Great Decorating – The Secret Trick You Need for Success!

Hi Guys,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments regarding Kat’s Florida coast condo.

I’m glad most of you enjoy these posts about readers’ homes. Through these dilemmas, I’m trying to hone in on what it is that makes for great decorating.


But, in so doing, I’m beginning to see some clear patterns.


First of all, most of you already have beautiful homes.  However, what usually happens is that when I receive a letter, the issue is usually a minor one that’s not addressing the proverbial “elephant in the room.”

What is the elephant in most homes that are preventing an okay room from being great decorating?


The most common issue is architectural problems that are working against you, such as:


  • Homes without walls (AKA: the so-called “open floor plan.”
  • Homes with a lack of architectural interest.
  • Cheap finishes that look it.


For example, remember Cher?


She first wrote me about her fireplace issues. Frankly, I felt the fireplace was the least of the problems. The BIGGEST problem was the kitchen hanging out into the living space; not as in an open floorplan, but more like when the ointment comes oozing out of the tube kind of way.



Well, get this. They’ve already put the wall in and even though it’s obviously still under construction, it’s making me feel so much better!

But, why didn’t Cher notice this but focus on the fireplace instead?

She focused on it because it’s the room’s focal point, and while it needs a bit of finessing, it didn’t occur to her about the rest until pointed out and a new floor plan was created.


So, planning is a big part of the secret to great decorating.


However, the secret ingredient that many of you are overlooking is the ability to have a way to VISUALIZE the finished results.

In the olden days, way back in the 20th century, I would go to my client appointments armed with a hand-drawn floor plan including space planning, a bag full of fabrics, another bag filled with fabric books, finish samples, a notebook, paper, architect’s scale, and printouts of images of rooms, pieces of furniture, and pages from a catalog, etc.


It would take me a good hour or two to gather all of this together.


Then, I would sit with my clients and carefully show and explain “my vision.” They would give me feedback; I would tweak my ideas and come back for round two. I can only remember one time when I showed up, and the client loved everything and said, “Okay, let’s do it!” Usually, the process took at least five visits or more if it was a sizeable job.

For those of you who’ve purchased and read My Six Figure Income Blogging Guide, you’ll know that it wasn’t until 2002 when client Leslie “Butturchump” sent me the FIRST email my life changed forever.

Soon, I got the hang of it, and now I had a new way of sharing information back and forth that helped tremendously in between visits.


However, one thing I would do in my emails is make the beginnings of a “mood board” and share a few images in the body of the email.


I might have also arranged some pictures on my computer screen, moving them around and resizing them. Then, I could take a screenshot and send that to a client.

But, then, around 2010, I didn’t know where or how, but I learned about a program called Olio Board. (It no longer exists)

However, what I noticed was shockingly incredible! Instead of five or six visits, I could whittle that down to two or three visits when sharing the boards.

These boards weren’t in perspective, like the ones I do these days, but they showed the items in relation to each other. That, plus the real-life fabric samples and larger images, helped the clients to SEE my vision and how it would look in their space in a way that made sense.


So, the ability to see what you’re going to do is something you can do to help yourself envision how everything will look together.


For example, in Kat’s situation, I put in two beautiful peacock blue velvet sofas. I knew that some of you would be horrified by this notion in a sub-tropical home just feet away from the balmy ocean.

However, as seen in this post from 2018, one doesn’t have to decorate in pure “coastal style” if one’s home is on the coast. Hell, you can decorate however you like. But, I always think it’s lovely to bring some colors from the outside inside. So, in an ocean home with lots of gorgeous shades of blue outside, I’ll be bringing in some blue, even if it’s only an accent color.

My point is I could take Kat’s sofas in peacock blue velvet and make white or cream slipcovers for them. We could change the pillow covers or leave them as is. Most of us have at least two seasons, with tremendous temperature swings of 100 degrees or more. So, being able to switch the furniture coverings is a great idea.


The other thing I frequently see is the one-note room. There is no depth. Everything is very light, or medium and light.


Oh man, I just got to hear a rehearsal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Holy crap, that was a treat! Because of my years of listening to Cale play in dozens of groups in and out of school and my own experience playing the flute for eight years, it’s fun to pick out the different instruments. Of course, the balance and blend are perfect with the BSO. But, you know what sets my heart all aflutter? It’s the bass violins. Those deep, rich low notes. The bottom of the chords.

The bass violins are the “black of the orchestra.”

Even in a light, airy space, you MUST have some bass tones. After the first piece, I also saw a contrabassoon walk off the stage. Yes, I only saw that huge bassoon walking off.


