Power Lines

The effects vertical and horizontal lines have on the home

As an element of interior design, line can appear in many forms: as part of the architecture of a space, edges of furniture and other elements of a room, or perhaps in patterns in fabric or tile. Line also occurs in the empty spaces between objects, such as placement of art on a wall, or pendant lights hung from a ceiling. As with other elements of design, line will often impact us in ways we aren’t quite conscious of. When you know a little bit about how these elements affect your perception of space, you can begin to see how they work in your own home.

Horizontal and vertical lines can both produce a sense of awe and spaciousness, but in different ways. With horizontal lines, it’s there in the name – where sky meets earth, as far as the eye can see. Even within the confines of four walls, horizontal lines generate a feeling of connectedness with the earth, of being calm and grounded. They can also add a sense of that spaciousness to interiors. In the bedroom example (pictured below), wide tonal stripes serve to visually push the walls out further. The large scale of the stripes and subtle color choice keeps the overall look from feeling too overwhelming.


While horizontal lines are closely associated with nature and the earth, strong vertical lines better recall manmade achievements. A space with high ceilings and a strong element of vertical line will produce a feeling of awe or smallness – think of an impressive cathedral or monument. Vertical lines can represent strength and dignity, as in columns supporting a building, but they also draw your eye upwards,towards the sky. Just as horizontal lines visually expand horizontal space, vertical lines can accentuate the height of a room. In the bedroom example above, the drapery is hung very high, nearly to the ceiling, and just skims the floor. The very strong, straight lines are a perfect contrast to the horizontal stripes, and keep the space feeling airy.

The bedroom could be a little static and traditional with only straight lines, so the contemporary curved settee in the corner is really a stroke of genius. Curvy lines can be the easiest for our eyes to process, because they occur frequently in nature and in the human body. The sinuous lines of terraced rice paddies in Sapa are a beautiful example of this effect; following the curves of the mountains they’re carved into, the paddies draw your eye slowly and effortlessly through space. Soft, flowing lines in your interiors will produce a similar feeling. Wind those curves into tighter loops, however, and the effect is more playful, even young.

Diagonal lines embody a sense of movement, change, or excitement – a staircase, a jagged cliff, the sun’s rays. Despite the limited color palette, the kitchen (pictured right) is full of energy and movement. The most obvious feature is the pattern running across the backsplash and all the way up to the ceiling. The movement is vertical, but in sharp, diagonal shapes. That vertical movement is balanced by the long counter and open shelving, which draw your eye outward. There’s a little relief from the sharp shapes in curved, mismatched pendants, but did you notice the placement? The designer of this space cleverly mimicked the zigzag wallpaper by installing the pendant lights at alternating heights.

Just like with color, the best way of training your eye to recognize the function of line in a space is to observe interiors that have been well designed. Next time you’re in a restaurant, try to identify the designer’s aim in using different types of line for visual impact. Where is your eye drawn? How is the space balanced in terms of static and dynamic line? With just a little bit of understanding of how these elements work together, you’ll be making adjustments to your own space in no time.

As an interior and furniture designer for Austin Home Interiors, McNeill Shiner is always looking for new ways to mix styles and influences to create spaces that are uplifting, comfortable and very personal. 

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