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Overwhelmed? A step-by-step plan may help

For most people interior decorating ideas can seem daunting. Even which decision to make first can overwhelm a person to the point of feeling paralyzed.

So let's break this down into manageable parts. A great place to start is with the BIG decisions and then move to the second largest decisions and down to the least important, those being the details if you will.

BIG decision vs. HUGE decision, which is it?

A HUGE decision involves one where I really must urge you to consult a professional. These types of things are plans that involve moving walls or removing walls thus joining what is currently two rooms into one. And I would also say that most bathroom renovations and kitchen renovations fall into the area of HUGE decisions simply because these rooms are so expensive to redesign that mistakes are too costly to risk. A professional can ensure mistakes are avoided. But if your walls are all basically where you want them, and you are not making changes to a kitchen or bath, then read on.

"BIG decisions first", what does this mean?

Interior Decorating Ideas from an Interior DesignerEven deciding which decisions are the really big ones can seem overwhelming when faced with so many interior decorating ideas. So I'll give you a step-by-step list you can follow.

For this we're going to assume that you just purchased your first home and that it is for the most part, empty, meaning you do not already own a large and nearly complete collection of furniture or that the furniture you do own you are not fond of and are not planning on keeping. But if you are simply trying to decorate or redecorate one room, this list works just as well for that. Please keep in mind that this method is not the ONLY procedure to decorate a room or a house, all I am saying is that, "it will work".

How long should this take?

It is important to note that the below process can take weeks, months or years depending on many factors such as the complexity of the plan, the budget, and how many objects were already in your possession when you started, and how much time you have to spend on this every week. But whatever works for you is the pace that should be followed.

Must I follow this plan?

Interior Decorating & Design IdeasNo. These steps are here to give you a plan. Plans exist to help remove confusion; they are a "framework". It is your plan. It should be modeled to your needs, your interior decorating ideas, and your personality. PLEASE read through all of these steps and decide if this is the proper order for YOU before you begin on Step 1. They can be completed in another order. And my caution in Step 14 is worth emphasizing here:

"Finishes are what to do with the walls, ceiling and floor. For help with this step see my article, "Finishes: What to do with walls, ceilings, and floors." It may seem odd to do this at this point and this is NOT the order a professional interior designer would use but most people have trouble picturing their entire vision when faced with an empty room and since finishes are more easily adapted to furniture than vice-versa generally speaking this is a good time to figure out what you want to do with the finishes....

Please know that if you CAN picture the entire room finished; then it is best to start with the finishes. If you start with the furnishings, know that the furniture must be moved and stored while the finishes are completed."

If you are one of those people who cannot imagine the overall look of the room completed, you may wish to follow the below steps in this exact order.

Step 1: Put together a budget

For help with this, see my article entitled "Decorating on a budget: Budgeting, Planning, and Patience" which may seem to contradict this big decisions first advice given here, however, the budgeting article is mostly aimed at young people who have very small budgets, but if you can afford to build entire rooms, then this advice to start big still applies and general budgeting advice can still be found in "Decorating on a budget: Budgeting, Planning, and Patience".

In regard to budget, a good rule of thumb generally speaking is one-third of your budget is allotted to furniture, one-third to finishes and one-third to accessories. Don't worry if you don't know what all of these terms mean, I will explain them as we go.

Also it is important to note here that if you will be hiring people to paint, install light fixtures, custom make window coverings, or anything else that may require the services of others; those costs must be budgeted in.

Budgeting can bring you down. It can make you feel as if you will never be able to afford everything that you want and that the room and especially the entire house will never be finished. But look at your interior decorating ideas as a process and not a destination, this makes it much more enjoyable and also allows for the mistakes that you WILL make.

As an amateur interior decorator mistakes are part of the process. They help you cement your taste, what you absolutely positively love, and what doesn't really work for you. This is another reason why "Decorating on a budget: Budgeting, Planning, and Patience" is helpful. Even if you have a larger budget it is a mistake to run out and buy a bedroom set, a dining room set, a living room set, and maybe more before planning and patience have been placed into your "process".

If you were one of those people who had a very small budget and you followed my advice in "Decorating on a budget: Budgeting, Planning, and Patience" and now have a larger budget and are ready to move to larger, more expensive decisions, then you are ahead of everyone else. In this case you may be almost completely finished with Steps 17, 18 and 19. If this is so, then follow the rest of the steps below in order simply keeping in mind how your accessories that you have lovingly collected will "shape" the overall feel or style of your room; and you may already have a color scheme picked out, and if so this step will not take you very long.

