The Best Decorating Plan That Always Works!

freaking-out-over-your-paint-colors

 

Dear Laurel,

 

My husband and I just purchased our first home. However, as an avid reader of your blog, there is a burning question I can’t find.

Seriously, I don’t know how to begin furnishing this place. Where do I start?

My head is spinning: Should it be paint colors, window treatments, area rugs, furniture, or what?

 

It would be incredible if there were a decorating plan one could follow, if that’s possible.

 

I really appreciate any help you can provide.

Diane

 

Those are terrific questions, Diane. It’s not easy, is it?

 

As I’ve mentioned in several earlier posts, you need a decorating plan.

 

The most important thing you need when buying furniture.

The worst decorating mistake you’re probably making.

 

Those posts are a good introduction, but I realize now that I need to break it down into a cohesive 12-step program.

 

Oops. No, not that kind of 12-step program. I meant a 12-step DECORATING PLAN– A plan that will ensure you get the best results possible.

 

While there’s a lot of great information in those two posts, it’s not everything. So in this post, I’m breaking down, in sequence, the 12 steps you need to take so that you will be less likely to end up with a scary mishmash.

Or a whopping mistake.

 

The first three steps of your 12-step decorating plan should be done in close connection with each other as they are interrelated.

 

Decorating Plan Step #1

 

Assessment of your home.

This first step is an exceedingly important step that many don’t consider. However, the location and the other homes in your area might dictate some of your design decisions.

But, it is also the time to look at the “givens.”

 

Givens are elements in a home that don’t move, such as tile, floors, and mouldings (or lack of).

 

215 Commonwealth Ave Boston - living room

 

The givens also include the architecture of the home, including layouts.  Recently we looked at how a home’s architecture might not be working for the owner and what could be done to change it for the better.

See Flo-1 here. And, also see what Flo-1 did a week after the post came out.

See Flo-2 here.

If the basic structure, the envelope of the home, is creating problems, then furnishing the house might become a greater challenge.

 

However, some of this ties into the budget.

 

If money is tight, you will need to look for creative ways to make your new home’s decor work for the look you want. You might want to check out Decorating Advice for Folks Who Are Plumb Broke.

If money is more plentiful, then part of the assessment will be deciding if things that aren’t working need to be changed somehow.

Givens may also apply to things you MUST work with, such as inherited furniture. This post shares some creative ideas for working with inherited furniture.

This brings me to:

 

Decorating Plan Step #2

 

Discovery of your decorating style.

Personal decorating style is a vast topic with lots of sub-topics. Sometimes the style is related to the home’s inherent style. In this post, we discussed a home’s architecture in relation to its furniture style.

 

If you are lucky, you will already have a strong sense of your unique style. But, if not, now is the time to nail that one down.

 

Colefaxandfowler - chintz fabrics living room

 

How do you find your unique decorating style?

 

Well, I found mine really fast when I went to interior design school. They threw us into the deep end in the first week. I had to complete an entire living room with a rendering and boards in one week. This was only my second semester in interior design school.

If you need help, I recommend going to Pinterest and creating a secret board where you can pin away everything you love. Make notes in the place provided for a description. If you need to share this board with anyone, there is a place that you can provide for that.

 

This is a vital step because you can’t bake a cake if you don’t know what kind of cake you’d like to bake.

 

Please find my chocolate cake recipe here.

This one’s a chocolate chestnut cream gluten-free cake!

 

One doesn’t just start throwing ingredients together and hope for the best. Right? Only the most experienced and talented pastry chef could attempt something like that.

I have a lot of pins and boards on Pinterest. Please follow me and feel free to re-pin anything I’ve saved that appeals to you. You can also pin anything on this website with a pin it button. (unless it’s clearly ugly and your board is to be used as a reminder of what NOT to do.)

 

But another way to find one’s style is to look at the work of other designers.

 

I have done many, many posts featuring many talented interior designers. This links to some of them.

Decorating Plan Step #3

 

Planning for your living needs

You might need to incorporate dozens of things into your design plan, but here are a few to get you thinking.

  • If money is tight, are the specific rooms that must be more or less finished first?
  • Do you entertain a lot? Inside? Outside?
  • Do you need a place for the kids to play? Years ago, I knew a family whose two boys shared a room; the adjacent bedroom was their play area.
  • Or maybe you need a designated homework area where you can keep an eye on them. (I wish I had done that.) ;]

 

Is the home working as laid out?

 

  • Sometimes it makes sense to switch to a designated space. For example, maybe you don’t need the formal dining room, but you need a home office far more, or a den or even a guest room. Or, the area that’s supposed to be the dining room would work better as the family room and vice-versa.
  • Is something missing from your home’s current design? For instance, a coat closet, broom closet, or mud/laundry room? How/where will you create the necessary space(s)?

