Whether you’re tackling your home interior design project yourself or working with a designer, it’s crucial that you understand the process. If you don’t, you risk creating a space that doesn’t work for you — it won’t feel like home. It’s likely that you’ll run way over budget too. And that’s a pretty disastrous outcome.
I want to help you avoid all that. In this article, you’ll get a flavour of the ‘groundwork’ involved in interior design. It begins with understanding your home and your household.
We’re much more aware of the importance of how we live in our homes now compared to when I started out in the 70s. If you want to create a home that you love, you must understand what each room is about. Is it for show, for comfort or a combination of both? How does it need to work on a practical level?
Every project begins with understanding the mechanics of your life and how each member of your household uses the space. Professional designers call this process ‘zoning’. It’s about dividing a room up and making it work for you AND your family.
People often get this stage wrong. It can be easy for the person leading the project to design the space for themselves. They forget that a room needs to work for their partner, children and guests too. The zoning process presents an opportunity for discussion and debate. It allows families to reach a compromise about HOW to live in a room so that everyone can enjoy it.
Imagine you’re redesigning your dining area. It’s not just the place where you eat. If you have young children, they will have grubby fingers, throw food on the floor and stand in it when they get up from the table. Do they do their homework there too? If you’re self-employed, is your dining table your office once you’ve dropped the kids off at school? And what about entertaining? How does that space need to look and feel for you in the evenings? Take time to examine every aspect of your daily life in every room of your home.
Creating a Board
Once you know what you want from each room, you can start bringing your ideas to life. Lay out a board and add images, tear sheets, fabrics and textures. See what goes together and what doesn’t. How do different combinations make you and your household feel?
Creating a board takes ideas from the confines of your head and makes exploring them a physical process. It’s a focus points that you keep coming back to — moving and changing things as you gain a clearer understanding of what you want. Working with this scrapbook of inspiration gives you something tangible to discuss as a family. It’s the place where you discover your mutual likes and dislikes. Make you mistakes here and not in the end result.
Having identified what you need from your home, it’s time to write a brief. Committing your requirements to paper helps you to focus on your priorities. In those moment when you’re surrounded by rubble and dust, or when that carpentry work feels like it’s taking forever, the brief brings your mind back to your vision and its rationale. It’s your blueprint for success. Even if you’re doing the interior design yourself, the brief is crucial for keeping you on track and on budget.
How to tackle it
Begin by listing the key aspects of the project:
The needs of the people using the space
The style, age and location of the property
What you want from each room
The look that you wish to create
Arrive at clear aims for each point and then work out how you will achieve them. Which professionals need to come on-board? How much money can you release at each stage of the project? Think about timescales. Are you prepared to live with a 12-month project happening around you when you’re 6-months pregnant?
Ask yourself lots of questions to inform your brief, and then ask some more. You can’t understand your space too well. When I work with clients, I begin by showing them pictures of my work. I ask what they do and don’t like about the images in front of them. When someone says, “I love that”, it’s usually just one element of the image that they love. It might be the door handle, a piece of artwork or the fabric on the sofa. Nobody ever loves everything in an image when you break it down.
So, when you think you adore that kitchen you saw in Elle, really pick each element apart before replicating it. Dissect EXACTLY what it is that you like in the images that inspire you. When you’re confident that you know what you want, you can begin looking at furniture and considering fabrics and lighting. And then it’s back to your board to add to the story of each room.
When it comes to planning the details of a room you will need to create a floor plan. It tells you the dimensions and shape, how the room connects to adjacent rooms, and the position of internal architectural features. It’s your blank canvas. When you try to visualise a room that has furniture in it, it can be hard to reimagine the space. A plan allows you to strip all of that away and start again. Work out how to use space effectively by creating scaled versions of furniture and moving them around the plan.
If you’re drawing the plan yourself, it’s essential that you know how to measure the room accurately. Plans of a whole house or large, complex rooms are best left to a specialist surveyor. When you’re choosing furniture or instructing a tradesperson and the dimensions are wrong, it can cause big delays and expense.
Your budget should be at the fore of your mind from the outset. Be honest with yourself about what you can afford to spend. You don’t want to have to halt the project midway because you have misjudged your finances.
The key to sticking to a budget is sticking to your brief. Every change of mind comes at a cost. Refrain from buying on impulse too. Account for every penny that you spend and understand the REAL cost of things. Take a sofa for example, there’s the supplier’s cost, the cost of the fabric and the cost of having the piece upholstered.
Don’t forget hidden expenses — VAT, professional and specialist fees, planning submissions and delivery charges. There will always be unexpected costs, so raise your budget by 20% to allow for these.
When it comes to building work, put the work out to tender and get three quotes. Take time to find the right team for the job. Be sure that suppliers are quoting for the same work by giving them the same brief, with drawings and exact measurements. Remember, the cheapest quote isn’t always the best quote. Look at how each supplier plans to approach the work, ask to see past projects and get feedback from their clients.
There’s no cutting corners
Every step discussed in this article is integral to the interior design process. You must get all your ducks in a row before buying a thing or instructing any professionals. If you don’t, you can end up losing both money and direction.
Designing your home should be a joy, and it will be if you put in the groundwork. To get a more in-depth understanding of the process, read my book, Design Masterclass.