Step 2: Name all the rooms in the house

Interior Decorating Design Ideas | St. Louis Interior DesignerThe name of a room usually relates to its purpose; common names are family room, dining room, bedroom, music room, etc. It may seem odd to ask you to "name" the rooms in your home but this is important because most of us do not have an unlimited budget to re-do rooms already decorated.

Long-term thinking about the purposes for each room in your interior decorating ideas will force you to think about what to buy long-term and maybe what not to buy at all. Long-term thinking means thinking about how many children you plan to have, where their rooms will be, where your home office will need to then be moved, if finishing the basement first and moving your office there first makes more sense than buying office furniture made to measure for a room in which it will not stay long-term. These types of decisions may help you avoid costly mistakes. Even if you decide to continue fully decorating and finishing a room when you know it will be moved later, at least then it has been YOUR decision, and not an unpredictable error.

Step 3: Choose one room in the house on which to start

If you are not sure with which room to start on your interior decorating ideas, I would suggest doing the most "important" room first. "Important" here means whatever you want it to mean. It means different things to different people but it can be the room that "bugs" you the most, or the room that is the most necessary, such as a bedroom, or it can be the room that is the most empty.

However, in regard to this step, I want to make sure that you again think long-term unless you have an unlimited and "refillable" budget to re-do things if you make errors. This type of long-term planning will force you to consider first your kitchen into your interior decorating ideas even if you do not have the money to decorate the kitchen now.

If you know that eventually you will want new kitchen cabinets, flooring, appliances, countertops, wall tile or anything else that is expensive and going to change the entire look of the kitchen, then it may be good to plan this room first, note I said "plan", I did not say "purchase", or "install". This is especially important if you are like most people and imagine the rooms of your home to have some "flow" or "unity".

This is because kitchens are the most expensive rooms in a home to renovate so for this reason they should always be considered first in all interior decorating ideas.

For help with the concepts of "flow" or "unity", see my article entitled "Paint by numbers for the home decorator".

Step 4: Plan where all the largest items will go

Interior Decorating Ideas from an Interior DesignerBy this I mean the largest items of furniture, depending on which room we are decorating, this may involve sofas, dining room tables, beds, large entertainment centers and/or televisions, billiard tables, big desks, any larger table, pianos, buffets, china cabinets, dressers, highboys, armoires, etc.

I would say roughly speaking that any piece of furniture that will occupy as much or more than 6 square feet of floor space should be planned here.

Furniture for the most part comes in fairly standard sizes. You may cut out small paper templates of furniture, or purchase furniture templates to use. For more information on how to complete this step, see my article entitled "Space and traffic planning for furniture placement".

Notice also that Step 4 gives direction to "plan" where to place items, it does not say "buy" or "purchase". Shopping without buying may be a helpful part of this step but right now we are not buying we are "planning". Planning is integral to all of your interior decorating ideas if you wish to be successful and avoid costly errors.

You may be confused as to how to plan a room with furniture you do not yet own. But this is the entire point of this planning process. If your room is exactly wide enough (with room to walk around them) to hold two loveseats on either side of a fireplace and longer divans would not be usable, then the point of this planning process becomes clear. After you have purchased an item of furniture is not the time to realize it will not work (or not work well) in your room.

For a discussion on how to make these types of decisions, see my article entitled "Space and traffic planning for furniture placement".

However, if you have one or several items of furniture already for whatever reason that we are decorating around, here you must measure them and find exactly where they will function best. Then place them on your plan to scale.

Step 5: Plan where all secondary items of furniture should go

Secondary furniture are such things as end tables, occasional tables, some smaller coffee tables, console tables, some secondary chairs, smaller nightstands, free-standing clocks, and here even it may be time to start considering larger accessories such as plant stands, large free-standing sculpture, large plants, floor lamps, music stands, etc.

My article entitled "Space and traffic planning for furniture placement" can also help with these types of interior decorating ideas.

Remember again that this is a "planning" step not a "purchasing" step. Shopping without buying is okay if it will help you PLAN.

Step 6: Decide on a room or a furniture "style"

Or period or what type of "feel" you wish the room to have. For help with this see my article entitled "Classic furniture never goes out of style". If you already have items of furniture then of course a style or feel that works with them will need to be considered. For more help with furniture styles, see the article, "Mixing and matching furniture styles: How to make it work".

Usually if you are interested enough in home decorating to have gotten this far in these steps, you probably have a notebook, or file filled with your interior decorating ideas that you have written down or drawn or torn out of magazines over the years or just since starting this particular plan. This can be a great asset in formulating your plan in Step 6.

Shopping without buying here again may help with your plan.

