How to Begin the Design Process

Oct 25, 2012

"Where do I start?" is by far the most frequently asked question I get when I talk to friends and family about decorating their homes. I can completely understand where they are coming from. Most of us have furniture we don't like and a room that needs painting even though we have no idea what color to paint it. It can be overwhelming to know where to start and there's the fear of making a very expensive mistake. We've all heard to start with a color you like, a piece of furniture, or even a rug to lead you to a room you will love. That can work, but most of us need more guidance than liking the color red. So many people will just go to the paint store and pick out a red paint for their family room and wonder why the room didn't turn out how they expected.

How do I start a room?

I believe deciding on a design style is the most important element when decorating a room. Even this can be complicated. Many people aren't sure what style they like, they may like several decorating styles, or they aren't even sure what each style entails. Here are my favorite ways to find inspiration.

-What is the style of your house? For example, I have a cottage style home. When I first moved in I decorated with overly traditional furniture because that's what all the stores sell here and how everyone else decorates in my area. Eventually, I started to take cues from my house.

The Exterior


Stacked Stone Fireplace

My house has a definite cottage feel and I was covering it up with gold walls and ornate furniture. That's just one of the reasons it never felt right.

-Inspiration Photos. Once I realized I needed to stop fighting my house because I was never going to turn it into a red brick colonial I began to save pictures of homes that are in a similar style. This is how I decided on the trimwork for the doors and window casings, the wainscoting, and the "wood floors" in my home. You may notice once you have a collection of photos a theme may start to emerge you didn't even know you gravitated towards.

Also, just because I have a cottage style home doesn't mean it needs to be shabby chic or rustic. I've noticed I'm gravitating towards more contemporary furnishings lately. I won't go out and buy an uber contemporary couch, but I may pick up a few modern pieces and buy a traditional couch with cleaner lines next time. If you notice from my previous posts, I'm mixing it up a bit in my home office lately. I have a traditional white desk, but I added a graphic print rug and an orange lacquer tray to keep it modern. I'm still relatively young after all. ;)

-Don't Be Embarrassed by Your Inspiration Sources. It's okay to say I want my house to have a Pottery Barn or ZGallerie look. I've noticed people are embarrassed when they say that as if they don't have an original idea in their head. It doesn't mean you have to go buy everything off the showroom floor. It may just mean you like neutrals or dramatic furnishings. It's a start. I have to admit that I love looking at rooms by Martha Stewart. There's a simplicity and calmness in her design that I want reflected in my home. That's the reason I chose a cool color for the walls in my family room. It doesn't mean I want to copy every single thing in her photos. I finally pinpointed what I love about some of her rooms and added that element to mine. I was surprised because I love cozy rooms and always equated them with fall colors.

Still cozy, but so much fresher.

Next, I think it's important to look at the room itself, not just your furnishings. Some of the most beautiful rooms don't have a stick of furniture in them. There's only so much furnishings can do if your walls need painting, the flooring replaced, new lighting fixtures, or there is no architectural detail at all. I addressed this in another post, Projects That Add Character. As a typical suburban tract house, my home was one that lacked architectural detail. My family room was literally a drywall box with no casings around the windows, wimpy baseboards, and old tile. I feel your pain if you aren't able to rip up your floors and install solid hardwood.  It took us years before we were able to get new floors. I covered up the old tile with area rugs as much as possible before. However, I was surprised at how easy and inexpensive it is to add casing to a window or replace wimpy baseboards. Even the wainscoting in my dining room was simple because it only involved straight cuts from a saw.

Do you remember the before?

That's the same furniture!

I'll admit I'm ambivalent about most of my furniture since my style has changed so much, but I love my home now. The changes I've made to the architecture and the accessories have made it much more cohesive. Instead of focusing on the furnishings that you may not be able to change any time soon, think about what you can change now. Some weekend trimwork or a new wall color can make a huge difference in how you see your space. You might even like your furniture again!

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