Okay, it is now nine hours later. That is how long it took me to make my final board.


Now, my mood boards are a bit “fancy.” I realize that. But, the more realistic you can make your space, the better.


Therefore, if you’ve ever studied art or perspective drawing, you know that items in the front appear larger than items farther away. That’s how our eyes can judge distances. Well, sometimes.

I’m pretty sure most of you know that I use picmonkey. I did a tutorial a few years ago. They’ve changed their interface since then. Mostly, it’s for the better. If you get stuck, they have tutorials. Or, you can google something like, “How do you turn off the bloody snap-in-place feature?”

Sometimes I want to know that something is IN the middle or lined up with something else. However, 90% of the time, I turn that off by going to settings; from there, you can switch it off.


So, let me start by showing you what crazy looks like.


What is this you would like to know? It is the file for this one post where I put 95% of the images I considered using. Some didn’t make it into the folder. Incidentally, they are in the order they were added to the folder. As you will soon see, most of these images did not make it into the post.

This is after hours of thinking about what I might do, or searching for something that will work.

A lot of the accessories are from when I created the boards for the Paint and Palette Collection.


Now, I needed to keep plugging away.


And, I am going to say right now. Sometimes what I had in MIND did not end up working out.

I will repeat that. Some ideas that I thought were so terrific ended up not being terrific.


Do you see how a “great idea” can get you into trouble?


It is wise to do more than visualize in your mind. The more visual you can make your design BEFORE you purchase anything, the better. It’s not that something else won’t work. There is seldom one solution, even if you make a mistake.

This is an L-shaped room, so I wasn’t sure if I could get everything on one board. Let’s see.


I started experimenting with some of the items you saw last week. My floor plan is in the upper left corner for reference.

Then, I looked at the blue sofa.

With this rug, I think the blue sofa is better. Of course, you could do the white sofa, and you could do it with this rug. If so, I would definitely do a dark, maybe even a black coffee table.


I think a beautiful print on the chairs would be fun.


Again, it doesn’t have to be that way. You could do a solid fabric, either upholstered or slipcovered. Of course, I could do some great decorating with white slipcovers and seagrass rugs and call it a day. However, I wanted to do something a little different.


Kat's non-frumpy updated Florida Condo


Initially, I thought I would do a big cabinet for the TV. I had it as a black cabinet in the floor plan, but when doing it in perspective, all of that black looked too heavy. Actually, it was a soft blue-black, but still not right.

However, white looks too blah. Well, it does for this living room with an ocean view. This would be lovely for a bedroom, or maybe a dining room if there was a separate one.


What about teal? This is an image I manipulated but didn’t remove the background yet. I rejected this idea, too.

No, I want to see some black. I think that will be lovely across from the vivid blue sofa with a white or cream coffee table in between.

However, it needs to be a low piece. And, as soon as I put up the low Chinoiserie cabinet, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to see.


Are you beginning to see how throwing up pictures of the items you’re thinking of incorporating IS the secret to getting the mix right? This is how one creates great decorating if doing it on your own.


Your eyes WILL tell you. But, sometimes, I like everything. Or, I wouldn’t say I like any of my choices.


Above, I was experimenting with lantern colors. The original lantern looks like this.


How do I change the colors?


I do that in picmonkey. Or sometimes, I start it in my photo editor, especially if I’m trying to turn orange into blue. That takes a few passes with editing. I can turn this white lantern into a black lantern. That one is easy.

Picmonkey also does a pretty good job of removing image backgrounds 9 times out of 10. Oh, how I wish I had that feature when creating my original boards for the palette collection. I went on Fiverr and paid a young woman from India 50 cents an image to remove the backgrounds. Well, I think it was a young woman. It could’ve been an 85-year-old man, for all I know!


So, I needed to create the final board and decided to begin the way I always do.


I always begin by putting in the wall and the floor, as you can see above.

Sometimes I just leave the floor white, but for this board, I made it a cream color. I actually used a color that’s IN the wallpaper. There’s an eyedropper icon that lets you select colors.

I found an image from a hotel with a lovely ocean view. Unfortunately, there was some furniture in the way that I had to get rid of. I made separate images of the lovely light linen curtains to cover them up.


You can use a crown moulding with a recess to put the drapes behind along with the traverse rods, so they’re hidden.


And, now, for the final board.

My goal was to make it a little Hollywood Regency, maybe a touch of art deco, with vibrant tropical colors. However, I did not want to create the classic blue and white coastal look.

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, all you need to do is go to Serena & Lily, and you’ll be all set.

I also didn’t want to go too hog wild with the flamingo pink and turquoise, but there is some of that.