Step 7: Decide on a color scheme

For help with this step you may wish to see my article entitled "How to pick colors for your home decorating".

If you started with budgeting and collecting long ago following my advice in "Decorating on a budget: Budgeting, Planning and Patience" then you already have your accessories or most of them and you have probably already decided on a basic color scheme; but in this piece bringing those interior decorating ideas to a more exacting standard that can be used while shopping without dragging an accessory along is what this step is all about. For this reason, even you may wish to follow the advice in my article "How to pick colors for your home decorating".

Step 8: Put together a list of large furniture that you need...

St. Louis Interior Designer | Interior Decorating IdeasTaking care to specify the styles, colors and especially the exact size requirements to match the plan you derived above, this is your "specifications" list, or "specs".

Your budget needs to be also in this information. The budget for this section of the plan should be fairly specific.

Your notebook or file of interior decorating ideas is a great place to keep your specs list.

Alternate plan turn: If you have the ability to imagine your room completed, move Steps 14, 15 and 16 here, complete Steps 14, 15, and 16 and then continue on to Step 9

Step 9: Shop for and purchase the furniture on your "specs" list

This is a step where things can go very badly very quickly.

If you have put together a file or a notebook filled with your interior decorating ideas, then by all means take this with you when you go shopping and feel free to show it to salespeople. However, I would sleep on whatever they tell you is "similar" because of course, they are trying to make a sale, as is their job.

If your plan is complete and you are pretty sure of it (which you should be), it can be frustrating to now go out, shopping, ready to buy, knowing what you want, armed with an exacting plan in your interior decorating ideas notebook, knowing the color, style, size and cost of the items you wish to purchase and then possibly not being able to find them.

You may start thinking: Why does this happen? Have I chosen items that don't exist? Am I never going to be able to complete my plan? If you are having serious doubts, peruse my article entitled, "Do you have good taste? Does your partner?".

You'll be able to complete your plan if you stick with it and be patient.

This is common, sometimes it is difficult to find exactly what we want when we have such clear interior decorating ideas, and so we give up, and simply buy something, anything to fill the space in the room. Please don't do this. It will waste your budget and turn all of these well-laid plans into wasted time. And it will further frustrate you.

Sometimes we may not find what we want because the color (or style) we need doesn't happen to be in style right now and therefore is difficult to find in stores. Sometimes it can be difficult to find even with custom upholstery if it isn't a "hot" color right now. If you've read my article, "Accessorizing: Avoiding interior design clichés, kitsch, trends and grotesques" this is where you must stick to your plan. Be true to yourself was the theme I wanted to get across there. All colors (and styles) go in and out of fashion. You should stick with the color (or style) you have planned for, even if it takes a very long time to find what you need.

Also, if you picked your colors following the advice in my article "How to pick colors for your home decorating" then you have spent a great deal of time picking these colors. You are not wrong. The market is providing, to most average people who follow trends and do not plan, what they believe is their own idea to purchase. Their colors will be out-of-style in a few years and then yours may very well be in fashion. But more importantly, your home will be what YOU want it to be not what some marketing department told you it should be.

In the long run you will be more satisfied with your home if you follow this advice and your own interior decorating ideas.

If you are dead-set on buying your sofa (or bed, or dining table) right now because you can no longer stand the empty space, then you may wish to follow this simple advice:

  • Shop for something used, either at a garage sale, second-hand shop, antique store or an antique "mall". You may be surprised when it comes to colors or styles that are not right now in fashion, that you may easily find them in these places. If not, you may be able to get something that can be refinished, or reupholstered (even maybe waiting a few years) with the end result being exactly what you had in mind with your interior decorating ideas.
  • Shop on the internet. You may be surprised how easy it is to find something in cyberspace that as far as you could tell didn't exist in St. Louis. However, I must caution you when buying furniture on the internet, textures, quality, and especially color can be very hard to judge on items that you cannot see and touch in person.
  • If you still can't find what is on your "specs" list instead buy something that is the correct size but otherwise nothing like what you need because it is very inexpensive. In this way, you will not blow your budget on something you may not keep. Used furniture is a great place to find inexpensive items.

However, let's say that you do find what is on your specs list. In this case, my suggestion is to purchase one or two of the biggest items then move to Steps 10 and 11, then come back here to Step 9 and purchase a few more, then move to Steps 10 and 11 and so on back and forth until you complete Step 11 for the final time. Then move on to Step 12.

In this way, you can see how things are "sizing up" and aren't tied to the entire plan if it doesn't look exactly as you had imagined. You should feel free to revise your plan at any point in the process but through Steps 9, 10, and 11 is an especially good point to reassess your interior decorating ideas.

