Tips for how to think like an interior designer

When renovating or refreshing your space, detach yourself and plan like a professional designer to achieve a polished look that is suited to your style

Architecture, engineering plans and drawing equipment for a new building. Getty Images

In an ideal world, we'd all have the budget to call in an expert to help us get our homes exactly as we want them. In reality, though, most of us have to make do with gathering our design inspiration, and then have a good go at doing it ourselves.

Nonetheless, there are ways to add a bit of professional polish to your interiors and get your friends wondering whether you might have splashed out on some design help on the sly. The trick is to think like an interior designer, rather than a home owner. By tapping into your inner designer, you'll be able to step back from your home and view it with a more detached eye. This will allow you to get a more professional look while still creating a space that you can fall in love with. Here's how to change your mindset.

Set yourself a brief

The first thing a professional designer will do when sitting down with a client is get a really clear idea of the scope of the project. What is it that you’re actually looking to achieve? Do you want a complete transformation or do you just need to freshen things up a bit? Think about the functionality of the room; how it is used and who by? Is it currently serving your needs? Perhaps you’ve started working from home, or your kids have gone off to university – changes in your lifestyle that should be reflected in your home. It might seem unnecessary, given that you’re both the client and the designer, but writing down your brief will help keep you on track, especially when you start getting waylaid by that really pretty sofa fabric that is actually far too pale to deal with the kids’ sticky fingers.

Take accurate measurements

While homeowners are often tempted to rush out to the shops, designers know that it's vital to start with the practicalities. That means taking accurate measurements of your room or rooms, and even drawing out a bird's-eye view plan so you can work out how everything is going to fit together. Not only do you need to know how long each wall is, but how high the ceiling is (this will affect your choice of ceiling lights), plus where any obstacles are – this includes windows, doors, fireplaces, nooks and so on. Make a note of which way doors open to, and pinpoint any plug sockets that might influence the positioning of things like the television or lamps. Taking photographs of your room can also be useful. Capture as many different angles as possible to give you a good sense of your space.

Create a mood board

This is another vital planning step, and one that many home owners skip. You might feel like it’s too much effort, but this isn’t art – you don’t need to create something neat and tidy that you can show to other people. The idea is to bring together different elements of your room so that you can check it all works, before you start spending – and possibly wasting – money in the shops. Fabric samples, paint charts, inspirational pictures from magazines and actual items you like from catalogues can all form part of your board. Stick them on a piece of cardboard, use masking tape to attach them to a whiteboard or wall, or pin them to a pin board. You can even make a digital version, if you prefer. This can be done in a simple Word document, but there are also useful online tools such as Canva, Moodboard, Oliboard and, of course, Pinterest, that make it super easy.


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Study the experts

Even the most experienced interior designer doesn't work in isolation. They'll be constantly looking for new ideas and techniques, visiting design fairs, leafing through relevant publications – and spying on competition. Most of us can see when a room works and when it doesn't, but the difference is that professionals can tell you why something works and how to recreate it. That's what comes from years of experience. You don't need to reach that level, but the more you can look at the work of experienced designers – whether by reading their blog posts, for example, or following them on Instagram – the easier you'll find it to see what works and why.

Set a budget

Yes, we're still in the practical zone here. Because as a home lover you'll know just how easy it is to get carried away and spend all your available cash on wow factor artwork and pretty accessories, before you've even worked out how much that new flooring is going to cost. Deciding what you need and how much you can afford right at the ­beginning, means you can decide where you need to be a bit more frugal and where you can allow yourself a little more leeway. Don't just resort to guessing either. Do a bit of research to see what things really cost. And give yourself a few options – compare hardwood versus laminate flooring, ­granite surfaces versus wood or marble, a leather couch ­versus a fabric one. Think about where you might be able to reuse things you already own that are currently languishing forgotten in a different room. Or can you get things second hand? This sort of planning might not be as fun as shopping, but it will put you firmly in control of your project, just like an ­interior designer would be.

Know where to spend your money

It's perfectly possible to ­decorate a room without bankrupting yourself, as every good designer knows. The trick is to spend in the areas that count. This usually means the items that are going to need to last longest and see the most wear – flooring, sofas, mattresses and so on. Then there are the statement items, such as lighting or artwork. Once you've invested in these, you can grab as many bargains as you like, and your look will never feel cheap. Those more expensive items will provide a lift, giving you an enviable finish you'll want to show off.

Listen to William Morris

Among his many talents, William Morris was a textile designer, and is possibly most famous for one very inspirational quote: “Have nothing in your home which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

While you might think an interior designer would be all about the trends, in fact, they're much more interested in helping you create a home that is unique to you – and that you truly love. Going for one set style – whether that be shabby chic, industrial, mid-century retro or country casuals – can result in a rather two-dimensional finish that might look pretty on Instagram, but doesn't have much in the way of soul.
Good designers aren't constrained by the rules, they simply know how to break them in the right way.

When it comes to choosing furniture, fabrics, accessories and more for your home, use your heart as well as your head. By combining the two, you'll end up with an individual home that reflects the taste of those who live in it.