How to Think Like an Interior Designer and Create the Perfect Room

The most successful interior decorators know how to create balance, proportion, harmony, and rhythm in a space, regardless of its particular style, and to create a room that is tailored for the people who live in it. We know instinctively when we see a room design that works, though it’s not always easy to understand the concrete building blocks that the pros use to make it happen. Here’s a brief set of guidelines (not rules!) for thinking like an interior designer to create your version of a perfect room.

Interview the Client

The best interior designers get to know their clients before they choose a single paint color or piece of furniture. The first step to creating a master plan after viewing a client’s space is to sit down and find out his or her lifestyle, likes and dislikes, and goals and dreams for the space.

Just because you are decorating your own space doesn’t mean you should take yourself or anyone else in your home (children included!) for granted. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself basic questions that will help you understand what your goals and priorities are, and be prepared to be surprised by the answers. Be willing to let go of outmoded ideas, and be disciplined about designing a home that focuses on present priorities and circumstances, while leaving room for future growth. Remember that you might not be able to have everything you want, but you can often get exactly what you need from a thoughtfully designed home.

Make Hard Decisions First

Design inspiration can come from anywhere, and many interior designers will tell you that an object such as a gorgeous handbag or a vintage heirloom can be the spark that results in a beautiful room. But it can be tempting when you’re designing your own space to avoid making big decisions and instead letting yourself get distracted by decorative items and details.

Build your foundation first by deciding on the anchor pieces of your room. For a living room, decide how many people you need to comfortably seat 90 percent of the time and choose seating that fulfills that need. You can wait on determining the exact style, color, and fabric until you have a fleshed-out plan for the room, but knowing the basic elements will help you get there faster. For a bedroom, what is the best size of bed to suit the space and make sure that you and whomever you’re sharing your bed with are comfortable? Would freestanding or wall-mounted nightstands work best? Bedside lamps or sconces? Having an idea of the basic building blocks of the room will help make design decisions easier down the road.

Set the Mood

While you are working on your furniture plan, think about what kind of atmosphere you want to create and some general notions about the color palette. Choosing a particular style is not as important as knowing what kind of overall feeling you want in a room; once you know that, you can choose pieces from various periods and styles to achieve that aim. Don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild or to craft a room that evokes the kind of place you want to retreat to after a long day: ski chalet, beach house, desert oasis, treehouse, man cave, boutique hotel, you name it. Use that as a mental guide when making decisions about furniture and accessories.

Experiment with Scale and Proportion

Proportions, like hemlines, can change with the times, and fashions come and go. There is no single recipe for choosing the right scale of furniture for a room. But interior designers know that putting a carefully selected piece of large furniture or art in a small room can give the space a sense of grandeur, whereas too-small furniture can make it look like a dollhouse. A giant overstuffed sofa in a city condo, on the other hand, can overwhelm the room and look out of place. If your bedroom is the size of a closet, you might want to reconsider that king-size bed.

How to Create Balance, Rhythm, and Harmony

Push yourself out of your comfort zone to choose a mix of furniture and accessories that balances masculine and feminine, old and new, matte and shiny, dark and light, soft and hard, rough and polished. Pair an antique rug with a contemporary sofa, organic lighting with a vintage armchair, washed linen sheets with a polished cotton duvet cover. If you love a white room, add touches of black
a zebra-print rug, a black industrial floor lamp, black-and-white photosor metallic finishes for balance and contrast.

Choosing pieces that are too similar in style results in a boring room. The goal is not to match things, but to create conversation. If you have a penchant for yellow, choose three yellow accents in different tones and scatter them around the room: a mustard-colored vase on the table, a taxicab-yellow teapot on the stove, a lemon-yellow painting on the wall. If you like white flowers, choose a petal-covered pendant light, hang a vintage white mirror with a subtle floral motif on the other side of the room, and place a white orchid on the windowsill.

Accessorize Last

(All photos: Lonny)You might fall in love with a sequined pillow or a bear-skin rug early in the design process only to find that once you have the building blocks of your room in place, it no longer fits. Extraneous accessories make a room look cluttered, so keep your ideas flowing but wait to make those final choices until the end.
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