8 Tips to Help You Think Like an Interior Designer

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated March 8, 2022
stylish well decorated living room
Photo: Elias Assar/ Adobe Stock

Approach every space like a pro with these handy decorating ideas

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If you’re in the beginning stages of designing the inside of your home and have no idea where to begin, take a page from the pros. Interior designers have a few tricks up their sleeves that make decorating even the most immense homes totally manageable. 

Use these designer-inspired tips to avoid common interior design mistakes and ensure your place looks great from top to bottom.

1. Start With a Plan

No matter what kind of space you’re tackling, planning in advance will make the design process both more streamlined and flexible. Spend time researching inspiration, bookmarking your favorites, taking measurements, developing a budget, and writing a list of to-dos, to-gets, and to-get-rid-ofs.

With a concrete idea of what you want in mind, you’ll easily be able to swap in and out deco ideas as necessary without having to scrap your plans entirely—for example, if a piece of furniture you wanted is no longer available or a paint sample isn’t working out as you thought. Your plan doesn’t necessarily need to be extremely detailed, but knowing at least a bit about your desired look will help you better achieve it.

2. Figure Out What You Want With a Few Questions

Once you have a basic plan, it’s time to start hammering out all the specifics. And asking yourself a couple of common interior designer questions—like how you want your home to feel and how much you’re willing to spend—is the best way to figure out what you actually do and don’t want (as well as what and what doesn’t fit into your budget).

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Mix and Match Styles

Woman shopping in home decor shop
Photo: Trevor Adeline/Caia Image/ Adobe Stock

Combining various styles is one of the primary ways that interior designers make home decor feel organic and seamless. But it can be difficult to know what styles and how much of each will work well together with an untrained eye. 

When in doubt, stick to the 70-30 rule, which recommends mixing 70% of one style with 30% of another. In general, this trick works no matter what two styles you’re combining, whether that’s cottage-core and industrialism or bohemian and Scandinavian design. Or start even smaller by mixing and matching minor elements, like metal finishes or wallpaper patterns.

4. Pay Attention to Little Details

Though small design elements—like doorways, hardware, and electrical outlets—may not receive as much attention as larger fixtures, they can be just as impactful in a space. To ensure they’re accounted for, take stock of all the little details while you’re making your overall decorating plan. Make a note of what needs to be changed and what already kind of fits with your desired design scheme and adjust accordingly. You’ll be amazed at how many fast fixes freshen interior design.

5. Test Out Samples Before Committing

Interior designers never commit to a product or material before testing it out, and you shouldn’t either. Order samples of everything you intend to change, from paint for walls to fabrics for an heirloom couch that you want to reupholster. Samples cost little to nothing, so doing this also poses little risk to your budget.

6. Use Color Theory to Create a Balanced Palette

Woman looking at color wheel swatches at home
Photo: Charday Penn/ Getty Images

Picking a color palette for a home is another thing that’s not always easy for non-professionals to do. Learning about color theory will help you pick a scheme that fits your plan and is totally balanced, whether you previously knew anything about color or not. Always consult a color wheel to determine which shades complement the one you already had in mind, or to brainstorm a palette that’s entirely new to you.

7. Make a Big Impact Without Spending a Lot

Mixing high- and low-end furniture and accessories is a great way to create a home that looks and feels balanced without having to drain your bank account. Save your splurges for items that you really want (like the sectional or clawfoot tub you’ve been dreaming of) and use the rest of your budget on a mix of pieces from flea markets, thrift stores, or even big-box stores like IKEA.

8. Be Willing to Take Bold Risks

Interior designers build the most beautiful spaces by not being afraid to take risks. That doesn’t mean you have to take risks through every step of the process. Rather, you should make room for objects and designs that you truly love, whether that’s a bold interior mural or a furniture style you’ve never used before. In the worst-case scenario, you can simply repaint or resell objects that don’t end up working out. Or, reach out to interior designers in your area to find out if they’re interested in taking them off your hands.

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