If Walls Could Talk: Story-Driven Design

If walls could talk, we’d probably all be in big trouble… Thankfully, they can’t.

That’s why we decorate them: to tell our stories the way we want. Every decision we make in the decorating process adds another layer to the narrative, and it only takes a few simple design choices to craft an engaging novel. 

Character Foils

An essential element of any story, character foils represent two characters so diametrically opposed that the tension between them actually creates a soothing sense of balance.

This literary device translates rather elegantly in the design world with complimentary colors. So named for the sense of balance they create when paired, complimentary colors are in fact literal opposites—on the color wheel and in physics. Pretty good stuff, right? Utilizing complimentary colors wisely in your space can transform a fairly safe story into a riveting page-turner. 

Some classic combinations include: green and red, purple and yellow, or blue and orange (as pictured below).

Featured artwork by: Padmaja Madhu

Story Arc

The rise of the underdog, the protagonist’s journey to overcome a fatal flaw, Bruce Willis discovering that he was dead the whole time—these are all popular story arcs. They also work best when a story is read from cover to cover, without skipping around or reading it backwards. 

When decorating your room, it’s similarly important to consider where its narrative begins and ends. Observe a guest as they enter the space and notice where their eyes move. Do they start with the bold, complimentary accent pillow on the couch or the intriguing painting above the mantel? Do they move on to a shelf full of interesting knickknacks or to that crusty old recliner you inherited from your dad? (We know, it’s your favorite…)

Even if you don’t have guests to experiment with, it can be surprisingly fun to play pretend. Enter one of your own rooms with a set of fresh eyes, imagining that you have no idea what you’re walking in to. What are you drawn to first, and where do you go from there? Try this with every new addition to the space and see how it affects the story arc. Think about the things you really want your guests to notice (the plot points, so to speak) and where in their journey they should make those discoveries.

The Twist

Holding back my urge to include two “The Sixth Sense” references in one post, when crafting the story arc of your space you may want to throw in a twist somewhere along your guests’ journey. Draw their eyes around the room in a predictable manner and then throw them off guard with a wild, abstract piece they aren’t expecting. A fantastic work of art can do great things for room; having it in the right place can do breathtaking things for a room.

"Chasing Butterflies" By: Amy Stone
“Chasing Butterflies” By: Amy Stone


While weaving all of these exciting elements into your space, it can be deceptively easy to overlook the most important piece of a good story: the theme. How do all of these components come together and what is the message they express? Is anything detracting from your main message? Maybe you want a soothing bedroom to surrender to at the end of a long day and an energetic dining room that stimulates meaningful conversation. Be scrupulous in your design choices, and take the time to invest in artwork that really drives your theme home.

Featured artwork by: Julie Miles and Linda Adato


As with writing a story, when decorating a room it’s all about the impression you leave. Once the journey is over and you’ve just finished that final, bittersweet sentence, how do you want you and your readers to feel? With a some imagination and a little design know-how, you can craft a story truly worth telling, and a space everyone will want to return to again and again. 

Utilize some or all of these story elements in your interior design to create a home that tells your story. 

If you need some inspiration, we invite you to browse our collection of original fine art  or commission a custom piece to punctuate your own personal narrative. Everyone has a story, the trick is getting it out there.


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