This week we have the second half of our list of design tips that should help us start thinking through the interior decor for each room of our homes. Last week, we talked about some of the first things we should consider when starting a room design.
I suggest you take a listen to last week’s episode if you haven’t already because we discussed some foundational design guidelines that will help you know where to start decorating a room or house. Knowing where to begin is sometimes the hardest part of choosing your decor. If we can figure out our starting point, the rest of the design will often fall into place.
Here’s a quick summary of last week:
Function first. For each room in the house, start by thinking about its function. What do you want to do in the room? What activities will take place there? Definitely make sure the hardest working, most often used pieces in the room will work well with the function of the room. In the bedroom, the most used piece is often the bed. In the family room, it might be the sofa, in the bathroom that could be the countertop material, and in the kitchen the appliances. When making selections for a room, the pieces you select for your design, especially the hardest working pieces, should allow you to easily perform the functions and activities you have planned for the space.
Second, is focal point, starring feature of the room. Look for a favorite color scheme, tile, wallpaper, piece of artwork, rug, or piece of furniture that you want to be the main attention getter for the room. Then let all the other pieces in the room be the supporting cast of the focal point.
Another thing to consider when designing a space is the feeling that you want the room to evoke. Let that feeling guide your decorating. Search for a focal point and supporting pieces that will give you the feeling you’re after, whether that’s relaxed, focused or happy.
Finally, all rooms should be sophisticated. No every single piece in the room has to be sophisticated, but the overall design should have a level of sophistication. We learned last week that even casual or whimsical rooms can also be sophisticated and refined (see the kids room photo above).
Ideally, you want the function, focal point and feeling to all work together. Obviously, different rooms can have different functions, focal points, and feelings, so it’s best to design one room at a time.
This week’s tips will help to you pull all your different room designs together to give your house some cohesion and flow. We’ll also cover scale, color and contrast and how to decide what you like, if your Pinterest boards seem to be all over the place. Last week we went over tips 1-4. So let’s start with tip number 5.
INTERIOR DESIGN: WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO START
5. Repeat design elements. One way to add sophistication, interest and a sense of continuity and cohesion to your home is to choose a color or two, a shape, a pattern, or a material that you put in almost every room of the house. Create flow from one room to the next by visually linking the spaces with these repeating design elements. Carry that repeated visual element from one room to another. The color could be a neutral like black, or a bold color like teal, or a combination of the two. Put a least a small amount of the colors in each room, even if you add additional colors to the room. You could use teal throw pillows in one room and drapes with teal in another. Or choose artwork or a shower curtain with teal for other areas of the house.
Maybe a circular shape is the design repeat you decide on. Put circular mirrors in your bathrooms and scatter rounded items throughout your house like round tables, circular lamps, clocks, circular vases or trays.
You could choose to repeat a material such as black metal or matte brass. Now this doesn’t mean that all the metals in the entire house need to be black or brass. Some designers subscribe to the idea of keeping all the metal finishes in a house the same. And you can do that if you like that look. But the idea that all metals in a house, or even in a single room, need to match, is kind of an old fashioned, traditional way of thinking.
If you like the idea of mixing metals in a room, like I do, make the mixture look intentional. To do that, choose 2 or 3 metal finishes per room and use those finishes at least 2 or 3 times within the space. In a bathroom, for example, maybe you’ll choose a matte brass sink faucet and cabinet hardware. You can pair that brass with a nickel light fixture, nickel tub faucet and nickel mirror. That way, each metal finish has a coordinating partner or two, and the metal mixture looks well-thought-out and not haphazard.
Okay, so a metal finish can be your repeated element throughout your house, or you can choose other materials like leather, wood, pottery or mercury glass.
Now, don’t go overboard. You want these repeating design elements to be special moments, little winks and nods to those who have a good sense of style and attention to detail. These visual repeats will make your house feel coordinated and cohesive, but rooms shouldn’t look too matchy matchy. For example, a large round mirror and a couple of round lamps will probably be enough in a smaller room. You could add a couple more round items to a larger room, but everything in the room shouldn’t to be round or curved.
6. Look for common threads in your inspiration pics. If you’re having trouble figuring out exactly what styles or design elements you like, think about features that you’re attracted to that pop up again and again. Review all the photos you’ve saved from magazines, Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz and look for styles, types of furnishings, color palettes, patterns, and materials that occur repeatedly. Are you drawn to sleek, clean lines, or more ornate, intricate design? Do you prefer rooms with all neutrals, lots of bold colors, or mostly neutrals with pops of color? Do bold patterns, like broad stripes, or tone-on-tone texture typically catch your eye? Do you like an all white kitchen or one with stained wood or colored cabinets? Or do you like kitchens with a mix of cabinetry? Does every inspirational picture for your master bedroom include a four poster bed or an overstuffed chair? Look for the commonalities in your photos and let those repeating characteristics guide you and your design choices.
