How to Design Like a Pro: My Top 4 Secrets

Ever flip through a home design magazine and wonder what it is about those rooms that make them look so ‘designed?’ Of course, there’s no clutter and everything is perfectly placed, but it’s more than that. There are four ‘secrets’ that interior designers rely on to create beautiful spaces. Applying them can be a challenge, but just seeing them clearly can inspire incredible changes that help you create a home you love to live in.

1. Listen to Louis

Louis Sullivan The architect Louis Sullivan coined a phrase that’s become a design mantra: Form Follows Function. His point was that the shape of a building, room or object should relate to its intended function or purpose.

That’s why the initial questions I ask my interior design clients are some of the most important. These questions (plus many more) help me understand exactly what the ‘function’ part of the design needs to accomplish.

• How is the room going to be used? Watching TV, reading, exercising, partying?
• Who’s will be using it? Children, seniors, a couple?
• When will it be used? Evenings, daytime, weekends?
• How much time do you want to spend maintaining it? Easy to care for, or are aesthetics more important than maintenance?

It’s essential that you write down the answers to these questions. It’s much easier making decisions about fabrics, furniture, decor and design elements when you can go back to a list to check if that item fits your functional requirements. For example, if the function of your room is centered around seniors, the furniture needs to be easy to get in and out of. Or, if you’re designing a closet for a child, hanging clothes should be within reach so they can access them.

2. Keep it Classic

Before you jump into creating a Tuscany style living room or Southwest themed bedroom, take a moment. People tire of themed rooms more quickly. They tend to look outdated more quickly, can feel contrived, and are harder to ‘refresh’.

I’m a big advocate for classic and timeless. Classic doesn’t have to mean boring or modern or traditional. It simply means that the envelope of the room is relatively neutral, while the accessories, area rugs, artwork and paint show off your style and personality. Try a neutral sofa and chair, but pair them with a colorful and graphic area rug that’s coordinated with fun pillows and a strong piece of art.

I like to think of it the same way I think of classic clothing: the basics can be neutral, and the accessories – jewelry, shoes, purse – can be fun, colorful, and even faddish. Because it’s flexible, it means it will look stylish for years and years.

3. Pick One Focal Point

Too many focal points in a room create visual overload. When you walk into a room with 3, 4, 5, focal points it’s uncomfortable and chaotic because your eye doesn’t know where to rest. You dilute the impact of the room by including too many elements to look at. A focal point can be a spectacular piece of art or furniture. It can be slightly oversized, colorful or decorative. It should be one of the first things you see when you walk into a room. Think of the rest of the room as a support for that one, incredible piece. In this room I used the huge windows with a beautiful view as the main focal point.

4. Pay Attention to Proportion

Too Small Living Room InteriorPurchasing furnishings that are in proportion to the room will make or break how you feel in that room. Too big and it will feel claustrophobic, too small and it will feel too busy. Try creating a furniture floor plan, to scale, to determine how big each piece of furniture needs to be. Remember to create traffic pathways through a room and don’t clutter up a room with too many small pieces of furniture. See my tip for buying furniture at the right scale.

These four interior design secrets are good starting points for anyone jumping into a room renovation project. Combined successfully, they will help you create a room that functions well, creates a powerful impression, and can be updated easily.


As an interior designer, I use all of these rules every day, but I also break them! If you’ve got ideas but can’t seem to get started on creating a redesign that works for you, contact me for a free, 30-minute phone consultation.

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