Have you ever wondered what advantage interior designers have that you don’t? I’ve asked my top True Colour Experts for their best decorating secrets. Here are 23 things only an interior designer will tell you.
You’re not going to want to miss this!
This post is really fun because I asked all my True Colour Experts™ to give me their best advice.
23 Decorating Secrets (only an interior designer will tell you)
The first tip that arrived in my inbox might just be the best one!
1. Measure your furniture BEFORE you go out to shop for coffee and end tables!
— Interior Designer doing measures for Lazboy, Carol Ann Makely
“Okay, so you’re headed out the door to buy new end tables and a coffee table, STOP RIGHT THERE. Get out a notebook and a measuring tape. Measure the height of the sofa arm or chair arm you want to place a table beside. You will need this measurement to find the right height of your end table or tables.
Measure the width of the seat cushions of your sofa (between the arms) and measure the height from the floor to the top of the seat cushion. You will need these measurements to purchase the right width of coffee table and height.
Follow these guidelines when shopping for end tables or coffee tables:
- End tables should be 1 to 2 inches lower than sofa or chair arm.
- Width of coffee table should be no more than 3/5 of the measurement between the arms of sofa.
- Height of coffee table not be more than 3 inches lower than the height of the seat cushion. If it’s more than this, the ergonomics of the seating and coffee table will be “off” and feel and look wrong.
Most clients come into our store with no idea of what they need and so often they buy a coffee table or end tables that is not the right size for their other living room furniture. Unfortunately, most then just choose to live for years with their mistake. The truth is that no salesperson will tell you to go home and measure, and then come back so they can help you find the right piece. They aren’t confident you’ll actually come back!
So, you’ll probably just buy something that day, and while you might feel like something’s not quite right with your furniture, you might never know exactly what!”
In the photo below the end tables are too high and the coffee table seems a little too small for the sofa. But don’t the windows and that view more than make up for it?
Bonus Decorating Tip:
“If you find that you do have end tables that are too high, move them at least 5 inches away from the sofa.”
This is a lovely living room space shown below. The coffee table is slightly too low but the flowers help distract you from that fact.
And the living room below? Just right.
2. Create inexpensive art from vintage magazines or old books.
“Vintage magazines and old books often have neat drawings that, when framed in a grouping, provide instant character and originality. . . and it won’t break the bank!”
3. Paint your low ceiling black.
— Kathy Zaeske, Your Favourite Room
“Painting your low, exposed basement ceiling black helps it to recede — think of the night sky. This “black hole” background will provide emphasis on all other light-coloured elements in the space. You want people to notice your furnishings, art, statement light fixtures — NOT your ceiling height (or lack thereof).”
4. Always look at the big picture.
— Carol Standil, Carol Standil Colour & Design
“You don’t have to love every element in your room on its own. The wall colour might look drab on the chip; the area rug may not seem interesting enough; the pattern for the accent chair might feel too bold. Remember that none of these items has to carry the space on their own.
It’s important to pull back and look at the big picture and really see how they will work together to make your room look fantastic.”
5. Create a design plan and follow it.
— Jodi Pear, Jodi Pear Designs
“The number one secret I tell my clients is to have a design plan and don’t deviate from it. Whether they want to renovate a room or simply spruce up a space, I suggest they go to Houzz or Pinterest and find an inspiration room.
Refer to this image as each decision is made – whether your are choosing a hard finish or purchasing a lamp. If it doesn’t provide the same look and feel as the inspiration room, then make a choice that does.”
6. Carefully consider light switch and thermostat locations.
— Eugi Triandos, Triandos Creations
“Think about where to put your light switches and thermostats BEFORE completing electrical work and renovations. Switches and thermostats should be 36″ off the floor instead of at eye level and NEVER in the centre of a wall. They too often get in the way of hanging art.”
7. Best tip for coffee table styling.
— Allyson Paris, Allyson Paris Design
“Here’s my secret for styling a coffee table. Just divide it into equally-sized sections first. A rectangular table is divided into three sections, a round or square table is divided into four.
“Now, what to fill the divided coffee table sections with? Here are some ideas.