Step 10: "Install" what you have purchased

Reassessing all along the way, and installing it where it is according to your plan that you conceived in Step 4.

Step 11: Reassess and change future specs on things not yet purchased...

If your preferences for style or color or size has altered a little; this is normal, when you see things actually placed in your room in your home, your interior decorating ideas may further develop, grow and may change a little. That's okay. If your plan was well enough thought out and you were thorough with every step hopefully now EVERYTHING hasn't changed.

Step 12: Put together a specs list of smaller furniture items...

Specifying exact sizes, shapes, colors and styles; be sure also to include the budgeted amounts placed aside for this specs list and place all of this into your interior decorating ideas notebook or file.

Step 13: Shop for, purchase, and install the remainder of items on your "specs" list

Taking care to install everything according to your plan completed in Step 5. For help with end tables, consider the article "End tables, to match or not to match, that is the question....".

Step 14: Move on to decisions regarding "finishes"

Interior Decorating Ideas & Interior Design TipsFinishes are what to do with the walls, ceiling and floor. For help with this step see my article, "Finishes: What to do with walls, ceilings, and floors". It may seem odd to do this at this point and this is NOT the order a professional interior designer would use but most people have trouble picturing their entire vision complete with all of their interior decorating ideas when faced with an empty room, and since finishes are more easily adapted to furniture than vice versa generally speaking, this is a good time to figure out what you want to do with the finishes. Finishes have the ability to nearly "complete" a room, so if your plan has been looking anemic and you haven't yet done anything with the finishes this is probably why.

Please know that if you CAN picture the entire room finished; then it is best to start with the finishes. If you start with the furnishings, know that the furniture must be moved and stored while the finishes are completed.

Step 15: Put together specs list of finishes

Color and square footage totals for floor area and walls and ceiling areas will help a paint or flooring store get you the exact amount of carpet, paint, tile, or wood flooring that you may need thus saving you from purchasing too much of anything. Budget also needs to be broken down for this section of the plan and can be placed into your interior decorating ideas notebook or file.

Step 16: Purchase and install all finishes

This can mean you personally installing them and completing the painting or papering, or hiring professionals for some or all of this work. But whichever works for you it must have been budgeted in.

Step 17: Accessorizing

Now you are ready to start purchasing accessories. Accessories do complete a room and without them a room is not finished. Accessories include artwork, lamps, light fixtures, window coverings, throw pillows, knick-knacks of all kinds, and if needed dishes, flatware and glassware. For assistance with accessorizing, see my article entitled, "Accessorizing: Avoiding interior design clichés, kitsch, trends, and grotesques. If you have been following a budget according to my article "Decorating on a budget: Budgeting, Planning and Patience" you may be for the most part finished with this part in your interior decorating ideas if this is the case, good for you!

Step 18: A plan and a specs list is not usually necessary for all accessories...

But should be compiled for such things as window coverings, light fixtures and certainly artwork and framing; but if you are more comfortable with a specs list for everything, then certainly put one together and place it into your interior decorating ideas notebook. Budget here of course must also be included and broken down for this step. For help with what to do with your windows, you may wish to see "Dress for success for windows".

Step 19: Purchase and install all accessories

This should start with the most important things such as light fixtures, artwork, framing and window coverings as these make the largest impact on a room generally speaking.

Your room is "completed"

Enjoy your room, maybe have a "one-room is finished" party! Your friends can see your great work and they will then be able to imagine how beautiful the remainder of the house will be when completed. You may even want to show them your interior decorating ideas notebook to show how much work you did, or you can show them the section of your ideas for the future. Or, you may wish instead to leave them thinking that this was all quite easy for you!

Find a St. Louis Interior Designer for Interior Decorating Ideas & HelpRemember though that no room is ever completely finished. Every room changes and grows over time, just like all people change and grow over time, some more than others. Rooms will evolve differently depending on the person. Large changes that you may wish to make over time could be a change in the color scheme, but keep all furniture the same. A change to the style of furniture while keeping the color scheme the same or it can be tiny changes over time. You will undoubtedly over the years of your life find items that are more perfect for the room even than the items you believe to be perfect now and that is normal and natural. Your rooms and your interior decorating ideas should grow and evolve with you. For help with this concept and the second thoughts that sometimes creep in when a room is finished, see my article, "Perfection, Perversion, and Preservation".

If planning, patience, budgeting, installing, assessing, shopping, purchasing, and much more is too much for you, I am here to help. In St. Louis, contact me at [email protected]