I have my own set of interior design rules that I apply to homes when working with clients. You know; guidelines, things I keep in mind, a whole list of design deal breakers, and interior essentials.
But by no means am I an expert in every aspect of design. You literally can’t know everything, right? And besides, every designer, decorator and stylist has a different vibe, and a different approach to decorating a space. You know, a signature style.
With that in mind, I decided it was time to take a look at some of the basics when it comes to interior design rules. So I’ve also reached out to some of my industry insiders to share their pearls of wisdom with you. It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire industry to make your home amazing.
So let’s jump right into the top 10 interior design rules you should keep in mind when decorating your home, from all your fave interiors gurus!
Industry Experts share their Top 10 Interior Design Rules
1. Emma Blomfield: Always Start with Function
No matter what room in the home you’re designing, you have to address how you’re going to use the space first. It’s the factor that will influence most of your decorating decisions. Once you get your head around that, you have to approach purchases for the space with practicality in mind.
Interior styling superstar (and recent author) Emma Blomfield says that if you fail to consider what the pieces you purchase will be used for in the space, you’re setting yourself up for buyers regret.
“Thinking about the practicality of an item before purchasing is always advised. Jumping in and making an impulse purchase without thinking about whether or not the kids/dog/cat will ruin it or if it will last the distance,” Emma tells me.
“This doesn’t mean all purchases must be the most practical (you can always splurge and go nuts with a crazy scatter cushion or two) but keep the impractical purchases smaller and less likely to be used day-to-day. That way they stand a chance of being kept in relatively good condition a little longer”.
The moral of the story: Make the larger pieces in your room address all of the functional requirements. Then go cray-cray on the smaller decorative moments.
2. Karen McKartney: Mood Board your Rooms
I mood board for clients all the time, but I also mood board for my own home. It’s an approach I have recommended (and tried to push on everyone) for years.
Why? Because mood boarding a space allows you to see what elements in a room will work side by side. But more often than not, it’s the elements that don’t work together that’ll stand out right away. That means you don’t buy things that don’t work. That means you save a tonne of cash.
Interiors author and director of Edit’d Studio, Karen McKartney, tells me that mood boarding also helps you develop your personal style.
“Too often I hear the advice ‘just go with what you love’ and I always find it a bit unhelpful. I love lots of different things but that doesn’t mean they will come together in a meaningful way,” Karen explains. “My advice is to start doing a Pinterest board. Follow your instincts as to the images you like and get a reasonable number together, say 20. Then edit – what works together and what doesn’t. What style have you got the most of?”.
The founding editor of Inside Out magazine also advises going beyond an electronic version.
“Make a physical mood board or book and make that you personal style guide. Good decorating takes a long time and you will always have your decorating goal clearly in mind”.
3. James Treble: Choose Colours that will Date Well
Colour is such a personal design element and everyone perceives it in a different way. For some, yellow is sunny and bright. Others find it juvenile and on-the-nose.
When it comes to putting the colour palette together for your own space, interior designer and star of The Living Room, James Treble, says it’s best to keep the base neutral as a starting point.
“I would advice selecting neutral and muted tones for fixed flooring, walls and large pieces of furniture: the background,” James explains. “These allow a room to date well, and let our chosen stronger accent colours standout, letting them change over time”.
From there, it’s time to choose a main colour for your room, and it’s best to select one that speaks to you. Once you have that main colour selected, it’s time to apply it in the room.
“One colour will be the leading and strongest one, and will set the mood we are aiming for: this is the star of the show,” James advises. “This one should be picked up in subtle smaller ways in accent pieces of soft furnishing throughout the room. Other colours can be introduced in the décor to add layers, complementing and supporting the mood chosen but should not compete for attention: they are the supporting cast”.
4. Steve Cordony: Invest in a Few Hero Pieces
So you’ve got the function of your room sorted, you’ve mood boarded your space, and you have your colours locked. The truth is, a lot of the hard work is actually already done.
But if you’re wondering what to invest in and what to pull back on budget-wise, fear not. Belle’s style director at-large Steve Cordony advises you invest in a hero piece and build your room around that.
“A great classic shape sofa, a textural rug or a fabulous piece of artwork can tie a whole space together. Once you have your hero items, other key investment pieces for decor include signature vases and ceramics, trays and boxes, and of course, beautiful coffee table books”.
Any good room is about a mix of skimp and splurge design. Not only because not everyone has a large budget, but because you’re likely to have keepsakes or unique mementoes at home that cost next to nothing but need to be showcased.
I always say it’s best to invest in the pieces that provide comfort. Sofas, dining chairs, your mattress, an armchair. Everything else can be more budget friendly. But like Steve said, it’s also important to have a few smaller, special pieces that you put some money toward because you just had to have it. We’ve all been there!
5. Adam Powell: Don’t take the space too seriously
Interior design can feel a bit too serious at times. So many rules, so many designer items, so many people telling you what you should and shouldn’t do.
Ultimately, your home has to reflect you, and you’ve gotta have fun with it. Still life stylist Adam Powell agrees with this sentiment, telling me that it’s wise to tap into your childhood when decorating and remember the things that made you smile as a kid.
“Injecting your own personality into a space will give an instant sense of whimsy. Don’t follow trends. Buy for and curate your home with things that you love and that have meaning, but that will also have memories and tell the story of your life”.
Adam goes on to point out the importance of celebrating individuality when decorating.
