How did you ever figure out what to do with your kitchen?
A friend asked me this recently. She’s in the process of building a house and has gotten to the part where all the interior bits need to be chosen.
It’s a big job – one that most people find overwhelming (even if I find it thrilling).
At first it sounds fun to pick your floors and trim, cabinets and counters, faucets and tile. But then the magnitude of the job hits you.
There are thousands of options … and you don’t know which one to choose.
You want it to look good. You want to love it.
You want to “get it right” but how do you know what that is?
And then there is the added pressure of the money involved.
Now it’s definitely not fun.
This is exactly where my friend was.
If you have ever renovated, you know what I’m talking about. You could drown in the seemingly endless pictures of beautiful kitchens and bathrooms. But none of them is perfect.
You’re not going to recreate any of them in your house. But at the same time there are so many that are lovely.
So how do you choose the right thing for your house?
I’ll tell you exactly what I told her:
Every house has its own personality
Not every thing is going to look good in every house. Every house is different just as every body is different.
Certain things are going to make it look more fabulous … and others things won’t. It’s as simple as that.
Instinctively you know this.
There’s a rightness that comes when the larger elements are all pulling in the same direction.
And just like understanding what works on your body can make shopping easier – so too can understanding what works with your house.
It eliminates whole swaths of choices, and allows you to home in on to the items that will work.
Good design begins with structure – not inspiration photos
I know, I know – everyone loves inspiration photos. Me too. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you give them up.
They just aren’t where you start.
Now I know you have probably heard differently. If you’ve worked with a designer, you were asked for them from the get-go.
But here’s the thing: good designers actually start with your house.
As a client, this step is invisible. But when you’re designing your own space, this is the place to start. It makes everything easier, I promise.
Let the house set the stage
Start from the outside – what’s the style of your house?
Keep it simple. Think in broad strokes here. No need to get fancy.
Does it remind you of a child’s drawing? Does it remind you of houses you have seen many times before?
Yes? It’s a traditional style.
Whether it’s actually an old house or a recently-built one doesn’t matter.
Doesn’t look like a child’s drawing? You have yourself a modern house.
Obviously this is simplifying in the extreme – but it’s enough to get you started.
My house, for example, is traditional. Built in the 1920s, it’s typical of older houses in town. My friend’s house, on the other hand, is modern. It looks like an architect drew it, not a child.
Consider the interior details
Now think about the inside of your home – the doors and the trim. Are they mostly flat, with very little detail? Or are they curvy and fancy?
If you have a modern house, you will find flat trim and simple doors.
But when it comes to traditional homes, you may find simple trim and doors – or more ornate ones. It all depends on what was in fashion when your house was built.
Again this is broad – but also really useful. This tells you how much ornamentation (to use a fancy word) works in your house.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a slave to this. (Take a big breath if you live in a grand Victorian and love modern design.)
But this is the body you’re dressing.
My own house has a simple traditional style – flat, wide trim and two-panel doors. Another friend has an older, grander house. There, the trim and doors are more detailed and “fancier.”
How would you describe your home’s style?
Beware the overzealous renovator
So far, so good – as long as your house hasn’t been stripped of its original character.
Many a house currently suffers with a split personality because some previous owner tried to update it or change it … and it just didn’t work.
If you have one of these houses you likely already sense that something is “off” about it. Maybe the windows don’t seem quite right – or the inside doesn’t fit with the outside – or there are funny additions that don’t “go” with the rest.
For the record, my house had all of these problems when we bought it – but you could still see what it was at its heart.
But … if you’re totally confused, this is a perfect question for a pro – or do some research on your own.
Otherwise, just be aware that totally transforming the character of a house is not a do-it-yourself job. It’s like trying to wear runway fashion … hard to pull off.
Most people will be much happier when they work with the inherent style of the house rather than against it.
Bring in your own style
Now that you are acquainted with your home’s personality, it’s time to think about how you are going to express your style in this house.
After all, it isn’t just about your house any more than getting dressed is just about your body. But at the same time, keeping your home’s style in focus helps you.
Remember this is not the be-all and end-all.
This is an expression of your style, as it is now, in this house. Totally different.
So how do you want to express your style in this house?
Do you want to play up its grandeur? Do you love its simplicity?
Think about what you love about your house and what drew you to it. Consider how closely you want to follow its look.
Maybe you love mid-century modern and you want to go all the way with it. Great. You can do it in a more traditional house … it will just look a bit different than in a modern one.
Or maybe you have a traditional home with original features but you want a clean, bright, contemporary look.
This is where those inspiration photos come in.
Now start collecting inspiration photos to your heart’s content
Look for images that show styles you love in surroundings similar to yours.
Pay close attention to the details of the structure, things like windows and doors, trim and flooring. And see how the elements of the design play off or repeat those details.
It will help you see possibilities for your space and visualize what different choices might look like.
Yes, there is more to putting a look together, but this is the place to start.
You’re learning to visualize how those different elements work together … just like a designer does.
Knowing your home’s personality makes it much easier to decide how to dress her in a way you love. Armed with this knowledge –and some well-chosen inspiration photos – you can hit the stores and showrooms with confidence.
You know what you are looking for … and you can skip the rest.
Now it’s your turn
Do you have a particular way you love to start a project? Do you love inspiration photos – or find them a pain?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Still sound impossible?
I want to talk to you!
I’m interviewing lovely women like you about creating a beautiful + functional home. In exchange for answering my questions – I will give you a complimentary Design Vision Consultation (which means I will walk you through this … and more). Click here for more info or email me to say you’re in.
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