Moving into a new home can be one of life’s great joys, but it can also be a time of uncertainty, especially when it comes to decorating. How do you make your space look its best while reflecting your personal sense of style? Do it well and you’ll end up with a comfortable, happy home. Do it poorly and you’ll end up with a hodge-podge of furniture, fabrics, and paint colors that never congeal into a pleasing whole.
To reach the finish line, you first have to know where you’re going.
Know Your Measurements
Matching the scale of furniture to the scale of a room is critical. A deep sectional sofa can easily overpower a small room and svelte chairs can get lost in a wide-open loft. Before you start designing, measure the length and width of each room you intend to decorate, along with the ceiling height and elements that could get in the way – stairs, columns, radiators, and other obstructions. It’s also a good idea to measure window openings, along with the wall space below, above, and to the sides of each one, to get ready for window coverings.
Create a Floorplan
Once you have the measurements of your room, it’s time to put them to use with a floor plan that gives you a bird’ eye view of the entire home. “Every job should start with a floor plan,” said Alexa Hampton, the president of Mark Hampton, the New York interior design firm founded by her father. “You need to know the space.”
One option is to draw a floor plan the old-fashioned way, with paper, a pencil, and a ruler. However, most professional designers use drafting software like AutoCAD. In between those two extremes are apps that aim to make it easy for homeowners to create simple floor plans (some even automate measurements with your smartphone’s camera, but double-check those numbers), including Magicplan, Floor Plan Creator, and RoomScan Pro.
Decide How You Want to Live
This is the tricky part, and there are no right or wrong answers. Rooms can be traditional or modern, formal or relaxed, and visually warm or cool. “To the best of your ability, you have to try to discern how you would like to live in a given space,” said Ms. Hampton. “What will you be doing? How many people live there? Are there children? What are your ambitions for how you would like to live?”
The decoration of a home for someone who regularly hosts large dinner parties, for instance, should be different from home for someone who eats out at restaurants every night. The person who plans to host lavish fundraisers should have a different living room than the person who dreams only of crashing in front of the TV.
Develop a Budget
There’s no getting around the math: If you splurge on an unexpectedly expensive chair, you’ll have less money available for the rest of the home. “You want to make sure you’re being strategic about how you spend your money,” said Mr. Ford. “A budget gives you a roadmap for how to divide the costs of things between rooms.” You can still make an exception if you find a one-of-a-kind dining table, he noted, but in order to pay for it you have be thoughtful about where else you can cut back.
Plan the Phases
Finishing drywall, refinishing hardwood floors, and painted ceilings are all messy work. If at all possible, it’s better to have this type of work completed before moving any furniture or accessories into the space.