The 10-Step Guide to Decorating Any Space
Sonia Simpfendorfer is the creative director of Australian interior design studio Nexus Designs.
There are surprisingly simple, practical principles behind the most successful interiors. There’s a difference between creating spaces that work really hard for you and those that just look really pretty. Creating great interiors starts with a piece of paper and a pen, not a color swatch. Getting the decision-making sequence right is crucial, or you might face a tortuous design experience rather than an enjoyable one. So how do professional designers navigate the furniture, finishes, and fixtures available to create cohesive, delightful interiors? Well, no two interiors or clients are the same, but after almost five decades in high-end residential design, we at Nexus have refined our design process to work in any situation. If you’re overwhelmed by where to start or can’t figure out what really matters, here’s a guide to get you from confused to calm.
A clear, written list of your requirements—whether for just one sofa or a complex renovation—will guide you and keep you focused when faced with limitless options. All of our projects, big or small, start with a brief, and we refer to it constantly. We’ve had a client whose sofa fabric had to feel good to someone sitting on it in a bikini and another who simply said, “I want my house to look like a lily.” Esoteric or straightforward, if it matters to you, write it down.
Good space planning and well-considered functionality are the key difference between a house that just looks great and one that is also immensely livable. Storage, sunlight, and spatial flow: Get these right at the beginning. Good plans look deceptively simple. Convoluted plans rarely translate to great spaces.
So many problem rooms are actually just badly placed furniture. Move furniture around and try something different before spending money on new things. Ignore power outlets; they are often inexpensive to move and could be dictating layouts that are less than optimal. Just try it; you can always move things back.
The floor is the most significant finish in any interior. It is quite literally the foundation of the finished scheme and needs to be decided before anything else. The same goes for rugs when looking at selecting furniture items. Don’t change floor finishes unless there is a doorway to another room or a change of level that creates a logical transition point.
Keeping the number of finishes to a minimum maximizes flow and creates a sense of greater space, light, and serenity. Repetition can be very calming and unifying, particularly when the individual elements are of excellent quality.
Multiple sources of light create the best atmosphere and are practical, too. Light bounced off the ceiling with sconces, lamps, and directional downlights will balance out the hot spots created by pendants or fixed downlights. Track lighting is back from the ’70s, with sleeker fittings and great versatility.
Pairings of old and new, light and dark, handmade and high-tech, matte and glossy, neutral and colorful, these are all great ways to give an interior interest and depth. Contrasts and juxtapositions don’t have to be try-hard; it might simply be modern chairs at a well-loved wooden dining table. Unless you’re designing a historic movie set, décor from a single era can feel stifling.
Use a color because you love it, not just because it’s fashionable. Color is not just paint. Opening up a cupboard in a classic white-and-timber kitchen to find stacks of dinnerware against an interior painted intense sky blue is a daily delight for one of our clients. Books and artworks are very natural ways to introduce color. That said, over-matching colors is a crime in my book and can suck the life out of a space.
Comfort, practicality, authenticity, and scale are all essential considerations when considering furniture items. Buying copies and replicas can cheat you of the lasting pleasures that pieces made with care and quality can bring. So if your budget doesn’t allow for a designer armchair, buy a designer lamp instead and a well-made local chair. Buying this way reduces landfill. We have clients who are now in their late 80s who still use a sofa they bought for their engagement. It’s been recovered and re-stuffed over the decades, but its simple shape and quality have endured.
Accessories that you can actually use, or that come from real life, are a great way to bring your interests and personality to a space. Buying armloads of meaningless, fashionable objects is no match for the real thing. A vase of fresh flowers, a bowl of apples you’ll actually eat, a collection of sentimental objects… These are the simple things that make a home welcoming and individual. Hang photographs and artwork so that your eye height is approximately in the middle (the average is about five feet) to maximize their impact when standing or sitting.