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How to Keep Yourself From Decorating Like Sybil

Recently, I chatted with a lovely neighbor who has an innate eye for design, and she brought up a problem that she often observes in homes—even professionally designed ones!

So, she asks me, “Do you ever walk into a home where each room is well-designed, but the rooms don’t look like they belong to the same house?”

Yes. I have.

This is not an uncommon problem, but the reasons are many…For one, furnishing a home is expensive. Folks often fill in the gaps with hand-me-downs or bargain finds. Plus, real people have collections of furniture from multiple homes (dorm room, first apartment, condo, starter home, forever home...)— especially here in the Charlotte area where frequent moves are quite common. Also, some of us attempt an eclectic, collected look and plain ol’ miss- the mark. Furthermore, if you’re lucky enough to have a guest room, it’s often the place where old furniture goes to die, which can become overwhelming. But usually, in a home that lacks cohesive design (especially when money isn’t a problem), the absence of flow is the result of not developing a broad enough vision. If you don’t want to get lost decorating your home, create a roadmap for your design!

Why do you need a roadmap?

Well, because it’s easy to fall in love with multiple design styles. Browse Pinterest and Houzz long enough, and you’ll quickly become bored with your usual décor and tastes. Also, if you’re furnishing your home a little bit at a time, you may start with one trend and switch to another as your project progresses. Even when working with a designer, homeowners often request styles, or pieces, that don’t meld well or compliment the architectural style of the home.

As a designer, I seek to balance such requests by gently guiding a client’s overall vision for the home. When using a designer, lean on their expertise and ask what her logic is for including (or excluding) a piece. Not only will you learn more about the process, but the information you gain will help you make better decisions in the future.

Does this all sound tricky?

Here are a few, helpful tips that will help you create your very own design roadmap:

Creating Your Roadmap for Design

Step One: Check out your closet

What colors do you tend to wear? I am a blue and green girl because those colors look best with my eyes and skin tone. It also happens that the unifying color in my home is blue. From blue-grey shutters to blue ginger jars, you’ll find blue liberally sprinkled throughout my French Provincial-styled abode. If you like wearing a color, odds are good that you’ll enjoy that color in your décor. In addition to your favorite color, your sense of style offers clues that will help shape your design plan. Is your style of dress casual or tailored? If you live in athletic shoes and t-shirts, you might feel stifled in an ultra-formal living room that is draped in silks and damasks.

Step Two: Re-visit your Pinterest boards

Look at the images you are most drawn to on Pinterest, in design magazines, and on Houzz. Are you drawn to the clean lines of mid-century modern?

Architectural Digest

Parisian chic?


New Traditional?


Suzanne Kasler - House Beautiful


Are the color palettes that you select on Pinterest and Houzz vibrant or subdued? Colorful or monochromatic?

Once you have teased out common elements, figure out if the style works with the architecture of your home. If your home has ultra-modern architecture, you probably won’t want to furnish the inside with heavily distressed, farmhouse furniture. You can mix and match styles, but that requires skill. When such skill is mastered, an eclectic design is often more interesting than sticking strictly to one style. Even so, keeping a style in mind will help your space to feel cohesive.

Step Three: Determine how your rooms function.

Along with function, consider whether you have ample seating. Are you a retired couple enjoying an empty nest? Do you frequently entertain? Do you have five children under the age of eight? Figuring out how your rooms will function helps to streamline your design choices. For example, if you have young children and/or frequently entertain, solidly constructed pieces with durable, stain resistant fabrics are a better choice than a room filled with fragile, precious antiques. If it’s just you and your spouse, do you prefer a minimalist look?

Will the kids be coming home to visit?

Do you need lots of hidden storage?

Are your rooms large?

Are you tight on space?

How much furniture do you need?

If you are unsure, a designer can explain what scale will work best in your space. Did I mention that I am a designer?---Just sayin’...

Figuring out how you will put your space to work helps narrow down your options.

Step Four: Determine a budget for Pete’s sake!

