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How to Work Like an Interior Designer

Satara Sales - Wednesday, November 08, 2017
It’s easy to lose hours on social media or within glossy magazines, gazing at effortless homes and chic apartments. Many people work directly with designers and architects to create these dream spaces. This is not always accessible for everyone though so we thought we would share our best interior design tips. Following this guide loosely replicates the process of a designer as they share their handy hints.

Understand the Space

All interior designers take time to understand the space they’re working with. They take photos, measure, observe the natural light and see what features will remain and what will go. The light is particularly important and if possible, see what the light levels are at a few different times of the day.

Start by making a sketch of the floor plan and taking some measurements. A rough drawing is fine! Is the space generous or tight? What is the focal point of the room? Is it the television, a fireplace, the view or a piece of art for example? If we know what the focal point of the room is, we can arrange the furniture accordingly. In turn, once we understand how large or small the space is, the furniture sizes become more apparent. Consider the flow around the room. You should be able to move easily around the items. A dining chair needs about 80cm clearance behind it to comfortably get in and out from the table. Smaller distances are fine between items like a coffee table and sofa. Try to imagine reaching for a book or the remote on the coffeetable from the sofa as a guide. If you’re able to, map out the furniture loosely with masking tape on the floor as a reference point.


Image via [] 

Your own Client Brief

In this situation, you are your own client! Ask yourself the questions an interior designer would ask. What will happen in this space? How would you like it to feel (an important one which will set the palette)? What is your lead time and budget? Will you need to store things here? How big and how many things will you store? Do the materials and finishes need to suit a family? Pets? How many people sit around the dining table each day? What about when you entertain? Do you entertain enough to warrant a large table and chairs?

Once you start to ask these questions, limitations and parameters appear. As you know, when you start researching furniture and décor it can be very overwhelming. If you have these boundaries in place you can start to eliminate items very quickly, or refine your search.

Create a Mood Board

This is the fun part! Whether online or from magazines, start to pull ideas together. Don’t limit yourself too much or question your decisions early on. Even if the image is of something unrelated, keep it. Once you have a collection you feel happy with, start making hard choices and cull the things you don’t absolutely love. You have eight pictures of dining chairs? Try to make it two. Twelve wallpapers? Make it three. Keep doing this until you have really nutted out the look and feel. This becomes the go-to guide when you’re making the selections. Will a particular bed work, for example? Head back to your mood board and see. Olio Board is a great online program where you can actually insert your selections into a room for those who find visualising a little more difficult than others. (

Image by Ciara Eloise via her blog []

Set a Budget

Yes, budgets are boring and uncomfortable to talk about. But, there is nothing more disappointing than finding the perfect sofa to then realise it means you can’t afford anything else. Be realistic. There are a few ways to approach the process, you can either work with the budget to purchase everything at once, or, make all of the selections in the beginning and stage the purchases to suit the budget as more money becomes available. It’s helpful to do a bit of research and understand how much things cost. If you have not renovated or purchased new furniture in a while, you may be surprised. Make a comprehensive list of everything you need in a spreadsheet. Then you can start inserting costs when you make decisions and track the budget.

Create a Palette

Refer back to your mood board. What are the overall colours, patterns and textures you see? Try to really define what these are. Once you have done this, ascertain if it meets the brief questions you asked yourself early on. Does this scheme conjure feelings of comfort or is it sophisticated? Warm palettes of neutrals work well in classic homes where you’re wanting to achieve a light and timeless scheme. A cool palette of greys is more contemporary and works well in a large and light space. Try not to be too driven by current trends so you make selections that are long lasting. Don’t be afraid of colour though. Especially if it’s paint or small accessories like a cushion or even a rug. Hate it in three years? Is it that much of an issue to replace or update this?

