Recently, someone asked me about my design process – specifically how I get started when designing a room. While there is no single “right” way, I wanted to share with you guys how I personally go about designing a room. New homeowners are frequently overwhelmed when it comes to furnishing rooms simply because they don’t know where to start. Wall color? Rugs? Storage solutions? Read on for my five easy steps to get started on designing any room in your house.
1) GET INSPIRED
The first thing I do when faced with designing a room is find inspiration. Or rather, I let inspiration find me. What does that look like, you might ask? It’s always different, but at times it might look like this. As I walk down the street, I note whatever jumps out at me…a particular color scheme of someone’s outfit? A certain pattern of a restaurant floor? A unique detail on an otherwise plain item? Some ideas stick in my head for months and years; others are so fresh, I jot them down for future reference.
I also google (a LOT) and take tons of screen shots that I sift through and clean out whatever doesn’t awe me a month or two later. Do I do really do this all the time? Yes, and I can’t help it – must be the creative side of my brain that feeds on new ideas and visuals like a hungry bear – I am constantly bombarded with flash brainstorms! So when it comes time to designing a room from scratch, I have a plethora of inspiration. Then how do I pin down a design? That is largely dictated by the next steps.
2) GET REAL
When designing a room, even though I am loaded with ideas, my goal is to design around the way I live. So this is where real life comes in. I ask myself, “How do I use this room?” Do I really need that desk nook in the kitchen when I already have an office in the house? Or will I benefit more from a full wall of pantry cabinets there instead? Do I really need two coat closets when one is big enough for all? Or can I dedicate one to shoe storage? (We actually did that here and loved it!).
At our previous house, we needed to find a place for our grand piano, and since we had two living rooms (a family room off the kitchen, and a formal living room off the entrance) we decided to use the formal living room as our music room (tall ceilings = better acoustics). Does having a piano in the house mean you need to center a whole room around it? Not if it gets played only on holidays – if that’s the case, I would stick with a smaller size and tuck it in a corner somewhere. Our decision to design a room around the piano made sense because of our frequent music practices.
Let’s take a look at another example: our guesthouse bed/living room. When we bought the farm, we knew we would be living in the guesthouse while the main house is remodeled. We also knew we would be missing a living room unless we made an awkward effort (you can catch up on that here). However, since the bedroom turned out so large, we decided to bring in some seating and live “studio” style, which is working out perfectly for us! Speaking of that set up, I’ve had people ask how I decided on where all the furniture gets placed, so let’s talk about that next.
3) STUDY LAYOUT
Once I have my inspirations/latest design obsessions, and my real life needs addressed, what I do next is study the room layout. Some people do well with aerial views (get your floor plans out if that’s you), but I personally prefer to be physically in the room while deciding on furniture layout. I ask myself some boring but important questions.
Where is the natural walkway through the room?
Which doors need space to open (closet, balcony, etc)?
What is the focal point of the room (window, fireplace, etc)?
Then I measure spaces and go shopping.
In the case of our guesthouse bed/living room, the natural walkway led to the balcony doors directly across, so I knew a sofa would have to stand parallel to the closets to keep the walking space open (a narrow coffee table is OK since there’s enough space to walk past). Once the sofa was in, I realized it’s too short; a 7 ft sofa in an 11 ft space – so we brought the hanging chair in, which completed that space. Since this room is also our bedroom, I decided to add softness via rug and drapery on our sliding doors, which made the balcony wall our focal point and took attention off the bed (which I liked).
4) CHOOSE FLOW OVER FAD
Sometimes, I fall hard for a certain look and won’t let go of the idea until I’ve snuck it in somewhere, somehow in my house. Then it’s like a pressure valve gets released and I can focus on other important things of life, LOL – am I alone in this? Glad I have decent self control, otherwise my house would be Pinterest fad central.
Case in point…End-of-bed benches add so much style to a bedroom, I’ve been itching to try that look for a while and was seriously tempted in our bed/living room set up. But we already had sufficient seating, and the bench would have drawn attention to the bed side of the room and created an awkward space between itself and the sofa. Instead, I chose a narrow coffee table that our toddler loves to play on, and which is a better transition piece between the sofa and the bed.
Another example is our guesthouse kitchen, and this one is brought to you by my well meaning husband! While we were finalizing our U-shape kitchen, he insisted on a smaller footprint to allow space for counter stools along the exposed cabinets. I think he just really liked that look! I wanted to maximize prep surface (no eating at this already-small-counter please) but since he rarely makes design requests, when he does, I try to be considerate. I actually agreed to this, prior to a quick call to our fabricator who informed me he already cut our slab based on earlier dimensions…win-win! I can honestly say I tried, but in the end got what I think creates a better flow in our space:)
Speaking of interior flow, I thought it’s worth mentioning the Moroccan theme tile, since it’s all over the web. Pinterest is erupting with stunning images of bathrooms and kitchens awash in bold patterns and hues, and we are all drooling (yours truly included) and scheming up ways to incorporate this in our homes. While opinions on this will vary, a good rule of thumb is to keep your interior cohesive room to room; meaning if you want to go full-on Moroccan in your powder room, your house should probably have other global/surprising finishes and touches throughout. If it’s a sea of modern greige, you’re better off finding neutral colors in Moroccan print, or bringing global accents in other ways (think carved wood mirror, Turkish runner, etc). Just because a new trend surfaces, doesn’t mean my house needs it in that shape and form. Personally, I’ve found a way to sneak some of this beauty in a non-conventional way, so stay tunned!
5) FEEL THE VIBES
Once I collect my inspirations, identify my needs, and plan the layout (skipping fads that don’t fit in), I head to my favorite stores (whether online or in person) with a tape measurer and a set budget. And this is where the magic happens…or things go really wrong, quickly. On good days, I wade through a sea of not-so-great-treasures until I spy a vintage antelope taxidermy (perfect for my upcoming plaster fireplace!) which sets the vibe for room décor and guides the rest of my purchases. On bad days, when my focus is off, I haul in every trend off the shelves, only to return the whole truckload a week later. Back to square one.
Here is the interesting part; you don’t have to be an experienced designer to know if something is a good fit once you try out the finds in your home. When a rug isn’t right (even if the size IS) you will know it. It just won’t DO anything to the room, know what I mean? Wrong vibes. When a rug is right (pattern, colors) you will KNOW because #goodvibes. I’m thinking back to the months it took me to find the right guesthouse bathroom rug – the minute it unrolled, I thought “This is IT!” Not too boho, not too slassic…a classy boho, as I like to call it.
The bottom line is I pay close attention to the feeling something evokes in me when designing a room. If I want cheerful vibes, I keep the items that solely contribute to that, and usually gravitate toward colorful accents against white and light wood. If I want moody vibes, I let décor state that though duller tones and darker woods. There’s dozens of ways to achieve one look, and these are just some examples I’ve brought up to better explain my personal design process.
NOW I’M CURIOUS ABOUT YOU…
How do YOU go about decorating a room or a house from scratch? Are you a careful planner? Or do you try to find space for items you purchase impulsively? Let me know in the comments below – I love to read them!