Design Rules, BBC


Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen gets right down to the fundamentals of design in this fascinating back-to-basics series. He tackles real problems in real homes as he explores six themes: space, colour, light, texture and pattern, balance and order, and personality. In addition to his own in-depth knowledge of design principles, Laurence calls on a colour forecaster, psychologists and a perception specialist to explain and demonstrate the science behind the how and the why.

Taking a real home where a design problem is all too apparent, he demonstrates some simple psychology and basic experiments in a ‘design lab’ back at the studio — and it’s all done without knocking down walls or spending big bucks.

Space comes under the spotlight in the first programme. Lack of space is a common problem in British homes which, surprisingly, have 20 square metres less space than Japanese homes, with an average of only 120 square metres.

“The cardinal sin that the British indulge in beyond any other nation is the concept of agoraphobic furniture that feels it needs to keep its back against the wall at all times in case something unpleasant happens to it!” quips Laurence.

By painting the walls a paler colour, bringing the outside inside by strategically placing an eye-catching object outside the window and switching to light-reflecting flooring, the brain is deluded into thinking that the room is bigger. Suddenly, the crowded living room is calmer and seems larger — thanks to a little bit of science and the tricks of design rules.

Eye brain specialist Dr Ione Fine comments: “Half of interior design is illusion.”And on a practical note, Laurence shows why it’s better to buy a couple of two-seater sofas — because three people never sit on a three-seater!


“Be brave — you know you want to,” urges Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, referring to the use of colour in home decor. More than half of Britain’s top 10 colours are variations on cream and, much to Laurence’s disgust, magnolia is at No 1. His task in Design Rules is to transform a north-facing family dining room in a Victorian house which has fallen on “decorating hard times.”

Laurence is tempted by purple, which, despite being his trademark, has only been slapped on walls by the designer four times over his television career. But Laurence also wants a wrap-around colour palette to really bring the room to life.

Despite Laurence’s protestations to the contrary, colour consultant Annabel Alton suggests that people’s colour choices are determined by something more than individual whim — the zeitgeist. In the early Seventies, during the Winter of Discontent, she says, neutral colours came to the fore. In 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, there was a new spirit of optimism and deep, rich, powerful colours became popular. After September 11, America turned to blues and greens: colours which are cooler and symbolise peace. Similarly, says Annabel, these colours are emerging in Britain in the aftermath of the Iraq conflict.

Totally immune to the zeitgeist, however, Laurence considers light, space and the use of the room before choosing a “gorgeous, fruity” colour for the dining room.


“Light is much more than something that lets you see. It affects the way we feel and directly influences our moods. To understand lighting you have to understand that it is more than just fittings, sockets and bulbs,” explains Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

His first challenge in the project house is to transform a north-facing Victorian sitting room. “You have to remember that the Victorians really didn’t trust daylight. As far as they were concerned, it was something that came into their rooms and faded their carpets or turned their ladies odd shades of brick. So they made these great barriers between them and daylight: heavy swags, tassels, fringes …”

Laurence offers practical advice and tricks of the trade for maximising daylight and transforms the room with atmospheric and moody lighting.

The project kitchen poses a different type of challenge. Here, Laurence must create a flexible lighting scheme to cope with many different conditions. Using the unique studio Design Lab, he demonstrates how to blend three layers of light into a more stimulating, dynamic atmosphere.

The choice of bulb also affects the mood of a room, he reveals. Red- and yellow-tinted light creates an intimate, warm mood, while blue and green gives a cooler, serene mood. With over 3,000 different light bulbs on the market, Laurence asks why most people in Britain still remain loyal to the standard bulb.


Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen explains how texture and pattern both have a major role in creating the right atmosphere in a room. “There is something inherently satisfying about a repeated design, and every culture has evolved different ways of making patterns,” says Laurence. But, despite being make-over hungry, decorating dabblers have lost their confidence in motifs and flat colour is the most popular choice of wall covering.

Laurence looks back to the Victorians and their bold decorating style, which embraced the new patterned and textured wallpapers. “From the 1840s to the 1960s, Britain had a love affair with pattern … indeed, most of our houses were designed with pattern in mind,” he says.

In the laboratory studio, Laurence demonstrates the fundamental rules of pattern such as how to choose the right size and type of pattern for a room; how too large a repeat will make a room appear smaller; and how to visually extend a pokey room.


Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen offers top tips on restoring balance and order in modern-day homes.

In the 21st century, homes have taken on the role of providing spiritual nourishment for whirlwind lives. Laurence demonstrates ancient rules of design that use focal points as energy lines within a room.

He reveals that there are even more fundamental reasons for humans preferring symmetrical arrangements. According to psychologists, this is a recreation of human physical symmetry. Most people prefer the aesthetics of balanced faces because it indicates a healthy diet and strong genes.



“It’s time to flirt with scariness,” says Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, “because behind every door lurks the chaos factor — you!” An architect may design identical houses but, once people move in, each house takes on the owner’s personality.

Laurence demonstrates how to apply the design rules to reflect individual personality. “Nearly every room you go into says something very, very specific about the people who live in it,” comments Laurence.

The most obvious and fundamental design differences are between extroverted and introverted people. “The extrovert personality type is linked to thrill-seeking and that risk-taking element can be found in what they do with their homes,” explains Professor Barrie Gunner of the University of Sheffield. “They may be inclined to use bold and exciting colour schemes and they like to have a lot of things around them creating stimulation.”

Introverts, however, are biologically different to extroverts. “They have different types of nervous systems,” adds Professor Gunner. “The introvert is less tolerant of physical stimulation. They will tend to shy away from bold reds and oranges and yellows and prefer cooler blues and greens.”

Laurence, maybe not surprisingly, advises people to just be bold and have the courage of their convictions.

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