The seven elements of interior design: Form

This series on the Pooky blog looks at the seven elements of interior design: space, texture, line, form, colour, pattern, and, of course, light. In this post we will take you on a journey through form and shape, by way of the modernist mantra 'form follows function', some shapely illustrations and finally, some perfectly-formed lights and shades…

When we talk about form, we’re talking about the shape of buildings, rooms and spaces—and the shape of everything we put into those buildings, rooms and spaces. So, form includes walls and floor space, fixtures, such as kitchen islands and built-in storage systems, and furniture, furnishings, lighting and accessories.


All about the form: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Biscay, Spain, July 2010. Image: creative commons 


Form comes in two distinct types: organic and geometric. Organic forms are natural—think plants and trees—so they can be curved or irregular in shape, and they are associated with softness and comfort. Geometric forms are the ones we humans create and include circles, cubes, rectangles and squares, designed to give a sense of logic, order, or strength.

If your preference is for minimalist interiors, you’ll probably favour a limited range of shapes. If eclectic or timeless maximalism interiors rock your boat, then your home will accommodate a wider variety.

But, as we know, it’s how we put things together that makes a difference; one person’s carefully curated gallery wall might be another person’s nightmare. What matters, ultimately, is that the shapes and forms in your home make you feel happy.

Dining space by Lee Thornley of Bert & May has a gorgeous balance of geometric forms (the tiles, table and chair) and organic shapes of  the plants and Pooky's Pumpkin pendant lights. (Photo: Beth Davis)


‘Form follows function’

It was American architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), who coined the phrase ‘form follows function’ – although he was drawing on the theories of French architect Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), who said that, “a rationally designed structure may not necessarily be beautiful but no building can be beautiful that does not have a rationally designed structure.”

The concept of form following function underpinned Modernism; it’s the foundation of ergonomic design and of many items used in daily life, everything from domestic appliances to car seats. You might have had your eye on a particular piece of furniture — a chair, say — because the design is so appealing but does it offer enough support and, most importantly, is it actually comfortable? We love those elegant Charles Rennie Mackintosh high-backed chairs but we have to admit that they were probably not designed for day-long comfort…


Form over function Ladderback chair, 1903, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan. Image: creative commons


On the other hand, this is often described as the best chair ever:

eames chair

Form and function: the 1956 Charles Eames and Hermann Miller 670 lounge chair. Image: creative commons 


There are some living areas where putting function first is not simply about design but about safety too - kitchens and bathrooms being the prime example. Generally speaking, function makes sense as a starting point and, given the wealth of talented designers we have today, there’s no reason why something that works well should not also be pleasing to the eye. And it’s a logical progression from William Morris’s exhortation to have nothing in your home that is neither useful nor beautiful. 

Nevertheless, we can all think of examples that slipped through the net; there’s a very famous lemon juicer, for example, that looks sensational but is notoriously impossible to actually use…

juicy salif

Philippe Starck’s iconic Alessi Juicy Salif lemon squeezer (1990). Starck has publicly stated that it was "not meant to squeeze lemons" but "to start conversations". Image: creative commons

Making form and shape work for you

Whatever your interior design style preferences, your key starting points for each room are its basic shape and how and when you plan to use the space; everything stems from that.

Style preferences are highly individual but whether your passion is midcentury modern or English country house, use form and shape to create points of interest, balance, comfort and a sense of flow.

The designers who feature on the Pooky blog have distinctive but very different signature styles but they all share a deep understanding of working with form and shape - and how to introduce a sense of balance.

Anouska Lancaster describes her approach as “brave and bold” and she is known for her use of vibrant colour. But take a look at the adjoining sections of this sitting room and hallway and you can see how Anouska also uses layers of curved and round shapes to create impact and a strong sense of who lives there: a statement mirror, lampshades, chairs and console tables. The geometric shapes in the forms of square cushions, artwork and framed photographs provide balance.

anouska lancaster
Sitting room and hallway designed by Anouska Lancaster. Photo: Nick Huggins.


By contrast, the predominant shapes in this cottage bedroom, designed by Laura Stephens, are geometric, but it’s a small room so they help create a sense of order and space. Balance comes in the softer shapes of the conical lampshades and the round candleholder and vase of country flowers:

laura stephens

Cotswolds cottage bedroom, designed by Laura Stephens; photo: Paul Massey. 

We love the way that Amelia Hunter and Anna Drakes of Space A have combined neutral geometric-shaped seating and shelving that echo the multi-paned windows of this sitting room, with the curved shapes of classic midcentury modern furniture and the organic forms of houseplants. 

Sitting room, Islington apartment, designed by Space A; photo: Ben Tynegate.


Using lighting to introduce form

Square, round, conical, squat, tapered, geometric or organic…whatever form or shape you are looking for in lighting and lampshades, Pooky has you covered.

Let’s start by squaring the ceiling. Light dances through the glass rods of our Art Deco-inspired Roddy flush ceiling light, or is gently diffused as it glows through the glass baffle. It’s also IP44 rated so it will hang out happily in your bathroom too.

square roddy

Square Roddy IP44 flush ceiling light in nickel

Art Deco shapes also provided the inspiration for our Gatsby wall sconce. It’s a perfect combination of heavy brass and thick but translucent alabaster that oozes 1920s style.

gatsby wall light

Gatsby wall sconce in brass with alabaster square


We like to think of Pooky’s Ellie table lamp as a well-rounded exclamation mark of glazed elegance. Effortlessly simple. What more could you want?


Ellie table lamp in emerald glaze

On the more organic side, how about the Sada in gesso white - essentially a sculpture diguised as a table lamp..


Sada table lamp in gesso white

And of course lampshades are a wonderfully easy way to bring interesting shapes into a room - from cones to squares to drums, you can filter all of Pooky's shades by shape here.

Pooky makes beautiful, affordable designer lighting for beautiful rooms. Browse our full range of lamps, shades and more.

See also:
The Seven Elements of Interior Design: Space
The Seven Elements of Interior Design: Texture
The Seven Elements of Interior Design: Line
The Seven Elements of Interior Design: Colour