Where to Start with Interior Decorating

Because I work at a furniture store, get quite a few customers interested in decorating their homes, but who are not sure where to start. If you think decorating is confusing, overwhelming and intimidating, you’re not alone. Nearly half of the customers who come into Furniture Works don’t know what their style is or how to get inspired. With that in mind I hoped to present over the course of a series of articles a basic guide to finding a style, assembling it and loving the interior of your home. After all it’s probably the most costly necessity in our lives so everyone needs to learn to make the most of it to get back the rewards of being at home – relaxation, entertainment and fun socializing.
To begin with, put aside any of the more complex ideas you have about your decorating needs – start with the intent of the room. You will need to keep it in mind all throughout the decorating process, from paint to accessories. Just like most disciplines, decorating can be broken down into steps and rules. There are anywhere from 7 to 11 steps depending on the school of design. Christopher Lowell, one of tv’s most entertaining designers, used the seven step method. It is:
1. Architecture – If you can’t change the architecture, as most of us cannot, color the walls, including the ceiling, anything but white unless you are living on the space station or want that modern effect. Apartment dwellers are often stuck on this point, though some are lucky to have flexible landlords. If not, try looking at alternative wall treatments like temporary wallpaper (my friends swear by it) or interesting fabric treatments for the ceilings.
2. Flooring  – Chosen for both its functionality and beauty, to complement the walls. Note that this doesn’t include area rugs, which are accents. Think about the impact the flooring will have on the household, and consider pros and cons if you have pets, children or allergies.
3. Large Upholstery – The anchors of the room, where most people will gravitate towards after entering the room. It may be the bed or a sofa, but it is the place that cradles the humans in the room, (and sometimes the pets!). Unlike most decorators,  I am not going to tell you not to choose a patterned couch, since I believe if it’s perfect for the décor, it’s only going to last about 7 years with common use, and that’s about the lifespan of a well chosen color trend. Besides, I’ve seen some really lovely patterned couches, and I own a fabulous Tommy Bahama sofa in subdued purple and green paisley which gives the room it’s in a very exotic feel, sheltered by exotic dark woods and Chinese antiques. Any patterned couch can be made to look classy, so choose what you really love. Please do not settle for a couch you half love.  Solids can be a broken up more easily with throw pillows, but can also make the couch look cluttered, so consider this step carefully – not only are the items in this category expensive, they are harder to move, and most people don’t want to shop for a couch every season to their whim. If you like to follow trends frequently, go for a neutral in a stable color trend Here’s a hint – try the most recent Pantone color palette for the year – they last on the scene sometimes a decade, which means you’ll easily find matching accessories as the years go by. If this anchor piece is not going to be used frequently, like in a parlor or guest bedroom, you may want to pick an investment piece like an antique setee or mid century sofa, since it will be around longer than an averagely used couch.
4. Soft Accents – Easy to update, this category includes pillows, throws. It also includes curtains and other things that add comfort without actually being in direct skin to skin contact with the inhabitants of the room. Area rugs and runners are also part of this category.
5. Surfaces – Sometimes called non-upholstered furniture, I just call this surfaces. It’s all about the place to put your coffee mug, or keys. It may include a coatrack or a magazine stand, or a hutch for your china if you’re decorating a dining room. (Yes even large pieces can be part of step 5 if they are not serving purpose #1: human comfort! Or feline, as is the case of most hutches.)
6. Accessories – Time to find a way to show off that vintage Barbie collection! Seriously, this is the most fun part, and the place where most neophytes in design start, which can lead to some costly mistakes. It doesn’t matter what you do here if you followed the first steps. What’s important is that you inject your personality into the room. I love seeing someone’s collection of oddities. One of the rules here is that numbers have power – a single snowman might signify winter, but a collection of 10 or more is a statement and quite fun to look at. If you have a lot of collections, consider rotating them around the year so you get more enjoyment out of bringing them out to see.
7. Lighting – Now it’s time to choose the lighting. Lamps can also act as double duty for accessories if you have an especially decorative one. Lighting casts shadows, which can be used to pattern walls at night with interesting plant or floral silhouettes. It’s also important to have good lighting in spaces where reading and writing takes place. Low ambient lighting can add a lot of warmth and atmosphere to a room, but there may be occasions where you need strong overhead lighting to see properly, if someone looses their contact for example, so try to have both available if you can. Experiment with different colored bulbs or shades to get the effect you like. Red lighting, for example can be dramatic or cozy, while green adds a touch of mystery. The lighting will react to the colors around it, so choose based on this.