 

Decorating Plan Step #4

 

Figuring out your budget

 

Prospective clients hate being asked this question. But it’s imperative to take a good, long realistic look at how much you can spend. And if you have not yet purchased a home, please figure on needing to spend at least 10% of the home’s price to furnish it.

 

How to figure out your budget?

 

An excellent way is to go to a website like Wayfair, which has pretty much everything. Go pretend shopping. Put everything you want in your cart. Allow for shipping AND delivery if it doesn’t show up right away.

I did a post several years ago about how much it costs to furnish a room.

(Please note. In 2022, the cost to furnish a room is about double what it was in the spring of 2014.)

And How much it costs to do a smart kitchen renovation.

(Please double these numbers, as well.)

 

What if the budget is still an insurmountable number?

 

 

Decorating Plan Step #5 – Color preferences

 

This is not about choosing wall colors. Ideally, that actually happens later in the process. Although, you can certainly be thinking about them. But through your inspiration photos, you should begin to see a pattern of colors you like.

Classic Homes Adam Architecture Bighton Grange - drawing room George Saumarez Smith living room

Photo I took five years ago in England. Architecture and design by George Saumarez Smith

If you need help with colors and color palettes, dozens of them are in the Laurel Home Paint and Palette Collection.

This is a two-part guide with nearly 500 pages and is a game-changer. (there are dozens of glowing reviews on the page that explains the paint palettes)

To learn more about the paint guide, Laurel’s Rolodex, and other helpful guides, please start here and click the links to learn more about individual guides.

 

If everyone who’s planning on working with an interior designer or decorator did just these first five steps, you would be able to:

 

 

Decorating Plan Step #6

 

Space planning.

This is the room layout for the pieces in your rooms and working out the flow. Head over here for more info about how to go about doing this.

 

Also, this is a helpful post for typical living room layouts.

Now, you are ready to get into the thick of it.

 

Cobble Hill Brownstone - McGrath II - mother-daughter interior design teams

McGrath II

 

Decorating Plan Step #7

 

Jumping off point. We have talked about this numerous times. It could be:

  • rug
  • fabric(s)
  • wallpaper
  • artwork
  • a room you saw that you’re using for inspiration and direction.
  • furniture that you’ve inherited

 

Speaking of furniture that you’ve inherited.

 

This is my philosophy. Keep what you truly love. If you don’t love it, give it to charity or sell it. It’s okay. Granny possibly did the same thing with her grandmother’s furniture that she didn’t want.

OR, is there a way to use this piece of furniture to make something you love? Could it be painted, perhaps? Or how about a slipcover or new upholstery? There’s an entire post about this.

 

Okay, now we’re ready to have some fun!

 

Do you see that you must do these seven steps in your decorating plan BEFORE you even step inside a furniture store? Sure, you can look for ideas, but you are not to purchase so much as a napkin ring without a solid plan.

Decorating Plan Step #8

 

When you source the furniture selections for your new home, please remember these essential points.

 

 

Best neutral color scheme - white walls - Steve Cordony - Rosedale Farm Living room - blooming branches-gateleg table

Steve Cordony

The scale of each item relates to the room and each other.

 

  • For instance. Are the chairs and sofa heights within an inch or two of each other? Certain chairs can be taller than a sofa if they are far into the room, like wing chairs flanking a fireplace wall.
  • Are the heights of the tables suitable for the size of the furniture and scale of the room? Double, no, wait. Triple-check all measurements.
  • Can the furniture fit through the door? Don’t laugh. It happens.
  • If it’s going up or downstairs, you must be exceedingly mindful if the piece can make it up or down. The same goes for tight corners. If necessary, is there another way to access the space? Some companies will take furniture apart and then install it in its place.
  • Furnishing also includes things like window treatments and rugs. But, if money is a problem, I would stick with the basic things you need. I love this post about how to make inexpensive window treatments look custom-made.
  • In addition, sourcing includes a selection of wall colors and/or wallpaper.

 

***SUPER IMPORTANT***

 

When purchasing online, try to get fabric and/or finishes samples. If that’s not possible, then try contacting the manufacturer. They usually have customer service reps who will gladly assist you with this information. While they may not have that information readily available, a good rep will get back to you within a day or two.

 

Good for dark rustic home Serena & Lily Eastgate Sofa - decorating plan

 

However, some companies like Serena and Lily, for instance, are excellent with their colors. I’ve ordered from them numerous times and got what I expected every time.

 

Decorating Plan Step #9

 

Make a mood board with your furniture, window treatments, floor covering, fabric swatches, and paint colors.

Oh, stop kvetching that you don’t know how to do this. If you have a power-point or keynote, you can easily make a mood board.

  • Save all of your images in a folder on your desktop.
  • Open up the images one at a time.
  • Right-click the image and select “copy.”
  • Then, go to your board and hit right-click “paste” onto your keynote or power-point board.
  • Drag the corners of the image to resize, and then drag your image to where you want it on the page.