7. Variation and contrast. Try not to put too much of one element in one room. Adding variation and contrast makes a room more visually interesting. You don’t want most of the elements in a room to be stained wood, for example. It might look like a wood factory. If you have stained wood bedside tables and stained wood flooring in your bedroom, for instance, consider adding an upholstered or metal headboard, and a rug that’s not brown that will add contrast and break up all that brown wood.
Completely white kitchens and bathrooms are definitely classic, but it’s much more interesting, and currently on trend, to add some stained wood, or colored cabinetry to that white cabinetry that you love. Or choose a contrasting non-white neutral or colorful tile for the backsplash or floor.
Choosing 2-3 main colors (that does't include accent colors), and several different materials in each space gives eye-catching variation. Those 2-3 main colors can be all neutrals, if you want. Or they can be 3 bolder colors.
A monochromic room where everything is the same color is not a common design aesthetic, but it can make a statement. That type of room can evoke either a calm, moody or dramatic feeling. But if you decide to go monochromatic, you’ll have to add different textures, or tone-on-tone pattern to avoid a flat, boring space.
Adding different levels of sheen and texture is another trick for adding variation to a room. You don’t want all your accessories and surfaces to be shiny and smooth. Some should be shiny, some should be matte, some should be smooth and some textured.
In addition to having various colors, sheens, textures and materials in a room, include different heights to give a sense of dimension and balance. If your bed and night stands are low, consider adding a tall chest of drawers, a tall floor lamp or a high backed chair to balance things out.
8. Go big or go home. Although you want the scale of your pieces to vary, particularly in height, what you don’t want to do is choose furniture, lighting fixtures, bookcases, and accessories that are too small. Furnishing a room with a lot of small pieces instead of choosing fewer large, statement items, can make a space look and feel cluttered, disorderly, and less expensive. When in doubt, choose furniture, fixtures and accessories that are oversized as opposed to pieces that are too small. For example, go for 2 large lighting fixtures over the kitchen island instead of 4-5 tiny pendants. Select a larger sofa or sectional, and 1 or 2 larger chairs for the living room instead of a small sofa, a small love seat , and 3 small chairs.
The same is true with artwork. Two to three large, striking pieces are much more impactful and sophisticated than cluttering your walls with 6 to 8 small pieces that can't even be appreciated if you’re more than a couple of feet away. Even if you’re doing a gallery wall, choose medium sized and large photos and art pieces instead of a bunch of small items. If you have a small photo that you want include, bulk it up with a large, impressive mat.
9. Use your current home as a point of reflection. Think about the rooms in your current house and how you like living in them. What works well and what needs to be changed? Do you wish you had a larger bedside table with more drawers? Would you like a darker cozier wall color on your bedroom? Does your dining room feel too formal for the type of entertaining you usually do? Do you love the way your bedroom rug feels on your bare feet? Take what works for you now and put those features in the new house. Then change the things that you dislike so living in your new house will be more enjoyable. Make a written or mental list of all the decor features in your current house and figure out which should stay, and which should go. Life is too short to live with things or decor that don’t work for you, especially after going through the expense and effort of building a house.
10. Be prepared. Have an electronic or paper copy of your house plan with room dimensions with you at all times (plus a small measuring tape). In addition, keep photos and measurements of furniture pieces that you’ve already selected. That way, if you come across items in stores or online that you like, you’ll be able to assess whether they will work for your space. Always check the dimensions of your room before you commit to buying something. Designers often do a schematic layout of a room to make sure everything fits together before making purchases. You can do the same thing. Plan your furniture layout using graph paper or an online furniture layout program. Resist overcrowding a room by leaving at least 3 feet of walking space between furniture pieces,.
To make sure colors of different items coordinate, carry a collection of swatches and paint samples around with you in an envelope, zip lock bag, or notebook sleeve for reference. Have a separate sleeve or envelope for each room of your house.
11. Design in phases, if necessary. If you can’t afford to decorate your entire house at once, do it in phases. Start with the rooms you’ll most often use so you’ll be as comfortable as possible until you’re able to completely furnish and decorate the house. For most people that will be the master bedroom, kitchen and living room. The living room and kitchen are good places to start your design if you need to decorate in phases because your entire household can use those spaces and you can share them with friends and extended family.
12. Choose your favorite colors. Many designers have very specific color rules. They say you shouldn’t choose all neutrals, all warm colors or all cool colors. I say choose colors that you like and colors that give you the feeling you want to experience in certain rooms. For example, blue is typically thought of as a relaxing color, and most people want to relax in their bedrooms. But if you don’t like a certain blue, that blue could make you more irritated than relaxed, so you shouldn’t use too much of that blue in your bedroom.
A warning, though, about using too many wall colors. If you have 15 favorite paint colors that you want to use throughout your house, you can do it, but painting each room in your house a different color is very 1999. You may want to rethink using a dozen different wall colors in your new house.
