This post is a loooong time coming and I am so glad to finally hit publish on it! I’m asked all the time about how I approach a new interior design project, how I choose a color palette, decor concept, etc. So today I’m covering all of those topics AND MORE as I walk you through my entire, comprehensive interior design process. Keep in mind that I am not trained in interior design, but rather have relied on honing my eye over the years and practicing in my home and others. Also, this is a process that works for me, but feel free to adapt parts of it based on what works best for you!
My Tried and True, Comprehensive Interior Design Process
Like I said, I am not trained in the field of interior design, but I did go to school for Industrial Design and Photography. I like to think I have a good eye when it comes to design… or at the very least know how to execute the look I want. I’ve tried tons of different interior design processes, but this post covers my best tips and tricks that work for me every time.
This is a long post, so grab a coffee… let’s dig in. BTW, here’s a quick list of everything I cover in this post in case you want to jump head!
- How to plan and organize your ideas
- How to make a moodboard
- How to build a cohesive color palette, including print and pattern
- How to create a floor plan
- How to select furniture and decor
- My favorite tools and apps to use for interior design
How I Come Up with My Initial Ideas
It’s pretty much expected that all design work begins with Pinterest now. It’s really the ultimate tool for saving ideas… and I am a compulsive idea saver! I’ve long ago lost count of how many secret boards I have, but I use those a LOT when it comes to saving ideas for future projects.
When it comes to designing our cabin, for example, I made a secret pinboard dedicated specifically to it. Then, I created a board section for each room/area that I want to tackle. I actually created this as soon as we were under contract because it can take some time for ideas to coalesce into something cohesive. My best advice in this stage is to NOT edit yourself. If you like something as inspiration for a bathroom, save it. Don’t overthink it. Just save it and collect ideas.
When it’s time to actually tackle the design plan of a room, that is when I revisit the board section with an editing eye. I drop and drag the pins that speak to me the most so that they are next to each other. And I ask myself a few questions:
- What consistencies can I identify? For example, I kept noticing that I was gravitating toward green and doors/trim being painted an accent color with white walls. That immediately got me thinking about trying that in the cabin.
- Which ideas feel architecturally right for the space?
- What feels livable on a day-to-day basis and what feels more like a passing trend?
As you can see, I even have a secret called VIBES which is basically just anything that feels like a good fit for my overall goals for the space. It could be a storage idea, the styling of a bed, or even moulding (that’s how I got the idea to add paneling to our bedroom).
I also save images on Instagram to refer back to in the future. I believe this is how I actually got the idea to paint our trim and doors green!
To stay organized, I have a collection called Mountain House and anything I like in reference for our home gets saved there.
Magazines and books
My eyes are always open, mostly because it’s my job to stay up to date with decor trends and also to be informed about styles. Because of this, I subscribe to a bunch of different decor magazines and collect books. I regularly page through them and tear pages out of the magazines for inspiration. I store them in boxes in my office and have my favorite tears tacked up on the wall. Sometimes it’s just really nice to unplug from tech and get inspired by real paper.
BTW you don’t always have to invest in brand new books. I absolutely LOVE thrifting books and magazines — after all, so many design trends are cyclical. You can learn so much about decor of the past.
Wishlist of decor ideas
I’m not sure if this is normal or not… but I always have a wishlist of ideas that I hope to one day accomplish. For example, I have always wanted the Nelson Sauce Bubble pendant, but it wasn’t right for our old bungalow. Now that we have 15′ ceilings though, it’s the perfect addition to our dining room. Every time I start to design a new space, I go through my mental wishlist of things and ideas I’ve always wanted to incorporate and see if now is the right time.
How to Make a Design Moodboard in Photoshop
Once I feel like I have a good amount of inspiration, I move onto a moodboard of all the items that will go into the space. Paint color, furniture, rugs, lighting, decor, anything major that is going into the space… I use Photoshop to create my moodboards, but I’ve also linked a few other tools below to try if you don’t know how to use Photoshop.
If you’re familiar with Photoshop, here is how I created my moodboard for our bedroom renovation project:
- Create a new canvas file, usually 8.5×11 landscape
- Save jpegs or screenshots of the products or ideas I want to try out to a folder on my desktop
- Drag all of those images into Photoshop and onto the canvas, moving things around and rescaling. Group things together that will go together in the room, like the bed + the rug that will go under it.
- Adjust the scale so that it’s roughly accurate. I don’t spend a ton of time on this though.
- Use the multiply tool to knock out the white backgrounds of product images. This allows you to layer easily without doing heavy lighting in Photoshop.
- Use adjustment layers to alter the colors of things, like the green paneled wall in the moodboard above.
- If you have something existing or vintage, take a photo and add it, too.
I spend a LOT of time in this process, playing with different options. This is how I make sure my rugs ‘sit’ well with each other, that I don’t have too much of one color or finish in the space, etc. I consider this to be like “pre-shopping” where you are making sure everything works within your design plan before you buy it. Try to include as much as possible from the wall color to hardware to lighting to pillows… everything!
Pro tip: always always always order swatches whenever possible so you can see the REAL color of an item. It is impossible to judge the true color of something from a screen, as much as a retailer tries. They could calibrate and adjust their photography so many different ways, but at the end of the day we view the photos on such a wide variety of screens and gadgets that they can’t possibly guarantee color consistency. ALWAYS GET SWATCHES!
How to Pick a Color Palette
Pull from Pinterest or Instagram
It is totally ok to replicate or tweak a color palette you like and saw on social media! Do you even know how honored I’d be if someone painted their house like us?? Such a huge compliment.
