The Beginner's Guide to Design

So you have an uninspiring room. It might be too beige, lacking contrast or simply out of date. Whatever the reason, you know you just have to do something better with it, but where to begin?

Two important starting points are always to make sure you’re clear on what you want to achieve and what you want the finished result to look like. You can write yourself a brief outlining your constraints, desires, timelines and budgets before scouring plenty of magazines and online resources to build a clear overall picture of your preferred styles in fine and layered detail.

But where to from here?

Look at the fundamentals of your room. Any great interior has two things in measured balance: complement and contrast.

Complement means relating select items within your space to one another. So, instead of having 10 different colours, you might focus on two or three. This duo or trio of colours then serve as your accents for soft furnishings, décor and even art.

Complement can also be used to tie together disparate elements, like timber colours. You don’t need to restrict yourself to just one timber colour or stain in a space, but you do want to limit them to their own distinct tones and then reference these throughout. For example, you could have an aged oak floor and still use stained black timber occasional furniture, referencing the oak across a selection of décor items and the black timber in photograph frames or shelving.

It’s through this unity of elements that you achieve harmony in your spaces.

Contrast is your other go-to when it comes to jazzing up your interior. Without contrast your rooms can be a symphony of beige, so look for opportunities to add interest by going against the base foundation colours in your room.

This can mean interrupting your sofa’s mass of beige macrosuede with some textured, coloured or patterned cushions, or, best of all, a blend of all three.

You can also use contrast to elevate your room from neutral and tonal, by introducing contrasting timbers in your occasional furniture. Your coffee table in particular presents an opportunity to do something interesting as a central element to your room, so think big and bold. Find a piece that is from Africa or Asia, for example; something with some character and life. Look at scaling the piece up so it is not quite as long as the sofa, but a good percentage thereof. Then dress your coffee table with stacks of books, a tray, candles, décor items and, most importantly, a living element, like a bunch of flowers or a blooming orchid.

Treat your lounging furniture as an opportunity to create contrast too. If you have two sofas, then the same fabric is advised, but if you have a sofa, plus chairs or ottomans, change the colour, the texture, the pattern or whatever it is that you desire to add more interest to your space.

Use your walls to complement and contrast too.

Painting or wallpapering all of your walls creates an interesting backdrop, while your woodwork, skirting, architraves and doors presents an opportunity to add some cut-through with a sharp white, dark grey or other bold colour.

Window coverings aren’t there simply to filter out light, but to enliven your space too. Sheers and drapes bring elegance to a room, especially when combined with vertical blinds. Plantation shutters work beautifully in heritage homes and also fit right into a Hamptons interior. Roman blinds may offer the restrained elegance that your room requires.

There are endless options, but, by applying the filters: ‘does it fit my brief? Does it look aligned to my reference? Does it add contrast? Does it bring complement?’ to all of your design decisions, you will inevitably end up with a far superior result.