This is a crucial step—especially if funds are limited. If you have a $5,000 budget for your family room and spend $4000 on your custom sofa, that doesn’t leave you with a lot of wiggle room for your end tables, coffee table, accent chairs, rug, console, drapes, and accessories.

You can certainly mix high and low. I personally like to invest in high quality furnishings but have found great deals on accessories at Home Goods, Target, Ikea, and consignment shops. If you’re working with a designer, please share your budget. Doing so helps her (or him) to construct an attainable design plan. It does take quite a bit more time and effort to work with a smaller budget, and your designer can help you determine a realistic budget (but only if you are not afraid to share your real bottom line).

Whether your budget is big or small, a designer can also help you save money by preventing costly mistakes. Not too long ago, an acquaintance confessed (and allowed me to share) that she recently bought a room full of living room furniture from an enthusiastic salesperson at a well-known, trendy furniture store. When the furniture was delivered, she sadly realized that the sofa and matching club chair were too large in scale for her space. She also found the matching pieces looked boring and generic. Because she had ordered custom fabric, the items could not be returned. To top things off, the fabric color’s pinky-beige undertone clashed with the rest of her décor. She lamented, “Who would have known that beige doesn’t work with everything?” $6,000 later, she is left with a room she is terribly unhappy with. She told me she wished she had hired me before getting carried away with the furniture salesperson who had clearly not considered how everything would fit, both physically and visually, within her home. I hear some variation of this story frequently, usually by new clients who are looking for me to help them with mistakes they have made.

Step Five: Go forth and shop!

Now that you’ve fashioned a roadmap, your decision-making process is much simplified!

Going for a minimalist look in a small studio apartment? You can skip right over that ornately carved, gilded, over-sized bedroom set that looks like it was sourced at Buckingham Palace.

Love the Industrial look and have a house full of children? Maybe that Victorian, silk upholstered, antique settee isn’t the best choice!

Bonus Points, Designer Level: Master

  • Hint at themes, but don’t go whole hog. If you love the coastal look, fine, but please don’t litter your entire room with seashells and mermaids. Be subtle...a candleholder wrapped in sisal rope, a piece of coral, and shades of soothing blues and whites can hint at a theme (without the overkill).

Coastal done right:

Architectural Digest

Please don't ever try this at home:

Photo Credit: HGTV

  • Do mix and match styles in moderation. There can be too much of a good thing. Going for a traditional space? Mix in a mid-century modern piece or some abstract art to balance out the more ornate and add visual interest. My motto is, “Always include a space that allows the eyes to rest.” A room that is all pattern and curly-cues can become visually overwhelming. Allowing for some blank space and/or clean lines helps create balance and harmony.​

  • Not all your pieces have to be showstoppers. Just like in a great movie, there are actors that play the lead and those who play supporting roles. A few delicately-patterned (or solid) pillows allow a hand-painted cushion to stand out. Furniture with simple, clean lines will also allow your art collection to shine.

  • Add something quirky. It’s great to include a conversation piece, such as interesting art, a funky chair, or the weird head planter below. Too many interesting pieces will compete but including a bit of fun to your design makes it memorable and keeps things from getting boring. Remember your design plan, and work towards balance.

  • Don’t take things too seriously. Unless it’s a big-ticket item, you don’t have to agonize over and analyze every piece to death. If you’re collaborating with a designer, chances are, your designer has this step handled and wouldn’t recommend a piece unless she felt it worked. If you are designing on your own, follow this rule of thumb: If you are debating whether you like a piece, don’t buy it. You don’t have to love each piece (remember, some objects are playing supporting roles), but if you dislike something and/or it doesn’t make sense in your overall plan, walk away.

This is different than being nit-picky. Again, don’t get so caught up in the minutia that you lose the big picture. Sometimes, you just need to put some faith in the process and move forward. And now that you've developed your roadmap, ride on!

Need some help designing your space? I’d love to help. Contact me here.

By the way, email me a general design question (using the 'Contact me Here' link above) and your question may be featured on one of my future blog posts. Leave some comments too! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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