Getting a “designer” look

How do designers get that “done” look? It comes down to a few essential steps.

Know what you want from a room.  The first step in designing a room is figuring out exactly what the room will be used for. When people have great rooms they put their television in there, their kids play in there, they’ll even eat in there.

If you’ve got the space, try to narrow things down. Decide, for example, if your room will be a living room that you’ll entertain in on just a few occasions, or a family room you’re going to use everyday. A room’s purpose should be one of the strongest cues for the decor.

Will children use this space? Will pets play here? The occupants should always be considered when selecting fabrics and finishes. While silk slipcovers would be a sophisticated choice for an adults-only room, they wouldn’t make it through one season in a space that routinely hosts kids and pets.

Most designers want to see any photos you’ve earmarked from your favorite design magazines.  Try to turn off your internal filter, the one that says this is good, this is bad, and put a Post-It on anything that appeals to you. Let your first reaction guide you. When you go back and look them over, these images tell a story of what you like and what your room should be.

One of the biggest issues facing homeowners today is the ever-expanding scale of sofas. Often a room has to be rescued because the furniture pieces really don’t fit the size of the room.  Most people think they have much more space than they do.  Then they buy oversized furniture and it feels jumbled together.  The solution? Take out a measuring tape and a piece of graph paper. Draw a floor plan of your room to scale (let one square equal one foot, for instance). Or if you can find your blueprints, use them—and make extra copies. As you consider buying additional pieces, mark off their intended location and make sure they’ll fit before bringing them home

A beautiful home should have continuity from room to room. You wouldn’t wear a yellow shirt with purple pants and green shoes, so why would you decorate each room in your house with an entirely different color palette or style? To prevent each room from looking out of place, try to maintain similar tones and themes throughout the house.

Designers say that sometimes an item you already have and love can become their inspiration for the rest of the room.

What looks do your favorite things inspire? Maybe Grandpa’s handsome desk would be more at home in a ’40s-themed home office. Perhaps the rustic seascape you picked up on your honeymoon could become the centerpiece of a beach-cottage bedroom. Or a vase of your prize roses might look just right in an English country living room surrounded by lots of floral upholstery.  Line up a few of your favorite things in the room you want to redo—and let the one that moves you most lead the way.

Some designers can keep all of this information in their heads, others carry their floor plans, photos and design ideas around with them at all times—but they never dive in without thinking it all through. Try to envision your room when it’s completely done, and then plot out what steps you’ll need to take to get to that point.  Be sure to create your own room-design file. You’ll want to include key measurements and inspiring images. You’ll also want to keep a shopping list based on things you’ve seen in stores, on websites and in catalogs that are a good fit for your dimensions, theme and budget.  Keep Ziploc baggies of the fabric swatches, flooring samples and paint chips you’d like to use (label their purpose clearly, but write in pencil because you may change your mind).  Clearly everything is flexible, but having this plan at your fingertips will help you make decisions and keep the momentum going. My thanks to my associate Stephanie Jollie for authoring this week’s column.