago, as a fresh-faced designer with a head full of ideas, I stumbled upon the art of Biophilic design. I fell in love with its philosophy of using natural elements to blur the line between our built environments and the great outdoors. It taught me to see the figure-ground principle not just as a design concept, but as a fundamental truth of how we humans perceive and engage with the world.

Take a moment to reflect upon your home and its spaces. Envision your furniture as figures, the walls and floors as the ground. See the dance between them, the dynamic interplay based on the eye’s tendency to see and separate objects from their surrounding background. This dance, dear readers, is the essence of the Gestalt principle of figure-ground in interior design.

Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

Now let’s venture beyond the home. Look at the world around us, at our cities and architecture. Everywhere we see the figure-ground principle at play. The contrast between a modern skyscraper and the sky, a logo standing out on a billboard, even the paper cut-outs in a child’s craft project, all are tangible expressions of this principle.

But what does it all mean for you? As a reader, a homeowner, a design enthusiast, or perhaps even a product designer or UX professional, it’s about embracing the magic of design elements. It’s about understanding that the human brain, in its quest to make sense of the world, thrives on patterns, on the distinction between figure and ground. And as we harness this principle, we find ourselves not just creating designs, but crafting experiences.

It’s my hope that as you venture forth in your design journey, you’ll wield the power of Gestalt principles with confidence and creativity. That you’ll see every space as a canvas, every design choice as a brushstroke in the grand artwork that is your living environment. Whether you’re planning a Longwood Christmas-themed decor or seeking the perfect wall colors for your hardwood floors, let the principle of figure-ground be your guide.

With every curtain you hang, every piece of furniture you arrange, every scent you choose, you’re not just decorating a space; you’re communicating with the viewer’s brain, making connections that go beyond the visual. You’re playing with positive and negative space, creating balance and rhythm, harmony and contrast.

Remember, good design is not just about aesthetics, but also about how it feels. With the gestalt theory in your design toolkit, your home will not just be a sight for sore eyes, but a sanctuary that resonates with your soul. So, go ahead. Create. Experiment. Play. The world of interior design is your oyster, and the Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground, your trusty compass. Happy designing!

Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

Figure Ground in Interior Design – FAQ

1. How can the Gestalt principle of figure-ground enhance my interior design project?

   The Gestalt principle of figure-ground in interior design can significantly enhance your project by creating harmony and balance within a room. This principle, which is based on the human brain’s tendency to distinguish form from its surroundings, helps to highlight key design elements, creating a clear focal point and maximizing the aesthetic appeal of a space.

2. Are there any practical ways to apply the figure-ground principle in my small apartment design?

   Absolutely! Small spaces are the perfect canvas to apply the figure-ground principle. It’s all about using contrast and creative ideas to create the illusion of a larger space. You could use a bold color or pattern on a single wall (the figure) while keeping the rest neutral (the ground). This would draw the eye and make the room feel larger and more interesting.

3. How does the Gestalt theory, particularly the figure-ground concept, influence UX and product design?

   In the context of UX and product design, the figure-ground concept helps in creating interfaces that are intuitive and easy to navigate. It helps users to instinctively distinguish between interactive elements (figure) and the background (ground), thus enhancing usability and user experience.

4. I’m a new interior designer; how can understanding the Gestalt principles, especially the figure-ground principle, help me in my career?

   Understanding Gestalt principles, especially the figure-ground principle, can be incredibly beneficial to your career as an interior designer. These principles provide a psychological foundation for design decisions, helping you to create spaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also psychologically comfortable for the occupants.

5.In terms of interior design, how does the figure-ground principle differ from other Gestalt principles?

   The figure-ground principle, a crucial part of the Gestalt principles, specifically deals with how we perceive and separate an object from its surrounding background. It’s about creating a distinct focus in your design, whereas other Gestalt principles might deal with things like similarity, proximity, or continuity, which are more about the relationships between objects.

6. How can I use the figure-ground principle to improve the reading nook in my living room?

   To enhance your reading nook using the figure-ground principle, consider creating a clear distinction between the nook (figure) and the rest of the room (ground). You could achieve this by using a contrasting color scheme or distinctive lighting around the reading area, effectively drawing attention and making it a cozy and inviting space.

7. How do professional interior designers utilize the figure-ground principle to create engaging and comfortable spaces?

   Professional interior designers often apply the figure-ground principle to emphasize key areas or pieces within a room, using color, lighting, and layout to create a contrast between the figure (the focal point) and the ground (the background). This allows them to guide the viewer’s attention and create spaces that are both engaging and comfortable.

8. I’ve read about Gestalt psychology; can its principles, like the figure-ground, be applied to different design fields, such as product design or UX?

   Yes, Gestalt psychology and its principles, including the figure-ground concept, are applicable across various design fields. They are fundamental in creating effective, user-friendly designs, whether it’s a physical product, a digital interface, or a living space. 

9. Can I use the figure-ground principle in my DIY home redesign project, or is it only for professional designers?

   Absolutely, the figure-ground principle isn’t just for professional designers. You can definitely apply it to your DIY home redesign project. It’s all about creating a balance and distinction between your key pieces (figure) and the rest of the room (ground), which can create a visually engaging space. Experiment with different colors, patterns, or lighting to make certain areas or objects in your room stand out.

10. How can the Gestalt principle of figure-ground contribute to creating a harmonious balance between furniture and space in interior design?

   The Gestalt principle of figure-ground helps in striking a harmonious balance in interior design by allowing us to create a focal point with furniture (figure), and designing the remaining space (ground) to complement it. The careful distribution of furniture and negative space according to this principle leads to a more organized, visually pleasing, and functional space. It can guide a viewer’s focus and shape their overall perception of the room. It’s like conducting a symphony where each piece of furniture plays a key role, but the overall harmony is preserved. 

Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design
Gestalt Principle of Figure Ground in Interior Design

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M.Arch. Julio Arco
M.Arch. Julio Arco

Bachelor of Architecture - ITESM University
Master of Architecture - McGill University
Architecture in Urban Context Certificate - LDM University
Interior Designer - Havenly
Architecture Professor - ITESM University

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