If you’re starting a design or decorating project, it might be helpful for you to ask yourself the same questions a designer would ask you. When I meet with new clients, I aim to get to know you, your style, your taste and your design goals, so I know best how to help you. If you are embarking on a project on your own, these questions can help you focus and prioritize what’s most important to you and help you get started.
What do you love about this room?
Which elements are staying in the room and need to be incorporated into the new design? Sometimes the answer is “nothing!” But there is always something! Perhaps you like the large windows, or the wood flooring. Perhaps you have a comfortable sofa you’d like to keep, or a piece of artwork you bought on vacation. One client once told me, “everything in here can go EXCEPT my husband’s recliner!”
Whatever it is, I can usually work with it. If it’s the view and the large windows you like most, I can design a seating arrangement and a window treatment that will enhance them. If it’s a piece of artwork, I can pull colors from it and design a color palette for the room. If you want to keep something because you love it, design the room to enhance it; if you have to keep it because it’s too expensive to replace right now (like not-so-attractive fireplace tile, for example), then design the room so it’s NOT the focal point. Add other elements to bring the eye to other areas in the room.
What do you dislike about the room?
What would you like to change most? Design is about aesthetics, but it is also very much about improving functionality in a space. The most common complaints I hear are: This room is too dark; the room lacks storage; I can’t figure out how to arrange the furniture as the room is too small/large/long/narrow. Fortunately all of those problems can be solved.
Room too dark? Guess what– add lighting! Recessed lights, track lights, a chandelier, pendant lights and wall sconces are all possible options. For space planning, draw the space to scale and use furniture templates to experiment with different arrangements. Not enough storage? Consider built-in cabinetry, or tall bookcases, or storage ottomans.
How is this room used?
This may seem an obvious question, but there are many ways to utilize a space. A dining room may indeed be for dining, but it also may need to serve as a meeting room for business or social gatherings; a living room may serve best as a library or home office; a guest room may need to be a room for grandkids, craft projects or even daytime napping.
It’s important to determine all of the activities that need to take place so you can design accordingly. A Murphy bed with a built-in worktable might be a perfect solution for your guest room. And a buffet in your dining room may be better suited for storing art or office supplies instead of those seldom-used “good dishes.”
What colors do you love?
And are there any colors you really don’t like? Don’t worry about what’s popular—if you find yourself still loving colors from previous decades, have no fear. Any color can be made to look new again if it’s paired with more current colors. Pore over magazine photos, Pinterest and Houzz.com to view a wide variety of beautiful color schemes. More important than being “current” however, is being happy. So choose colors you love.
What is the overall look and feel you’d like to see when we are finished with the project?
Do you have a favorite look or style you are trying to achieve? I’m currently working on a large design project where our design goal has been named “Modern Urban Rustic.” Having a theme like that keeps us focused when selecting furnishings and materials. For example, we are using very rustic, reclaimed wood for the floors, combined with very modern, funky light fixtures.
Are there any special needs to take into consideration?
This is very important. For example, if there are elderly parents or people with disabilities, you may want to stay away from area rugs, which can pose a tripping hazard. With small children, you may want to look at furniture with rounded edges or leather pieces that are easy to wipe off. Satin finish paint is also a good option for rooms where kids and pets hang out.
Do you want to complete this project all at once, or over time in phases?
As long as you know your long range plan, it’s OK to tackle a project in phases. However, don’t let the project take so long that you start changing your mind about your design goals, or find yourself never finishing. Sometimes this happens on a decorating project—we get the furniture purchased and walls painted, but then the clients don’t follow through with the window treatments and accessories. The result is a room that is not quite done, which can leave everyone unsatisfied. If possible, save enough money to do the whole project at once, so you get maximum bang for your buck.
And speaking of money, what is your budget for this project? Is it realistic?
I find that clients sometimes have no idea how much things actually cost. So while they have a budget amount in their head, it often does not match the reality of what they want. Remember that we always have to add on sales tax, shipping and delivery charges, installation charges, furniture assembly charges, labor for painting, crown molding, electrical work, granite fabrication, etc. Unfortunately things always seem to be more expensive than people think, especially in the Bay Area. Just keep this in mind when establishing a budget.
How long are you planning to stay in your house?
This is definitely a question that can affect your design plan. If you are planning on selling soon, then meeting with a realtor would be helpful to get an idea of the best ways to spend your design budget. If this is your long-term house, then by all means, design it for your own taste and lifestyle. Please don’t worry so much about resale if your time horizon is more than 2-3 years. Design for yourself so you can enjoy it as long as possible.