Design: Starting Out, Starting Over

The following post is from Lindsey Roberts, a freelance writer covering design & décor:

Stripey sofa, nice living room
source: 01 女王

Let’s start from the beginning. Maybe you’re getting married and moving to a new apartment with no furniture. Maybe you’ve lived somewhere for years and now want to pull together a cohesive design for your home. Maybe you’re moving to a new house and want to start over. How do you get started? How do you pick colors, styles, furniture?

Well, you do a little bit at a time. But you also have to know what you like before you can do anything else—whether you’re a fan of midcentury modern or traditional, subtle or bold colors, no pattern or lots of pattern, etc.

Here are some ideas for getting started:

Pore Through Magazines

Collect a pile of magazines (House Beautiful and Living Etc are my favorites) from bookstores or friends who need to get rid of copies. Rip out every single image that you like, even if it’s an ad. Give yourself a few days before you come back, and then sort out what you love from what you tore out on a whim.

Now, think about it: What is similar about the pages you tore out? This should help you see what your eye is consistently drawn to. When I did this, I saw a lot of white and neutral colors, lots of small multicolored touches, and a more modern than traditional look. This helped me figure out what I liked.

Pore Over Online Magazines

There’s a lot of design to be found on the websites of the big magazines, or by reading online-only magazines, such as Anthology (has to be purchased online), Lonny, Rue,  and Standard. When I see an image that I like online, sometimes from online catalogs, I save the to photo to my Flickr account, under my Home Inspiration file. You can also use sites like Houzz.com to create an online inspiration file. This is a virtual way of doing the first exercise.

Peruse 1stDibs

Spend some time on 1stDibs to get an eye for historical styles. This will help take you out of the “now” look of magazines and catalogs, to appreciate what has come before. This might also help you find a style you like that won’t date itself in six months.

Explore Small Design Shops

Go visit your local design shops or design center, and steer clear of the big-box retail stores, even for three months. If all your eye sees is Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, that might be all that your eye wants. And as much as I love Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, I don’t want my home to look like their catalogs—I want my home to look like me. Small design shops often have owners that are putting together a unique style, which will train your eye to find more offbeat things, and then you can mix big-box pieces into a scheme that represents you, not a catalog. And these shops sell items for similar, if not lower, prices.

kitchen with wallpaper, lamp
source: 01 女王

Think About Your Wardrobe

What color dominates your wardrobe? This might be something to consider for your color choices. You also want the colors in your home to generally match the colors that complement your own coloring, since you’ll be seen in that home.

Consider Interior Designers

Many people write off interior designers because of the assumed cost, but most interior designers will work with whatever budget you have. You might even be able to find an interior design who will help you create a vision, and then let you put that vision into action.

Have Patience

Don’t rush, and you’ll end up with something you love, not something that was slapped together in a weekend. Also, when you have patience, you might stumble upon crazy deals for items that you were already planning on buying, or you might stumble upon sample sales, or store closings.

Buy What You Love

Another option is to buy big pieces, such as sofas and beds, that you love, and let them set the tone. Sometimes just buying what you absolutely love is a good place to start, and then you can make everything else work around those items that you know will give you pleasure for a while. I once met a couple who had a pillow that they absolutely adored, and they took the colors from that pillow to create their entire home’s design.

Use What You Have

Take a second look at grandma’s furniture or other items you already have. Often, you can change a look by reupholstering, painting, rearranging, or accenting differently. And then you can let those pieces set the tone and get you started.

P.S. One way to give your home a sense of cohesiveness, whatever style or colors you decide to work with, is to buy your basics in white.

When decorating a room, where do you go for inspiration?

Lindsey M. Roberts has covered design, décor, and homes from Washington state to Washington, D.C., writing for publications such as Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Apartment Therapy, The Washington Post, and Preservation magazine and editing publications for Hanley Wood.
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