Interior decorating is a vast subject, and there are countless ways to approach any design project. Some people start with a color they love; others design an entire room around a small object or a swatch of fabric (more on that in a second!). If you’re a design newbie, or even if you have a lot of experience, it’s helpful to create a framework that will guide you through the process. That said, don’t let your process feel restrictive. Ultimately this is about channeling your creative vision.
The swatch of fabric that inspired my living room
How I Designed My Living Room
My whole living room was inspired by one fabric swatch. I knew the layout that would fit the room, so I’d already mapped out where the sofas, sectional, chairs, and ottomans would go, but I was at a loss for what direction I wanted to go in, as far as color and style went.
I took a trip to the Pacific Design Center here in LA, and just spent an afternoon looking at fabrics to see what inspired me. After four hours there, I felt hopeless. I decided to go into one more show room, and that’s when magic happened! I saw one fabric swatch that literally took my breath away. I knew instantly that I wanted it, so I took it home and sat in the middle of my empty living room with it for about twenty minutes. From that, a “Room was Born!”
My finished living room
Sometimes you just have to search until you find that one inspiring element that unlocks your creative vision. If you’re feeling a little lost, study up on design – YoungHouseLove.com, HGTV.com and ApartmentTherapy.com can help you get a handle on the basics. Once phrases like “Ã©tagÃ�Â¨re” and “accent lighting” start rolling off your tongue, you’ll know you’re ready to get to work! And don’t think you have to invest in pricey pieces to create a beautiful room. You can create a totally chic space by mixing great finds from estate sales and flea markets with brand new pieces from stores like IKEA and Target. Remember, you can upgrade everything over time.
I made this mood board for a living room with a grey, yellow, and dark rose palette with organic pops of wood, stone, and shell. I used Pinterest.com – try it; it’s addictive!
Step 1: Start with a Mood Board. This is an extremely useful tool that will help identify, visualize and refine your design vision. In fact, a mood board, or vision board as I sometimes like to call it, should be the first step in any design process, from planning a party to curating your wardrobe. The beauty of a mood board is that it provides you with a space where you can lay out all your favorite design ideas without making any final decisions. So don’t be afraid to let it all out here – this is where you can mix styles, colors and patterns with abandon! Once you have it all in front of you, you will be able to hone in on what you respond to most, until a theme emerges.
Start your mood board by clipping pictures from your favorite design magazines. I love Elle DÃ©cor, Vogue Living, House & Garden, House Beautiful, Town & Country, and Architectural Digest. Also, be sure to include fabrics you have in mind, as well as color swatches, patterns, prints, and photos of objects, homes, museums, or buildings that inspire you. As you’re working, look at design books for inspiration. Some of my favorites are Parisian Interiors by Barbara Stoeltie, and a book by the same title, Parisian Interiors, by the editors of Elle DÃ©cor, HUE by Kelly Wearstler, More is More by Tony Duquette, High Style by Woodson & Rummerfield, A Life of Design by David Hicks, and An Affair with a House or Point of View by Bunny Williams. All of these designers also have websites (click on their names to view each of their sites), so if you don’t feel like dropping cash on a big ol’ coffee table book, just browse the web!
A mood board works best when you do a couple of drafts. Your first one will probably be a little schizophrenic! Leave it for a day, then come back to it and reassess: what colors and patterns do you love? What can go and what absolutely has to stay? Is there anything that looked brilliant yesterday but leaves you cold today? By the time you’re done with your second mood board, you should have a clear (or at least, clearer) idea of the colors, patterns, prints, and styles you respond to. For an in-depth exploration of mood boards for all types of projects, check out my recent blog here.
For the bedroom in my house, I chose a blue-grey palette for a subdued, yet elegant feel
Step 2: Pick your palette, print or pattern. Hopefully your mood board has helped you identify the colors and patterns you’re responding to most. Sometimes an existing print will help you determine your palette, as with my living room, or sometimes you’ll work off a palette that you really love. Generally, you want one to two primary colors and two to three secondary colors. Once you decide on these, choosing a color for your walls and a pattern and print for your drapes will be easier. Don’t be afraid to mix and match patterns and prints, as long as you keep a couple of rules in mind: patterns stand out best against a solid backdrop, and mixing solids, florals, and geometric patterns works as long as there is a common element that unifies them, as in color, line, or scale.
Here’s a sumptuous color palette – completely different from what I chose for my calming bedroom!
When it comes to choosing colors, remember that color strongly influences mood. As a general rule, cool colors are ideal for rooms in which you plan to relax, and warm colors are better for rooms where you plan to entertain or do a lot of activity. For rooms in which you need to work or concentrate for long periods of time (like your home office), cool or neutral colors work well. Of course, these are just guidelines. There are no hard and fast rules! Once your mood board is done and you’ve chosen colors, patterns, and prints, the next step is to translate your concept into a room that flows nicely.
The staircase plays a major role in the floor plan for this foyer!
This photo of a room designed by Kelly Wearstler shows how you could block out a living room, placing furniture so that the room flows, with spaces within spaces for different areas of activity.
Step 3: Block out the room and create a floor plan. The first active portion of your design process should be blocking out the room, or figuring out where furniture would go. This is a step that people often forget, but it’s not as daunting as it seems. If it’s done ahead of time, it will really move the design process along and give you a clear idea of the pieces you need to make the room come together. This process will help you determine the key pieces you need for the room.
The salmon couch and zebra print rug make major statements and add a hint or pop of color in this living room
Step 4: Choose key pieces. With your mood board and blocking in mind, it’s time to go shopping for key pieces. These are the larger pieces in a room: think sofas, ottomans, coffee tables, club chairs, consoles, or bureaus. When shopping for key pieces, don’t be afraid to mix styles. Mixing modern and vintage is one of my favorite things to do – there is a whole style dedicated to this, which I like to call “modage.” For example, if you’re going for a modern or more contemporary room, it’s nice to incorporate a few antique or mid-century modern pieces. French country and coastal chic are a couple of other styles I love. Hopefully, what your mood board has allowed you to visualize is that contemporary styles and influences from past eras can live together harmoniously (and chicly). In fact, different styles often balance each other. As you add accents and smaller objects, your room will take on a style all its own!
A rug designed to look like my favorite stone, malachite
This room beautifully incorporates malachite elements – it’s pretty over the top, but photos like this are great for inspiration
Step 5: Accents, objets d’art, and tchotchkis, oh my! Once you’ve got your key pieces in place, the real fun begins. I’m a girl who loves details (okay, I’m a little OCD), so I’m all about the finishing touches. Think of your room as an ensemble – it’s not complete until you accessorize! You probably already have framed photos, art, dishes, or other sentimental items that you can display in your new room. This is the stuff that makes the room uniquely yours. Create groupings of your favorite objects on surfaces like the mantle or coffee table and experiment with stone accents like malachite or agate.
Finally, remember that adding detail to a room takes time. I never believe in knocking out all your small pieces in one shopping spree. Add over time, so your room starts to tell the story of you! Some rooms take years to completely finish, but when complete, they contain small objects from every trip you’ve ever taken, or various flea market excursions you’ve gone on.
Enjoy the Process!
Keep in mind that your taste will evolve, so any redesign should be approached as an open-ended project. You’ll pick up trinkets and photos during your travels, and gradually your home will be filled with items that both fit your taste and remind you of past adventures.
Unless you are designing for a specific purpose, like selling your home or hosting an event, you don’t have to perfect a room on the first try. Have fun, be bold, and let your creativity shine!
Do you have any design dilemmas or questions about your own home? Share them in the comments below, and I’ll choose a few to answer in a future blog!