Image by Adairs via their website []

Get Practical

Before you make any final selections, ask yourself if each item is practical. Interior design and decoration should always be firstly about functionality. Is the chair comfortable? Will it be easy to clean? If you have pets and small children will this be an issue? Is it ergonomic? Will it hold all the items you need it to? Will it fit in the room (not only once it’s in, but physically getting it in the space!)? Will it be too dark and heavy looking? What is the warranty? Will a chair fit under the table comfortably? Will you be able to move around the bed? Will you be able to open your robes with the bedside table location?

Really ask the practical questions. While it’s easy to be swept away with how beautiful something is, if it doesn’t meet the practical requirements, you won’t ever love it as much as you should.

Work on the Hero Piece First

If you’re finding it difficult to know where to start, even after creating mood boards and a palette, try to place your focus on one item. Working on a dining room? Start with the dining table and nothing else. How big do you want it to be and how many people are you planning to seat? What material is it going to be? Will that be practical for ever day use or it only an occasionally used space? Once you have picked the table, the rest flows on much more easily. The chair will have to physically fit under the top comfortably, the rug will have to be large enough to sit under the table and chairs, you will be able to calculate if you have enough space for a buffet. Then you can select art or a mirror for above the buffet once you know the measurements and materials of the piece. There is a natural process and flow on effect here by being systematic about the approach if this makes you feel more comfortable.


Image by Satara via [] Featuring the Bull Dining Chairs, Stewart Dining Table, New York Kitchen Stools & Cow Hide


Texture is so important in a successful interior. Texture impacts how a space looks and feels. Glossy textures and finishes for example make a room feel sophisticated, polished, clean, modern and cool. Raw textures make a space feel rustic, industrial, casual and warm. Ensure there is enough textural variation in a space, particularly if you have a neutral palette. This creates interest and comfort. Work in groups of three if you’re unsure. For example, in a living room you could combine timber, stone and linen. If you’re creating a vignette this also works well. Try a marble tray, timber vase and glass bowl.

Image by Satara via [] Featuring the Sultan Coffee Table, Bass Side Table & Hammered Bowl

It’s All About Lighting

Having sufficient lighting in a room makes the space more effective to use and more comfortable. Ask an expert if you’re unsure, but firstly understand the natural light levels in the space and be clear about the tasks which will occur in the space. Ambient lighting is also a lovely way to bring atmosphere into the space. As it’s largely decorative, the lighting can have beautiful shades and shapes which add to the overall scheme without getting too caught up in the light it provides.

Natural light is always lovely in a home but if it’s not enough in the day to comfortably complete what you like to do (such as reading, sewing, studying) then you will need to add task lighting. By task lighting we mean direct and clear lighting to allow you to see properly. Floor and table lamps are great at doing this, although you may want to ensure they’re flexible and strong enough for what you need it to do. 

Image by Satara via [] Featuring the Firenze Club Chairs, Ella Dining Chairs & Boomerang Kitchen Stools

Tell a Story

A home is not really a home until there are accessories to add layers of interest and personality to the spaces. Even if you have a minimalistic home, there will likely be artworks, rugs or books. Accessories give insight into the occupant’s likes, dislikes, family, history, travels and life. Don’t expect to accessorise a home with all new pieces immediately as it will appear flat and lack character. Take the time when you travel to pick up a memento, treasure the family heirlooms and add new pieces you love as you discover them.

Accessories don’t have to be an expensive exercise either. Nature provides us with beautiful (and free!) pieces which work beautifully. Shells, driftwood, husks, branches and flowers sit well next to other pieces in the home and can change often. Books and photos are also wonderful accessories adding to the story.

Image by Satara via [] Featuring the Bass Side Table & Lombok Lounge Chair

Have fun, it’s worth all the effort. Be guided by functionality first, then aesthetics. Then you will have a home you not only love, but works perfectly for you and your unique needs. If you’re still feeling unsure, or the whole process seems overwhelming, remember there are professionals who do this for a job! Interior Designers are trained for a reason and have very specific skill sets. They’re creative, excellent at problem solving tricky spaces and importantly, they’re the ultimate source for new products, materials and possibilities you’ve never heard of. They’re worth their weight in gold.


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