Last updated on September 2nd, 2021
The Step by Step Journey to Finding Your Interior Design Style
So you’ve decided that it’s time to makeover your home (or a room in your home), but you have no idea what your interior design style is.
Well rest assured, you are not alone!!
In fact, this is hands down THE most common problem I hear when it comes to people wanting to beautify or update their home. You’d think it would be concerns about budget, but nope.
The first thing that people ALWAYS say is “I want to (re)decorate, but I don’t know my interior design style!”.
For most people, discovering your personal design style can be an incredibly overwhelming and daunting task! Especially if you don’t have a lot of experience decorating and aren’t sure where to start.
Finding your decorating style can be really hard!
First off, let’s not sugarcoat things…
OF COURSE it’s hard, you’re not a designer! (I’m assuming you are not!)
Unless you work in the design world in some capacity, or you spend unreasonably long periods consuming interior design content, you don’t just wake up one day and know how to decorate an entire room from top to bottom. That’s like expecting someone to know how to paint a masterpiece without ever having held a paintbrush before. It’s just not possible or realistic!
On TV and social media, sometimes it may look like designers effortlessly decorate in their sleep, but in reality even professional interior designers take time to carefully plan out the way they want their rooms to look.
The execution is exciting to watch. But it’s the planning that is the most crucial part of the design process. The planning phase is the “boring” stuff that nobody shares much and so it tends to be forgotten.
Remember: for most people consuming content on the internet, the average attention span is equivalent to that of a fruit fly. (All present readers of course excluded! 😉)
Anyways, I digress. I’m not trying to discourage you here in ANY way, but I owe it to my dear readers to be honest and realistic: if it takes professional designers days, sometimes weeks to figure things out, why should it be easy for someone who has zero experience doing it?
To find your interior design style, you have to study, learn, practice and then develop your taste over time.
But the great thing is that if you have an interest and a passion for it, you definitely will!
What can you expect to accomplish?
My goal here isn’t to get 100% accuracy in identifying your decorating style. The goal is to show you a PROCESS which will help you find your interior design style and primarily, identify what you like, so that you can tackle your next project with more confidence.
I can’t tell you what your exact style is, because that would be impossible – a lot of different people will read this article! What I do promise though, is to help give you the tools to figure out your style. And the really exciting thing is that over time, you will develop your own style that will be 100% unique to you.
I’m not going to lie, some of the steps below will feel like homework. But the fact that you are here reading this article is already a good indication that you are willing to put in the work in order to achieve the home of your dreams!
If you think you can’t do this, think again. Take me as your first example: I am not an interior designer. I do have a background in art and design, but with my interiors, I’m constantly learning, changing my mind and a lot of the times, struggling, just like everyone else. But that’s also why I want to share the process I’ve figured out over the years, so that it can save you the time and hassle.
Like most people, I just want a home that makes me feel good when I’m in it. I know it’s possible to create a home you love, even if you don’t love your home, if that makes sense 🙂 But in order to make that a reality, you need a clear picture of what you want.
Well, it turns out this is actually easier said than done. Which is why you’re here 🙂
So, where do we start?
STEP 1 : THINK ABOUT THE FEELING
This very first step in your journey to find your interior design style actually doesn’t require you to do anything except to stop and think!
Of course you will eventually start focusing on how you want your home to look. But also it’s very important to pinpoint how you want your home, or a specific room, to FEEL.
Trying to decorate your home without knowing how you want your home to feel is like trying to make a cake without knowing what the flavour is supposed to be. The two things go hand in hand.
We are bombarded by visuals every second of every day. So before we start searching for external inspiration, and potentially overwhelming ourselves with visuals from left right and center, we need to search for inspiration within ourselves.
This could mean remembering the way you felt in a beautiful place you visited in the past, a luxurious hotel you stayed in, or even just a really nice restaurant. There is no wrong answer!
Try taking a walk in your favorite place so you can clear your mind and reflect. Or maybe just sit in your favorite spot in your home, close your eyes and try to imagine how you would want your ideal home to feel.
If that feels overwhelming, just think about how you’d like to feel inside one single room, or even just a small area of your home.
Alternatively, if it feels right, have a conversation about it with your significant other or someone that you’d like to involve in the process.
The important thing at this stage is not to focus on what you dislike about your home right now. That isn’t helpful. And there is no need to imagine how you would like things to look, that is overwhelming. Just imagine how you would like it to feel.
Some popular adjectives that come up when people talk about how they want to feel in their home are:
STEP 2 : PICK YOUR INTERIOR KEYWORDS
What are a couple of keywords that express the way you want your home to feel? It doesn’t have to be any of the words above, it can be whatever you like.
Once you’ve picked two or three keywords, write them down somewhere.
Every time you look at an inspiration image, refer back to those words.
Every time you are about to purchase an item, refer back to those words.
Don’t lose sight of the way you want your home to feel.
Being in touch with the feeling you want your home to convey is so important, and it will ultimately guide you through this whole process.
