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The Application of Optical Illusions in Interior Design in order to Improve the

Visual Size and Proportions of the Rooms

Conference Paper · August 2012


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Anna Jaglarz
Wroclaw University of Science and Technology


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The Application of Optical

Illusions in Interior Design
in order to Improve the
Visual Size and Proportions
of the Rooms
Anna Jaglarz
Wroclaw University of Technology, Department of Architecture
St. Prusa 53/55, 50-317 Wroclaw, Poland


Modern architects and interior designers are mostly used to large, bright space in
which it is easy to demonstrate their design skills. However, it is still not enough
products and services for large group of interior users, mainly flats users, with a
small size of the area. Most of them are not completely satisfied with their rooms.
Usually, spaces seem to be too small, too tight, or simply they have the wrong
proportions. There are a many design problems in these small interiors, and they
constitute the greatest challenge for designers.
In addition to the selection of equipment during the formation of a newly
designed interiors, and repaired, or adapted rooms, designer should consider several
important factors that affect the optical change in the size and proportions of rooms.
It's possible to correct interior without redesigning or destructions with the help of
optical illusions that changed the visual perception of interior space. A room can be
visually enlarged, heightened, deepened, broadened, narrowed, or lowered. Things
like color, lighting, materials, pattern, texture, forms, shapes, placement interior
elements, horizontal or vertical lines, mirrors and even styles of interior equipment
and finishing materials can correct the interior space because they can have a
significant impact on the size and proportion of a space.
Color selection of both walls, floors, items of equipments and accessories is one
way to change the visual size and proportions of the rooms. Using the visual effect
of colors and appropriately selecting and comparing cold and warm, light and dark,
complementary and contrasting colors, designer can easily manipulate the length,
width and height of painted interiors.
Another factor, lighting, a decisive influence on the final image of the rooms.
Suitably manipulating the color, intensity, location of light and number, type and
size of points of light, we can improve the appearance of the interior optically.
Trying to "trick the eye" of the observer we should pay attention to the nature,
diversity and the appropriate combination of finishing materials and materials of
equipment. The effect can be a result of the material texture, pattern, color, gloss,
etc.. Similarly, we can use to put the interior decorative designs and patterns. One
more thing that also contributes to the change and correction of the interior space is
the style of applied finishing materials and interior articles.
Spectacular changes with little effort can be achieved by the applied mirrors.
Thanks reflections and optical illusions they provide an opportunity to significant
visual enlarging of room space.
But the basic principle helpful in organizing small spaces is to care for the
maintenance of order, not just architectural. Glut of different shapes and forms of
elements, excessive amount of additives and the introduction of different levels on
the walls and among the items of equipment may disturb the order and spoil even
the best planned actions directed toward the arrangement of optical improve the
appearance of the interior.

Keywords: interior design, visual perception, optical illusion


Color, light, texture and pattern are effective means by which space may be
articulated or defined. The surfaces treatment of walls, floors, ceilings and other
elements of equipment and furnishings articulates the spatial boundaries of a room.
Colors, light, texture and pattern are real factors which affect our perception of
relative position in space and, therefore, our awareness and feeling of a room’s size,
dimension, scale and proportion. A room can be visually enlarged, heightened,
deepened, broadened, narrowed, or lowered. Spaces may be made to appear larger
than they are by unifying them with color and light that blend surfaces rather than
fragment them.
Colors in combination with light and also things like materials, patterns,
textures, forms, shapes, placement interior elements, horizontal or vertical lines,
mirrors, windows and even styles of interior equipment and finishing materials can
redefine our perception of living space.
The effect of color and light on the perception of space (the apparent, versus the
actual, size and distance of objects from a viewer) will vary among individuals;
however, the following are some general guidelines of how color and light may be
used in the design of a space.