- a stack of books
- a plant or a vase of flowers
- a piece of sculpture or a unique basket
- a tray with a collection of related items
- a pretty bowl with or without fruit
- a stylish box (that can work double duty to hold your TV remotes)
Coffee table styling is also a great place to inject colour into your room.
An oversize square table can often be divided into a fifth section in the center. Put the tallest item there. Top your stack of books with a pretty decorative object and you’re done!”
8. Best tip for hanging small artwork.
— Livia Drennan, Your Story by Design
- Off-centre a small piece of art on a wall and connect it (group it) with a small piece of furniture such as a reading chair or a console (instead of plunking it in the middle of the wall)
- Off-centre a small piece of art in relationship to a sofa. Balance is then created by carefully placing decorating elements such as pillows and throws on the sofa, together with the empty space on the wall on the other side of the art. The empty space then becomes part of the entire grouping (sofa + art + empty space + decorative items on the sofa)
- Group small pieces of art together on one wall instead of spreading them around the room. In this way, they become one bigger piece, creating a more impressive design impact. The empty walls now become a place to rest the eyes, which is important to have in a balanced design.
9. Use hooks instead of towel bars in your bathroom.
— Gwen DeBruyn, Bayberry Cottage
“Instead of a towel bar, mount 3 to 5 nice hooks around 68” high for your bathroom towels.
10. Remember, you are the boss of your paint job.
— Diane C. Golin, Color Harmony Consulting
“I’m always amazed that clients feel that their color decisions need to be made on a painter’s timeline. I advise clients that if they are not sure about the color or have not taken the time to test their paint colours, do NOT feel rushed to make a choice because your painter pressuring you! Nicely, ask the painter to push your job back a bit. He may not be happy but not as unhappy as you will be when the wrong color goes up on your walls.”
11. Size really does matter.
Ensure your new furniture will fit through the doors, or the elevator, BEFORE you purchase. Remember the decorating secret #1?
12. Keep the plumbing in the same place.
— Jil Sonia McDonald, Jil Sonia Interiors
“If at all possible when renovating, keep your plumbing in the same place. It’s very expensive to move and you would need to move vent stacks (hidden in the wall) as well.”
13. The World is NOT Your Oyster When Decorating.
— Lara Maira, Fresh Impressions Home Staging & ReDesign
“Every decorating decision you make impacts every subsequent decision and shuts the door on some options.”
NOTE: If you’re planning a new build, there’s a lot of decisions to be made and you may be wondering what you need to choose first. Here are 10 steps (and more importantly, the order of decisions) for planning your new build.
14. Don’t skimp on pillow forms.
“You can find great fabric at budget prices, but don’t skimp on pillow forms. A down/feather mix or synthetic version of down will elevate any pillow (plus you’ll be able to do the karate chop if you so desire!)“
Here are some affordable pillow form options from Amazon.
15. Do NOT rely on recessed lighting as the only source of light in your room.
— Joanne Dimeff, Joanne Dimeff Interiors
“Please do not rely on recessed “can” lights to light up your room! They cast unflattering shadows on people’s faces and are even rumored to accentuate the look of cellulite! A mix of sconces and lamps is best. But at the very least, invest in a pair of large scale lamps (around 30″ high or more).”
16. Make your television look like wall art.
— Adrienne Gerein, Interior Designs by Adrienne
“A clever way to make your over the fireplace TV work with your design… Use it as an art statement! You can upload your favourite photos (or buy professional ones off the internet) to your Smart TV. When the TV isn’t being used for its intended purpose, you can just switch over to your photo selection. Voila! No more black hole.”
17. Look in your closet for design inspiration.
— Melissa Clark, In Chic Order
“Are you lacking design inspiration for your space? Or, simply feeling as though you don’t have any design direction? Start in your closet… yes I said your CLOSET. After some analysis of the things you wear you will gain some insight into your design aesthetic. For instance, is your closet full of color or neutrals, prints or solids, modern or classic, tailored or laid back?
Analyzing your closet will bring you clarity on where to begin in designing your space. The things you choose to wear are a good indication of what surroundings will feel the most comfortable, that is unless you are a nudist (jk).”