If you have many keywords that’s ok too. The more words you have, the clearer a picture you have of how you want your house to feel!
It’s ok if over time your feeling key words change. It’s natural for our tastes and personal styles to develop! But be conscious of that change of direction and commit to it.
STEP 3: CONTEMPORARY OR TRADITIONAL?
When you’re trying to find your interior design style, things can get overwhelming. To keep things simple, I like to separate things into 2 big main interior design style categories: contemporary and traditional. Everything else just trickles down from there.
Contemporary is often characterized by clean lines, clean surfaces and sleek furniture. It can have a minimalistic feel to it with lots of negative space.
Traditional is often characterized by ornate details, rich textures, and heavier furniture. Think crown mouldings, elaborate trims, rich architectural details.
This doesn’t mean that you have to choose one or the other. In fact USUALLY, most people like a combination of both traditional and contemporary, but it’s good to know what direction you lean in PRIMARILY. Neither is right or wrong, and certainly both can be stunningly beautiful! Knowing which of the two major style directions speaks to you more will really help guide you in the right direction if you are feeling lost.
Styles that fall under contemporary would be styles like minimalism, mid-century modern, the majority of Scandinavian design (although architecturally, many Scandinavian apartments are very traditional and dressed with more modern furnishings – you can see an example of exactly what I mean in the image above).
Styles that fall under traditional could be styles like Colonial, Victorian, Neoclassical, farmhouse, boho/eclectic, cottage, coastal.
What if I like elements from both contemporary and traditional?
You may feel that you are a combination of more than one style. This is totally fine and totally normal as well. As I mentioned above, most people enjoy a combination of both traditional and more contemporary elements.
I always say that the best designs are those that are a combination of more than one style. Just be sure to keep things to a maximum of two styles and try to do a combination of 80% one style and 20% of the other.
How to masterfully combine design styles of course is a topic that deserves a whole post of its own. Stay tuned, I’m working on it!
It’s not mandatory, but being able to “label” your style can just make it easier to look for inspiration when you are in need of it.
STEP 4: STUDY YOUR INSPIRATION
Remember those keywords we saved before? Every image you look at for inspiration should convey those feelings in one way or another. At least for you personally!
It doesn’t matter if your neighbor thinks that white rooms aren’t cozy. If you think a white room is cozy and you like it, then that’s fine and that’s all that matters. We’re all different and we all like different things. The only thing that matters is what YOU like.
Get acquainted with Pinterest
The easiest way to start determining what your interior decorating style is, is by starting with an actual room to decorate. It doesn’t have to be real – you don’t actually have to be redecorating any room at all. But pretending you’re working with a specific room gives your brain something concrete to work with.
So, let’s say you want to redecorate your dining room, and let’s pretend one of the keywords you picked earlier was in fact, “cozy”. (If a dining room feels like too much to start with, then pick a smaller, less intimidating space, like a small powder room, or a mudroom or laundry room.)
Use the Pinterest search bar and write “cozy dining room”.
Then start sifting through the results. Create a Pinterest board and save the images you like and that speak to you in some way.
The more you start to figure out the various puzzle pieces, such as what color you want to use, or what decorating style speaks to you most, the more you can narrow down your Pinterest searches by using more specific keywords.
For example, if you know you’re going for a navy blue dining room, you could write “cozy navy dining room” or “traditional navy dining room” and see what comes up.
Remember that if you click on an image in Pinterest, underneath it will show you other similar images. So you can quickly narrow things down and find a lot of images that all share similarities. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, start over.
I like to make a fresh board for every room that I’m tackling and save all the inspiration to that one board. But you can organize things however you like and however makes sense to you.
Find your interior design style by studying your search results
Besides saving your favorite images, it’s really important to observe the results from your searches and start asking yourself questions.
Let’s pretend you stumble upon a picture of a stunning bathroom swathed in deep emerald green paint, exotic wallpaper, a clawfoot tub and a vintage Turkish rug. I can’t find any exact images of that, but here’s something kind of similar (what is that weird doll in front of the mirror though?!):
You may think it looks incredible, but you might also say “I love it but I wouldn’t do that in here!”. This is where you take note of what you do and don’t like.
Taking the fictitious green bathroom as an example, you should ask yourself things like:
“If I don’t usually like the color green and I’ve never decorated with it, then what draws me to this photo?”. Maybe you’re drawn to the bold statement that a deep paint color makes? What if you used another color instead of green? Or maybe this is actually your cue to try something new.
“I don’t have a clawfoot tub, is there something else about this bathroom that is useful or inspiring to me?”. Just because you see an image that has elements that you might not have in your home, that doesn’t mean that you can’t borrow elements from the image as inspiration.
“I love this Turkish rug but it’s so impractical in a bathroom!”. Maybe you could introduce a Turkish rug to another area of your home. Or maybe you could look for a bathmat that uses the same color scheme as the less practical vintage rug.
