Chapter Three: The Practical Elements

Prepare to create your dream interior with Chapter 3 of the Houseology Design School, packed with all the practical interior design tips you'll need.


Design School

Once you’ve spent some time getting inspired about your style and thinking about the room, it’s time to begin the exciting process of bringing your interior design to life.

The key to making sure it all comes together is great planning. On the surface it may not seem as exciting as choosing paint colours or picking out furniture, but taking the time to thoroughly plan your interior design scheme will mean you can enjoy the process as much as the finished design.

This chapter is all about the practical things you need to know to start a project and make it a success. From putting together a brief to setting your budget, we’re sharing the methods the professionals use to get organised in the all-important early stages.

urban room

01.Forming a design brief

An important step in the design process is forming your design brief. For a professional, the design brief is a statement of requirements – a vital way to get to know the client and the scope of the project.

Building your own design brief as you embark on a project will help you to articulate what is important to you and ensure you maintain your focus on delivering that.

Think of your design brief as the few guiding principles that you will use through every step of the project. It will outline your goals and help bring them into focus, plus establish crucial factors like your timescale and budget.

At this point, the emphasis is on the results and outcomes of the design rather than the aesthetics. It’s about bringing together the information you need to establish the parameters of the project and sharing it with everyone involved, from the professionals you work with to any other family members who will collaborate with you along the way.

There are five key questions to ask yourself as you start a project:

01. What are the objectives of your project? What are your goals and aspirations for the space?
02. What’s the budget? Having a clear idea of what you want to spend will really help in the decision-making process.
03. Are there any timescales or deadlines you need to work to? It’s important to set a realistic timescales for your project, if you have a deadline this will influence some of your design decisions.
04. What are the accommodation requirements of the space? Is it a living room, dining room kitchen – or a combination of all three?
05. What activities does the room need to accommodate? Cooking, playing, seating and storage are just a few examples of the functional considerations for your space.

Developing a good brief empowers you to understand exactly what you need from the space and apply this with clarity to each step in the process. Understanding your needs in this detail will ensure your design is personal, effective and most importantly, a real success.

5 questions

02.Setting a budget

All interior design projects happen within the framework of a budget – deciding what yours will be from the outset will ensure you make a smart investment in your home and accomplish everything in your design plans.

Knowing your budget and working with it is the easiest way to make sure you don’t get half way into your project and run out of money to complete it. Once you have a number in mind, you can balance all the demands of the project against it and determine how much you have to spend on each element.

Start by thinking about how much you can comfortably spend and what kind of changes you want to make to your home. If you’re planning a major renovation, speak to one or two experienced contractors about what you have in mind and ask them to give you a quote for how much the work might cost. You can use this to establish the starting point of your budget.

Once you have a rough idea of how much it will cost to undertake the work you want, assess what you’ll need to cover the other aspects of the project. Consider all the costs involved; your material costs like furniture, flooring and lighting are just a piece of the whole picture. Your budget will also need to include other incidentals like delivery and shipping fees, labour costs, removal fees and some contingency in case things don’t go according to plan.

If you’re new to home renovations, are working within a tight budget or need the work done quickly, professional help can be a wise investment. An interior designer or experienced contractor will help you manage your costs and share smart tips about where to save and spend, particularly on more challenging aspects of your room design.

Finally, remember that you don’t need to do everything in one go – if you’re working with a limited budget it’s always possible to take on a project in phases and complete your room design over time.

03.Drawing up plans

Now it’s time to draw a plan and analyse how you might use the room better. A plan is a drawing of the room that positions key features like the walls, windows and doors. Your plans can be layered to include positions of architectural features, electrical outlets and furniture to help you really understand the space.

Initially it is good to draw your plan without any furniture and only the structural or architectural features that you will be retaining. This will open your mind to the possibilities of the room, giving you an idea of what would work in the space and the optimum layout of your furniture.

Measure everything carefully – you need an accurate picture of the size of the room along with the height of the windows and ceilings and how wide the door swings into your room. Use a scale ruler and squared paper to make sure everything in your drawings is accurate and is a true reflection of the room you’re working with.

Be sure to draw furniture to scale as well; it’s easy to draw a sofa to the size you think it is and be disappointed to find it doesn’t fit. As you begin to introduce furniture to your drawings, don’t forget to consider the width of the door as well – you need to be confident that the furniture will physically fit inside the room.

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04.Scale and proportion

Understanding scale and proportion will make sure your room isn’t just a collection of competing elements – it helps all the pieces of the room fit together to create a warm and inviting space.

As you begin drawing up plans, it’s useful to understand scale and proportion and how these design elements apply to your space:

  • Scale refers to how an item or piece of furniture relates to the size of the room and the people who use it.
  • Proportion refers to how the different pieces relate to other items in the same space.

Have you ever been in a space where the sofa seemed to totally overtake the small room? Or walked into a large room where the furniture seemed almost tiny in comparison? These are examples of where the scale and proportion aren’t quite right, and by keeping a few key rules in mind you can bring your design together and avoid the same problem in your space.

Consider height and the size of the room – in general, large pieces of furniture are suited to large rooms and high ceilings, and smaller pieces to smaller rooms and lower ceilings.

The largest piece of furniture is typically the main feature of the room and usually sets the scene for everything else to work around; if you have a large dining table or cabinet, don’t expect this to fade into the background – whether you intend it or not, it will likely be a key feature that draws the eye in your space. Whatever your key pieces are, pick other pieces that will complement and show it to its best advantage, rather than clash and compete.

Think not just about the height of the room, but of the height of the furniture itself. Is your bedside table around the same height as your mattress or will it sit too low? Do the arms of your desk chair tuck uncomfortably underneath your desk?

Finally, consider how you can make use of blank space when working on the room’s proportions – no matter how big or small your room is, without carefully planned blank spaces your room will feel tight, cluttered and crammed. Leave enough room to let everything breathe and make sure artworks are hanging around average eye level to the space.

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05.Considering flow and connection

Draw rooms and spaces that are adjacent to the project room at the same time as you start working on your plans. This will prevent you looking at the room in isolation and instead force you to consider the room’s relationship with other spaces in the house – how it connects and the flow between each space. It might give you insight into how you could combine two rooms together to create a better space or how a different orientation of the rooms might work better.

Consider how each of the spaces in your home relate to each other and how you could use design elements to connect them and create synergy in your design scheme. For example, you can create continuity in open-plan living areas by using small splashes of your main feature colour in your living area then continue accents of the same palette in your dining area.

Finally, think about the flow from room to room and how your home’s architecture will have an impact on the finished scheme. Though different styles might appeal to you, consider how each will work in the context of your home so that it all flows harmoniously.

Working with the architecture of your home, rather than against it, is a good way to ensure your interior design works in harmony with your home’s defining style. That doesn’t mean slavishly following a classical style – contemporary interiors can look great in traditional houses – it’s more about being sympathetic to some of the elements that make up your home’s character.

06.Next steps

Now that you’ve developed a deeper understanding of the practical elements of planning your room design, the next stage is to start thinking about how you can create atmosphere in your space using lighting.

lighting design

In this chapter we’ll tell you everything you need to know about creating a lighting scheme - from the practical to the decorative. We talk you through the scheme design, the practicalities, light sources, light bulbs, and creating the right light for your room.