Interior designers often talk about adding texture to a decorating scheme. Texture is an important aspect of design, but is often overlooked. It is also little understood, or thought about singularly, like adding one fuzzy throw. When used comprehensively and properly, ensuring a room has texture adds powerful and subtle dimension.

What is texture in design? Texture refers to the features of a surface, both in its construction and its finish. All surfaces have texture, whether they are matt or shiny, coarse or fine, rough or smooth. Texture can be experienced by touch, as in how something feels. In addition, texture can also be visual. Visual texture does not mean just line and color; some visual textures can appear three-dimensional.

For example, faux painting techniques, such as sponging, appear to have a structural texture, but are actually flat to touch. Another example is a style of painting called trompe l’oeil, which is an artistic technique that tricks the eye so the viewer feels the subject is three-dimensional. A sofa upholstered in a chunky cord is going to look very different to the same sofa upholstered in linen.

Texture can also come into play when colors are chosen in neutral or monochromatic tones. Neutrals are popular, but they can cross the line into boring without the addition of texture. A variety of textures can break the monotony and change the way a room feels. Mixing course and smooth, large scale and small scale tone on tone fabrics creates greater visual interest than a uniform surface.

In addition, light plays an important role in the perception of texture. For example, a carpet will reflect less light than a wooden floor. Shiny surfaces, such as metal, reflect light and give a cool impression. They make an object feel lighter and more modern. Soft, raised, and matte surfaces absorb light and convey a sense of warmth. Rooms that we consider cozy are often comprised of a lot of such textures. Rough and course textures also give an object more weight.

Light and texture significantly interact with color. Colors can feel markedly different, depending on whether they are matte or sheen. The way light reflects off the surface can drastically change the color. So, consider the effect you want to create, whether it is in your choice of paint sheen, or the addition of a glass top to a coffee table.

Another aspect to consider when evaluating the use of texture in a room is distance. To convey that something has texture, the detail must be of sufficient size to convey the dimensional quality. A combination of light and distance are key factors in determining whether the textural element you wish to add actually shows up.

Designers often choose whether texture or color will be dominant in their scheme. If a space is designed with little color, texture will offer the opportunity to create more interest and play an important role. Conversely, color may be played up while texture is played down.

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Deborah Macdonald is the Napa-based owner of Napa At Home, an interior design enterprise. For more information about her products and services, visit her website at napaathome.com call (707) 255-0246; or email Deborah@napaathome.com