(hint: If you’re ever struggling with anything technical, 99 times out of 100, there is a youtube video explaining exactly how to do what you want to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten myself out of a nasty pickle and was saved by some good soul on youtube!)

 

Mark D Sikes pin board color stories - decorating plan

I love Mark D Sikes’ mood board above. There are lots of ways to do one.

 

Back to your mood board.

Do this with every image. It’s fun, you’ll feel great when you’ve finished, and the room looks fantastic. If it doesn’t look impressive, assess what might be missing.

You can also make another Pinterest secret board and put all the final images there. It’s not quite as good, but almost.

superwhite living room bonus board - decorating plan
 Bonus Board – From the Laurel Home Paint and Palette Collection

Here is when it would be helpful to consult with a professional pair of eyes. I guarantee you that a good professional will immediately see the problem and give you the best options to correct it.

 

Most designers who do this service work with a two-hour minimum. And while it’s best to work with a local designer, it is possible to do long-distance with an experienced decorator.

 

Note: If you are a decorator and provide E-design services, you can say so in the comments, and then please link to your design services page where it asks for your URL to your website. Note. Please do not link to houzz. All links to houzz from this website will be deleted. If you don’t already know, the link explains why.

Decorating Step #10

 

Brooke Giannetti living room with Oushak rug

Brooke Giannetti

Edit. Ruthlessly. If in doubt, leave it out.

  • This might mean more trips to stores either online or in person.
  • Please note that measurements both in stores and online can be incorrect. If in doubt and the measurements are tight, please call the manufacturer or vendor.
  • It might mean reselecting. (or waiting) Welcome to my (old) world.
  • Revise the mood board that you’ve saved.

 

Are you still struggling with some areas?

 

Then, contact a designer again. Quite frankly, I think you should be working with one the entire time, but I realize that sometimes it’s impossible to find the right one. It is better to do it yourself than torture yourself with someone who’s inflicting pain because it’s not a good fit. (read here to find out what can happen if it’s not a good fit)

 

How are you doing? Are you THRILLED with everything you’ve selected? In days past, I would hold all of my client’s samples up and stare at them for days. If something doesn’t feel quite right, it usually isn’t.

 

Ahh… that’s better. Now you’re coming into the home stretch. However, the home stretch could last for weeks, if not months (and months)

 

Benjamin Moore Paper White - Best White Paint Colors - decorating plan

 From the Laurel Home Paint and Palette Collection

 

Decorating Step #11

 

Place orders.

  • Start with the items with the longest lead times, such as custom pieces or out-of-stock items. Please be careful with the latter. Try to find out WHEN the item(s) is expected to be back in stock. If they have no idea, I recommend reselecting; unless you’re the gambling type or MUST have that piece. Still, it’s risky.

Be relentlessly OCD. Pretend that the person on the other end of the order line just arrived from a planet in a distant galaxy. Never assume anything. And, read the acknowledgment from the vendor very carefully. I’ve caught mistakes the vendor made even though my purchase order was accurate. At least once, I didn’t read carefully, and uh. Oh, I had to make it right at my expense.

 

SPELL EVERYTHING OUT WITH TECHNICOLOR ACCURACY.

 

 

Decorating Step #12

 

  • Arrange for deliveries.
  • Wait for the truck that never shows up after you spent three hours rearranging your schedule.
  • Call the delivery company to find out what happened.
  • Get the spiel that “the truck broke down.” (that’s code for the guys decided to take off early to go to the tavern)
  • Hope to heaven that nothing comes in damaged; if it is, you’ll have to work to prove that it happened before it landed in your home. Good luck with that!

 

Please save this graphic below to your Pinterest boards.

 

12 step decorating plan for perfect rooms every single time

I hope you enjoyed this post about developing a comprehensive decorating plan.

xo,

 

Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!

 

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27 Responses

  1. Hi! Back again!
    I’m excited to learn about the word “givens” pertaining to architecture, but can’t locate it anywhere online. Can you point me to where you learned this?
    Thank you!!! I’m always learnin’ somethin’ here on your blog.

    1. I’m sure Laurel will answer this, but I assumed she was referring to things like window and door shape and placement, ceiling heights, wall locations, existing or non-existing millwork, existing location of plumbing and heating elements, and the general style of the house (such as colonial, contemporary, ranch, bungalow, etc.) I’m sure there are many more architectural “givens” but that’s all I can think of for now.

      1. Hi Cynthia,

        Yes, givens are unmovable things, unlike furniture and other objects that can be easily changed or moved to a different location. That doesn’t mean they can’t be changed; however, sometimes things like plumbing, windows, and exterior doors can’t be changed.

