Thinking of redecorating your home? Maybe you're a new interior decorator being tasked with decorating a client's residence? Not sure how and where to start?
It will be tempting to buy everything you like and put it in one room. Don't. It is utterly crucial to interior decorating that you choose a theme, color pallet, or geometric focus for a room and stick with it. Do not compromise, no matter how nice you think a particular item is. Interior decorating is about the feeling you get when you enter a room. That feeling is created by the theme of the room, not any individual aspect of it. If the theme is not cohesive, the mood will be muddled. It is of paramount importance to always keep the bigger picture in mind.
Less is More
There's a second reason not to try to put everything you like in one place. Minimalism remains a highly popular aesthetic for many modern homes. Even if minimalism is not the theme you prefer, its principles still apply. A collection of items is viewed as a group, whereas a singular item is emphasized as an individual. Isolating objects allows the viewer to better focus on them. Even in more country, comfort-based designs, you’ll want to minimize focus on one area or one cluster of knick-knacks.
Make sure whatever furnishings and décor you choose, you’re not saturating the room with visual overload to the point where the focal point is lost; the choice of furnishings and accessories should be to support or complement the focal point – whether a large window, or a fireplace, the large bathtub, etc.
Match Theme to Purpose
A basic tenet of interior decorating is to match the theme of a room to its purpose. For example, rooms intended for activity should have a bright and vibrant color scheme, whereas rooms intended for more tranquil pursuits are better served with more relaxed colors. Many colors are more suited for certain purposes, and less so for others.
For example, I generally do not recommend using blue or any of its variants for the dining room – blue is a color that suppresses appetite and generally isn’t conducive to the warm and inviting atmosphere you want to set for dining – whether formal or informal. I generally recommend warmer tones instead – any variant of red or brown.
Light green or yellow also works for dining, but I prefer it in breakfast rooms, particularly in country and farmhouse themed interiors.
Blue is also a color used in the corporate world for pursuits related to creativity – any task where you want your team members to open up their minds and push new ideas to the front. I believe this has much to do with the color of the sky, and its wide, deep expanse encourages the imagination to expand.
Read more about colors and their effect on interiors here.
In addition to the usage of cold and warm colors, consider whether you’ll be choosing cold or warm lighting; these are also critical aspects of setting the mood of a room. Cold light ranges around 4500 – 6500 K (Kelvin) while warmer tones are down around 1700 – 3000 K.
Lighting has different functions – task lighting, accent lighting, etc. Task lighting should be easily accessible and directed on a particular spot – such as above a countertop or a desk. Task lighting is often in colder ranges, but not required. Keep in mind that the purpose of task lighting isn’t to illuminate the entire room.
Accent lighting, often found in warmer ranges, is used to provide indirect and softer illumination for the rest of the room – think paper floor lamps, recessed lighting, table lamps, etc.
The color temperatures you choose for either set of lighting also affects how the room is used or perceived by others. If the accent lighting spread about the room is generally cold in temperature, and task lighting being of a warmer hue, you may find people generally gravitating towards where the warmer lighting is. Perfectly fine if you have warm lighting above the breakfast bar in the kitchen where you want friends and family to gather for brunch or chit-chat while you’re cooking up a storm at the stove.
Having warmer accent lighting around a room, and colder task lighting in a specific area helps clearly define mental focus for that room. An example would be a large living room with one end occupied by a small work desk or credenza. Warm accent lighting around the room invites casual conversation and cozier uses, and colder task lighting at the desk implies its formal function for a specific activity such as home-office use.
In the bedroom? You definitely want warmer lights pretty much everywhere, unless you want to kill the mood. (But why?) Colder lighting in the bedroom works for the small work desk, if you have one, or for reading LEDs on your side-table.
Also be mindful of what temperature of lighting you’re using with what kind of fixtures. If you’re using genuine Moroccan hanging lamps for example, made of either wood or warm metals such as brass or copper, you would choose warmer temperatures for the associated light.
