Emphatic, Dominant, Subdominant, Subordinant - I remember learning these terms in my first Interior Design class. They refer to the items or elements in a room that vie for our attention; the red leather sofa or the monumental stone fireplace with flanking bookshelves. In my case, since I do kitchens and baths, it is usually an island or specialized piece that becomes the Emphatic.
This is the element that sets the mood and style for the rest of the room. The Emphatic may not be a single piece, it may be a collection of items that are viewed as a unit. For instance, if the island were to be the Emphatic of my design, it wouldn't be created by just the cabinetry, it would include placement in the room, color, countertops, lighting, appliances and accessories that define the area to visually catch and hold your attention.
One thing to avoid is the "Ooh, that's pretty syndrome." Things should be pretty, but too much of a good thing is still too much. Think of it this way: when someone walks into the room for the first time, where do you want their eyes to go first, second, third, fourth ... and so on? If everything is competing for their attention, the room will seem visually noisy and uncomfortable. If my island is the Emphatic, I shouldn't have a cabinet in its line of sight that would compete for its attention. I want your eyes to rest a moment on the island before moving on to the next strong feature of the room, or the Dominant -- this may be the hot wall where the range is located -- and then on down the line, with each thing having its own appeal without competition. This doesn't mean everything else has to be flat, white and boring.
Elements should be compelling but never fussy or cluttered. No matter what style I am creating, I want to be able to guide your eyes from point to point smoothly. I tend to prefer a cleaner, more relaxed environment. My designs usually have a circular visual flow so that your eye is always lead back to the Emphatic.
Have you ever been in a room where everything competes for your attention?