  2. This post is brilliant; it’s tremendously helpful! The inspiration photos have me drooling. I especially love the Colefax & Fowler room in step 2 and the McGrath II room in step 6. Almost a year ago, my 28-year-old son moved into an apartment in NYC and I had the pleasure of helping him with the design work (long distance). He didn’t have a lot of money, but we scored some beautiful furniture and decorative items on Facebook Marketplace. I used a free online mood board: Canva. I could share the board with my son, so he could access it any time. I asked him to send me photos of every part of his apartment, then added the furniture, rugs, wallpaper, artwork, etc to those photos. During this time (which lasted about 3 months), my son became very interested in interior design, and we had lots of great discussions. It was fun to bond with him in this way :] Boy, I just so appreciate all that I’ve learned from you, Laurel. I can’t thank you enough!

  3. Laurel, I wish I had known of you back in ’93 when we built our home. You would have saved me so much money! And money was tight back then. I spent today with my husband dragging out furniture that I banished to the basement because it didn’t work or I stopped liking it. I am donating some pieces to Habitat, but most of it is going to the junk man – why does no one want old area rugs? Your 12 steps are what I learned the hard, expensive way.

    1. Hi Marlene,

      If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t know what I know now in ’93 either. At that time, I was working for a decorator who made lots of mistakes so it was great training. haha. Of course, I made plenty of mistakes after beginning my business in ’96. This business is fraught with landmines all over the place. Sure, experience helps us avoid some of them, but so many times, I’ve gotten caught up in one I didn’t realize was there.

  4. Excellent post Laurel, so concise and helpful. I remember the days before Pinterest when I would rip pages out of every design magazine I could get my hands on and place them in a Manila file. That’s exactly had I discovered my style. You bless us with the wisdom you’ve gained from experience.

  5. We raised 3 children in this house – living room and small dining room for me. Larger family room for kids. Well they all grew up. Married and grandchildren came. Dining room was not big enough. I decided to make the family room into the dining room – it is connected to the kitchen. The small dining room is now a sitting room/play room for grands. Got a big table changed colors and some other furniture and it all works! Took me a little to change my thinking on room use.

    1. Hi Linda,

      I’m so glad you did what you needed to do for your needs. One time, I made a suggestion similar to that during a consultation, and the woman looked at me like I had three heads. Oh well.

  6. Laurel, Whew! That post triggered my PTSD from home building 4 years ago. I’m eternally thankful I discovered you during the process, and luckily, with your help, I cobbled together my plan based on all your posts. The hours spent learning and planning were beyond valuable and saved us untold mistakes. Now, three years in, and I’ve only had to correct one thing. A rug I just adored and convinced myself worked in the dining room, really didn’t. After 3 years of living in denial, I finally woke up one morning and said that can be remedied very easily, so I moved that rug into the laundry room (where it’s actually quite fabulous) and found a far more suitable rug, both in color palette and scale, for the dining room. All good now. One tip that a rug dealer shared with me that I actually found quite helpful; if you aren’t able to return rugs for free, and samples aren’t available, always order the smallest rug size and what you’re considering (like a 2×3 bath mat size) so you can have it as a tester but if it doesn’t work, you only pay a very minimal return fee because it’s so small and light. Much cheaper to return that size than an 18×20 which some websites charge quite a substantial shipping rate. Kudos for putting the plan steps into one post.

  7. Hah! I was about to log back on to say that I figured out it was from Colefax and Fowler, which led me to their beautiful Insta page, which I will now follow. So thanks for posting that photo!!!

  8. Hi Laurel,
    Great post as always. The one aspect of decorating that I’ve messed up is getting the scale right with the pieces I’ve purchased. Sometimes the items can be returned. But sometimes I couldn’t. That can hurt. I guess I have trouble imagining how much visual space things actually take up. Maybe I should try to mock up the items with cardboard or something before I purchase.

  9. Absolutely fabulous information in this post, Laurel! For anyone who thinks being a decorator/designer is “fun” this proves that even though it is rewarding, it is a LOT of work, and that’s why many homeowners pay a professional.

  10. wonderful summary….I still say shop thrift stores and affordable antique stores to find the unexpected treasure at a dirt cheap price. Even garage sales can be good if you see something not for what it is but for what it might become.(Bought something just for the frame.) I showed my friend a chair I bought and asked her “what do you think I paid for it?”
    She guessed $350. Nope. Paid $35 for it at an antique mall. You can make your budget go a long way if you think outside the box .

    1. Hi Susie,

      It’s true. Years ago I found my lovely end tables that are in the den. I paid 100 bucks for the pair at a thrift store in Katonah. I love them just as much now as I did when I got them in 1999.

  11. Hi Laurel. This is a wonderful post that will help many many people. Thank you. Would you mind providing the source for the photo in step 2 — the room with the striped loveseat, ticking ottoman, and three coordinating chairs? I love that room and am wondering who the designer is. Thank you.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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