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Phase 1: The Vision

The secret to creating a space you truly love and feel comfortable in, is knowing both the functionality you want and the style that’s “you”.  

Don’t get stuck over-thinking in the “idea” phase.  Avoid analysis paralysis and get on your way to creating the space you’re dreaming of.

Step 1: Discover Your Unique Design Style

Modern or traditional? Minimalist or extravagant?  Let’s find out your decor personality and design style with the “Discover Your Design Style” Quiz!

After you take the quiz, it’s time to come up with your OWN unique name for your design style and the space you want to create!

Why?  Because so often as you begin to shop for that “style”… something happens and things get off track. 

Have you ever been attracted to a piece of furniture or an accent table, etc. and you just love it! But it’s not consistent with your original design style idea. You introduce the piece into your space anyway and it feels awkward or out of place. 

One way to help avoid getting off track like that is to give your design style a name. 

Once you say, I’m designing a rustic modern room, you can then refer back to that label when you’re shopping. By reminding yourself of your design label you will be more likely to maintain consistency in your style. 

Key Pro Tip: It’s totally okay to choose an “eclectic” design style, as long as there’s still an underlying consistency in the space.

Step 2: Create Your Vision and Organize Ideas

Once you’ve identified your design style, it’s time to bring your ideas together in an easy to use vision board.  

With any new design project, it’s always nice to start with a clean slate; in your mind, that is.

Get a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage and take a good look at your room. List out all the permanent features in the space. The doorways, the windows, sliding door, fireplace feature or other architectural details. These are the foundation elements of your space. Now, close your eyes and visualize your room totally empty!

As with most people you probably enjoy flipping through magazines or going online to sites like HOUZZ to look at pictures of spaces that appeal to you. This helps you to:

  • narrow down the style you like
  • identify color combinations you are attracted to
  • find interesting furniture and accessory pieces

I call this the stage of euphoria, since it appears that anything is possible!

As fun as it is to shop for new furniture, you will want to have a good idea of what style you like and what the color story is for the room before you try to make a furniture selection.

So, take your time going through photos and keep a small folder of the designs that truly inspire you.

Well, almost anything really IS possible with a little “How to” guidance.

Here are some fast and simple tips for organizing all those ideas in an easy to use vision board:

  • Tip 1: Identify your color scheme.
    • Choose about 3 colors you like for your space (there can be other colors too, sprinkled minimally)
    • Use the designer secret formula: 60% 30% 10%
    • Hint: Wall color is usually 60%, or what we call the dominant color – furniture choices 30% – accents 10%
      This means the main color will cover about 60% of the space, complimentary color 30% and accent color 10%
    • You will maintain a natural color balance by following this guideline.
    • Note: plants add color too!
  • Tip 2: Keep your style consistent. 
    • Once you identify your personal style, keep your furniture, lighting, and accent pieces consistent with this style.
    • You can go a bit off track with your accent pieces if that’s what you really like.
    • Example, a couple funky sofa pillows, or maybe some of your favorite artwork pieces.
  • Tip 3: Try to limit your initial selections to just the basic necessities for the room.
    • You will feel more comfortable filling in the blank spaces once you have your foundation pieces in place.
    • Plus, you allow yourself time to search for just that right “thing” that you didn’t know you wanted before!
Here are a few examples:

Ready to begin your own vision board?  You can use paper and clippings from magazines, your own sketches and colors, or create one online with Canva (you can create an account free).  The button links below will take you to templates in Canva you can modify with your own colors, images and more:

Step 3: Define Your Space & Create a Floor Plan

Next, define your space plan & design a floor plan for traffic flow, etc.

Many people wonder if a space plan and floor plan are the same, or what the difference is.  You want both!

A space plan allows you to choose and plan the elements that go into your space.

