8 tips to decorate like an expert


Not everyone has the color coordinating savvy of a Nate Berkus, the fabric finesse of a Martha Stewart, or the room makeover smarts of an HGTV host. But with the right mindset—and after doing a bit of homemaking homework—even the most fashion-flawed and decorating-deficient do-it-yourselfer can transform a living space from bland to grand. 

The first step, says Justin Riordan, founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency in Portland, Ore., is to put yourself in the shoes of a pro.

“In order to decorate like a designer, you must first think like one and try to remove all emotion from the decision-making process,” says Riordan. “Designers think with their heads, not their guts. That starts with considering what the house wants, not what you want.”

Here are eight recommendations for a foolproof room reinvention any designer would applaud.

1. Apply math and art skills to the project. Take and record careful measurements of your space, and make a scale drawing using a graph paper notebook, with every square on the page equating to a foot, says Christian Gomez-Dold, principal designer with Gold Designs in San Francisco. 

“Be sure to include all openings and sizes for windows, doors, and doorways in the room. For windows, measure the size of the opening and its distance off the floor,” he says. “Also, to gauge approximate window treatment height and width, measure from the floor to about four inches above the window—the height at which drapes should hang to make ceilings look higher and windows appear larger.”

2. Hunt for ideas in print and online. Search through magazines, websites, and social media for styles, fabrics, colors, and décor that strikes your eye. “Look on Pinterest and study those images that stand out to you,” says Jaclyn Colville, interior stylist with Karin Bennett Designs.

3. Choose a focal point. Your room ideally should have an item or area that immediately attracts the eyes. “This could be your fireplace, your sofa, your pillows,or your artwork. A main focal point helps balance out any room and will make the space feel complete,” says Colville.

4. Shop smart. Spread your shopping across different retailers so your space feels personal and not representative of one showroom, utilize free design services available at many furniture retailers, and note the sizes, names, and upholstery/finish of each piece, suggests Gomez-Dold. “Hold off from purchasing until you’ve selected everything and you’re confident in the way all the pieces would fit together,” he says. 


5. Invest in quality and longevity. “Buy the best and you’ll only cry once,” famous designer Miles Redd once said. Put another way, don’t go the cheapest route with furniture pieces and major decor; try to buy items built to last and avoid obsolescence. 

“Spend your hard-earned cash on neutral or classic furniture, fixtures, and finishes that will last a long time, and steer clear of trendy items,” says Riordan. “If you want to add pops of color, do so on items that are easy to replace. And if you’re looking for trendy pieces, do so inexpensively with pillows, accessories, and linens.”

6. Consider proportion and scale when picking pieces. “The biggest mistake I see from do-it-yourselfers is choosing furniture that’s too big or too small for a space,” says Lisbeth Linert, design instructor at Miami International University of Art & Design. “Bring your tape measure with you when shopping for items to make sure it properly fits your room.” 

Same goes for smaller items. “Area rugs and accessories that are too small for a large space tend to make the room look cluttered and messy,” Colville says. 

7. Pick paint colors that will harmonize with virtually any furnishings and décor. Many experts recommend a neutral palette that blends well with the any new items you add to the room. To prevent painter’s remorse, “invest in paint samples of different colors and paint them directly on the wall. Every color looks different once it’s on the wall, depending on lighting and time of day,” says Jacquelyn Moore-Hill, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-headquartered interior designer. “Remember: It’s cheaper to buy a paint sample than to repaint an entire wall.”

8. Cluster into collections. Closely grouping décor and accessories that share qualities like color, form, or type turns otherwise scattered accouterment into collections.

“For example, if you have a few colored glass items in the room, try grouping them on one surface, and supplement this collection with new items that share the same quality,” Gomez-Dold says.