Here's How to Decorate Your Home From Scratch (It's Easier Than You Think)

Updated 12/12/18
Tips for decorating like an interior designer
Courtesy of JHID

Consider this—you've just bought a new home, signed a lease on a new apartment, or moved to a new city. You fell in love with the space that will become your new home, but when you think about decorating it from scratch, you get overwhelmed with options and decisions. Which paint color should I choose? Should I get a sectional or three-seater sofa? What size rug do I need? At a glance, a blank decorating slate can feel intimidating, but with a project-managing approach to interior decorating, you'll find that decisions are much more easily made.

Interior designers know this all too well—when juggling dozens of clients and project, their approach to decorating is less akin to intuition and closer to a top-level project management method, complete with plans, spreadsheets, and actionable to-do lists. By breaking down each aspect of interior decorating, they can track their progress and keep a décor plan on schedule and on budget. Better yet, they can easily ensure that whichever individual piece they choose will work within the overall scheme of the room or even the home.

So how do you decorate a room from start to finish using a project management approach?

We outline the 12 steps that will get you from blank slate to beautiful space—and how to tackle it in just one weekend.

On Friday: Get Inspired

How to decorate a home from scratch
Courtesy of JHID

The first step to decorating is to know where you're going—and in order to do this, you need to have a plan. Start with gathering inspiration: interior images, furniture you love, textures, and materials. Group everything into a folder or Pinterest board to keep a clear and coherent vision in one space.

Your deliverable: An inspiration board filled with your favorite rooms, furniture pieces, colors, and materials.

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Once you have all your inspiration in one place, find the common threads. Do you have a penchant for marble, minimal designs, the color blue? Identify which items are catching your eye, and use these pieces, colors, textures, and materials as a base for your design plan. The goal isn't to go overboard with any of them, but to create a coherent base and style for your space.

Your deliverable: A boiled-down palette of colors, materials, and textures to help you guide future decisions.

Interlude Camilla Side Table $1631

Once you've nailed down your aesthetic, take inventory of what you already own and decide whether each piece has a place in your new home. Can you find a spot for your favorite art? Does your grandmother's antique buffet fit with your minimal scheme? Remember—mixing periods and styles can add to your décor, but only you can judge whether each individual piece will add cachet or clash with your overall look.

Your deliverable: A list of everything you'll keep, sell, give, or donate—with actionable plans for each.

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LG 5.2 cu. ft. Mega Capacity Top Load Washer With TurboWash Technology $1249

This is also a good time to start thinking about your appliances. Select a style that looks good and has a multitude of features; that way you won’t have to invest in a new one in a few years’ time. The LG Mega Capacity Top Load Washer Duo has been winning customer satisfaction awards left and right, so you can trust it to get the job done.

Ethan Caflisch Untitled (Large Sungold)
Ethan Caflisch Untitled (Large Sungold) $850

You may love small midcentury settees, but is it practical for your lifestyle? Identify your core needs so you don't end up with a design that's pretty but impractical. Consider how many people you want to seat in your living room or at your dining table; what type of activities take place in your home: Do you love playing board games, throwing cocktail parties, napping on the sofa, or watching Netflix marathons? Let your lifestyle guide your floor plan. Should your sofa face the TV, the fireplace, or a pair of lounge chairs?

Should it sit in the middle of the room or by a sunlit window? How big should it be? These are all questions you'll need to have answers to before picking furniture.

Your deliverable: A core list of activities that take place in your home and the requirements that accompany them (e.g., a desk for working from home or a table to play board games).

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On Saturday: Make a Plan

How to plan a room
Courtesy of JHID

You've had time to digest your overall plan and aesthetic for the space, now it's time to take concrete action. Make a list of every single piece of furniture you want. Consider side tables, sofas, lounge chairs, entryway consoles, and bar cabinets. Now is not the time to restrain yourself with budgets or measurements—let yourself dream up your ultimate wish list regardless of what actually makes sense. Have you always wanted a chaise longue? Maybe you'd like a vanity to get ready in the morning?

Write it all down.

Your deliverable: An ultimate wish list of everything you want in your space, regardless of space or budget.