A floor plan allows you to plan where those elements go based on your traffic flow.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How do you live in that space? How do you move around or utilize the area?
    This determines what the focal point will be, i.e. tv room’s focal point is the tv.  Is it a room to sit by the fireplace and chat? A play space for children
  • Do you have enough storage space?
    Are you craving more counter space? Need more room to put away items you don’t want to look at all the time?
  • What type of furnishings do you want in your space?
    Four chairs for a circle conversation area? Or a large sectional for everyone to relax and watch TV?
  • Is your primary traffic flow blocked or open?
    This is imperative when designing a space plan.

Before you start to go crazy with ideas, it is important to write down the measurements of your room.  And carry them with you when shopping or consulting with contractors!

Also include how high your ceilings are. This will eliminate a multitude of mistakes because it tells you how much space you have to work with.

You know the saying… Size matters. 

Key Pro Tip: Form follows function.  In other words, your design should work for you based on how you live in your space.

Study the Room’s Architecture and Establish a Focal Point

Your space will fall into one of these 5 categories: L-Shape, Square, Rectangle, Bowling Alley, Odd Angled

 Now determine the wall and ceiling elevation:

Have you identified the shape of your room? GREAT!

Now look around the room to see if there are any built-in architectural features. If you have an odd wall angle or perhaps a corner fireplace, I suggest you play off (match) that architectural angle with your furniture grouping. By selecting the main architectural feature you are creating the focal point for your room.

The focal point is the feature that is most predominant in your space. What draws your attention the most? Is it a fireplace, or a large picture window, or maybe you have built-in shelving or a grand staircase. For some of you the television or entertainment center can be the focal point. Your main furniture grouping will always be located around your focal point. 

If no focal point comes to your attention, don’t worry we will create one very soon!

Floor Plan (Traffic Flow)

Look at your space and notice where the room openings or doors are. How do you get from point A to point B. This is called establishing a traffic pattern. 

We want to avoid placing any furniture in the way of our traffic pattern, as it would be like parking a car at the main entrance to a parking lot. It would be very difficult to get in with something large blocking your way! 

Identify what paths you would like to keep clear as it will help us in our next step; furniture placement!

Our eye is naturally attracted to balance and harmony. 

A peek at Mother Nature provides a perfect example for this sense of well-being. Your first step before placing any furniture in your space is to compare the size of your furniture with the overall square footage of the room. 

We want the room to feel “just right”. If the sofa is too big, it will over power the room, too small and it almost disappears in the space. 

Creating a floor plan first helps you visualize how the furniture will look in proportion to the scale of the room. If your proportions are correct, all your pieces will work, and since your space works, you can enjoy re-arranging your furniture many times over.

One of the best tips I can share with you when decorating a living room space is to start with the largest piece of furniture and work around it. 

And, keep your room measurements with you at all times so when shopping you will know if the piece is going to fit in the space!

Figuring out the furniture placement is sometimes a puzzling and stressful job for some people. 

One of the easiest things you can do is get a roll of blue painters tape and place it on the floor using the dimensions of the piece you want to use in the designated area. You will know right away if it’s too big or too small and also, how much space you have left for other furniture. 

Once you know the general space layout you can feel confident about making that high ticket purchase.

Creating your dazzling space is like building upon several layers. 

You will start with your foundation piece and design a conversation area around it. Some of the usual combinations include:

  • A sofa and two chairs
  • A sectional with one chair
  • Two sofas facing each other

Space Plan (What Goes Where)

There are several ways to create the primary conversation area in your room. If you have a sofa, try placing it directly opposite the fireplace, or if you have 2 sofas, try placing them facing each other, on either side of the fireplace. Was your fireplace on an angle? Then your sofa should be on an angle too. Reference the shape of your room again, so when you place that first piece of furniture you are complimenting both your focal point and the architectural shape of your room. 

In square shaped rooms and bowling alley (long and skinny) rooms angling the furniture is more visually interesting. In a rectangular room, create two different seating areas, one larger than the other. That way you are using the entire space. In an L-Shape room you will usually have a dining area in the smaller space, and a conversation setting in the larger space. In all cases, avoid placing furniture against the walls when possible.

