The first thing to do when decorating a new home or living space is to discuss with your spouse or family members what your priorities, likes and dislikes are. You might want to furnish a fabulous master bedroom with ensuite, walk-in wardrobe, mini-gym and retreat but your partner may decide the study or home theatre are the priorities. A master plan should be worked out early, prioritising areas and gradually working through them.
Furnishing a home from scratch will require careful planning, both financially and stylishly, no matter what your budget. Be realistic about how much you want to spend and do your research.Ideally, when building a new home, the layout for furniture and furnishings should be included in your floorplans so there are no nasty surprises when you install them. Wardrobe doors that open onto curtain pelmets and furniture that doesn’t fit the desired spaces are some of the pitfalls of a lack of planning.When selecting furnishings, follow the architectural style of the space and determine the function of each room. Decide how the space will be used and select furnishings accordingly. Don’t just go for visual appeal — comfort is paramount. And follow your own style; don’t try to create a ‘magazine’ home. Eclectic decorating is much more appealing and long lasting than slavishly following some latest trend.
The first things to consider in any interior design scheme are the floors and walls, especially if you’re going for colour. Neutral backgrounds are always easier to work with and can allow you to add and subtract colour from other areas, such as loose furnishings like rugs, cushions, throws, accessories and even loose upholstery covers. The beauty of this is that you can change your look to mirror the seasons.
Once you’ve decided on the floors and walls, you can look at items such as rugs, curtain and upholstery fabrics. If you plan to use feature-colour walls, always select your fabrics first as it’s much easier to mix paint colours to match fabrics than to do it the other way around.
The ideal order to follow is:
1. Floor covering
2. Window covering
3. Wall colour
4. Sofas and chairs
5. Dining table and chairs
6. Occasional furniture
7. Bedroom furniture
When choosing paint colours, take your time and select tones that enhance your furnishings and make you feel relaxed and comfortable. Living rooms should be tranquil and serene, as should bedrooms. Dining rooms and rooms used less frequently can be treated more daringly — red dining rooms increase the appetite and make for a great party mood!
Try interesting paint finishes, too. Decorative finishes look wonderful if they are done well. These can be simple sponged or rolled finishes to elaborate Venetian plaster or trompe l’oiel.If you are lucky enough to live in a period-style house with high ceilings, you can be adventurous with your cornices. Period homes just beg for colour. However, if you live in a compact suburban home, stick to white. Remember, colour draws the eye in and if you have lots of painted cornices and architraves, the effect could look cluttered. Remember, “less is more”.
Large open houses in Australia allow for the outdoors to come inside. Don’t overdo the furnishings. Choose a few good-quality pieces such as sofas, coffee table, dining setting and rug. Built-in furniture is a great way to provide additional storage for books, ornaments and assorted paraphernalia and can add to the spaciousness within.Scale and proportion also need to be considered. For example, large pieces of furniture in small rooms are a ‘no-no’. This also applies to pattern. If you have a small cottage, you can use patterns that suit the cottage style but keep the colours soft. If you have a large homestead, you can be more adventurous and use stronger colours and more patterns.In classic-style homes, colour can again be used to great effect and it is quite the norm to have each room designed around a different colour scheme. However, if you have a contemporary or very modern open-plan home, the colour scheme throughout should be uniform — light background hues are preferable but you can accent them with coloured feature walls, especially in dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms.
Window furnishings can make or break a room. ‘Undressed’ windows can look naked, but if you have a spectacular view framed by great architectural detail they may be left bare. If you have an issue with heating or cooling, simple solar blinds may be the answer.Modern homes suit blinds and shutters, but you can still use curtains in bedrooms or formal rooms. If you just can’t live without curtains, simple sheer fabrics with plenty of gathers may suffice. It all depends on the architecture and your needs. If privacy is a factor, blinds behind sheer curtains may be a good solution, but if your home begs for elaborate drapery, then bring it on!When selecting fabrics for upholstery, contrasting and complementary textures and colours are more interesting, even in modern homes. Suitability, durability and cost always determine the selection of material; don’t put the delicate silk on the family room sofa!If you choose leather, be sure you understand the different qualities. According to Garry Pearce from Stallion Design, “Full-grain leather will wear for at least 20 years. It is dyed to the various shades and shows the character of the animal it came from. The alternative is corrected grain, which has the outer surface of the hide removed and is then resurfaced to give it a grain; paint is then applied and put through a hot rolling process. As a result, it loses elasticity and will not breathe. This means most corrected grain leathers will last about five years, no matter how well you treat it.” Expect to pay for high-quality leather furniture!
Lighting is an area that is often overlooked when decorating. Not only is the style of lighting an important element, so is the location of the light source, power points and switches. A full lighting plan should be worked out once the furniture layout is completed. This will ensure that when your furniture is put in place, the light source will enhance the spaces and provide both aesthetic and practical solutions.The choice of materials, furnishings and finishes available is almost endless. If you find it all too confusing, consult a professional interior designer or interior architect. Professional help can save you time, money and sanity. Design firms work with spaces every day and have the latest products at their fingertips. They are trained and experienced in understanding the relationship between a room’s form and its ultimate function and can advise you on the best options for your individual needs.If you have trouble visualising the end result, you should ask for a floorplan and colour-board to be prepared. Your designer may also supply you with a hand- or computer-rendered image of the proposed design, although this is not always a cost-effective solution for a single dwelling.When choosing a designer, ask to see examples of their completed work and check referrals from friends or former clients.If you do the work yourself, research your project thoroughly. Read books and seek advice from professionals where you can. This can be from the store where you buy your furniture and furnishings to the tradesmen who paint your walls.As with any project, the end result will be as good as the research and planning you put into it.