In fact, if I see you using cold lights with such a lamp I’ll give you the same raised-eyebrow look that I would if I saw you wearing a formal evening black dress at a backyard BBQ.
Scents are a useful component of some interiors, but I find this is a highly subjective topic, second only to artwork, which can be a highly personalized preference. Again, depending on the room, certain scents and aromas can greatly assist in the enhancing value for the intended purpose of the room.
An example would be rosemary oil. Not something that occurs to the majority of people, and in fact it’s something of a trade secret among some professionals, but research by Dr. Mark Moss at Northumbria University revealed that exposure to the aroma of rosemary essential oil can significantly enhance working memory in children. A total of 40 children aged 10 to 11 participated in a class-based test on different mental tasks. Children were randomly assigned to a room that had either rosemary oil diffused in it for ten minutes, or a room with no scent.
Analysis revealed that the children in the aroma room received significantly higher scores than the non-scented room. The test to recall words demonstrated the greatest different in scores.
Dr. Moss adds: “Why and how rosemary has this effect is still up for debate. We do know that poor working memory is related to poor academic performance and these findings offers a possible cost effective and simple intervention to improve academic performance in children.”
Don’t have access to actual rosemary? Aromas from essential oils or candles can also aid in setting a similar theme. A simple commitment to a theme on the basis of the purpose of the room can elevate your interior design work to be practical as well as aesthetically pleasing.
I’ve always been a fan of the old adage “measure twice, cut once”.
And it’s helped me greatly anytime I’ve had to design a room or living space, including the first time I ever had my own condo. When I moved in, I actually slept on a pillow and cotton sheet on the hardwood floor (there was no furniture yet) because I didn’t want to run out and just buy anything, I wanted to buy intelligently-selected furniture that fit just right.
Never underestimate the utility of drawing the room on graph paper when consulting with the client. Clearly measure every corner and doorway including swing space, and make sure you mark all electrical outlets and switches, vents, windows and doors. You don’t want egg on your face when the client asks why you’re put a heavy sofa over that vent on the floor – it’s because you forgot to mark it on the floorplans.
Measure the space your furniture will occupy and mark it down in your floor plan. Measure broad strokes for walkways and through traffic so you know what size of furniture you can play with.
I’ve also found it to be of value to actually draw and cut out scale samples of the selected furniture from another sheet of graph paper. You can move and rearrange these pieces as you like to test different layouts. Of course, you could also create multiple copies of the floorplan and draw the different layouts on each.
Normally I like to keep main furniture pieces are directed toward the focal point, while keeping the major traffic patterns open. Nothing is more awkward than having an evening party with the majority of the crowd seated around the focal point and then some of the guests being forced to sit facing another direction because of poorly planned furniture placement.
One the floorplan, draw in any other suggested pieces whether or not they’re available now. Take care to balance high and low pieces as well as heavy and light ones around the room.
In some cases, particularly living areas, I will recommend that the client pick a statement art piece (54” x 54” or larger) that speaks directly to their personality or to an important life event. That can be the defining anchor for the room theme, around which you layer on complementary items such as the rug, pillows, interior sculpture, and so on.
The statement piece then serves as the anchor that either stops traffic and serves as a conversation starter – if that’s the client preference – or it is less pronounced, serving as an originating point for the colors and style of the room, but visually subtle enough that it fades into the background if you were to take a group photo of everyone there for a tea party.
Keeping your design choices simple, emotive, and striking allows for even a beginner to approach interior designing confidently. These simple maxims provide a strong basis for beginning the development of your own unique style of interior design. Decorating is a personal process, but one that can be facilitated by combining established approaches.
A final piece of advice I give to every professional involved in visual appeal – whether an artist, or interior decorator, fashion designer or more – your combined understanding of the target environment and your choices are your signature.
Just the same way you have a preference for what you wear in formal settings, or at home, or to an office party, an evening event, etc. Let your personality leave a subtle touch, and don’t be afraid to clearly articulate your reasons why.
Ultimately, authenticity is what people are looking for in the long run. If they wanted a cookie-cutter, they would just go to their own kitchen drawer.