My 5 Simple Steps to Strategic Design
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
It's important to tackle (re)decorating and staging with strategy and purpose, otherwise, you will end up with a hodgepodge of furniture and decor with no fluidity in style/color and a space that's either underutilized or over-furnished. I'm a big believer in, what I call, Strategic Design!
Strategic Design brings purpose and meaning to your space by allowing you to accomplish your vision more accurately and effectively.
Follow these 5 steps and I PROMISE you'll be able to create a space that you love! If it's done right, you should be so satisfied with your room that you won't want to change ONE thing!
1) Find your style
This step sets the foundation for your entire design and thus is the most important step! Everything revolves around the style you select and it should ack as your sandbox to play in moving forward.
Keep in mind that you should always match your style to the integrity of the home as well as the surrounding landscape. For example, you can't have a cottage exterior and an ultra-modern interior or live in Hawaii but decorate with a warm log cabin vibe; it would just feel like a bad case of miscommunication!
If you are unsure of what your style really is, I recommend these activities to really pin it down:
Take a test online. HERE is a link to a personality-basted design test and HERE is a link to a test based on pictures you're drawn too; neither test will require an email and won't spam you haha. I recommend taking multiple tests for more accuracy. This is a great option if you just need to be told what to do.
Organize all your pins on Pinterest and see which you flock to most. I recommend deleting pins you don't like anymore and grouping the rest into new boards, titling each with it’s style name (ie. modern, traditional). Then evaluate the boards by which one has the most pins, which board you flock to most, and which has the most lovable/must-have pins. I recommend this step if you know what you like, but you just can't pick!
Research different styles online and take notes. For example, you could go through THIS list of the most popular design styles in 2020 and do a process of elimination. Evaluate the styles you don't like, you can't relate to, and you don't think would work for the space and see what you're left with. I would recommend this activity if you tend to be more strategic about your decisions.
Note: It's ok to have a combination of styles. I, personally, have nailed down a fun jive of contemporary as my foundation with a splash of eclectic to keep things interesting and hints of traditional to soften the edges a little. If you go this route, just be sure to prioritize them in your design by having one overarching style with a secondary and maybe an accent.
2) Pick your color pallet
Now that you've chosen your style, there are usually colors pallets that can accompany it. For example, if you are going for a French cottage style, you will find that soft, pastels will always compliment that style. Or log cabin will generally be accompanied by deep, rich colors. Do a little research here to make sure you're still playing in your style sandbox.
Assuming you already have some furniture and/or decor to utilize in your space, I always recommend grabbing your "must-have" pieces that you might need to plan around and make a college. Look for colors that you see throughout your pieces, colors that pop, colors that are foundational, and outlier colors that are struggling to fit in.
In our Mid Century Modest home, I STRUGGLED to pin down our living room color pallet! It actually took me a full year to craft the space exactly how I wanted. Pondering a college is what got me to my final result.
This is an important step as it will tell you what items you will need to purchase and shop for. Often times we fall in love with a stunning piece of furniture that fits our style and color pallet, but it doesn't fit the room. Which is actually counterproductive and why you should have an idea for your layout prior to picking out your key design elements.
How do you tackle a layout? Think of your furniture as people. People communicate messages with their body language - so does your furniture. Figure out what messages you want your room to say. "Come join us as we enjoy each other's company while taking in the view," or "This is a secluded study area where you can relax, ponder, and work." Nail down the goals of your room and communicate them with the layout of your furniture. Also, consider the challenges you'll need to overcome and leverage your furniture to do so.
We tried these 3 layouts with these goals in mind: foster conversation, create an entryway and invite guests into our home with open arms. The first was too accommodating of the TV which assumed for less conversation, and the entryway was too closed off and caused the room to feel uninviting. The second was a great option, but it left the entryway a little too undefined and it almost felt like the furniture was staring at you when you walked in. We finally landed the 3rd layout! We loved how it made the room approachable while the accent chair still helped to designate an entryway without being cold-shouldered when you walked in the front door. It also created a better opportunity for conversation to over-flow into the dining room/kitchen without any blockage.