Helpful tips when placing the sofa:

  • Take your cue from the architecture and angles of your room.
  • Remember to consider traffic patterns.
  • Move furniture away from walls whenever possible. Place a console table behind the sofa to extend it away from the wall.
  • If your sectional is too large (in scale) try separating the pieces in your grouping to keep your room in balance. 
  • When you have a sofa and a loveseat, place them in an “L” with arms close. If you can, move your loveseat to another room and substitute with 2 chairs, you will have many more options.

Creating the conversation area: Start by placing your other seating pieces with the sofa. These are your chairs, and/or ottoman(s). You will want all the furniture to be spaced comfortably apart but not so far that they look detached from the arrangement. Add the coffee table and end tables leaving about a 12 – 15 inch space from the coffee table to the furniture. Step back and see if everything is in balance. Even small tweaks can make a big difference! If you have hard surface floors, you may want to add an area rug to anchor the conversation area. This helps with acoustics too. If you have wall to wall carpet, I don’t recommend an area rug unless it is relatively thin so as not to create a tripping hazard. On hard surface floors, sometimes layering 2 area rugs can add interest and be very stylish. 

What if I don’t have a focal point? You can create one! I suggest using the most prominent feature, like a big window or your entertainment center. Place the sofa opposite that focal point then create the conversation area. Also consider ceiling height. If you have a cathedral ceiling, putting the foundation furniture piece near the center of the room helps with balance and symmetry of the space. Likewise, if your ceiling is pitched (higher on one end) place your foundation piece towards the slant to balance off the higher side of the ceiling. 

Remember scale when selecting your pieces. Try to maintain a similar “weight” in your furniture grouping. For example, an over-sized sofa next to a small chair will look off balance. You can always shop the other areas of your home if you need to find an alternate piece of furniture! You can also separate bookcases if you need to open up a space that feels too “heavy”. Don’t forget that you can repurpose furniture pieces too. That ottoman can be a coffee table, or that pretty pedestal can also stand in as an end table. Get creative!! 

The next step is to select proper lighting. Preferably you will have overhead or ambient lighting, then add table or floor lamps, and lastly some accent lighting to highlight artwork, plants, sculptures, etc.

The last and final layer to finish off the space is your artwork. There are numerous configurations for hanging artwork or if you like the minimalistic feel, a single large piece of wall art and be very stunning. 

Key Pro Tip: Embrace the importance of proportion and scale (how items relate to each other size wise in your space). When your room feels good, you have succeeded in getting the proportions correct. 

Lighting and Artwork Placement

Lighting is certainly one of the most critical, and often neglected, elements to an outstanding redesign. Good lighting sets a mood, confirms the room’s function, and can instantly warm up a space like no other element. 

We sometimes take lighting for granted. It is something that exists at the flip of a switch, but do we pay attention to exactly what that switch is turning on? Usually not! A well-done room makeover really does hinge on a well-done lighting scheme. Fear not, you will be executing your lighting plan like a pro by applying the following technique. 

The Lighting Triangle

The lighting triangle is the golden rule of lighting and used by all designers. To create a great atmosphere in a room you should combine several light sources and space these sources evenly within the room, roughly forming a triangle. If you have overhead lighting then you already have general illumination. If not, consider a floor lamp or two to accomplish the same job. Your secondary light source is more task oriented. This includes table lamps for the end tables or a desk lamp if your room is an office. Finally every room needs accent lighting. If you have a bookcase, tuck a small low-watt lamp on the shelf. If you have a plant in the corner of your room, place an uplight on the floor behind it to cast a beautiful shadow towards the ceiling. If you have a fireplace, consider a pairing of candlesticks on the mantle, etc. There should be NO dark corners or spaces in your room when your lighting placement is complete. 

Hanging Artwork

It is a known fact that many of you hang your artwork too high. Before you hang anything, I suggest you bring in your favorite selections and lean them against the wall or on the furniture in the location where you want them hung. When you have all the artwork in the room, then you can begin hanging. Always remember that art is usually hung at eye level (about 60 inches off the floor). If the artwork is above a sofa, keep the space between the top of the sofa and bottom of the frame around 8 inches. You want to make sure that the art is visually connected to the furniture below it. 

