If television shows have you convinced that a magazine-ready home can be achieved in a snap, professional designers will quickly rid you of that idea. “There is this fantasy of an HGTV-style reveal, walking into a home that’s 100 percent done — either by you or a decorator — but in reality, that happens for very few,” says Colleen Simonds, a designer based in Pittsburgh.
And, really, who wants a space that looks as if it was assembled all at once, giving furniture showroom vibes? Simonds and other designers agree that thoughtfully curating a space over time yields more satisfying results. So don’t treat the process like an item you need to cross off your checklist. Resist the urge to have your home — or even a room — done. Instead, embrace the idea of letting the space evolve gradually, which may keep you from having regrets later.
Need help getting started? We spoke with several design professionals about how to take your time when decorating, including key pitfalls to avoid. The experts also weighed in on whether impulse buys ever do make sense — and what to consider before taking that one-of-a-kind vintage find home.
Make a plan. Developing a design strategy is an essential part of preparing your space for purchases you may make later on, says Karen Rohr, an interior designer with Mackenzie Collier Interiors, which operates in both Phoenix and Portland, Ore. “Planning and not rushing your decisions is key to a successful aesthetic in your interiors,” Rohr says. “If you’re doing things on your own, you need to treat the project slowly and think about all the little things before starting to purchase, as you’re your own designer.”
This means keeping layout, color palettes and budget top of mind, she says. “As your room comes together piece by piece, it will start to feel like a reflection of who you are, which makes for the best intentionally designed room.” Struggling to define your style? Reflecting on your interests and passions may provide valuable insight. Rohr asks clients about their favorite pastimes, travel experiences, musical artists and more to gather inspiration.
Designers agree that large pieces such as sofas, beds, chairs and rugs should take precedence. “These are often the statement pieces that carry a room, since they’re large and focal,” Simonds says, so allow their fabrics and textures to determine the direction for the remainder of the room.
Ordering swatches is useful for evaluating textiles and may even inspire the creation of a mood board, says Ashley Ross of Muse Noire in Charlotte. Making a spreadsheet with desired items and their prices — something you can reference while shopping — can also help you keep track of what you have and what you need.
Explore vendors. When it comes to selecting furniture, designers say to fill your home with pieces from multiple retailers, rather than from one or two places. “Matching sets are not desirable,” Simonds says. “Rooms need mixed-up elements to feel alive.”
For example, purchase nightstands from a different retailer than where you bought your headboard, she says, and buy side chairs from a company other than the one that sold you your sofa. Also consider adding a storied piece to each space. “Every room should have at least one vintage piece, reworked or not,” Simonds says.
Plus, exploring various vendors — rather than filling up an online shopping cart and calling it a day — can be a financially sound approach. “Taking the time to save up for quality purchases works when you have a plan and vision for your home,” says Maggie Stephens, a designer on Bainbridge Island, Wash. “Better to invest in well-made pieces that you’ll have for decades than particleboard that breaks next time you move.”
Thoughtfully gather accessories. Designers are also deliberate about acquiring accessories and other small items. New York designer Isabella Patrick picks up many of her smaller pieces while traveling. “Pillows, frames, trays, candles and smaller sculptures are so versatile, and the right assortment must be carefully curated over time,” she says. “I would say that 90 percent of our art and accessories have a story behind them.”
Simonds agrees that accumulating special objects is an ongoing process. “Most people aren’t born with instant collections,” she says. And it doesn’t have to be a costly process. Try displaying framed children’s artwork, books and magazines, she says. “Instead of rushing out to buy all new things, think about what you already have that can bring personality to a space.”
Check your impulses. As much as designers believe in decorating a home over time, they understand that it can be tempting to make an impulse purchase, whether you’re browsing an estate sale or visiting a favorite secondhand store. But limit yourself to pieces that are “somewhat practical,” Patrick says. A set of chairs may be perfect for a living room or office space. Artwork, on the other hand, is trickier, especially if it’s vibrant or large.
Before you purchase home items on a whim, Patrick says to visualize where the piece will fit in your space — the more possibilities, the better — and to determine why it appeals to you. “If it’s unusual and that drew you to it, is it too odd? Or is it unique, a conversation starter and something that will bring you joy?”
Sarah Lyon is a freelance writer and stylist in New York. Find her on Instagram: @sarahlyon9.