The first rule of any room is for it to serve the function for which it was designed. If the room is not functional and convenient, it fails first test of good design and will become an annoyance rather than a haven, no matter how well coordinated it is. You and your guests won’t notice how you matched the art  with the sofa if they don’t have a place to set their drink. Comfort and durability are number one on the list of good design – because the rest is easy after these two needs are met. Some people spend so much time looking at pictures of gorgeous interior decorating schemes they forget about the people for which it was made – the photos rarely include them and they have a rather abandoned feel!
I love looking at a beautiful, well coordinated room, with exotic materials and rare art. It’s great to get ideas from photos, but don’t forget that you have to live in the photo, too, perhaps for a good long time. Decorating isn’t just about color and style – the existence of the poofy recliner in nearly every furniture showroom proves this fact – along with the death of creepy (and uncomfortable) Victorian furniture designs..
The room – for whatever purpose it has been set aside for – should serve all of the needs of the person who enters it so that they never even have to think about the design. I feel it’s important not to let a room become too vain! It should be thinking about people, not about itself and how pretty it looks!
A bedroom should have enough room to dress and undress easily in, as well as a bedside table for water, books, cell phone and other objects important to everyone. Empty drawers or hangers in the closet are always a welcome sight for travelling guests to give them a sense of sanity and organization. A bedside light that can be reached from the bed in the dark is very important. Soft sheets and ample blankets are essential – there’s nothing worse than shivering through the night because your host has neither ample heat nor good blankets.  (A general rule of thumb is one big comforter, two firm and two soft pillows, and 3-4 spare blankets of varying weight for seasonal changes) One needn’t spend a lot of money on these items. A $20 used bedside table from a thrift store is much better than none at all.
If you’re reading this thinking “I don’t even have that in my room, let alone the guest room!” now is the time to pamper yourself with a few simple fixes. Just do it, your home should be like a 5-star resort for you and your family. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be elaborate, just functional and comfortable.
A living room should have a place for people to rest their feet, put their drinks down, and set their purses, coats and hats (if no entry hall is available for that purpose) I am consistently amazed at how people who are interested in entertaining seem to decorate their living rooms based solely on their needs as a solitary couple or individual. One friend of mine had just a single end table touching the couch, the only seating that was intended for guests. This end table was used to set cell phones, books, tablets and other electronics in their docks, so that you never felt comfortable putting a drink down on it (if you were lucky enough to be sitting on that end), lest you start an electrical fire. Meanwhile, the couple had two beautiful matching plush leather recliners which they used to full advantage while guests were forced to make do with their feet on the floor on an otherwise comfortable couch – an inexpensive ottoman at the foot and the tiniest of coffee mug sized pedestals on the other end of the sofa would have solved these issues.
Bathrooms are another area where design suffers big time due to style sacrifices – I like to use the Feng Shui manner of decorating a bathroom – stark and utilitarian. The Chinese, reluctant to quick changes in technology, were very put off by the modern bathroom invading their homes from their former place in an outhouse and have never trusted them since. With all of the happy mold scum native to Washington that prefers bathrooms, I’m inclined to agree, so my bathroom is kept as easy to clean as possible. I do not understand are towels that are “just for decorating” in other words, they hang there permanently, never to be used, just looked at. Try not to be that person with the plastic covered couch –  buy tile or some other waterproof art for the bathroom if you want to decorate it. Simple color coordinated towels will add a lot to a bathroom if you let them.
Make your space fun, convenient and available to yourself and guests. Your house should be like a 5-star hotel.
After you’ve firmly established in your mind the purpose of the room, and have a vague idea of what kind of furnishings you need, it’s time to determine a color palette. As I discussed in my last article, one can easily draw on nature for a color palette. Try picking your colors from a photo of your dream vacation spot. You can find a vast array of attractive color palettes in design publications. Also, try picking your favorite color and figure out one or two complements or adjacent colors to accompany it. If you prefer a clean, mentally soothing and elegant feel, try using just one color with different intensities. If you’d like a little more excitement, you should examine complements, which are opposite to each other on the color wheel. This can create some stunning and dramatic environments.
After you’ve chosen a color scheme, start looking for examples of it online or in decorating books. Searching for “blue and white bedroom” in a search engine should give you quite a few examples to draw from. Check bookstores for both interior design books and pictures of famous locales to get ideas for an exotic or authentic touch of class.
Most importantly, figure out what you must keep in your décor – maybe it’s an antique table or a collection of something that has to stay. ( You’ll have to work these pieces into the design. I am of the opinion you can mix and match décor from old to new, no matter what, just following some simple color and functionality rules. Have fun decorating!
-thanks to our sales associate Naomi Chan for writing this

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