Designing a Room, Step-by-Step

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Over the years, I have had the luxury of working with some of Atlanta’s most talented interior designers.  It is always amazing to watch them transform an empty room into a space that deserves to be published.  They make it look effortless!  How do they do that?

Creating the total feeling in a room is not about just one or two things.  It is about the sum of ALL of the elements in a space.  The "design process" is a strategy or formula of how to put a space together.  I have observed that the order and sequence of making your selections is the key to making this task easier.

1. You need a vision:  Identify a goal of how you want the space to look and function.  It is helpful to seek out inspiration from magazine photos or even places that you visit.  Hotel lobbies, restaurants or even that adorable bed and breakfast can give you some great ideas.  This is where you gain insight about colors you want; it helps you to define your style; and it is when you can see the details that will fill in your big picture. 

I also refer to this initial step as "The Serenity Prayer of Design". It is when we say to ourselves, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage (and budget) to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." There may be elements of your space that you are unable to change or eliminate yet they cannot be ignored.  At this point, you must be flexible with your goals and find ways to compromise.

2. Find the grounding element: The first selection should be the item with the fewest number of options. For example, if you are designing a family or dining room, start by choosing the area rug. This is the most difficult item to find yet it is a primary grounding element for the space.  It must be the right style, the right colors, with the right pattern in the right size for the right price.  It is the most challenging piece of the puzzle to find.  Yet, it is the “jumping off” point that inspires the direction for all of the additional items in the space that make up the total look.  It creates the beginning for your design story. If there are too many elements that are already selected to fit into the space this task will be increasingly difficult.  Too many variables to work around will limit your options even further.  If you leave this choice until the end, you will find yourself on an endless search for the perfect area rug and your room will never seem complete.

3. Build up from the grounding element:  The next items to choose are the ones that offer more options.  Good examples would be furniture and window treatments.  This is where your possibilities open wider.  A particular chair or sofa can be upholstered in a magnitude of fabrics.  Likewise, any fabric can be incorporated into a window treatment that will accommodate any style.  These items offer more choices and more control over your selections in regard to color, pattern, style and price.  Your grounding element (like the rug) will be your inspiration.

4. Add color to the "envelope": Once these items have been selected, it is time to make decisions about “the envelope” . . . the walls, ceilings, trim and architectural details.  Most of these can be easily and cost-effectively changed with paint. Options for color are infinite. Even though it may be the last item that you choose, it is also the most important. This is where you complete the total package of the emotion or feeling that will happen the instant you enter the space.  We are all aware of the effect of color.  Most designers know that great design goes well beyond just furnishings, accessories and a single paint color.  It is a balance of when and where to put which color or artistic finish.  These areas of the “envelope” are what will make a home stand out from the crowd. 

5. Add artistic finishes: At this point, it is easier to see the areas that may still need attention. Does your mantel have enough interest to draw people into a room?  Are your bookcases like big boxes in the space without personality? Is your dining room warm and inviting? Do your walls appear bland and sterile?  These are some of the biggest design challenges that can easily be solved through the use of creative painting techniques.  Artistic finishes and paint colors are the elements that will unify all of the other elements within the space.  Get paint and color inspiration on my website,

6. Accessorize: The final step is accessorizing. With everything else in place, you have already created the perfect “envelope” or foundation to complete the room.  Your style has been defined, your color palate is clear and your space is telling your story. All that is left is adding the details to fill in the blanks.

Today’s trend is toward cleaner lines with a more sleek and uncluttered appearance.  You must always allow the eye a place to rest.  It is a balance of solid/ open space that leads you to the main attractions.  When in doubt, bigger is better and less is more.  Large bold accessories will have a stronger impact than a lot of little things. It is akin to the perfect piece of jewelry that adorns a simple black dress.

The next time you tackle a whole room design project, follow these steps.  By selecting the elements of the space in this order, you will be amazed how easily it all comes together.  

Kass Wilson is a Hometalk - - writer.  Read more articles like this one - - or get help with your home project on

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