Perhaps you decide you really dislike the chandelier featured in the image above. Well that’s a sign that glass and crystal chandeliers might not be for you. Or maybe you’ll discover that you don’t like traditional light fixtures at all – in that case you could look to more contemporary pendants.
The more you break down each image that you’re drawn to and ask yourself questions, the more the answers will reveal what you actually want. You should start to see a pattern emerge.
For example when I did this with my mum, I noticed that she loved bathrooms that had a sconce on either side of the mirror (rather than a single light above the mirror). This process also revealed that she was drawn to bathrooms with pedestal sinks and bathrooms that had an overall more traditional vibe to them.
My point being: each image is an opportunity for you to figure out what feels right or wrong.
Once you save an image to your Pinterest board, there is a space on each pin called “Note to self” where you can save private notes for your eyes only so you don’t forget anything along the way.
You can also save inspiration from regular Google searches, Instagram searches, from traditional magazines, or books (just take a pic with your smartphone to save it).
There’s never a time where you must or should stop saving images. Pin and save for as long as you need to. I have boards and pins I saved over half a decade ago. Sometimes I delete old pins that no longer inspire me. Other times I like to look at how my taste has changed over time.
STEP 5: REFINE
By now you should:
a) have an idea of how you want your home to feel
b) have an idea of how you want your home to look
c) know whether you prefer an overall more contemporary or a more traditional look
d) have a Pinterest board that contains inspiration images with notes against many of the images.
So now what? lol
A Pinterest board full of dozens upon dozens of images can get overwhelming fast. So this is why now, you need to look at all the images you’ve saved and try to figure out what commonalities they share. And prune the ones that don’t belong!
Are there certain colors that keep popping up?
Did you save specific shapes or style of furniture, like Scandinavian white interiors with clean lines versus moody rooms with velvet couches and floral wallpaper?
Did some of the images you saved contain similar decor elements like plants, or wall art? Which plants? What kind of wall art?
You get the idea by now!
It’s important to keep refining your Pinterest board.
If you have an outlier image, delete it!
If you change your mind about the way you feel about an image, delete it!
If you forgot why you put something there and you don’t like it anymore, delete it!
You’re going to keep narrowing it down until there’s a clear answer that speaks to your personality and style.
Finding your interior design style is a process that takes time. Most of the time it will be fine, but sometimes rushing into making style decisions can become costly mistakes. Take your time!
You will know you’re there when you see an image, and at a glance you can pick out exactly what you like and don’t like about it, know if it will work in your space, and then move on.
Still feeling lost?
If you got this far, then it will be obvious that if you use this method to to find your interior design style, it isn’t going to be instantaneous. If you’re not feeling up to dedicating that much time to discovering what kind of interior design style you love, luckily you still have some other options that are a bit faster.
1. You can try taking some online quizzes:
A lot of online “find your interior design style” quizzes are really bad and honestly not useful at all. HOWEVER, there are a select few that are actually good and I would recommend trying out! I will save you the time searching for the good ones:
- The Ginger Home: What’s Your Interior Design Style?
- Houzz: What’s Your Decorating Style?
- Bobby Berk: 10 Questions to Determine Your Interior Design Style
None of these quizzes will wave a magic wand, but they might help get you on the right track.
2. Consult with a professional interior designer.
They’ll be able to help point you in one direction if you’re still feeling lost. You can still show them any images you’ve saved. That’s something they’d very likely ask you about anyways, so if you spent time looking at images and saving them, it definitely was not a waste of time!
You don’t have to hire them for a whole project – you can just hire them for a consultation or two. That should help point you in the right direction without costing an arm and a leg.
3. Or try hiring someone on Fiverr
It’s very unlikely that anyone on Fiverr will be able to tell you what your interior design style is. However, if you’re struggling with coming up with a plan for a particular room in your house, you can always try hiring a designer on Fiverr.
There are many, many different skill levels and price points on Fiverr, and it’s always a little hit or miss when you commission work from a similar platform. But this is a great option to keep in your back pocket if consultations with more expensive “professionals” are not in your budget.
4. Look at your wardrobe.
Some people suggest looking to your clothing choices when trying to figure out your design style. This tip may or may not work for you, depending on how much attention you spend on your clothing. I can see how this tip could work as a jumping off point for some people, or as a way to hone in on your personal style.
My final thoughts on finding your interior design style
Don’t get too hung up on needing to label your style. If having an official designation such as “contemporary” or whatever, helps you achieve that, then awesome! If not, no problem. What matters is that you have the tools and the confidence to be able to make decisions about your interior, and express yourself in a way that ultimately makes you feel happy.
Everything I outlined today is what has worked for me when I’ve struggled to find an interior design style in the past. And if you were to ask me what my style is now, I wouldn’t have a clear cut answer! In any case I do hope I was able to explain it in a way that will help you! Please leave me a comment if this article helped you out in some way, I’d love to hear!
If you’re looking for more information on some of the most popular interior design styles, definitely check out this article!