The most us, even if we just moved into quite new house, isn't fully satisfied
with the inside in which we live. Usually the rooms seem too small for us, or simply
have the wrong proportions. During the renovation or the adaptation we most often
focus on materials and furniture, forgetting about one important factor. Illumination
- after all an attractive appearance of the inside depends on lighting and lighting
determines how we feel in the room.
Designers can shape and modify the visual experience of room by manipulating
the perceptual role of lighting to define the visual boundaries and hierarchy of a
space. Through the careful manipulation of light or correct using of light stresses
designers can shape and modify the visual experience of interior space.
Appropriately using the lighting they can optically improve its appearance. Below is
a list of common problems and ways of how to deal with them.
• The room is too small
There's no doubt that cramped or dark spaces cause discomfort of users.
Designer can create the perception of a larger space with the use of lighting. If the
room is too small resignation from the central lighting in the ceiling to the number
of lamps highlighting the room shape and focus the light on the walls allows for
impressive interior magnification. Even and regular illumination of the interior by
adding multiple light sources powered at the same time makes the interior is more
spacious. A small room seems larger, if we turn the light on design elements placed
in different locations. Directing lighting on the ceiling makes the interior seem
enlarged. The effect of inside spaciousness can also be obtained by using the light
reflected in the mirrors. Therefore strategically placing a mirror, or even a collection
of mirrors, in the relevant, appropriate part of the room is an easy way to use the
reflection of light to advantage in decorating a small space.
Designer can also create the perception of a larger space with the use of natural
lighting. Maximizing the natural light will emphasize the space and make the room
appear larger and brighter. Just as a lightened ceiling creates the sense of openness
and spaciousness, so too, can large bright windows and natural light. By using floor
to ceiling windows it gives the room or space a grander feel as well as allows
natural sun light to come in which improves by giving the illusion of a larger scaled
space. The usage of floor to ceiling windows makes any room seem larger and more
spacious. The perspective to the user eye creates the feeling and physical reaction of
enhanced space. Framing the window by hanging drapery panels at each edge of the
window - but instead of starting at the edges and moving in, we should start at the
edges and move outward along the wall - creates the optical illusion that the
window is bigger. But ordinary blinds and window covers minimize window
exposure and moderate natural light, so the window coverings should be used
sparingly in smaller rooms.
• The room is too low
The effect of increasing the visual height of a room is made with the help of
strongly illuminated ceiling apparently increases interior. Ceiling decoration with
integrated lamps apparently increases interior. Besides, designers can gain this
effect with the use of the 3-D structure of suspended ceilings, mirror glass,
illuminating in the top part of a room, or by creation of a shiny surface.
Light cold colors and shiny textures visually level ceiling up. Illumination of
ceiling with integrated lamps, can create interesting effect – ceiling “dangling”
above a room. Compounded the impression of height of room can be obtained by
darkening bottom ends of walls while simultaneously their upper parties are
strongly illuminated. Light stressing vertical divisions (e.g. of doorways between
rooms or of pillars) causes the impression of raising the ceiling. Placing the main
lighting point above the line dividing colors of walls and the ceiling will cause the
room seem higher.
Appropriate usage of drapery and blinds can give an optical illusion of the
increased height. Long, light curtains hanged above the window close to the ceiling
flowing onto the floor optically increase the height of the room.
• The room is too narrow
Lighting points creating cross stripes on the ceiling, in combination with the
longer wall firmly lighted with the diffused light cause that the inside seems wider.
Bright lighting crosswise walls with a few lighting points, at comparatively poor
lighting longer walls optically correct proportion. Darkening zone above the main
centre of attention causes the room seem wider. Backlighting horizontal divisions
on shorter walls allows to get the effect of widening the interior. Putting on the
longer wall the vertical elements of light, e.g. highlighted slits, can optically expand
the inside.
Evenly illumination of walls and lower corners of the room with small lamps
makes room look wider visually. If the space, on the contrary, must be narrowed,
we should illuminate upper corners of the room. To make a rectangular room look
more square, to a monotonous and equally illumination of the three walls designer
should add an expressed light stress on the forth, the farthest wall.
• The room is disproportionately high
The ceiling illumination directed into the bottom visually makes the ceiling
seems down. Directing the illumination onto the floor gives the impression of
darkening and reducing the room. Backlighting horizontal shelves, oblong niches
and plains allows to get the effect of lowering the inside. Lighting the inside mainly
using wall lamps optically reduces interior. It is possible to optically make the room
smaller by putting the main overhead light out at simultaneous lighting wall, floor,
desk and table lamps placed very low. Putting the main lighting point below the line
dividing colors of walls and the ceiling causes that the room seems lower than it is
in fact. Curtains links suspended in the high interior at the eye level "stop eyesight"
and visually reduce the room height.

Apart from mentioned above particular cases, designers can change visual
proportions of the room through the experiments with the light underlying of some
interior objects. Backlighting niches can seemingly enlarge them and cause that they
will become more decorative. Light coming out from behind the screens and shields
at simultaneous concealing behind them light fittings is a real decoration of the
interior and creates the illusion of spacious depths. All the illusions of brightness-
contrast in interior may be produced by lighting. Surfaces, objects, forms and details
may appear larger or smaller, heavy or light thus also affect the perception of the
whole space.