West Elm Modern Upholstered Swivel Desk Chair, Distressed Brown
West Elm Modern Upholstered Swivel Desk Chair, Distressed Brown $379

Now that you know your needs and wants, it's time to place these items in a floor plan to see which ones make the cut. Use a paper and pen or an app like LucidChart to make a floor plan to scale, and start dropping furniture pieces in. Again, don't limit yourself with budget—consider only spatial requirements. As a guide, leave three feet of walking space in high traffic areas and one to two feet between sofas and tables.

Your deliverable: A floor plan (or a few floor plan options) depicting how you want your space to flow, complete with all the furniture you'll need.

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Once you have a furniture plan, use the same floor plan to map out your lighting. Consider all sources of light: pendants, flush mounts, recessed, sconces, table or floor lamps—but be mindful of which types of lighting require an electrician and which ones don't. Add floor lamps near lounge chairs and sofas, and table lamps on side tables, buffets, and consoles. At the very least, every room should have three sources of lighting at eye level, positioned around the room in a triangular shape. 

Your deliverable: Your furniture plan complete with a lighting map—and a list of your lighting needs.

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Now that you have a clear idea of what you need and where you need it, it's time to start assigning dollar figures. To do this, input your furniture list into a spreadsheet with a total budget amount at the bottom—pick a figure you're comfortable with and that seems reasonable with the amount of things you have to buy. Then, start assigning numbers to each item according to how much you think it costs or how much you feel comfortable spending on each. Play with the amounts until you arrive at a total that's under your planned total.

Remember to budget at least 20% for unplanned issues, taxes, delivery, and other fees.

Your deliverable: A detailed budget plan to guide you through the purchasing phase.

Blu Dot Hecks Ottoman $311

On Sunday: Take Action

Interior designer tips
Courtesy of JHID

Now comes the fun part: Start shopping for pieces you love, starting with the biggest ones. It's easier to place smaller items in afterward than the other way around. Don't forget rugs, which will need to go in first. As you narrow down on each piece, add their price to your budget spreadsheet. If you go over, try making substitutions until you reach a budget you're comfortable with. Most items and styles are available at a variety or price points, so don't be afraid to visit budget retailers to see if you can find a similar item at a better price.

Your deliverable: A detailed shopping list outlining each piece of furniture you need to purchase. Don't forget to measure everything twice before confirming your order.

CB2 Bali Wood Canopy Bed Queen
CB2 Bali Wood Canopy Bed Queen $1199

Chances are that during your furniture sourcing, you came across items you absolutely loved but that didn't fit your budget, but that doesn't mean you should cross them off forever. Keep these pieces aside and see if you could purchase them down the line or if the splurge is worth it. After all, one investment piece can elevate the furniture of a whole room, if chosen carefully. The types of pieces you may want to splurge on are unique statement pieces that will make a big impact on your overall design, or timeless larger items like sofas that you can see yourself keeping for decades.

Your deliverable: A short list of a couple of splurge items to consider investing in for the long run.

Fernando Mastrangelo Hunter Cement and White Rock Salt Drum
Fernando Mastrangelo Hunter Cement and White Rock Salt Drum $4500

You may think that the best time to pick a paint color is at the beginning, but we prefer choosing it at the end. Why? It's easier to pick a tone to complement your entire furniture collection than the other way around. Pick paint samples and look at them against the furniture you've chosen until you find the perfect match. Examine them against fabric or material samples to make sure that everything works together. If you can, get sample pots and paint one-foot squares on your wall to look at under different lights throughout the day.

Each paint will look radically different under natural light than it does on a paint chip.

Your deliverable: A painting plan complete with colors and paint finishes.

Benjamin Moore Breath of Fresh Air $37

Lastly, add in accessories in your space as you create layers that will make it feel lived in. A mistake people often make is to purchase a ton of small accessories instead of the big pieces first because they're afraid of committing to a design scheme. By picking the bigger items first, you'll avoid ending up with a ton of small accessories that don't work together. When picking accessories, consider art for the walls, storage like baskets and trays, coffee table books, coasters, vases, and anything else that might enhance your space while still keeping it livable and practical.

Repeat the same steps 8 through 10 to budget your accessories.

Your deliverable: An accessories plan to add finishing touches to your décor and, at the end, a beautiful home you'll look forward to coming home to.

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This story was originally published on November 28, 2016, and has since been updated.

Next up: Interior designers always notice these bedroom decorating mistakes.

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