Understanding Texture in Interior Design

One of the first times I really understood the value of texture in interior design was when I had a home staged that had some existing pieces the owner wanted to use. My stager came in and took a beautiful, expensive, cream linen couch that could have been just fine as is and brought the couch to life by simply adding multiple textured pillows.

​​​​​​​Texture is an often overlooked aspect in the design of a decorative scheme, yet it can convey mood and style and add interest and depth to an interior.

Texture is the surface quality of a material.  It refers to the quality of a surface as perceived directly by touch (tactile texture) or indirectly by the eye (visual texture).  Texture may be defined broadly to include the visual properties of solidity, reflectivity, translucency and transparency.

Tactile texture is produced by the physical surface texture (the relief) of a material – a surface can feel smooth, soft, hard, rough, ridged, grainy or bumpy to the touch.  The play of light on the peaks and valleys of an innately textured surface creates highlights and shadows which enhance the visual texture.

Visual texture (sometimes called illusionary or simulated texture) can be produced by color, or by pattern.  A particular surface can be made to appear quite different to the way it feels to the touch: smooth surfaces can have visual textures, small pattern can be ‘read’ as texture, and a faux finish can imitate other materials such as wood, brick, marble, silk or stone.

​​​​​​​Careful composition of texture in an interior is as important as the composition of light and color.   The scale of textural patterns should be proportionate to the size of the space and of the surfaces within it, including the scale of furnishings, window treatments and object surfaces.  Since texture can visually ‘fill’ spaces, it can be used to make large spaces feel smaller and more intimate and should be used more sparingly in smaller spaces.

Harmony is key to good texture coordination – a harmonious textural scheme incorporates a balance of compatible textures that combine to produce a discernible mood or style.

Texture can be consciously manipulated by light to enhance the beauty or downplay the imperfections in surface materials.  Texture can be emphasized or minimized by careful attention to the quality and angle of light – strong light directed from an angle dramatizes the natural relief (highlights and shadows) of a surface; while diffuse light minimizes texture and tempers the appearance of roughness, ridges or bumps.

Texture influences how light is reflected from a surface and thus the appearance of color.  Smooth, polished surfaces reflect light well, attract the attention, and make colors appear lighter and more intense; rough and matt surfaces absorb light unevenly, so their colors appear darker.  Contrasting textures are more prominent – that is to say, subtle textures appear finer next to coarse textures and coarse textures appear more dramatic next to fine ones.

Smooth textures reflect more light so they look and feel cooler and lend a more formal, modern or refined look. Raised textures (coarse or soft) absorb more light, so they convey a sense of warmth.  They also add visual weight to an object and can create a more casual, rustic or industrial effect.

​​​​​​​In the same way as horizontal, vertical or oblique lines direct the gaze, textures with a directional pattern or grain can be used to make surfaces appear wider or taller.  Coarse textures can also make objects appear closer, reducing their apparent scale and increasing their apparent ‘weight’.  Finer textural patterns, when viewed from a distance, appear smooth, and distance appears to smooth even coarser textural patterns to a degree.

Texture also has other sensory impacts so textures should be appropriate to their intended use – soft upholstery fabrics are pleasant to touch, coarse ones can be uncomfortable and sleek ones can feel slippery and cold.  Texture also affects the acoustics of a space – uneven and porous textures absorb sound, while smooth surfaces reverberate and magnify it.

Upkeep is also a consideration in textural selections.  Smooth, flat surfaces show dust and fingerprints, but are easier to clean and maintain, while uneven surfaces, such as deep carpet pile, conceal dirt but are harder to clean.  Smooth surfaces with visual textures combine the best features of both – they conceal dirt and are easy to clean.

Here are a few ways that to add texture to a room:

  • Architectural Elements: If you are lucky enough to have crown molding, chair rails, or tray ceilings in your home, make them a focal point.
  • Furniture: Wooden benches, satin reading chairs, and marble tabletops all bring a distinct feel to the space.
  • Décor Items: Shadow boxes, knick-knacks or even flowers could be used.
  • Floor and Wall Coverings: A carefully placed throw rug or even some patterned wall design will bring tons of depth to the room.
  • Textiles: Use cloths like slip covers, throw pillows, and even blankets to make the room pop.


Work With Susan

I empower buyers and sellers to understand the value and potential of a property and position them to realize the best return on their investment.
Let's Connect