The 12-Step Decorating Plan That Always Works!

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.



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.




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.





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.



Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!


Welcome To Laurel Home!


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.

New Edition, November 2023! Get The Indispensable Guide For 100s of Home Furnishings And Interior Design Sources That Everyone Is Raving About

laurels-rolodex-final-book-cover-master 10th edition 23-24

laurel home archives


Please click the image below for more info about my rockin’ Interior Design Guides for 2024!

Laurel Home Interior Design Guides 2024
Amazon ad

please click below to check out my favorite decorating & design books

Laurel Bern's Favorite Interior Design and Decorating Books
Subscribe To The Laurel Home Blog And You Will Receive A FREE Guide Where I Share How To Get Your Paint Colors Right, The First Time.