If you want to hang a collage of art, I suggest you lay it out flat on your floor first so you can position the pieces the way you want. Then take a picture of the layout with your cell phone so you can refer back to what you created. When you begin hanging your grouping, START IN THE MIDDLE. Hang the piece that was in the center of your collage first, then work your way out. This is especially helpful when you are trying to line up the grouping above furniture or just trying to create symmetry on your wall. 

Hanging Mirrors

Mirrors can be tricky, so please follow these guidelines. Mirrors should only be hung intentionally, not just as art.  For instance a mirror can open up a visually cramped space or it can reflect a great view from a picture window, or maybe a piece of art from a facing wall. Mirrors are great at reflecting natural light as well. Try to avoid hanging a mirror where it is reflecting the ceiling or a blank wall. 

Recommended: Hang-O-Matic  Art Hanging Tool

Plants and Accessories

Your final step is to fill in the empty spaces in your room, without going over-board! 

You already de-cluttered your space when we started this process, so try to maintain that open, relaxed feeling as you accessorize your new room. Rule of thumb, combining objects in odd numbered groups works very well visually. Also, when you are scanning over all the items you removed from your room initially, try to only bring back those items that have a common theme. 

Use similar colors, or try pairing down a large collection and only use choice pieces. You can always swap them out periodically to change up the look. Be very selective in placing your accessories. 

Try creating compositions that vary in height, high to low. Start with the theory of less is more. If you feel that there are too many open spaces, you can always fill in later. 

Key Pro Tip: Place your accessory grouping on a tray. This works especially well on a coffee table or ottoman. 

Don’t forget to add texture when you are embellishing your space. Pillows, throws, wood artifacts and glass can be combined for a striking look.

No room is ever complete without a little plant life. Live plants (or live looking) plants really add that natural touch to your room. If you are using faux plants, succulents are a great choice as they look very real. When using live plants always place a dish or tray under them to protect your furniture and your floor. Changing out your plants from time to time provides a fresh look to your space with minimal effort.

The 10 Commandments of Good Design

Setting up a room properly is actually a step by step process and is a lot of fun as long as you follow some specific design rules.  We will refer to them as the 10 Commandments of Good Design.

Thou Shalt Not:

Place all the furniture against the walls- Floating the furniture inside the perimeter of the room actually creates the illusion of more space, and creates comfortable conversation areas.

Forget the focal point- Every room will have a focal point, even if you need to create one using artwork, accessories or furniture placement.

Position furniture too far apart- Your furniture should be spaced in a way that connects the pieces together, visually.

Rely on overhead lighting- Each area in the room should be well lit using a combination of ambient, task and accent lighting.

Avoid tactile interest- Adding a mixture of textures is absolutely necessary for visual appeal and adding depth to a room.

Hang artwork too high- Art is most comfortably viewed at eye level. And there should be a visual connection between the artwork and the furnishings around the art.

Ignore architectural features– Identify the features that are “built in” to your space first. These are areas of interest that you want to bring attention to.

Hang a mirror improperly– Yes, there is a right and wrong way to hang a mirror! Hang a mirror(s) where it will compliment your space by reflecting a great view, bounce off a natural light source, or visually open up the space. 

Create a sterile environment– Your room should reflect your individual personality and interests. Look for emerging themes or collections in your artwork and accessories. 

Scale the room improperly– Notice how objects interact with each other and how they “fit” in your space. Pay close attention to the vertical and horizontal balance in your overall room. Avoid having too many heavy pieces clustered together. 

So how do professional designers identify when a style is coming together?  How do you know when you have a workable concept that’s ready to rock (and move on to phase 2)?

  • You’ve established a foundation and have cohesive ideas
  • You feel like your vision has come together at a “big picture” level
  • You have enough of a “style” and “vision” to move forward with your design

Remember, this is just the “vision” phase – all you need is the “big picture” to move forward!  

You’ll be tweaking this and exploring more ideas as you go through phase 2.


For more great tips to help you develop your design vision, here’s my free gift for you!

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