A Florida Getaway - Decorating Secret

Please note: This is NOT the room layout. This is a mood board designed to incorporate as many elements as possible onto one board in a pleasing manner.


In the end, I made the dining table aqua, for fun. I found the perfect table on 1stdibs, which is currently stained. Guys, it is well after midnight. I so badly want to add sources, but I can’t, as I still have to edit.

Do you see the bass violins in the back?


Where are the trombones, Laurel?


The trombone players are hanging off the balcony with one arm and playing the trombone with the other arm. ;]


Cale at age nine with his first trombone.

A few years ago. Maybe in Boston!


Oh, I didn’t tell you, but I took a ballet class last Sunday at the Boston Ballet School, and I plan to return tomorrow.


I’m only returning because last week’s lesson didn’t kill me. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be going back. ;] It did hurt like hell, but it’s a little like having a baby. You swear you’ll never go through that again, but then you forget. Hopefully, this week will be better. Fortunately, the class isn’t until later in the day.

Okay, I hope you enjoyed this post, and learned some tips to create great decorating. I will try to add some sources if you’d like to know where some things are from.


Anyway, it’s a big holiday shopping weekend.


Therefore, please check out the HOT SALES! There are a lot of new items to see this weekend, and of course, some amazing sales!



25 Responses

  1. Laurel,
    I am more in awe of your skills than ever. On top of my lack of design skills, I am clearly out of my league with PicMonkey. I think it is time for a pair of scissors and a glue stick. I have a lot of work to on my house in New Jersey before my daughter’s wedding; a plan seems even more important than ever to me right now. Thank you for sharing the work that goes into your designs – it truly is impressive!

  2. To each his own. If you entertain formally, especially if you have help, perhaps a separate dining room and living room, works well for you. For me, I want to be with my people while I get a meal together, so an open kitchen is better for me, so I will work with making that look right. But this room is gorgeous!

  3. Ballet classes and the symphony! I think you made the right choice in picking the place where you would be happy. Glad it has worked out so well for you!

  4. I just had to chime in to tell you that I adore everything about your final vision of the apartment, Laurel! This post is so informative; going through the process with you teaches me so much. I hope Kat will share some more with us as she completes her project. And good for Cher for jumping right in with her project. I hope you never stop doing this blog, Laurel :]

  5. I love the way you go through so many options (especially in different colors and patterns in accessories and objects) in these last couple posts. It’s really helpful for showing how to refine a design with the final touches.

    Also, I’ve been busy, but saw you have POTS. I haven’t been diagnosed yet, but I almost certainly have it. If you aren’t aware, POTS often comes along with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (I have been dxed with that), which, since you were a ballerina, might be a thing to look into. One of the most common symptoms is being bendy. 🙂 The two together make for a world of fun, weird, screwy, obnoxious symptoms. But knowing about them can help you find ways to live around the challenges they present.

    I wanted to thank you for all these lessons in your blog. I’m preparing my home of 8 years for sale and what I learned helped me create a new base for the stager. Everyone who’s come to see the house (limited to professionals just yet) has absolutely loved the (not gray! or beige!) color palette and details. Soon everything will be done and photos will be taken for the market. I’m so very proud of myself and my partner for all the work and the glowing reviews I’m getting for the design. I’m confident it’s going to sell quickly and well. So, again, thank you for teaching me. I just hope my next home I can make beautiful -for me- instead of for sale.

  6. Following through the descriptions, I must say, left me surprised at just how much I liked the final image. It’s probably my favorite of yours in recent memory. You made it easy to understand what all the work behind those honed visuals brings. I’m also now picturing just how much was involved in setting up for clients in the old days. Must have been quite a production.

    And YAY Cher! I’m impressed at how quickly you moved along with Laurel’s design. I hope it’s everything you’ve been looking for.

  7. I really love this board. I think the aqua on the table really makes it zing, especially with the black console adjacent.

  8. Laurel, as Mary L said, you are the maestro! Maybe the trombone section is the bamboo bench upholstered in Scalamandre Tigre. This board is just so gorgeous! Please post your sources!!! (PS, as a passionate cook and frequent host, I LOVE the separation of the kitchen from the living areas. It requires me to plan correctly so we’re enjoying a party, not a cooking class.)

  9. Laurel, I’m lost in admiration of your gorgeous mood board. It may be one of your best yet, and it’s a room I’d love to return to after being away. There’s so much to look at and be with, and it’s a symphony of color and pattern. At the same time, it’s quite edited in color choices at second glance, which gives it wonderful cohesion. You are the best!

