Suitability in Architecture and Interior Design – Defined

When it comes to architecture and interior design, most of us are familiar with some of the basic principles that make up a design scheme. You have probably heard about coordinating colors, emphasizing a focal point, and balancing a space with symmetry. Suitability in architecture and interior design, however, is sometimes overlooked when it comes to the principles of design and is not considered at the forefront of spacial planning and material selection. Here at Amity Kett, our San Antonio-based architects and interior designers believe that it is a key design principle that should not be forgotten. Suitability has been applied throughout the history of drafting home plans and was again reemphasized at the official birth of the interior design field in the early 1900s. Now, we are taking time to again define suitability for design and how we apply it to our design process every day.

Suitability Defined in Terms of Design 

To start, suitability is defined as the quality of being right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose, or situation. Architectural and interior design principles are looked at as the designer’s guiding tools which can be applied to translate ideas into the space to ensure cohesion and function. So, suitability as applied to design simply means creating a space that is suitable for the homeowner’s lifestyle, room’s assigned purpose, and overall architectural style of the home. It is a simple concept, but it takes skilled planning and time to get it right. 

“Simplicity, Suitability, and Proportion” 

The idea of suitability in design was popularized by Elsie de Wolf (1859-1950), who arguably became the world’s first professional interior decorator in 1905 when she was employed commercially to design The Colony Club, a women’s club in New York. She broke the traditional heavy gloom and impractical furnishings of the Victorian Era and opted for bright whites, light moveable furnishings, and colorful feminine chintz, making her “the Chintz Lady” and bringing her an air of fame and notoriety. In her book, The House in Good Taste, she coined her design aphorism, “simplicity, suitability, and proportion.” Her goal in life was to make every space beautiful to live in. 
In addition to pioneering the field, she also popularized the idea of the “celebrity designer” which has continued to be bestowed today in the heightened form of TV design shows and magazine covers. She even took a radical step as a woman in the 1920s to sue a client that refused to pay her under the pretext that her service was to “create beauty,” further legitimizing the worth of the industry she pioneered.

Suitability’s Role in Design 

The ideas popularized by Elsie de Wolf characterize the brand of thinking that delivers good design, both aesthetically and functionally. When building and designing their homes, people want to feel connected to their outside environment, have comfort in their interior, and maximize key elements like views, privacy, and flow. To do this, you need an architect to plan a structure that fits the environment and an interior designer to highlight the home’s features and best utilize the space. Bringing in an architect or interior designer early to consider things like suitability ensures peace of mind over the life of the project and delivery of a quality plan that meets your needs.

Suitability – The 6th Principle of Design 

There are 5 guiding principles of design that are used when planning and finishing a space.

  1. Balance – placing objects and architectural features to create a feeling of stability and a sense of equilibrium.
  2. Rhythm – creating repetition with line, form, color, or texture; offering a visual journey for the eye.
  3. Emphasis – establishing a focal point in which to group the room around.
  4. Harmony – enhancing the visual appeal of a space when all the design elements interrelate and work together. 
  5. Proportion – utilizing the relationship of one object to another or to the whole.
  6. Suitability* – guiding all design principles to fulfill the role of the space and unlock its full potential for those occupying it.

You will notice that proportion is included in Elsie de Wolf’s design maxim as well.
*At Amity Kett, we believe suitability should be added as the 6th guiding design principle when planning a room. 

Suitability Applied to Principles of Design

As one of the most helpful guiding principles in the process of good design, let’s look at how suitability works in real-life applications when designing a home. One of the most important things to consider in a home is that this is where you will live and spend most of your time. While there are times that breaking convention and doing something outlandish and over the top is appropriate, that is mostly reserved for commercial spaces and is used few and far between in residential design.

For example, high-contrast geometric black and white tiles paired with stained glass may be appropriate for a luxury hotel, but it may not be something you can live with in a suburban kitchen. In the same way, lush shag carpeting would not be suitable for the living room of a beach house. 

Proportion goes hand in hand with suitability. A small wooden front porch cannot handle the scale (or weight) of large Corinthian columns, but it could benefit from complimenting timber supports. The same goes for scaling furniture inside the home. Some clients and homeowners dream of the oversized sectional for their family room. In the showroom, this option might look great. It’s only when you bring it home that you find it is too big to fit through the front door much less work in the space. We recommend you “pivot” away from this design headache.

Bringing Suitability Into the Design Process 

We bring suitability into the architectural and interior design processes by first spending time with our clients and getting to know their needs. Sometimes clients think they have an idea of what they want, but that doesn’t always translate to the solution they need for their space. We ask a lot of questions to get to the root of what is truly suitable for your lifestyle, functional needs, and home location. One of the key questions to consider is, “what are you trying to solve for?”

Will a kitchen island actually make entertaining easier or will it crowd the space? Is it a mudroom you need or actually more space in the laundry? Will a bright color lighten your space or is a new lighting solution necessary? 

Suitability for design should be considered though 6 lenses: 

  1. Location – does weather, proximity to water, or city vs country life play a role in what the design requires
  2. Existing Site – does the design have an existing structure or a unique terrain to consider, like a cliff or valley 
  3. Views and Exposure – where will the sun hit the property and what views should be highlighted in window placement 
  4. Budget – what are the expectations and needs required 
  5. Materials – what materials are native to the location and make sense to utilize, what would feel out of place 
  6. Lifestyle – will the home hold a family, a retired couple, or pets; all require different needs

At Amity Kett, our goal is always authenticity that shines through a design created with an organized process and a solutions-oriented design team that values both function and creativity with suitability in mind. 

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