Originally published in July 2020
If you’re reading this post from the comfort of your home, take a look around your space. (If you’re not, envision what it looks like.) What do you like most about the space? What don’t you like about it? Is there anything about the broader design elements and structure of your home you want to change?
Now ask yourself this: Why do you want to change those things? Beyond the smaller decor decisions that are easy to update relatively swiftly, what is it about the overall design of your space that makes it beg for change?
So much of what we think we know about design is based on what we’ve heard from other people. It’s based on advice from design experts, glossy magazines, and even the pages of this website at times. That’s not to say designers don’t have valuable expertise—they absolutely do. Instead, it’s to say there’s no one exact right way to design a home.
Moving into our home has made me rethink a lot of what I previously thought I knew about design. It’s made me see the beauty in working with what you have before (and if ever) you make major changes.
I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately—the difference between what’s labeled as “good” and “bad” when it comes to home design. Moving into our home has made me rethink a lot of what I previously thought I knew about design. It’s made me see the beauty in working with what you have before (and if ever) you make major changes. No matter the style of the home you live in right now (unless it’s in need of updates for safety or functionality reasons), there are ways you can work with your home as it is currently to make it a delightful space for yourself.
This post is not a declaration to stop making the changes you want to make to your home. By all means, please continue to do what works best for you! Rather, it’s a reminder that not everything that falls outside of “standard” design advice is something that needs to be changed. It’s a reminder that it’s perfectly okay to embrace things that may be considered slightly out of the ordinary, slightly dated, or slightly imperfect.
Consider this post as a starting point, full of the ideas that are currently front of mind for me. If you have additional ideas on the topic, please share them in the comments below!
First thing’s first! Let your home be.
Whether you’ve just moved in or you’re only now getting the itch to make changes to your home, allow yourself the time to pay attention to the look and feel of the space before making any updates. Even if it’s a home you’ve lived in for years, if you haven’t actively been paying attention to its intricate characteristics, it’s possible there’s something you may have missed along the way.
Since moving into our home, I’ve been continually surprised by how much I’ve grown to love things I used to think I wouldn’t like.
Bold colors on all four walls? Big fan.
Interior shutters in the bedroom? They’re oh-so practical, and we’re actually planning to keep them in the long run.
Even the closed-concept kitchen and main living spaces are things I’m growing to love, after years of being fed the message that open-concept is the only way to go.
Before you paint, before you switch out lighting, before you embark on a remodel, consciously pay attention to how the spaces in your home look and how they change throughout the day and night. Focus on how you naturally use them, so if and when you do make design changes in the future, you’ll have a really clear idea of what you would like to update to optimize your home for you.
One of the best ways to create areas of interest in your home is to design around spaces that are already natural accent points.
Add a runner to accent a long hallway that connects the main living areas of your home. Or, if you’re looking to hang a gallery wall or paint an accent wall, consider choosing a wall that’s already organically highlighted through the structural nature of the space. Maybe it’s an alcove in your entryway or a slanted wall leading up the staircase.
If you can’t immediately pinpoint these features in your home, take a moment to consider the following. When you walk into a room, where is your eye naturally drawn? What wall or other structural feature stands out immediately? Instead of being overwhelmed by a large space or a somewhat blank canvas, first focus on highlighting the area that most immediately captures your attention, then design around that.
Depending on the feeling you want in a particular room, you can work with the existing characteristics to create a specific design approach. Here are a couple of examples of this in action.
If you want to make your space feel more intimate and cozy, do the opposite! Go for dark paint colors, keep accent pieces slightly lower to the ground, and use fewer mirrors in the area.
If you’re feeling like the layout of your space isn’t quite working, before rushing to buy new furniture that “fits” better, consider whether there are ways you can shift the layout to flow more easily and be more functional.
Start by actively paying attention to what it is about the existing layout that does and doesn’t work well. Are you able to move easily throughout the room? Does your current layout optimize the activities you do most in the space?
Next, feel free to experiment with different layouts on your own. As an example, when we first moved into our house, we put the TV over the fireplace in our family room. After a few weeks, we decided to move the T.V. to the wall that’s to the left of the fireplace. After we spent some time using the room, we realized that was the flow that worked better for us. Plus, placing the TV on a larger wall allowed me to hang a gallery wall that spilled out around it. It was a creative experiment with a result I love.
Do you live in a vintage walk-up? Or a home with influences straight out of the ’80s? Why not bring in a piece or two that pays homage to the home’s existing style? Instead of relying solely on new buys, try your hand at shopping for vintage pieces. They have the power to amplify the already unique character traits of your house.
If your home has arched doorways throughout, consider bringing in an arched mirror or piece of artwork to echo the structural quality of the space. If your home has midcentury modern elements, consider bringing in a midcentury modern credenza or side table. Or, if your home has ornate structural accents like crown molding, consider adding an embellished frame or patterned furniture to accent its somewhat maximalist aesthetic.
There is no designated design guide that’s “right” or “wrong.” There’s only the life of your home and how you choose to embrace it and highlight its quirks.
The advice above isn’t the be-all and end-all for how to design within the existing characteristics of your home. Rather, it’s an invitation to start thinking differently about how you approach your spaces. There is no designated design guide that’s “right” or “wrong.” There’s only the life of your home and how you choose to embrace it and highlight its quirks.
The best part about design, I’m continuing to learn, is that it’s a safe space for us to be creative. Design might at times feel like an objective endeavor, best done by following rules and guidelines. However, it’s actually a very subjective process—one that should be dictated by what works for you, your family, and the space in which you live.
BY Kate Arends - May 5, 2022
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.