  10. Laurel, so glad you explained the basics of the actual process you go through in assembling and designing boards. The layer upon layer of work (and time)! I’ve wondered about this. Love Love Love the final board…luxury beachy! I think there’s something to being ‘at’ the beach, outdoors soaking up the wind/water/sun, but returning home to the interior wrapping around you in comfort, as you created.

    So glad to hear you’re back in ballet, and were able to listen to the BSO session. Your loves reflect in your work, with both requiring exceptional balance when done well.

  11. Laurel, you are the Maestro. This is such an inspiring post. I love this rendition of Coastal; it has so much more to say than the traditional handling. I love it.

  12. Laurel, you’ve taken it to another level of awesomeness here. You’ve been on such a roll! What you did in this post alone is worth the price of all of your guides. Understanding what your readers want and need, then giving us the knowledge and tools to inspire and empower us in our homes = huge gift. Thank you! Can’t wait for more beauty and insight!

  13. Great post, Laurel and love the finished mood board. I recently began a mood board to spruce up the primary bedroom and so appreciate you sharing your thought process while working on yours. I love these kind of posts that deal with dilemmas that I think a lot of us are experiencing with either downsizing or purchasing winter homes.
    I agree, so many MLS listings in Florida have at least a peninsula falling into the Living Room or, worse yet, the lovely older homes that have had a bad remodel by blowing out all the walls (and then wanting a premium for the bad Reno.)

  14. Lauren,

    I read your post much before dawn, and though since then I went to Mass, and worked in two ministries, your work stayed with me. I love the “final” mood board post!

    May I say– I think this is your best post ever! Congrats on all your achievements!

    I think you know that your readers are grateful for you and your work.

  15. This is such an awesome post, Laurel. I’ve learned so much from reading you and buying your ebooks. My home has gone from “pretty” to WOW by understanding the details. And yes, please, give me separate rooms. If I’m still cooking when guests arrive, then I’ve done a poor job timing things! I noticed you pulled a pillow from pottery barn that they just introduced. I saw that turquoise floral the other day and it might have to come home with me . I know these posts are a lot of work for you, but they sure are fun for us! And kudos to Cher for getting right on that, I can’t wait to see her finished room.

  16. Being able to see all of your selections together is such a gift. I love that it helps you see if your fabric patterns are scaled in a variety of sizes. And if the totality of your colors is evenly spread throughout the space. As opposed to it leaning dark/heavy in a particular area. Beautiful work Laurel.

  17. To each his or her own but I couldn’t stand my kitchen blocked off from the main living area. As an avid cook and someone who has friends and family over often, the idea of being in a closed in and away from everyone gives me the heebie jeebies.
    I do love the colors and items in your mood board. But I’d want too see them from the kitchen too.

  18. Laurel – another beautiful job! What a difference in the before and after images! It makes me realize how much of my home decisions over the many years I’ve been following you have been influenced by you. Your comments on mixing in light and dark so the room doesn’t feel “one note” resonate with me. I’m now convinced I need to make my coffee table in front of my cream couch much darker. Thanks again for a beautiful post.

  19. I always enjoy your posts . Such good information . I also like walls. A little openness is fine , but you are right about the kitchens.

    I moved to Florida from Michigan and did not decorate coastal. I decorated much lighter , but all coastal
    Is not for me. It is always a work in progress.

  20. Laurel, amazing blog. Can you talk about the sizing of the area rugs in the image with two jute rugs put together and then a runner and a small area rug on top?

  21. Laurel,
    I stand by my original email, you are a genius! You absolutely hit the nail on the head.
    I love everything about your mood board and the depth you create in your designs. I personally expected things to come together magically without putting all the work in. Heading to a furniture store and taking home a few swatches, wasn’t doing it. Would love the sources if you have a moment. Thank you so very much and enjoy your ballet lesson!

  22. I love your blog! I’m in the process of moving south to Florida from Massachusetts, where I will be decorating a lovely pool home with palm trees in the yard. Your blog has given me so much inspiration!

    One sentence in this blog struck home: “The BIGGEST problem was the kitchen hanging out into the living space; not as in an open floorplan, but more like when the ointment comes oozing out of the tube kind of way.”

    SO many homes we looked at, especially newer ones, have a very open floor plan–with the kitchen in a corner of one big room. Reminds me of an oversized studio apartment. I am NOT a fan. I like walls, even partial ones.

    Our 1950s house here in MA has lot of walls, but too many. The space feels very chopped up. We were lucky enough to find a home in FL where it’s open, but the kitchen is definitely it’s own room with walls.

    I am wondering how many feel the same way. The “open plan” seems very popular, but it’s just not for me. Maybe it’s my age (lol).

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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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