4) Find your Inspo Stores and start shopping
An "Inspo Store" is what I call an inspirational store that carries your selected style of home decor whether it's in your price range or not! In fact, all of my inspo stores are borderline $$$! It doesn't matter if you can afford the items these stores sell, all that matters is that it keeps you on track playing within the boundaries of your style sandbox. It fosters creativity and helps you discover what kind of sofa, size mirror, or rug design that you love and flock to! For example, my go-to Inspo Stores are Anthropology and West Elm! Every time I see something stunning on Pinterest it turns out it's from one of those two stores and it's, like, twice what I was hoping to spend! Haha! But I promise it's not always torturous window-shopping for things outside the budget, and here's why... sometimes I figure out a way TO afford them and it's a WIN-WIN!
I found the exact Down East aniline leather couch that we were considering on Facebook Marketplace for $1,500 less than what the store was selling it for! I also found an Anthropology rug for $400 on eBay when it was originally $1,200 at the store! Another time I found a stunning dining room table set on Facebook Marketplace for $500 that was at least $2,500 at West Elm!!! All 3 were either brand new or HARDLY used! If you find a must-have that's just too $$$, search for it on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Overstock, Wayfair, etc. It's worth a shot! If you can't find it anywhere for a cheaper price, then you'll need to find a close alternative by searching the item's specific features online. For example: "extra-wide modern navy velvet accent chair," - trust me, you'll find an alternative! It might not be as perfect as your pricer option but it'll still accomplish your goals (one of which is probably staying within a budget). My point is, you may as well shoot for the moon and either get the moon for a killer deal or land on the stars! Both are a win, but getting the moon for the price of the stars is better than intentionally landing on the stars.
5) Big to small
By this point, you've perused your Inspo Stores and probably have a pretty good idea of what items you're looking for (brown leather sectional, blue velvet accent chair, floral rug, soft abstract art above the fireplace, etc.); this means it's time to stop pinning and start shopping! Shopping Rule #1: Start with your largest, foundational pieces (couches, tables, bedding, etc.), then shop for your medium highlights (artwork, mirrors, shelving, etc.), and lastly fill in the gaps with your smaller, filler pieces (books, framed photos, plants, etc).
Shopping for your bigger items first: These pieces (table, couches, rug, bedding, headboard, cabinet color, etc.) are your foundation. Whatever style and core color pallet you're trying to accomplish need to be communicated here. If not, then you may be desperately trying to throw in smaller items to convey those big conversations and they usually aren't really equipped to do that.
Shopping for medium/smaller items - My first tip is to see what you have around your home already that can play in your style/color pallet sandbox. You might be surprised! At one point we used one of Tyson's vintage Star Wars toys (Lukes Landspeeder to be specific) on top of a stack of books to tie in some earth tones and we loved it! Haha. (Featured in the picture below.) Just remember: anything that distracts from your goals and overall design ends up contradicting and confusing the message the room is trying to convey.
Tip #2: Always have varying sizes of decor and keep a good balance of large, medium, and small pieces. Be sure to place your smaller items in groups of 3 forming some kind of triangle (as seen in the picture below). When it comes to secondary and filler decor, we can often times flock to cheap things; well, cheap things are usually small things, and it takes a lot of small things to take up a big space, which can look very cluttery and when there are too many pieces to focus on all your pieces lose their value. $100 mirror or ten $10 smaller items? Less is more and keep it simple. The more you have to look at (especially if it's all the same size), the less you actually see.
Tip #3: Use your filler decor to accomplish goals that you didn't accomplish with your other furniture. Maybe you wanted more yellow in the room - add a jar full of fake lemons! (As pictured below.) Maybe you haven't lightened up the room as you wanted - use white picture frames for your photos on the shelf. Or maybe you wanted more texture - get a velvet or fur pillow for your couch and a throw blanket on the chair.
The biggest take away is that your room has a story to tell...
Your big furniture items should carry the weight of communicating your style. The layout should express the goal of the room. The colors and textures tell their guests what they should feel in this space. And the smaller decor items add depth and drama to the story.
...And the most rewarding part is YOU get to create that story.