Creating a design scheme

When starting a design scheme it's important to think about what you want your room to look like. With this in mind, Interiors expert Julia Kendell offers her advice on sourcing new design ideas to create fabulous interiors.

ABOVE (click on gallery image to view larger picture): Once you’ve decided on your design inspiration, develop the scheme to suit your taste. You could update your existing furniture, for example, and include some family heirlooms.

Julia Kendell

Follow Julia Kendell’s expert guide to sourcing new design ideas to create fabulous interiors.

There is so much choice available when it comes to deciding on a new room scheme. Will you use paint, wallpaper, or both? Which window treatments will work and what flooring should you choose? Knowing where to start can be daunting. Here are my tips for creating a new look that uses personal touches to provide wow-factor, as well as achieving practical objectives.

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What to consider before you start

1. Emotional responses: When I’m designing for clients, my primary consideration is to connect with their interests and passions to ensure the completed room feels like their home. Although you know your family’s likes and dislikes, it is worth writing down the words you can all think of to describe who you are.

You might put down ‘relaxed’, ‘safari’, ‘tidy’, ‘rock music’, for example, and the phrases will form a picture of everyone who lives in the house. Use this as the base on which to build the right style of scheme to suit you and your personality. Specific ideas, such as ‘safari’, might form the basis of your design theme.

2. Practical considerations: You will also need to write a list of what is needed to ensure your room works efficiently and for its intended purpose. Prioritise the activities for which it will be used and the minimum sizes of furniture necessary to fulfil these tasks. Think about the flow of the space and whether simple changes to the layout – such as altering a door’s position, increasing the height of a windowsill or changing the location of a radiator – might open up new possibilities for furniture placement.

3. Natural light and architectural detail: Look carefully at the space to be decorated. In which direction does it face? Is it a naturally dark or light room? Are there architectural details you want to emphasise, or areas you would rather understate? You should consider the room objectively at the initial planning stage to determine its strengths and weaknesses, and decide which colour palette will work best.

Using your answers to all the previous points, you can draw up a master list to refer to. This will reduce the temptation to buy anything impractical for your space when you’re choosing new items.

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Determine your own style

Most people understand whether they prefer traditional, classic or contemporary styles – even those I talk to who believe they don’t know what type of design they like. By bearing this in mind and referring to your master list of considerations, as outlined above, you will have narrowed your choices considerably.

Try going through homes magazines to look at upcoming trends, and save pages of all the rooms that appeal to you. You should see a few strong themes emerging – for example, light and New England style or moody and opulent – or maybe a recurring colour group or pattern. Several specific elements may be repeated in many of the images that you have chosen, such as a fireplace design or a type of blind.

Finding your personal style isn’t an exact science. It is as individual as you are, and is likely to be a blend of influences from different periods and designs. By being aware of your style preferences, you’ll be able to choose a room scheme that you’re unlikely to tire of too quickly.

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Research design ideas

  • There are many places where you can look for inspiration for a new scheme. You can choose a fabric or wallpaper you love and construct the design of the space around it – take note of the colours that are combined with it in any promotional literature, and the way the room set has been styled. Are there ideas you can use?
  • Hotel websites are another great place to pick up design ideas, particularly for bedroom schemes. To view a range of inspiring pictures, search online for ‘beautiful hotel rooms’, or a similar phrase. Retail outlets are a good source of ideas. They employ professional stylists and window dressers to make their room sets look appealing. Can you use their display ideas in your home?
  • Visit show homes to see up-to-date, bold and elegant looks in modern properties. A number of excellent design blogs written by professionals and students around the world are available online (desiretoinspire.net and apartmenttherapy.com are great examples). These can be an excellent source of unusual and stimulating ideas.
  • Pick up design ideas and style inspiration by looking through issues of Real Homes magazine at the gorgeous rooms that readers have already created.

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Bear in mind

When admiring beautiful room schemes in brochures and magazines, be aware of high ceilings and period architecture. Just as clothes designers use tall models to showcase their wares, fabric and wallpaper manufacturers choose rooms with ceilings that are higher than the standard 2.4m to advertise their products. Any fabric will look elegant in a room with lavish proportions. Real Homes is a good source of inspiration as it features real homes with genuine proportions.

Add personal touches

Often, I will use a single item of sentimental value – perhaps an heirloom vase or a fabulous bedroom quilt – as the starting point for a design. If a scheme develops from an item that means something to you, you’re more likely to have an emotional connection with the room.

I want to create wow-factor that is personal to my clients. When they open their eyes to see the new design for the first time, I will know in that moment whether I’ve simply given them a pretty home, or one that really reflects their identity.

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Re-use furniture

We’re rarely able to decorate and furnish a room entirely from scratch. Move any items of furniture to be incorporated into the new design to an empty space, in order to see them objectively. If this isn’t possible, group them together and throw white sheets over everything else. Take photographs of them so that you can include them on your mood board, and consider updating any old pieces of furniture that you no longer love.

Create mood boards

To allow your creativity to flow and try out ideas before you start, create a mood board. Collect images from magazines or brochures of different design elements, including paint, wallpaper, fabric and flooring samples, then arrange them on an A3-sized piece of white card to see how well they go together. Discard any that don’t work within the scheme, until the colours, textures and patterns form a unified look. It’s best to use the same proportions on the mood board as in the room – so if three-quarters of the space will be painted in one shade and the rest in another, paint the board accordingly. Lay on fabrics and flooring in a similar way to how they will be seen in the room. Leave the board there for a while and visit it during the day and in the evening. Whatever your reaction to it, you will feel the same about the scheme.

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PHOTOGRAPHS DAVID BURTON; JAKE FITZJONES