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Balance Empty and Full Spaces for Added Visual Interest

Updated: April 15, 2024
Positive space refers to filled elements like furniture, while negative space is empty areas around objects. Balancing positive and negative space creates visual interest and flow in interior design. Strategies like the 60-30-10 rule, grouping furniture, and framing views optimize positive/negative space. Tips include pulling furniture from walls, floating pieces, and using neutral backdrops to let positive elements pop. Skillfully integrating positive and negative space results in balanced, harmonious interiors.
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Interior design is all about creating visual interest and balancing different elements within a space. One important yet often overlooked technique for adding visual intrigue is through the strategic use of positive and negative space. Employing purposeful amounts of empty and full spaces can dramatically transform the look and feel of any room. In this blog post, we’ll explore the power of thoughtfully balancing positive and negative space in interior design.

First, what exactly do we mean by positive and negative space? In simple terms, positive space refers to the solid, filled-in areas of a room – the objects, furnishings, and overall busyness that occupy the space. Negative space is just the opposite – it’s the open, empty areas that provide breathing room around and between the positive elements. Too much positive space can make a room feel cluttered and chaotic, while an overabundance of negative space tends to look sparse and unfinished. The key is finding the right give-and-take between the two to create a harmonious design.

What is Positive/Negative Space?

Positive and negative space are basic principles of design that refer to the filled and unfilled areas within a composition. Positive space is occupied by the main subjects or focal points – things like furniture, accessories, artwork, etc. Negative space is the empty space that surrounds the positive elements. Together, they create balance and visual interest. When positive and negative space work in harmony, the eye is able to move fluidly throughout the composition. If one overwhelms the other, the design can become cluttered or disjointed. Utilizing these two types of space thoughtfully is key for interior designers.

A Brief History of Positive/Negative Space

The strategic use of positive and negative space dates back centuries in the visual arts. Painters and sculptors employed these concepts to lead the viewer’s eye and create dimension. Early Modernist painters such as Cezanne rejected the single focal point and carefully balanced negative space around subjects. By the 20th century, artists like Rothko used vast fields of negative space to evoke feeling.

In interior design, positive and negative space principles emerged alongside the arts and crafts and modernist movements. Frank Lloyd Wright’s open floor plans exemplified the dramatic interplay between solid mass and airy voids. Mies van der Roe’s “less is more” approach used ample breathing room to highlight clean lines and shapes. Today, designers continue to thoughtfully orchestrate positive and negative space to craft aesthetically pleasing, functional spaces.

Elements of Positive Space

  • Furniture – sofas, chairs, tables, beds
  • Decor items – art, accessories, plants, sculptures
  • Architectural features – fireplace, built-ins, columns
  • Flooring – area rugs, tile patterns
  • Bold colors, busy patterns, textures

Elements of Negative Space

  • Empty wall areas
  • “Breathing room” around furniture
  • Open floor areas unoccupied by furnishings
  • Visual pauses between groupings of items
  • Blank space in/around artwork
  • Neutral colors and backgrounds

How to Skillfully Use Positive and Negative Space

When designing a room, there are several strategies designers employ to strike the right balance of positive and negative space.

  • Follow the 60-30-10 rule – Anchor the space with 60% large elements like sofas and beds. Fill 30% with medium items like chairs and tables. Use 10% for accent details. The majority positive space is balanced by plenty of open negative space.
  • Use floor plans or room layouts to map out approximate positive and negative zones before purchasing any permanent items. Play with arranging furniture to optimize openness and flow.
  • Group furniture and anchor pieces to create “islands” of positive space, leaving ample negative space around and between groupings. Avoid walling off areas with a continuous arrangement.
  • Repeat positive and negative space patterns throughout a home for a coherent, rhythmic look. Transition from busier rooms with more positive space to airier rooms boasting negative space.
  • Frame views and sightlines with negative space. Allow the eye to travel from a cluttered sitting area through an open doorway into a clean-lined kitchen, for example.
  • Alternate between highly-filled accent walls or nooks and predominantly negative spaces like open shelving and breezeway-like passages.
  • Use neutral backdrops like bare white walls and simple flooring materials to prevent backgrounds from competing with or overwhelming positive elements.

Pro Tips for Balancing Positive and Negative Space

Here are some professional tips for skillfully integrating positive and negative space in your designs:

  • Avoid pushing all furniture pieces flush against walls. Pull items away to open up negative space.
  • Add substantial visual breathing room around focal points and anchors like artwork, fireplaces, and beds.
  • Use pairs and symmetrical arrangements in moderation. Offsetting groups creates more dynamic negative space.
  • Limit clutter on surfaces. Clear away excessive decor items to keep positive space clean and impactful.
  • Try floating furniture in the center of a room to make negative space a focal point itself.
  • Define spaces without fully separating them. A half wall or divider maintains some visual openness.
  • Employ textural negative space via glossy floors, smooth walls, and sheer window treatments.
  • Contrast very angular, geometric positive elements with ample curvilinear negative space.
  • Use streamlined, lightweight furnishings to maximize surrounding negative space.
  • Guide the eye through a composition via stepping stones of negative space between positive elements.
  • Paint ceilings and trim a few shades lighter than walls to create subtle negative space separation.


When used thoughtfully in interior design, the interplay between filled “positive” areas and open “negative” voids can profoundly enhance visual interest and elevate spaces from average to exceptional. By keeping these fundamental principles in mind and purposefully balancing busy and bare areas, designers can craft elegant compositions full of harmony, movement and architectural appeal. The ultimate goal is to choreograph a flawless dance between solids and voids throughout every interior space.


Mr. BS Parasher, Founder @ Interior x Design & UrbanDAC, He is the Top Interior Designer in Gurgaon & India's Premier Home Theater and Home Entertainment Designer, A Hi-end AV Expert with a deep passion, vision and knowledge about Interior Design.