A step-by-step guide to learn how to put together a room you love, regardless of budget size. Use these designer trade tips and tricks to start shopping online like a boss.
When I present the How to Shop Online/How to Work with Clients via eDesign training on Day 3 of my Specify Colour with Confidence workshops I am often met with skepticism.
“But isn’t everyone’s monitor different?” One will declare.
“Do all merchants photograph things well?” Another will ask doubtfully.
“What about exposure? How do you account for whether the room is East, South, North or West?”
So first. I have worked with thousands of clients all over the world. My questionnaire does not ask which exposure the room is facing (We do ask if the room is bright or dark).
Why? Because if the light changes the colour for a few hours during the day, people will forgive that if it looks right the rest of the time.
Getting colour right, is all about choosing the correct undertone and very little to do with exposure.
In my Vancouver workshop last month, I had a student share that she had added a skylight to her living room. And suddenly her colours looked wrong.
I suggested that likely the real reason her colours looked wrong, was because they probably weren’t perfect before, but because the room was dark, it wasn’t as noticeable. Now that the room had a skylight, it became much harder to ignore.
She agreed that was the real issue.
Another reason you might want to make lighting the culprit, is if you let your client push you into giving them a more current colour, or example a ‘white’, in a room that has no business being white, then that’s when it will appear to have ‘changed in the light’. A phenomenon that would not have been an issue if you chose a colour that related to what was happening in the room.
Here’s the bottom line. I’m not saying lighting is NEVER a factor. I’m saying, STOP USING IT AS A
GO-TO EXCUSE because the colour that really does end up WRONG because of the light is an exception rather than the rule.
But I digress.
So what if you just don’t trust your eye (or your computer) yet. How do you shop for decor online and make sure you’re not constantly shipping everything back?
Here’s the hot tip:
Start with the item that would cost you the most if you had it custom made
So if you are refreshing your bathroom and you’re going to order a vanity online because it comes with a countertop, sink, cabinet hardware and sometimes even a faucet, making the whole thing more affordable, order it first.
Then after it arrives, match everything to it with items you can buy locally.
Then you will avoid this problem sent to me by a reader recently:
I painted bathroom walls with Hush grey paint, Benjamin Moore and it has a violet color on my walls. Tile on floor is dark grey and shower tile is subway white. Purchased a vanity ( was supposed to be light grey with marble top with a touch of grey) turned out to be Seafoam green! Not crazy about the walls now! Should I repaint or not! Help!!
When decorating a sofa, custom pillows are VERY expensive. If you’ve ever had a decorator specify custom pillows you’ll know they run around $200 and up EACH!. Once you buy the fabric, and the insert and pay for the labour for the pillow to be made, that’s just what one custom pillow adds up to.
So before you order your sofa (which will likely be a custom fabric) order your throw pillows first.
There are many, many gorgeous, designer pillows for a fraction of the price on Etsy. Sometimes they will save costs by using the fabric only on one side, but you still get the look, which is great!
Begin with the Special One of a Kind or Investment Piece
Often a beautiful artwork or area rug is an investment piece. And if you’re sourcing a high quality or vintage rug online, it’s a good idea to order it FIRST and build the rest of the room around it. If you fall in love with a patterned rug, it makes sense to order it and then figure out what the right blue accent colour is to coordinate with it.
Or, order the smallest rug first and then if it’s the right colour, ship it back and order the one that fits the room.
If you want a blue kitchen island, it makes sense to order the custom pillows or patterned rug first so you can get the blue paint colour for your island perfect by comparing.
Order the Pattern First
If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you know I basically advise avoiding accent tile. But let’s say you know that tile should be simple and classic, but you would like to go bold with some colour on your bathroom floor. You’re considering this high end patterned tile with a pretty leaf green in a fairly classic pattern below.
To create the perfect white bathroom with this mosaic floor, order a sample of the main pattern (the tile) first, and then choose the supporting solid white wall tiles and and paint colours to match.
Another patterned element that is best ordered in advance is wallpaper. It’s hard to tell whether the actual colour is brighter or duller than the online image. Or whether the whites in it are true white or creamy. There’s no way around ordering a sample (same with any fabric by the way).
Ideally, you would order your wallpaper samples and then choose the right coordinating trim, paint and accent colours to match.
4 Steps to Shopping Online Like a Boss
While it’s true that online photos of products may not be as reliable as we would like, it’s wise to simply work around it.
Here’s a step by step process for shopping online:
- Start with the Custom or Pricey Item First. As with the prefabricated vanity in the first example, it’s much easier to find tile and paint to coordinate with the vanity than to find a vanity that will exactly match whatever tile or paint you’ve chosen. Same goes with a non custom shelving unit, or kitchen cart, etc.
- Order the Patterned or Multi Coloured Item First. The item with a range of colours in it is going to set your decorating palette. Get that piece, or a sample of the pattern first to source and compare all other items to.
- Always Order a Sample. This applies to any pattern in tile, fabric, wallpaper, etc. And if a sample is not available, be sure to familiarize yourself with the return policy. Make sure you can ship the rug back inexpensively and easily if it is not what you expected. Never order furniture online without ordering a fabric sample first. If they won’t provide you with a sample, either make sure returns are easy, or keep shopping.
- Compare, Compare, Compare. Gather all your samples together before settling on any elements to work with the patterned or investment piece. Lay out all the samples together in the orientation they will be installed, isolated with white paper and make sure they all relate well.
This is the process. It’s the due diligence we have to do to create beauty with the extraordinary convenience of shopping at our fingertips.
Don’t Forget to Measure Twice and Click Buy Once
And while you’re focussed on getting the colour right, don’t forget to carefully measure. I have a friend who once ordered a velvet settee online for a song. She came home one day to a smallish box on her doorstep. It was a miniature velvet settee. Her dog got to lounge in style.
So over to you! I would love to hear about your experiences ordering online. Give me the good, the bad and the funny, like this story above 🙂
I go into all this in much greater detail on Day 3 in my Specify Colour with Confidence events when I cover shopping confidently online and adding eDesign to your business model!
I’m right in the middle of my Chicago event right now and there’s still seats left in Boston and Orlando coming up at the end of November! Register here.