room design + decor 101 : the process

I  recently received a question from a friend, and it only took me ten forevers to get to it, with all the craziness of the holidays. But she’s officially on the house hunt and looking for some new digs. On her quest to find the right home, she had some questions, and they went a lil somethin’ like this:

I have decorating questions that I’m sure you have been asked before… 1. When you go into a fresh undecorated house, is there a room that you recommend I begin with? 2. When you decide on a room, where do you start??? Is there an item (couch, curtains, etc.) that you build around??


Good questions, right? To be honest, they kind of go beyond those two seemingly simple inquiries. They actually raise more questions about the process of putting a space together. I initially thought that my own process had become so instinctual for me, that I wasn’t sure where to begin in explaining it. But I firmly believe it’s good to be conscious of the process, no matter how natural it becomes. To question what you’re doing and why…


So, in honor of the new year, and getting started on those new projects, I thought I would touch on a few things that I enjoy in my own process. Let me clarify {with one big obligatory preface} it’s what has worked for me, in the spaces I’ve created. It’s a friendly approach that I settled into when I found myself exasperated by my budget vs. the intimidating world of that to-the-trade ridiculosity and their glossy, just-beyond-reach-for-real-people magazine photos.

But if you walk away with nothing else that I say today, walk away with this:

1. Where to begin? I think that question is impossible to answer on a general level. So I have a few things to consider personally:

• First things first: depending on what you’ve chosen to purchase, there’s a big difference between a cookie cutter home redeux {see ours} and an early century bungalow restoration. One is a change, because we didn’t like it, at our leisure…while another is one that may require ripping everything…replacing everything…and likened to that of a demanding child. There’s pros and cons to both. There are many different levels of revamping a space, and there’s always work to be created and done, whether its replacing an air conditioning unit, or ripping out those gross tiles on your backsplash…. and it’s definitely something to consider (and something we’ve seriously been considering, ourselves, with our house on the market) before jumping in head first.



• Budget and time considerations: Looking at your own personal needs, and starting with the budgeting basics, good design for your own spaces should be a gradual process. Or, something that takes place once you’ve saved up, and you’ve done a lot of planning. In other words, regardless of your process, it takes time. It all depends on what you’re willing to live with in the meantime, or what you want immediately changed. What are you ready to tackle, for a unique, one of a kind space just for you and your family?


• My own personal preference: I find that in a home that is newly yours, the best bet, and most requested of all, is the main living area. I almost feel, especially when children are involved, that if you’re doing a lot of work on your home, (and a lot of work takes a lot of time) it’s always good to have one finished room to retreat to. To entertain in. That you can walk into, and it reminds you why you’re living in havoc and painting like a mad person…in the first place. One space that you can count on. That space can serve as a catalyst for the rest of your home.

2. Where to start?

Inspiration: Before I even begin, I realize that all of us are wired differently. Personally, I eat, sleep and breathe design. I literally dream about it. If you’ve read our design philosophy before, then you know how I feel about it. I know that some people are visually wired, while others are all about the left brain, life-saving, doctor analytical numbers important stuff kind of wired. I almost failed Math. It still gives me the sweats. That being said:

• Pinterest is your best friend.

• Shamelessly butcher your cherished magazines to start idea files. It’s what they’re for, right?

• Be a sponge, and soak it up everywhere: Movies. Billboards. Menus. Reading to your child. {You’d be amazed at the color combos in well designed children’s books.} Fabric design. Your friend’s outfits. My blog. Blogs. The great outdoors… The possibilities are endless. The issue is training yourself to start thinking in that way, if you don’t necessarily do that already. Be aware of where you’re soaking it up, and when inspiration finally creeps up on you and makes itself known, you’ll be ready to begin and feel inspired from that single element. The perfect little unexpected springboard.

That’s a good story. So, where?

Personally, I start in a different place each time for the space. But it all begins with the intended use, and from there, the greatest need for the room. Does it need shelving for more storage? Does it have an awkward nook that needs to be dealt with? Can it flow better? For our boys’ room, it was the need for space. It’s all about finding that main problem area, and utilizing the room to the best of its ability. Working outwardly, from there, the space slowly falls into place.

