Creating a Focal Point

Creating a focal point in a room is probably the most important and under-appreciated part of interior design. A focal point is a feature or aspect that commands our attention - the first thing we focus on when we enter a room and around which the furniture and decorative items can be arranged.


Without a focal point the room can feel uncomfortable and confusing, with no single place to rest the eye. It is important that the focal point does not overpower or compete with other furnishings, but is in proportion to other items in the room so that the final effect is balanced. As designers we should aim to incorporate the focal point within our design at the concept stage.

Ideally a room will have an obvious focal point such as a fireplace, a beautiful staircase or an exposed brick wall. But what if a room doesn't have a natural focal point? What if the room is awkward, with doors and windows on all four walls or no outstanding architectural features? How can we as designers create a focal point from nothing?

Creating a focal point is possible in any room. Consider what is there - the horizontal planes of the floor and ceiling, the vertical planes of the walls, windows and doors. A vibrant rug can be the focus for a living room, with the seating arranged around the outside. A high or interesting ceiling can be enhanced with appropriate lighting. A wall painted in a strong colour or with a distinctive wallpaper works well as our eye is naturally drawn to the brightest or darkest colours in a space, but stick to a small wall to avoid overwhelming the space and keep the majority of the scheme neutral.

In reality a TV is often the key focus in a living room, but with a bit of thought and creativity we can create something much more interesting. A fireplace is a natural centre-point and modern biofuels mean a fireplace can feature in a room where there is no flue or chimney breast. There are some innovative designs available that can be installed easily into corners, a wall of storage or in the centre of the room suspended from the ceiling. If the room is large enough, a room divider with a built-in biofuel fireplace can provide a focal point from both sides.

One key piece of furniture can make a real centrepiece and is even more stunning when combined with other decorative items - such as a sofa with elegant cushions in pops of colour, a dining table with a chandelier above or a console table with a mirror above. In a bedroom, the bed is usually (unavoidably) the focal point so this needs particular attention. There are many stylish and eye-catching designs for headboards - be creative with the materials, the shape and the height; it doesn't always have to be upholstered. Reclaimed wood or pictures and mirrors can be used above a bed, and the symmetry when combined with cushions and bedside lights creates a serene and peaceful place to rest.

Use light where possible to create a focal point. Our eyes are drawn to the natural light and movement created by a view - be it a cityscape or a stunning landscape - so a window which is an unusual shape or has an interesting aspect is a designers dream. Artificial lighting in the form of chandeliers or suspension lights are very popular and on trend, and there are some outstanding pieces available to suit everyone's budget. In a hallway, lighting suspended down the stairs creates a focal point as you walk up (and down!) the stairs. A stunning chandelier above a dining table or pendants repeated above a kitchen island also create mood and atmosphere.

Artwork and mirrors are designed to draw attention and are an easy way to create a focal point. Consider one oversized piece or an arrangement of several smaller pieces grouped together (tip - when arranging groups on the wall, test the arrangement out on the floor before you hang them).

Creating a focal point in a room is a great way to re-energise a space and detract the eye from less attractive features in a room. The key is to place the item you want to focus on front and centre, with complementary items to the side so the eye is led to the focal point.

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Written by: Fiona Bell (Tutor)

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