If you’re reading this post from the comfort of your home, take a look around your space (and if you’re not, envision what it looks like). What do you like most about the space? What don’t you like about it? Is there anything about the broader design elements and structure of your home you want to change?
Now ask yourself this: Why do you want to change those things? Beyond the smaller decor decisions that are easy to update relatively swiftly, what is it about the overall design of your space that makes it beg for change?
So much of what we think we know about design is based on what we’ve heard from other people—from design traditions and experts, from glossy magazines, even from the pages of this very website at times. That’s not to say designers don’t have valuable expertise—they absolutely do. Instead, it’s to say there’s no one exact right way to execute in design.
I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately—the difference between what’s labeled as “good” and “bad” when it comes to home design. Moving into our home has made me rethink a lot of what I previously thought I knew about design. It’s made me see the beauty in working with what you already have before (and if ever) you decide to make any major changes. No matter the style of the home you live in right now (unless it’s a fixer-upper that’s in need of updates for safety or functionality reasons), there are ways you can work with your home as it is currently to make it a delightful space for yourself.
Moving into our home has made me rethink a lot of what I previously thought I knew about design. It’s made me see the beauty in working with what you already have before (and if ever) you decide to make any major changes.
Today I’m sharing a few ways you can approach design from a different lens to make your home shine, as it is right now. This post is not a declaration to stop making the changes you want to make to your home. By all means, please continue to do what works best for you! Rather, it’s a reminder that not everything that falls outside of “standard” design advice is something that needs to be changed. It’s a reminder that it’s perfectly okay to embrace things that may be considered slightly out of the ordinary, slightly dated, slightly imperfect.
Consider this post as a starting point, full of the ideas that are currently front of mind for me. I am always, always open to your input, and if you have additional ideas on the topic, please share them in the comments below!
1. Let it be.
First thing’s first! Let your home be.
Whether you’ve just moved in or you’re only now getting the itch to make changes to your existing home, allow yourself the time to pay attention to the look and feel of a space before making any updates. Even if it’s a home you’ve lived in for years, if you haven’t actively been paying attention to the intricate characteristics of a space, it’s possible there’s something you may have missed along the way.
Since moving into our space in May, I’ve been continually surprised how much I’ve grown to love things I used to think I wouldn’t like.
Bold colors on all four walls? Big fan.
Interior shutters in the bedroom? They’re oh so practical, and we’re actually planning to keep them in the long run.
Even the closed concept kitchen and main living spaces are things I’m growing to love, after years of being fed the message that open concept is the only way to go.
Before you paint, before you switch out lighting, before you embark on a remodel, consciously pay attention to how the space looks and how it changes throughout the day and night. Focus on how you naturally use it, so if and when you do make design changes in the future, you’ll have a really clear idea of what you would like to update to optimize your home for you.
2. Accent, accent, accent.
One of the best ways to create highlighted areas in your home is to design around spaces that are already natural accent points.
Add a runner to accent a long hallway that connects the main living areas of your home. Or, if you’re looking to hang a gallery wall or paint an accent wall, consider choosing a wall that’s already organically highlighted through the structural quality of the space. Maybe it’s an alcove in your entryway, or a slanted wall leading up the staircase.
If you can’t immediately pinpoint these features in your home, take a moment to consider this: When you walk into a room, where is your eye naturally drawn? What wall or other structural feature stands out immediately? Instead of being overwhelmed by a large space or a somewhat blank canvas, first focus on highlighting the area that most immediately captures your attention, then design around that.
3. Work with dimension.
Depending on the feel you want in a particular room, you can work with the existing dimensions to create a specific approach for your space.
If you want to make your space feel bigger:
- Hang a mirror or two to reflect light around the area throughout the day.
- Utilize light paint colors throughout the space.
- Consider furniture pieces that have visible legs—the open area below the furnishings will visually open up your space a bit more.
- Add a bookcase, tall plant, or floor lamp—pieces that draw the eye up and “fake” the illusion of height—and hang artwork higher on the wall to direct attention upward.
- Hang curtains higher and wider than the height and width of the actual window, to open up the space even more. Additionally, choose light, gauzy window coverings to let in more light.
- Consider incorporating clear pieces, like a glass or acrylic side table, to take up less space visually.
If you want to make your space feel more intimate and cozy, do the opposite! Go for dark paint colors, keep accent pieces slightly lower to the ground, and use fewer mirrors in the area.
4. Experiment with the layout.
If you’re feeling like the layout of your space isn’t quite working, before rushing to buy new furniture that “fits” better, consider whether there are ways you can shift the layout to flow more easily and be more functional.
Start by actively paying attention to what about the existing layout does and doesn’t work well. Are you able to move easily throughout the room? Does your current layout optimize the activities you do most in the space? Once you do that, feel free to experiment with different layouts on your own. And if you’re looking for a little more structure in regard to your design decisions, consider using feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice that considers the energetic flow of a space to create a well-balanced layout.
As an example, when we first moved into our house, we put the T.V. over the fireplace in our family room. After a few weeks of living there, we decided to move the T.V. to the wall that’s to the left of the fireplace. After we spent some time using the room, we realized that was the flow that worked better for us, and placing the T.V. on a larger wall allowed me to put together a gallery wall that spilled out around it—a creative experiment with a result I love.
5. Amplify your home’s design traits.
Do you live in a vintage walk-up? Or a home with influences straight out of the 80s (raises hand)? Why not bring in a piece or two that pay homage to the home’s existing style? Instead of relying solely on new buys, try your hand at shopping for vintage pieces—those that amplify the already unique character traits of your house.
If your home has arched doorways throughout, consider bringing in an arched mirror or piece of artwork to echo the structural quality of the space. If your home has midcentury modern elements—like clean lines, organic forms, and an emphasis on function—consider bringing in a midcentury modern credenza or side table. If your home has ornate structural accents like crown molding, consider adding an embellished frame or patterned furniture to accent the somewhat maximalist aesthetic of the home.
The advice above isn’t an end all be all for how to design within the existing flow of your home. Rather, it’s an invitation to start thinking differently about how you approach your spaces. There is no designated style guide that’s perfectly “right” or “wrong.” There’s only the life of your individual home and how you choose to embrace it and highlight its quirks.
The best part about design, I’m continuing to learn, is that it’s a safe space for us to be creative. While design might at times feel like an objective endeavor, best done by following rules and guidelines, it’s actually a very subjective process—one that should be dictated by what works for you, your family, and the space in which you live.
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