Color is probably the most important factor to consider when trying to change
room's proportions with interior design tricks and interior decorating information.
Color has the ability to manipulate our sense of space, so it’s possible to visually
change the space in all three dimensions by correctly controlling ground-colors and
color stresses. Color is a way to change the proportions of the rooms - of course it
comes to visual change.

3.1 The effect of light and dark colors

Taking into account the different influences of light and dark colors it seems
necessary to first examine the effect of light and dark colors within a small space.
Light, pale or pastel colors make rooms and objects look larger than they are. Light
colors visually broaden the space and a room seems wider and larger. The same
applies to wall color. A brightly colored wall will appear larger than it actually is
and using light wall colors with matching light trim and baseboards will also make
space seem larger. Lighter colored ceilings and floors create the effect of a higher
ceiling. Light ceilings will raise the apparent height of a room. Darker and deeper
colors make rooms look smaller and tighter than they are in fact. Dark objects
appear heavier. Dark color on the ceiling visually lowers it and makes a room seem
lower. Combination of a dark floor and ceiling can greatly reduce the apparent
height of a room and may seem oppressive.

3.2 The effect of contrast

Although the lighter and brighter colors help to create spacious and airy
interiors, this does not mean that interior designers are limited to using lighter colors
when they arrange and decorate a small room. In practice, dark colors contrasting
with lighter colors can emphasize the effect of spaciousness. For example, a dark
couch or armchair on light colored flooring and on light wall behind it, as a single
dark element against a light background, will seem smaller than it actually is. By
that means small room will appear more spacious. Therefore it is possible to use
dark colors to create the sense of openness and spaciousness in a smaller space. The
essential principle is to use darker colors in contrast with lighter colors to create the
illusion of more space. It is also important to reduce of dark colors to a small
surfaces and to a few small items.

3.3 The effect of warm and cool colors

Beside of the effect of light and dark colors and regardless of the use light and
dark contrasts, designers can shape and modify the visual experience of interior
space through the careful and correct manipulating the warm and cool colors.
Cool colors appear to move away. For example blues and greens recede and
seem more distant. Warm colors approach. Colors in the red, yellow and orange
family appear closer. This allows designer to easily manipulate the length, width
and height of painted or colored interior. Reds and yellows advance a room. Walls
covered in warm colors seem to move inward making a large room appear smaller.
A strong, warm color on an end wall will shorten the apparent length of a room by
drawing that wall forward. Cooler colors will cause the plane to recede, thereby
expanding our perception of the room. Walls painted in cool colors appear more
distant than they really are. Cool colors can make a small room seem larger. If a
room is small, they can “broaden” its walls by using light cool colors in finishing –
grey-blue, pearl, or pale green. If a room is larger, pastel or deep colors in a warm
spectrum seem to be appropriate for it. Light, cool spaces are generally perceived as
expansive, while the dark, warm spaces as diminishing.
Irrespective of the above conditions, there are colors that visually increase and
broaden the space, and colors that create the effect of closeness of the space. To the
colors that visually broaden the space the following ones belong: neutral white, light
beige, warm beige-orange, different shades of yellow, cold light blue, blue, cold
blue-green. To the colors that create the effect of restraint and closeness of the space
the following ones belong: black, dark brown, blue-green, blue-violet, rich red,
yellow-red, orange-red, warm reddish colors. There are also neutral colors that don’t
quite change the space perception. These are green, purple-red, violet and grey.
Application of light and warm colors in the main room makes the flat look
wider, larger and more spacious. The effect of a bigger height is achieved by
coloring the floor in rich and saturated colors. Red and all shades of red effectively
accentuate horizontal lines and planes of the floor. Blue and all its shades on the
floor are cold and unpleasant in the reception, especially on the large part of floor,
but, at the same time, it seems big and wide. Warm yellow and all its shades on the
floor make a room spare, bright and sunny; however, light color visually doesn’t
give a stable support for legs and heavy elements of interior.

3.4 The unify a space in order to enlarge the interior

In order to obtain a wider area should be avoided high contrast between the wall
color and painted woodwork, furniture and decorations. The interior designers
should also be avoided wall patterns, borders and anything that draws too much
attention to the walls.
The broadening of visual living space can result from a common color - grade of
a adjacent rooms, for example sitting room, a kitchen, and a dining room. Especially
the color of floors and walls in this area should be the same as the main colors of
major part that is usually living room. Strong-valued ceilings and floors may help to
unify a space.