Instead, consider sticking to 1-3 main wall colors throughout your house and maybe vary the shades of those main wall colors to add more variety, if you want. If you have found a blue-gray color that you like, for example, you can choose different hues of the same blue gray— a light hue, a medium hue and dark hue of same blue-gray. You can paint different rooms with 3 different shades/hues of that blue-gray and that will count as just one of your colors. An easy way to choose different hues of the same color is to select a paint sample card from the paint store and use different hues from the same card. Again, the would count as just one color. Limiting your wall colors to 3 adds a level of sophistication and cohesion. You might also want to add a 4th surprise or statement color to a dramatic or whimsical space like a child’s room or power room. Okay, so that was wall color.
Now what about the colors of furnishings, artwork, accessories, drapes and rugs? Those elements should coordinate with each other and with whatever focal point and feeling you choose for the space. You don’t have to stick with 3 main colors for your furnishings and accessories, like is suggested for wall paint. If you like a colorful house, then choose lots of colors, just make sure the color combinations are sophisticated.
But if you are someone who likes the entire house to be very cohesive and coordinated, like many model houses are, you can use the same 3 main colors throughout the entire house and simply change the proportion of each color in different rooms. A well-known color rule that you could us is the 60, 30, 10 rule. It’s a classic decor guideline that helps create a color palette for a space. It states that 60% of the room should be a dominant color, 30% should be a secondary color, and the last 10% should be an accent color. Some designers say neutrals should not be included as one of the 3 colors. But it’s your house, so in my opinion, the colors can be all neutrals, if that’s what appeals to you, or all bold colors, or a mixture of the two.
Here’s an example of a very coordinated house. If the 3 colors you want to use are taupe, navy and coral, you can decorate your living room with 60% taupe, 30% navy and 10% coral. Then design a bedroom with 60% coral, 30% taupe and 10% navy. And your powder room with 60% navy, 30% coral and 10% taupe.
To be clear, you don’t have to use the same furniture and accessories colors throughout the entire house if you like more variety. And even though it’s commonly used in decorating, you don’t even have to use the 60, 30, 10 rule at all. Use the colors that you appeal to you and that will make you enjoy your spaces. And that sentiment brings me to my last tip.
13. Do what you like. It’s your home, so first and foremost, it should appeal to you and your family no matter what designers say. Designers, design rules, and trends are great for giving us direction, but ultimately you should design your house for your taste. And if some of the tips that I’ve given over these last 2 episodes don’t resonate with you, don’t use them. If you like small furniture pieces and tiny lighting fixtures, if you want to paint your house with 15 different wall colors, or if like a house that looks a bit cluttered and chaotic, it’s your house, your money, your choice. Decorate your home with colors and items that will make the space feel like you. Don’t be afraid to include decor that reflects your personality and taste.
And what about trends? Should we stay away from them and embrace them? Well, a trend is defined as "what's hip or popular at a certain point in time". A trend may be, or become, a classic, long-lasting design element, like white kitchen cabinets. This is a trend that is both current and classic. Or a trend may only last for a few years, like those sponge painted walls from the late 90s/early 2000s.
Truth is, we can’t be sure which design trends will have staying power, and which ones will go out of style in a few years. I thought matte brass, which I love, would be gone by now, but it’s still very much on trend. Same with modern linear fireplaces, they’re still around. If you love, not just like, but love certain trends, but you’re afraid to include them in your house, be brave and add trends that you just can’t stop thinking about. If you’ll be in your house for at least 8-10 years, include those trending colors and features that you’ve been dreaming about, even if they might go out of style. This is especially true if it’s a design element that can be changed out fairly easily.
The harsh reality is that no matter how classic your home’s design is, in 10, 15 to 20 years, you will most likely have to update parts or all of your home in order for it to look current. In addition to that, you may want to simply switch items out, even if they are still in style. Sometimes you just want something fresh and new. So include colors, fabrics, furniture, fixtures and features that you will make you happy, and don’t worry about getting things that will be in style forever... because most things won’t be in style forever.
Now it is definitely wise to stick with more classic design for big ticket items that are built-in or structural. But for other things, choose what you love, even if they might look dated down the road. By the time those items are out of style, you could be tired of looking at them anyway. If that’s the case, sell or donate your outdated things and buy something new. We don’t want to waste resources, but we also don’t want to feel forever bound to a sofa or chandelier that we love today, but might not love 15 years from now. Let’s give ourselves the freedom to choose what we love now and switch things out as trends and our tastes change.
I hope these tips help you organize your thoughts about your interior design plans. If you know someone who’s building a house, or remodeling, and is not using a designer, you can share this episode with them if you think it would be helpful. You can share it by text or email.
And finally, if you’re new to the podcast and have listened to episode 100 where I give you my favorite 100 homebuilding and design tips, you might wonder if you can still get the PDF of those 100 tips. The answer is yes. After you listen to the show, if you decide you want a copy of those 100 tips, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and write the number "100" on the subject line. Those tips are still very relavant and I’m happy to send them your way.
Well that’s all I have for you. Stay safe and well and join me again in a couple of weeks for the next episode of BYHYU.