Why a Design Concept Is Better than a Design Theme

Interior design draws on core principles like balance, shape, and pattern to create a cohesive look in a room. When you appropriately employ all tenants of interior design, you can create a room that feels elegantly put together, even if you combine several different elements and styles.

You may be tempted to pick a theme for your room instead of a design concept. We’ll tell you what the difference is, and why concepts make for higher quality designs than themes.

What Is a Design Theme?

child's bedroom with nautical theme

A design theme is pretty self-explanatory—it’s a motif that you base the room’s decor around. For example, if you are room theme was mermaids, you would fill your room with mermaid pillows, mermaid decor on the walls, mermaid bedding, and even things like mermaid chairs or pillows.

Similarly, if your theme were nautical, you might find elements such as anchor-themed art, ocean art or coffee table books, obvious nods to sea life or sailors, and definitely something with a ship.

One easy way to tell the difference between a theme and a concept is when you walk into a room with a theme, it almost hits you over the head. When you walk into a safari-themed room, there is no question about the design idea at play.

What Is a Design Concept?

natural interior design with green walls

A concept is similar to a theme because it’s an idea that you plan the room around, but concepts are more subtle and understated. Instead of using direct elements related to a theme, concepts use elements to create the feeling a specific place would have.

If you wanted to have a nautical room, instead of approaching it from a theme perspective, a concept perspective would tell you to step back and try to create a room that organically feels like it belongs in the Hamptons or a beach town.

Instead of filling the room with seashells and anchors, you might pick colors representative of beach areas. You could incorporate natural elements one might find on a beach, and subtly incorporate decor that had a less obvious nautical connection.

In a themed nautical room, a guest would be able to easily identify several nautical elements, but in a concept room based around the idea of nautical living, they might feel like they’re in a real beach town in an understated but palpable way.

How to Design With a Concept

country kitchen with items hanging on wood wall

As an example, let’s consider how to create a French countryside design concept in a kitchen.

Start by looking at the finishes in your kitchen. What elements could you incorporate that feel naturally French countryside? When we think country kitchen, we think of warm, neutral colors with lots of natural wood and stone elements.

Once you have a base in your kitchen that feels like it could actually be a farmhouse kitchen in France, start incorporating subtle nods to your theme.

Instead of framed herb art with French writing, frame a vintage-inspired painting. Instead of putting vinyl stickers with French sayings on your walls, install a pot hanging rack to add a vintage feel.

Then add in some practical and natural cottagecore elements, like fresh herbs growing in pots, or rough textiles and antiqued brass pulls on your cabinets.

The result of incorporating a concept as opposed to a theme will leave your kitchen feeling rustic, and it will convey a simple sweetness, as opposed to a cheesy cliche.

This same process can be used to turn anything into a concept regardless of the room you’re hoping to redo. You just need to take the core ideas from your theme, tone them back and find ways to take an obvious choice and make it more subtle.

This will help to create an overall feel in your room instead of filling your room with easily identifiable objects. Switching to a concept mindset can be tricky, but it’ll elevate your game.

As a final tip, we recommend starting your design process by describing how you want a room to feel. Then work from there toward choices for the look.