Ever looked at a finished space, mood board, or an insanely great before and after and thought, “How do interior designers make their design choices?”
Now’s your chance to get into the mind of an interior designer — to learn how we find unique design inspiration for each project.
The past two years has been atypical in several ways. After a complete halt in March of 2020 the following summer brought a frantic surge as homeowners everywhere who wanted their homes redesigned, like, yesterday.
Instead of an assortment of projects at various stages of completion, as is typically the case, several projects all started around the same time. This means I've been in the thick of Creative Development on a number of projects all at once.
This is the fun part. The aspect of interior design that everyone assumes is 95% percent of my job. (In reality, it’s really closer to 15% — the rest is mostly logistics and procurement. It’s much less sexy and wouldn’t make for a must-read blog post.)
This is the stage where I get really familiar with each space, confirm measurements and take detailed photos, and meet with architects, contractors and trades to develop design plans. It’s also the stage where I conduct in-depth interviews with my clients to get to know them, their lives, their habits, and their design dreams and preferences for their space.
With all of these details, I then get to work developing schematic drawings and designs, sourcing hardscape materials and furnishings, and creating the renderings and mood boards. And since I’m working on multiple projects in the thick of this stage, it seemed like a no-brainer blog post.
So, where do interior designers find inspiration?
The short (and irritatingly unspecific) answer is: everywhere. Truly. The world is filled with beautiful people, art, music, fashion, spaces, natural environments — it’s endlessly inspirational. But I doubt that really answers the question in a helpful way, so let’s break it down a little further.
Where do interior designers look for inspiration for each project?
The number one inspiration for an interior design project has to be the clients themselves. Good interior design is deeply personal, and, at its best, allows you to thrive in your spaces. But that looks different for every person.
That’s why I always start the creative process with an in-depth serious of meetings with my client to understand them at their root. We cover a wide range of topics, including:
Daily routines — Morning, dinner, evening, and everything in between. You have to live here, after all.
Current spaces — What works right now? What doesn’t?
Future goals — How do you want to feel in this space? How do you want others to feel in this space? What is most important to you in this room?
Preferences — Which colors, fabrics, materials, and trends do you love? Which do you hate?
Wish list vs. necessities — Every project, no matter the budget, has a “wish list” and a “must-have list”. It’s my job to discern what combination of these will bring about the most successful design outcome.
The answers to the above questions are a great starting point, but I like to take it further.
One of my favorite questions to ask clients to get design inspiration for their space is: Tell me about the best trip you’ve taken.
To be clear: this isn’t to create an over-the-top themed space. But rather, I can typically find a design element, a material, or a color that subtly reminds the client of that experience. Even though others might not catch the nod, I love to see the smiles on homeowners’ faces when we’ve captured such a special memory in their new homes.
For design inspiration, take a cue from the existing architecture
My goal as a designer is to create rooms that look as though they’ve always been there. It’s so awkward to walk into a room that’s been redone and suddenly feel as though you’re in an entirely different time and place. That’s not to say that everything needs to ‘match’. In fact, there are ways to mix and match elements from various styles and eras creatively.
But it’s important to take cues from the current structure to avoid tension between various design elements.
For instance, if your home’s exterior has a decidedly mid-century feel, rustic beams on the ceiling and reclaimed antique limestone floors are going to feel a little out of step.
Another example — arched openings and doorways are everywhere right now. But if you’re going to integrate this into the design plan for your new kitchen, it’s wise to adapt a few other doorways throughout the home so it feels cohesive.
A home’s exterior can provide a wealth of inspiration for the interior
Some of my favorite projects are heavily inspired by the natural surroundings outside the walls. In our Playa Beach House project, designer Chelsea Sachs and I relied heavily on the beach views to inform our design choices. Again, this wasn’t a theme-y beach house with whitewashed signs pointing “This way to the beach 👉🏼”. (Please never do this.)
Instead, we selected a recycled glass backsplash tile that evoked the sheen, movement, and color of the waves. We selected dark gray stained cherry kitchen cabinets, which might feel off-topic for a beach house, but picks up the color of the stone jetty and the dark flecks of sand in the beach just outside.
Currently, I’m working on a project with a beautiful property filled with old-growth oaks. This informs our design choices inside. We’re using rich greens and natural materials to speak to the world outside the windows.
So how can you think like an interior designer?
When searching for design inspiration, consider:
What are your goals for the space? What would a successful design look like? What would it feel like?
What styles, colors, and trends are you drawn to? What don’t you want to see in your home?
What place or experience do you wish you could revisit every day? How can you capture a bit of that magic in your design choices?
More than just visual design elements, how does your home need to function? What design choices will allow you and your family to flourish in your space?
What architectural elements in your home stand out? Does it evoke a certain era or style? What features can you highlight?
What does your home’s exterior tell you? What can you draw from the surrounding spaces to bring the outside in?
As you design your dream home, consider the above questions and make a clear list of “must-haves” and “would-be-nice-to-haves”. This will help lay the groundwork for a home that doesn’t just look beautiful on an Insta feed, but functions and feels the way you need it to.
Until next time,