The old saying that form follows function applies to interiors as well… or do the best designs go hand in hand? I think the latter. Choose what will work, and what looks good.

Regarding the elements: I started out as an artist and graphic designer. That’s my angle on spaces. I touched a little on all of this in an earlier post this year, but my love for all things home kind of took over, and has morphed into this little blawgh of ours. So a lot of the approaches that I take, are a springboard of what I leaned in my design days of yore. The principles of art applied to my home, if you will. Here’s a few major elements I like to consider when picking out pieces for a space:

Flow : keep it feeling open and well balanced. Plan for it. You can pick out, design and revamp pretty pieces all day, but if they’re not placed correctly in the space, the great choices are lost. Spatial planning and room layout are just as important as the design elements themselves.


The idea of contrast: Think of this as your tool on so many useful levels…a hint of glimmer in the use of a metal with reclaimed wood. The sparkle of an unexpected chandy with rustic pieces. Organic pattern vs geometric in a prevalent fabric. Natural vs painted, and light with dark furniture. Warm and cool colors. Masculine pieces, and feminine. These are just touching the surface and the possibilities are endless on the effects they can have in a space.


Someone mentioned to me the other day that they know I don’t like dark wood. Au, contraire mom frere! I LOVE it! Just in moderation. While I do tend to lean toward the light, I adore the dark as well. Think about a collector who shoves their home full of priceless antiques…but they’re drowning in the dark on dark with dark walls and dark rooms with bad placement…and no one ever notices what beautiful pieces they have. I know we’ve all seen it before. Allowing the room space to breathe through contrast and placement, helps us appreciate it for what it is. In my opinion, those pieces suddenly become unique treasures when showcased in the right way.


The clever use of color: don’t be afraid to use it. Period. The best spaces have color that’s combined in unexpected ways.


Balance : In potential problem areas, it’s that thing that may feel “off” to you when you look at it all. If you have something feeling too heavy on one side of the room, move it. If it’s interrupting the room’s flow, change it. Not just pertaining to furniture, but all of the elements. Color needs to be balanced. Lighting should be balanced. On the other hand, just as in art, you can use something being off balance to your advantage, as well. It all depends on the space.



Symmetry: Can apply to balance, but its more when working win the identical realm. For example: I usually like to have at least one symmetrical spot in my spaces, so that when mixed in with an eclectic feel, the space may also feel controlled. This sometimes helps to anchor an area, and keep the feel of the room grounded. This however, does not apply to all spaces. It’s just an element you can consider when arranging your furniture.

The use of dramatic scale and proportion: play it up in unexpected ways and areas. Such a fun tool!

And… just a little more food for thought:

• Mix it up: with something that doesn’t quite go. Decorate with things that are NOT store bought. Go for vintage and hard to find. Industrial. That piece of ‘junk’ you fished out at the local flea market. And always go for altered and handmade.

• Be fearless + yourself. The most important element of the entire shebang. Let your decor have meaning. Let it have humor. Let it shine through the ordinary. It should, above all things, bring calm, create a retreat, and make you happy.

• Enjoy your springboard. Be prepared for some things to change over time. For a growing family, those needs change almost yearly. Our children’s rooms have each been re-done twice, as they moved from their cribs to their beds, we’ve rearranged our rooms for new pieces about a million times, and we’ve made lots of fun changes over time. So remain flexible, and change spaces to meet your needs, as you grow.


That about wraps it up. The subject matter I could discuss forever and ever, amen. To the point of boring most people to tears. Brittany is probably sorry she ever asked, but I hope this helps a little with her beginnings of something great! What are some of your favorite techniques you follow when creating a space? Spill it!

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Responses to room design + decor 101 : the process

  1. Great post! Thanks for a great summary – decorating a new home can be overwhelming, and your advice is spot on. :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing. I like hearing other people’s methods. And all the pictures were really great too

  3. Sarah says:

    This is such a great & helpful post! Thank you so much for putting it together! I’m sure I will refer back to it frequently :)

  4. I loved seeing these pictures and your ideas to go along with them. My problem is this: our home was built in 1860 and is literally CHOCK full of the old character…original (& intricate)woodwork, hidden closet under the stairs, hidden pantry under stairs in the kitchen, corner fireplace,full thrid floor attic, etc… So my problem is not creating character in the home. I feel like alot of homeowners are searching for ways to create that character.
    I struggle with how to incorporate my style into a home so old. Ive been forbidden to touch the woodwork with paint(thankfully, its all bright and white upstairs but not on the first floor) and my styles have changed drastically since 8 years ago when we moved in. Do you have any design boards or other super old homes you can direct me to for inspiration? Ive found literally only one or two in a few years of blogging.