“Our home is our sanctuary, so making it unique is an important factor,” he explains. “In a time when fast fashion and ever-changing trends take the lead, injecting a sense of fun and your own personality will give your home warmth and character and will always be a talking point when friends stop by”.
6. Neale Whitaker: Avoid the Fickle Trends
I am all for trends in decor. I showcase them all the time on this blog. But one of the things I’ve always advised clients is to understand the difference between a style and a trend.
A style is the overarching look and feel of your home. A coastal scheme, for example. A trend is a smaller approach to decor itself; a colour that’s hot right now, a pattern that’s on the rise, or a texture that everyone is embracing. I don’t believe it’s wise to roll out a trend across your entire home.
Block judge and designer on Love it or List is Australia, Neale Whitaker, is of a similar thinking. He tells me that he always advised against following trends. Especially strong colours that come and go too quickly.
“Trust your instincts. Choose colours, furnishings and accessories that you’re going to be happy to wake up to each morning. Things that make you smile,” Neale explains. “Don’t be afraid to let your home tell a very personal story. If that means sometimes clashing colours, styles – even eras – then so be it.
Neale goes on to stress the importance of developing a design story for your home that truly reflects you, not a passing fad.
“The most important thing is to create an individual home that you love. If you get it right it will stand the test of time”.
7. Julia Treuel: Plan your Layout Wisely
Block alumni Julia Treuel knows the importance of working room layout all too well. Having competed in the reno reality show with partner Sasha, the dynamic duo have gone on to complete their own renovation in Melbourne.
Whether you’re doing a full home reno, a few small structural tweaks in a room, or thinking about changing a space around, Julia stresses one point: It’s all in the planning.
“Before you select your fixtures and finishes, it’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve. Start a Pinterest board to garner inspiration, then step back and look at the images as a whole. There’ll be common elements in those you were drawn to, so pin-point them and you’ll be off and away”.
Julia goes on to tell me that a good layout is paramount to ensure you’re making the most of the space.
“We always like to have a ‘dress rehearsal’ before work begins. The smallest things will trip you up so measure out the zone and imagine using the fixtures. Doing this will help you understand how the space works as a whole,” Julia says.
“Is there enough bench space on the vanity? Is the towel rail easily accessible from the shower? Is the toilet placed in the most discreet position? By asking these questions you’ll iron out any kinks before it’s too late”.
8. Shaynna Blaze: Pay Attention to your Exterior
We get so caught up in the look and feel of our home’s interior that the outside if often neglected. Considering it’s the first impression people (including you!) receive when they approach the property, it’s crucial to get this zone right too.
Design guru Shaynna Blaze explains that a simple lick of paint on the exterior of your home can tie the colour palette to what’s going on inside, but you don’t have to play it safe when it comes to colour.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen more experimentation with darker colour schemes as a way to create a modern, sophisticated look while also disguising dated bricks,” Shaynna says. “Dark greys like Taubmans Gibraltar Grey, on your exteriors walls with crisp white trims is the perfect combination for almost any home, from a leafy suburban townhouse to a sandy beachfront bungalow”.
Shaynna tells me that changing your exterior colour scheme is an easy way to transform the look of your home, but advises when doing so, you should take colour cues from your exterior surrounds.
Look to colours in the homes either side of you, and take a look at the colourway of your fencing, driveways, exterior paving and other features. These will be impacted by the colour you paint your home, so do take them into careful consideration.
9. Darren Palmer: Find ‘Your’ Luxe
Another thing that I always find pops up is the notion of luxury. Everyone wants an element of it in their home, but so many assume that you have to fork out the big bucks to get it.
Interior designer and Block judge Darren Palmer says that the first thing you need to do is consider what luxury means to you, and then purchase with that in mind.
“The luxuries can be many things for many people. For me, well functioning interiors that honour the occupants and suit their needs perfectly is luxury. Luxury is also a feeling. The feeling of luxury comes in having touch points like great lighting, beautiful décor and soft furnishings, great rugs or beautiful art”.
Darren goes on to explain that luxury can be a simplified palette, well considered in its minimalism, or it can be full impact and high glamour. This is such an important point to make because each one of us perceives luxury in a different way.
The important thing to consider, Darren tells me, is to buy well, and to buy with impact.
“Focus on the things that will add the most to your interior. It could be as simple as a huge bunch of flowers for your coffee table, or the perfect artwork to bring drama to your lounge or dining room”.
10. Tara Dennis: Be Creative on a Budget
I love the idea of styling on a budget, especially when it comes to the smaller pieces in a space. By all means put money toward your sofa, bed and chairs, but there’s no need to fork out cash on decor that’ll come and go.
If you’re on a super tight budget and have very little to spend, Better Homes & Gardens decorating diva, Tara Dennis, explains that there are clever ways you can give your room a new lease on life. And often, you actually don’t need to spend a cent.
“It’s amazing what a big difference simply moving the furniture around can make,” Tara says. “I always suggest having a big tidy up, put things away you seldom use and find better ways to store things”.
If you do want to hit the stores and pick up a few bargains, Tara advises that accents are all you need to look toward.
“Accents can make a big difference too; cushions, throws, a rug and new lamp can have huge impact and can be found at affordable prices”.
What interior design rules do you live by?
I’d love to know what interior design rules you follow in your own home. Drop a comment below and share your thoughts.
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