Want to know how to elevate the look of a basic space? Here, interior design experts share some of the hard-won lessons they’ve learned along the way.
1. More really is more
“Unless you are going for a purely minimal aesthetic, ‘more is more’ is the design mantra to live by, or else it feels like you forgot to finish,” says designer Jessica Geller of Toledo Geller. “The more layered the finishes and furnishings, the more done a room looks.” For example, in this kitchen the designers paired a trio of pendants with dramatic surface-mounted fixtures. “We knew that the kitchen finishes were so bold that a simple ceiling would be basic and boring,” she says.
2. Design for how you really live
It’s easy to get swept up in pretty fabrics and eye-catching accessories, but it’s important to start the design process by truly considering how you intend to use a space. At Toledo Geller, clients begin by filling out an in-depth questionnaire. “Instead of ignoring the function of a space and putting on blinders to how clients want to live,” says Geller, “we unearth a way to make their lives easier and their homes more beautiful.”
3. You’re only as good as your electrician
Having a network of reliable and talented artisans and tradesmen is key to making a design vision come to life—and delivering on deadline. “My electrician, upholsterer and seamstress are the ones who make me shine,” says Megan van der Kieft of Margo Moore Interiors, who explains these valuable relationships are built on trust and time. “They’ve all taught me a wealth of knowledge, and because of their expertise, have probably saved me thousands of dollars.”
4. The client is usually, but not always, right
Top-notch professional designers are always hoping to make their clients’ lives better and easier. “One thing we have learned is not to listen to someone who tells us ‘But I don’t need a chair’ or console or lamp or whatever the item in question might be,” says designer Virginia Toledo of Toledo Geller. “As design professionals, we’ve been hired to make their space both functional and beautiful—and sometimes that means adding a few layers or pieces of furniture that they might deem unnecessary.”
5. Display what you love
“In the past, design was more stuffy, and you had to live in a space with all your loved items hidden away because they didn’t work with the scheme,” says Christina Loucks. “Now, we want to be surrounded by our favorite things that make us feel good.” Loucks explains that to make it feel purposeful, it’s important to edit down to your absolute favorite pieces and to group collections by shape or color so that it feels cohesive. For example, you can hang a favorite throw on the wall as art or use jewelry as an interior accessory.
6. Stick with similar colors for a sense of ease
If you’re after a calming space, try using monochromatic tones or similar shades of color. “This allows for the eye to have a sense of ease when looking through a space,” says Loucks. To keep it interesting, she suggests layering the room with varying textures, and she points out that a uniform color scheme makes it easy to rotate in accessories, pillows and art as your mood allows. “It also makes it much easier to tolerate lots of kids’ toys lying around!” she says.
7. A beautiful space isn’t about trends
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the latest design trend or product of the moment, but designer Kim Gordon says that a beautiful space puts your well-being first. “Healing from nasty chemotherapy, which I endured for my stage 3 breast cancer, left me relearning what’s important in design,” she says. “Color and scale, as well as brand names, no longer matter.” In your space, that might mean tossing a shearling onto a chair when it gets chilly or placing a plant in a bathroom to add liveliness. Those little upgrades can have a dramatic effect on your comfort level. “Yes, finding the perfect chair matters,” says Gordon, “but what’s more important is your environment as a whole.”