Last Updated on May 19, 2022

Architects and interior designers are often grouped together in the same industry, as they both work towards a similar goal of creating or altering a space to better suit the needs of its occupants. Although architecture and interior design are far from the same profession, with different regulations and paths into each career amongst other variances, there are certain elements of each which can cross over into the other.

Here are three ways in which architects may consider interior design elements within a project.

1. The balance between positive and negative space

Positive and negative space is a concept which appears often in interior design. Put simply, positive space is utilised by furniture or decor items, whereas negative space is empty or unused. A room with lots of negative space may evoke different feelings depending on context; for example a gallery with lots of negative space may feel contemporary and practical for visitors to walk around, whereas a nursery with lots of negative space may feel cold and clinical.

It is essential to get the balance between negative and positive space right, within the restrictions of building space and budget, and considering context. An architect will look at the function of a room, consider what is likely to be placed in the room furniture-wise, and plan that room accordingly. If a new house requires a double bedroom, for example, an architect will factor in the dimensions of a double bed, perhaps with room for bedside tables either side and space for two people to walk around the room comfortably.

Whitworth designed this farmhouse extension as a comfortable and stylish living space. With large windows on one side and doors opening onto a sunken terrace opposite, the rest of the room was designed with ample negative space (bar a wood burner) so that the occupants could furnish as they saw fit. The multi-purpose room can be used for relaxing, dining or working, depending on how it is equipped.

2. Use of lighting

Lighting is an important element of any design, and both architects and interior designers will use lighting to improve the function, aesthetic, sustainability and economy of a space.

Interior designers may alter the lighting in a room by selecting blinds or curtains which let in or block out a certain amount of natural light; choosing surfaces (from floors, to paint finishes, to table surfaces) which reflect or absorb light; or adding additional light sources in the forms of lamps, or wall or ceiling lights.

Award-winning Cambridge interior designer Katie Malik shares her knowledge on the use of lighting in interior design: “When designing a space, five to ten light sources, all on dimmer controls, can be sufficient to effectively light the space, depending on the interior. Ideally, we should aim to maximise the natural light in a space and incorporate artificial lights which give a nice diffuse ambient glow.

“When planning lighting in a space, we must maintain a balance of different sources of light, and ideally think both creatively and practically about their use, direction and control.

“Ambient lights are essential source of lighting, and when dimmed, can create different moods in a space. However, if a room is lit solely by ambient light, it can be a bit bland. Task lighting is another type of essential luminaire used when a light is needed for a specific task, such as reading, chopping, sewing, etc. Task lights should be found in a place where you read, cook, or work. Decorative lighting, which we all love, brings texture, focus and shape to ambient lighting. It can add depth and shade to different objects or textures available in the space. Decorative lighting can include table and floor lamps, downlights, uplights, and spotlights.”

Architects will look at lighting from a structural perspective: window and door placement, skylights, plug points for lamps, and location of fixed lighting. Additionally, architects will consider lighting from a design perspective when the opportunity for creativity is available.

Whitworth considered both design and structure when creating the extension and conversion on this Grade II Listed property. Keen to fill the new family room in the extension with lots of light, we designed a large, fully glazed oak gable which both looks pleasing to the eye and maximises the amount of natural light.

3. Period properties

Many period properties will have special design requirements. This is especially the case if a building is listed, in which case regulations may be in place to ensure any number of elements, from the correct flooring material to the paint colour used on external walls, is sensitive to the period in which the property was created.

In these cases design is an important challenge for an architect. This is not only to ensure the property is renovated, extended or converted to the standard of regulations, but to fulfill the task of creating a space which is enjoyable for its users.

Whitworth has worked on many properties which are listed or historic, one example being this Grade II* Listed building in Bury St Edmunds. Previously a tourist information centre with unused upper floors, planning permission was granted to change the use of the building to a single dwelling. This involved converting the property into a comfortable home, whilst preserving the period features and decor such as the fireplaces and surrounds, wall panelling and friezes.


These are just a few example of the ways in which architecture and interior design cross boundaries. If you are interested in applying any of the points we’ve made to your prospective project, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our architects to see how we could help. Call us today on 01284 760421 or visit our contact page.