Modern Design Principles

By Leah Li | Interior Designer

Among all interior design styles that are currently popular, there is a clear increase in the demand for Modern interiors. Coming from a background of designing exclusively with European Modern interiors, I am a true believer of the philosophy behind Modern design. The principles of Modern design work especially well when it comes to preparing a home for the market because the clean lines and fine finishes make each space feel large and functional.

I believe that interior design should be centered around the needs of the resident, and that the design should serve a strong, functional purpose within each space. The aesthetic for each Modern home takes a while to establish as each home is different, thus requiring different functions to be served. In my designs, I always strive for elegance in an approachable manner.

Differing from Traditional or Transitional designs, which focus rather heavily on ornaments and decorative elements, Modern design is focused on form and function, and the form is always derived from the function. Selecting the right design elements for a Modern home is a process of creating the right combination of form and function.

In my most recent design project at 2724 Cowper St., a newly constructed ultra-Modern home in Palo Alto, the kitchen was designed with both form and function in mind. A kitchen should be the focal point of the home; it should be both functional and stunning, and form a place people will gravitate towards. Instead of following a typical kitchen plan with rows of wall cabinets, storage space was grouped into tall cabinets. The focal wall was left completely open and lined with book-matched ceramic tile, letting the simple box that houses the exhaust hood play with the horizontal void, pulling everything together as an anchor of the wall.

One of the fundaments of Modern design is to pay respect to the integrity of design materials. Coinciding with its focus on function, another principle of Modern design is to avoid over-adornment. It is also one of the most important details that separates true Modern design from Transitional design, which often features excessive decoration and allows for more “made-up” interior finishes. In a Modern home, I pay respect to the integrity of the materials by letting the natural colors and textures of the materials show. By allowing the display of the true finishes of a material, such as natural shades of wood, stainless steel, slate, or marble, the palette is always kept natural and subtle. This offers the overall interior a warm yet minimalist look.

At 2724 Cowper, the appreciation of the integrity of the materials is evident in the choices of the finishes, many of which include different wood veneers left in their natural states. Natural veins of hickory wood are book-matched to play up the focal points of the home. Natural cedar and oak surfaces are clear-coated to preserve their natural looks as featured in the doors of the garage, entry, and interior. Over time, the organic interaction of outdoor elements such as sun, air, and rain with the wood grain results in the finest creation by nature: the warm, casually weathered look that appeals so strongly to my design sense.

Above all, a home has to allow its residents to live well, making them feel comfortable while enjoying the private moments of their lives. Modern design appeals to many people for its bright and minimal spaces, its subtle and familiar color palettes created by natural materials, and its functional floorplans that reflect the activities of everyday life.

Modern design innovates daily as technology progresses, so it is a subject that I continue to educate myself on. But beyond the many different solutions offered by this style, these principles of Modern design should always apply: form should be derived from function, and respect should be paid to the integrity of each material.