  5. ellen says:

    Thanks for sharing your process. I don’t think you can overemphasize the value of looking at LOTS of inspirations. It takes a while to start picking out why a room you see in a magazine works. I am far from a professional designer/decorator, but I have a rule that has served me well. The “finishing touches” for any room should be something amusing, something sparkly, and something you (or someone crafty) made especially for the space.

  6. Helena says:

    LOVE this post – so helpful!

    I have a little notebook in which I glue (yes, with a gluestick) all the pictures I’ve ripped from magazines. It’s fun to look through them and try to figure out why they drew your eye in the first place (like discovering I love organic shapes and gallery walls).

  7. Hi Ashley! This is such a great post….definitely one I will be pinning. You gave me a lot of great concepts to chew on for some of my problem spaces (this one specifically: ….totally experiencing “creative constipation” here).

    I am a novice when it comes to design, but a few techniques I factor in are (1) pick your major fabrics and textiles before you set your heart on a paint color…it’s easier (and usually cheaper!) to match paint to fabrics than it is to match fabrics to paint, and (2) factor in the visual “weight” that different colors have. Sometimes to make a room feel “red” or “yellow” doesn’t mean you have to paint all of the walls that color. Or sometimes it does! This ultimately ties back to the point you made about balance.



  8. rebecca says:

    Can you tell me the resources on that inspiration board? Like the sofa, rug and the teal chairs? Thanks

  9. love all of your suggestions. these are great! ;}

  10. Shalan says:

    Definitely agreed. It is all about how you approach it – a room doesn’t have to be built around a couch, table, etc. The room should be built around whoever is living in it! Even if your furniture is old, a little worn, what have you if you position in it in an appealing ( or a little off, for kicks : ) ) way and fill it with pieces, colors, or even lighting arrangements you love then it will express who you are. Great post Ashley!



  11. Loved reading about your process! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Anna says:

    What a great post! We are in process of buying our first home and I cannot stop looking at design related things. It even kept me up until 3am last night!!

    Can’t wait to move in and get started. This post helps me be a little more focused. Thanks!


  13. Jennifer Talley says:

    As a second year ID student, I learn more from your blog than I do in a semester! You should teach! I’m dying in the technical stuff! I’m not much of a draftsman and had a professor tell me I didn’t really like to create! I’m discouraged by the lack of value given to “good instinct.” It’s refreshing to see your artistic, instinctive, creative, take on design! (I really do like to design, and I bet my house looks way better than my professors!)

    • Jennifer, I’m not really sure why I’m just now seeing this comment, but you just made my night. As a fellow former suffering design student, know that it gets better. Much, much better. 😉 College is the glory days for sure, but the good stuff on the careers end, as well as the important things, come later. Think of it as a ridiculous legalistic boot camp. Youll get through it! Hugs to you. Hang in there!!!

      • Jennifer Talley says:

        Thanks for the encouragement. (my other disadvantage: age! Returning to school @ 48! Ha ha!) you are a great inspiration and a wonderful writer!

  14. brittany says:

    Oh how I am glad I asked! Ashley, you’re awesome! I will refer to this post again and again! Funny, we just found out today that we on our way to Idaho, 2000 miles from everything I know and love.

  15. Marjorie Faust says:

    HELP ! VERY OLD HOUSE – I have a home that was build back in the 1940’s. It is only 1500 sq. My problem is the living room is in the shape of a rectangle – the width is 16 ft the lenght 35 ft. The wall in the living room has two opening’s and runs right down the middle of the house, separating the living room, dinning room and kitchen. Unfortunately, it can not come down due to the structure of the house. So my question is how would you rearrange furniture in the living room?

  16. monique puszewski says:

    love the plates on the wall BUT how did you attach them to the wall?

  17. Christie says:

    Thanks, Ashley, this is quite helpful. = )