Decorating your home is not only about making it look beautiful. It’s about designing a space that’s functional for your needs. Ideally, you’ll want to find a design style that is as attractive as it is suitable for your particular lifestyle.

Whether you’re a DIY designer or will be enlisting the expertise of a professional, you’ll need to do some research to discover what design elements you like and how they might work for your home and habits. It’s fine if you can’t quite figure out the difference between modern and midcentury modern design. But it does help to know how you plan to use the space and at least what colors and furniture styles you like so you can enjoy using it.

Designing a Home Around Your Lifestyle

Leigh Spicher, a Longwood, Florida-based interior designer and national director of design studios at Ashton Woods, says some of her design clients have come to their initial consultation saying things like “I’m modern,” or “I’m a farmhouse.” Try again, she says.

“No one is a farmhouse, a penthouse or a beach house,” Spicher says. “We aren’t trends, colors or things.” But everyone has a lifestyle, and that’s her job as a designer is to help clients discover that.

Social media sites like Pinterest and TV home improvement shows might be suitable for some initial inspiration, but don’t rely solely on other homeowners’ completed projects when designing your own space, Spicher warns.

“Homeowners have such a strong desire to literally identify with their homes, but what we often find is that homeowners want to identify with what they see as a trend on social media and/or HGTV,” she says. “This can lead to big decor mistakes and disappointment.”

Julie Brayton, principal and lead designer of Brayton Interiors, headquartered in Denver, would agree. “Usually, clients are only exposed to current publications and Pinterest pages that tend to capture trendy movements,” she says. Those photo spreads might be a great conversation starter, but her job is to separate the ideas and elements from those trendy designs that she can actually apply to her client’s space.

Brayton’s goal in home design? “It needs to feel personal,” she says. Whether that means the design will be quirky or whimsical or lean toward something more classic or elegant – or in another direction completely – she’s going to help her clients discover what they like.

How to Assess Your Design Style

If you’re looking to hire an interior designer, you might think you’ll be the one conducting the interview. But it should be vice versa. A good designer will have plenty of questions of their own to understand what you like and, most importantly, how you live.

“When working with clients in our studios, we have found that by asking three exploratory lifestyle questions, we can truly help clients find personalized style, not something they saw in an advertisement or even at a friend’s home,” Spicher says. Here are the questions she likes to use to get the creative juices flowing:

  • How do you enjoy spending your time?
  • What does an ideal day at home look, sound and feel like?
  • What is your favorite song, team, TV show, piece of art, etc.?

Spicher then takes the answers to these questions – she likes her clients to actually write them down – and works with the client to create a design that fits in with what they most love to do and feel when at home.

Katie Siegel, designer at Rumor Designs in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, prefers her clients to share images of specific design elements like furniture or lighting fixtures and color palettes to get a sense of their style preferences. “Pictures definitely speak louder than words here,” she says. “The translation of words describing styles can be so different from person to person that it is best to get images involved as a reference to confirm that their vision and yours are aligning.”

Brayton says, “Our firm loves to learn about a person and design to their specific preferences.” She’ll even discuss what’s hanging in their closet. “A client’s wardrobe is a great way to dissect aesthetic preferences and comfort levels,” she says.

What If You Can’t Decide on a Design Style?

If in all this interior design soul-searching you come to find like a little bit of everything from Scandinavian to bohemian, congratulations! You have what those in the business might call “eclectic taste.” Don’t worry – it’s possible to make sense of even the widest-ranging interests when designing an attractive home.

In addition to discussing favorite furniture styles and color palettes, Nikki Klugh, CEO and principal designer of Nikki Klugh Design Group based in Chula Vista, California, asks her clients to submit photos of their preferences in finishes, such as wood and metal tones. Then, they compare all of the photos and samples to find what “plays well together” – anything from complementary patterns and finishes to the client’s affinity for straight or rounded furniture edges that might be carried out through a room or even an entire home.

“The best way to play with an eclectic design while creating a cohesive home is to use similar colors and materials in each of the spaces,” Klugh says. “Picking decor, fabrics and finishes throughout the home that use similar tones or shapes allows your personality to shine through without creating a disconnected feeling.”

“I love mixing eclectic with more contemporary pieces,” Siegel says. “I think if you throw in a few ‘cleaner’ pieces among a predominately eclectic taste, it will keep the room fresh.”

But if you’re not finding anything you like, it’s not a problem, either, Siegel says. “Oftentimes asking what a client does not like is as helpful as asking what they do like,” she says.

Spicher says above all, ignore what other people might like or dislike when it comes to home design. “Avoid looking at Pinterest and thinking about resale or even what your mother-in-law’s opinion might be,” she says. Instead, focus on yourself and how you want to live in the space. “This is your home, and this is the place to capture that magic,” she says.

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