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Five Things I Know About Interior Design


I find myself repeating a few of the same design rules day in and day out with my clients.  Since I like my readers so much, I thought I’d share my five most useful design rules – free of charge!

#1:  Whoever said, “Just pick your favorite objects, put them in your space and it will all come together” was a big, fat liar.  

When you put together an outfit you don’t go in your closet to pull out your favorite shoes and pair them with your favorite pants, favorite shirt, favorite hat, and favorite belt.  If you did, chances are you’d look like you wandered away from the local mental hospital.  When you cook a casserole, you don’t put in all your favorite ingredients.  I would end up with a crab leg, tortilla chip, salsa, and chocolate mousse cake cassarole- yuck.    The same element of logic applies to interior design.  You select a few show stoppers that coordinate well together, then you highlight those pieces by keeping everything else clean, simple, and in the background.

#2:  Be careful where you contrast. 

We’ve all seen it before.  You can have a beautifully designed space, but if there is a white vent on a black wall, your eye is instantly drawn away from the design and straight to the jarring contrast.  Blame evolution for all those years cavemen spent looking over their shoulders for visual contrast to avoid being some saber tooth tiger’s dinner.  If you are looking to highlight a feature of a space, make it contrast with its’ surroundings.  If you aren’t looking to highlight it, avoid contrast at all costs.  (I’m talking to you Mr. dark brown ceiling fan on a white ceiling!)

#3:  Measure Twice… Well, Actually Measure More Than Twice.  

In the era of online shopping it is way too easy to click “Buy” without taking time to really reflect on the dimensions of the item you just purchased express shipping for.  Know what your shopping for BEFORE you start shopping and don’t get distracted.  There is nothing that ruins a design faster than furnishings that are the wrong proportion for the space.  While I’m on the topic, I’d like to debunk the myth that small rooms need small furniture.  I’m a firm believer in minimizing the number of furniture items in a space.  Often times a few larger, well placed furnishings in a small room will maximize the space.

#4:  Get Real About Your Expectations.

There is an evil triangle of the elements of design.  There are three sides:

1.  Budget

2.  Quality Level

3.  Time Frame.

It pains me to say this, but pick two.  That’s all you get.  You can have a project that is low budget and done  fast, but the quality will suffer.  You can have it high quality and done fast, but the budget will fly out of control.  You can have high quality and low budget, but that involves you going to apprentice at a furniture making shop and learning to build it yourself – which unfortunately isn’t great for the timeline.  You can not have it all, my friend.

#5:  Have A Plan, Stan.

This is the one that requires the most practice and discipline to achieve.  Here’s how I typically plan for a project.  Before I spend a single penny, I measure the space and draw up a floor plan that is to scale.  There are some easy to use software programs the public can buy OR you can just go old fashioned and use grid paper (one square equals one square foot).

Once you decide on an arrangement, you can conclude some critical information from your floor plan.  This floor plan tells you exactly what items you will need AND exactly what size those items should be.  Make an itemized shopping list and include the exact dimensions of the items you will need.  Don’t forget to consider height!

At this point, you can do some preliminary research on how much these items might cost and assign each item a specific budget.  This way you have an idea how much the entire room will cost BEFORE you spend a penny.  This is the ONLY way to avoid the shopping fatigue that comes when the project is about 75% complete and you panic that you won’t ever get to enjoy your new space because you’ll have to get two more jobs to pay for it.

Consider a design concept and stick to it.  Whether you are going asian modern, classic traditional, or urban loft- stick with it.  Do your research so you can determine a color scheme, what form the objects should have, and what types of decorative elements you may want to incorporate.  Make sure every object that goes in your space is consistent with the concept.  What isn’t in the space is every bit as important as what is!

Also, plan for the unexpected.  The only thing that I wouldn’t expect after working on so many renovations is that one might actually just go smoothly without termites, foundation cracks, or a major contractor mistake.  Something always comes up, so leave about 30% of the budget free to address whatever does come up.

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