3.5 Use of color in special cases

• Room or hallway is too long and too narrow

In case we need to shorten the long and narrow room or long, narrow hallway,
the end short walls should be painted in a deeper and warmer or darker color than
the side long walls. The darkened walls will seem to come into the room, making
them appear closer. The distance between the end walls will appear to decrease and
therefore making the room look in proper proportion. Designer can turn the short
end wall into an accent wall, using these decorative wall painting ideas. To widen a
room or hallway, designer should provide light, pale colors on the walls, ceiling,
and floor. Treatment of ceilings with a deeper color than the walls will create a
more square shape.
• Hallway or corridor is too short
In the case of the short corridors we can paint the end wall with a lighter, cooler
shade and elongate the space by painting stripes on walls (horizontal stripes on the
side walls).
• Floor surface is too large
To make a large floor surface seem smaller, designer should select a floor
covering that is darker than the room’s walls. The floor color will define the
boundaries of the room moving the eye downward.
• Ceiling is too low
To create the illusion of raising a low ceiling, designer should select a paint
color that is lighter than the walls. Use of lighter ceilings and floors also create the
effect of a higher ceiling.
• Ceiling is too high
Dark colors on the ceiling visually lowers it. A high ceiling can be lowered by
not only selecting a tone that is darker than the walls, but painting it down to either
picture or plate rail height.



A material’s finish and paint’s finish will also influence the proportions of a
room. The surfaces of the same color, but with varying degrees of gloss are received
by us in different ways. Matte or flat surfaces and finish absorb light and reflect the
least amount of light making a room seem slightly smaller, but also more
comfortable. Shiny surfaces and high gloss paints reflect the most light, so add more
space to the interior and make a room look larger.
One of the best ways to enlarge a small room is the use of equipment with
transparent and translucent materials. Transparent or translucent furniture,
appliances and furniture will seem smaller and lighter than a comparable full-color.
To expand a room, we can use horizontal stripes on the walls. At the same time
they cannot be too wide. Also, do not use too large divisions and elements on the
walls. The smaller they are, the better. A small division, small parts, and various
shades of them make a small space to grow. In the small room is better to avoid
large patterns and materials with visible and express textures, because visually
reduce the space. Interior decorating with stripes on walls, ceiling and floor
dramatically transform inside, allowing to create various optical illusions and
increase rooms dimensions. Stripes on walls or floor visually expands small spaces.
Vertical striped wallpaper patterns or painting stripes on walls create optical
illusions of higher ceiling and larger room, so they can be used in the very low
room. Then vertical stripes on the walls make room look narrower, but airier.
Horizontal striped wallpaper patterns or painted stripes on the wall stretch the space,
making room look wider and more spacious. The use stripes on the floor, for
example, by using stripes carpet, is also useful for creating optical illusion that
visually increase living space.
The instrument that is usually used by interior designer to make room wider is a
mirror. Mirror illusions are a specific way of proportion modification, in particular
enlarging of room space. Mirror tricks can make room bigger (even twice). This
result is created thanks to mirror reflection and optical illusions. Experiments with a
mirror and mirror surfaces are justified especially in very small-scale rooms.



Excess of various forms and shapes of interior elements and the introduction of
a large number of different levels generated by the elements in space and on the
walls may spoil even the best planned actions directed toward the arrangement of
optical improve the appearance of the interior. But the basic principle helpful in
organizing a small spaces involving the care for the maintenance of order applies
not only to architectural governance. While users of small flat may need a some
necessary interior elements and fittings, for example, sofa and chair, a coffee table
as an entertainment center in a small living room, there are other things that can
clutter up the space, making it seem smaller than it actually is. To resolve this
problem, we should get rid of the unnecessary features and save the maximum
possible amount of open free space.


Beside physical methods to modify the limits of interior space, there are also
some design decisions and manipulations that can change the perception of a visual
space. Correction of room’s size and proportions without redesigning or
destructions is possible with the help of optical illusions that change visual
perception of interior space. Too small room can be visually enlarged, too low room
- heightened, too narrow - broadened, disproportionately high room - lowered.
Things like lighting, color, textures, patterns, finishing materials, mirrors and even
interior elements placement can correct the interior space because they can have a
significant impact on our perception of space and our awareness of a room’s size,
dimension, scale and proportion. With understanding the effect of these factors on
the perception of space designers can shape and modify the visual experience of
room. Proper planning, interior elements, furniture and mirrors placement can
correct any, even very small, space.

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