Work with a professional
Let’s be real here: picking paint colors is SO HARD. If you feel overwhelmed by it, I recommend working with a professional, like what I talked about in this post about our living room paint color.
My personal weird non-process process
I’ve also been asked a lot about how I build a color palette… the long and short of it is that I don’t! Our old bungalow had a definite palette of black, white, and shades of blue. That worked well for it because it’s such a small house. But with our cabin, I feel like I have a bit more leeway. I actually chose the green for our bedroom before I chose the green for our trim and doors. Yes, I had a LOT of anxiety about how they’d sit together, but it just worked out to be totally ok. I’m most likely NOT choosing a third shade of green for the house, so now it’s time for me to think of what other colors I love enough to include in the cabin.
If you’re really stressed about building your home’s palette, I recommend taping a swatch of each paint color in your home to a piece paper. See how they all sit together. Is there one shade that feels too warm or cool compared to the rest? Does it feel like more neutrals are needed in the mix to make it feel more balanced?
This non-process process also serves me when it comes to selecting print and pattern. As I consider wallpaper prints, for example, I add them to the page of paint swatches to see how it all works. Here’s the key: it doesn’t all have to match. Instead, focus on the FEELING. How does it feel? Do the colors and prints look like they could be part of the same family and are telling the same story?
This all comes back to my person design philosophy: if it’s something you really, truly love and want in your home, you will find a way to make it work eventually.
How I Create a Floor Plan
I’ve tried a few different tools for this and have thoughts on each:
I started creating floor plans in Illustrator because it is a program I know so well and I knew I’d be able to draw what I wanted pretty easily. In hindsight it was wayyyyy overkill and not the best option.
I’ve shared my love of Homestyler (a FREE program) a few times and it is SO GOOD. Basically, I create a floor plan with it for every design project I take on. The example you see here is from the Craftsman House project.
What I love the most about this app is that they have furniture preloaded into it from major retailers, so you just might be able to put the actual couch you’re considering into your space! And if you can’t find the item, you can choose something similar and adjust the size to match the actual item you want. This is how I make sure my furniture fits!
Homestyler allows you to change your view point of the space, add architectural details, and move walls so easily. I honestly cannot recommend this floor planning tool enough! My eventual goal is to have a Homestyler floor plan of our entire house, but for now I’m just going room by room.
Tape on the floor
As an extremely visual person, sometimes I just need to SEE how a piece will feel in the room. I use painters tape to map out the footprint of large items like rugs and sofas. This helps me judge whether they will fit, how they relate to other items, and if something is too big for a space. I especially love this trick when it comes to picking the right rug size!
How I Source Furniture and Decor
I highly suggest starting with this post for my go-to sources to shop for decor and furniture. But when it comes to actually making selections, I decide in tandem with my moodboard process. For example, I might absolutely love a chair, but if it doesn’t go with the rest of my moodboard, then it’s not going to be part of my design. I follow the same thinking when judging scale, too. If a piece won’t physically fit in my Homestyler floor plan… well, we know the answer.
I like to keep track of what is new from my favorite retailers. I follow them on Instagram to keep up with new product launches, especially because it’s part of my job to know what’s trending!
Find something similar to your Pinterest board
If there is an image or group of images that are really speaking to you, try to find pieces of furniture and decor that mimic what you see. There’s where it can come in really handy to have an established list of sources you like to shop. I even pull up Pinterest when I’m thrifting to remind myself of what my goals are.
Shop Your House
This is my favorite affordable way to decorate! Don’t be afraid to pull items from other spots in your home to test them out in another space. I am constantly moving things around, adjusting, and trying new combinations — especially now that we’re in a new house. It’s been really fun to try some of my favorite pieces in different applications in this house. For example, our old living room credenza is now in my office and our old coffee table is a bench in the entryway.
My Favorite Tools and Apps to Use for Interior Design:
- Social media: Pinterest and Instagram specifically
- Photoshop — you can also use Canva or GoMoodboard
- Get feedback from qualified friends. I am notorious for texting Cassandra and Anne for their thoughts on my renovations and they never let me down with challenging questions, feedback, and ideas that take my designs to the next level (for example, our custom shades were alllllll Anne!). I also always ask Sean what he thinks because I trust his eye and, ya know, he has to live with whatever decor I choose!
- Live with the moodboard/design concept for a while. Let it marinate in your mind for a few weeks or months to make sure you really do love it.
- Take your time. Here on the internet it feels like renovations are done with the snap of a finger. But as someone who survived a year-long kitchen renovation, I promise you it is NOT (as much as HGTV wants us to believe it is). Give yourself the grace to take your time and let your design vision evolve.
- Think of it as curating. I am most interested in the slow evolution of a space and how it changes as you grow and live in the home. I encourage you to think about it as curating your home instead of decorating it and calling it “done” (whatever done actually means!).
Still looking for more interior design process advice? These posts are also helpful:
- When to Splurge on Home Decor and When to Save
- My Go-To Sources for Home Decor
- Q&A: How to Budget for a Renovation + More of Your Interior Design Questions
- 5 Budget Decor Hacks I Swear By
- My Formula for Arranging Pillows
- 7 Easy Ways to Maximize Your Outdoor Decor on a Budget
- 7 Ways to Temporarily Update Your Rental
- The Best Sources for Affordable Home Decor
I really hope you found this post about my entire interior design process helpful! Leave any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer and I’d love to hear what works for you.