18. Create a conversation area in your home.
— Cathy Gibson, Cathy Gibson Home Staging
“When staging a home, one of the things that always makes a quick, huge impact is to move the living room furniture away from the walls to create a conversation area. Move 2 chairs opposite a sofa, for instance, with about 8′ between them. Put the coffee table in the center. I like to center this grouping in front of a focal point like a fireplace, or windows with a view. Create instant coziness for the room, whether you are selling or staying!”
19. Use Mirrors to extend and expand the view.
— Leslie Ann Huntley, Roost Interior Design“Mirrors are a great way to bring light in and make a room seem larger, but don’t forget to take into account “the view” that’s reflected in it. I think they are a missed opportunity if you hang the mirror in front of a blah tableau (blank wall, boring door, etc.) Think of the mirror as an opportunity to multiply light, color and interest in a room!”
20. Edit, edit, edit!
— Susan Hargraves, Rooms that Work
“When a room isn’t working, many people make the mistake of bringing in something new, when really they should be doing the very opposite. Take things away. Edit! Edit! Edit! It’s best to start by stripping the room completely, then add back one piece back at a time (starting with the largest pieces) to get the room in balance and working with the architecture.”
Interior design by Susan Hargraves
21. The secret to keeping a design project on time and on budget.
— Lynne Russell, Lynne Russell Interiors
“Here’s what I have noticed when a client wants to have some design work done. It often begins with a fear of it costing too much and taking longer to complete than expected.
I always tell clients when I begin a project that I have a “trades day”. This means I have one day when I schedule every trade working on the project to come to the site in 30-minute intervals and I go through the project with each of them. They are engaged right from the beginning, they can see the big picture and I can establish a timeline for the project. This is my secret for being on time and on budget!”
22. Measure colour with paint samples.
— Beth Batke, Final Touches Redesign
“I personal shop for clients frequently and one thing I have found to be very helpful is to “measure” color with paint samples. This works in a few ways. If I am consulting at the home of a new client and know that I will need the exact color of their sofa but they have no swatch to give me, I open up my box of paint samples and find the closest possible match to “measure” it. I immediately make a note of it and put the actual sample directly in to the file. Although I do also take a photo of it, I prefer not to rely on the photo for actual color representation.
Similarly, if I have purchased an area rug for a client but my shopping is not yet complete, I will use paint samples to “measure” all the various colors of the rug , clip them together, label them, and put them in the file to continue my shopping. This way I can make sure I have a perfect representation of the rug right in the file while I am shopping for pillows, accents, etc. This is so much more convenient than trying to haul around large bulky items while you shop!”
23. Maximize your exterior curb appeal.
— Catherine Kennedy, Trio Colour | Landscape | Staging
“Once a home’s exterior painting is complete, maximize the curb appeal by adding BARK MULCH to top dress garden beds (on the West Coast, I recommend 2” of composted BLACK conditioning mulch) to create a neat tidy appearance. The added benefit: you won’t have to weed or water as much in the summer. This is a super tip to make your landscape beds look high end.”
As I told you last week, I’m nominated for an education award along with some other amazing women. I really love the Withit community and can’t wait to see them all again next weekend!
If you’d like to transform the way you see colour become a True Colour Expert.
Here’s what Carol Ann Makely said about my course:
“Maria Killam’s class on colour changed how I design… how I see colour, pull fabrics together and pick paint… I see colour differently everywhere I look after being in her class, bad combinations I might not have noticed before stand out now! I feel like a better interior designer, somehow I know I am doing a much better job for my clients since taking her classes. Her colour boards have been amazing to use…her books have been so so helpful.
PS. I took the class twice, just wanted to be with her again, she is very inspiring to be around and listen to… her way of seeing colour changes how you feel about your job, taking Maria Killam’s class is worth it every penny… including my flight from Calgary to Vancouver, hotels & taxi’s twice!”
Carol Anne Makely, interior designer Calgary AB
And, here’s what Kathy Bestwick said about my course:
“I took Maria’s TCE training after following her blog for a couple of years and hiring her for a personal consult.
I am NOT a decorator consultant. I am the owner of a couple of homes that I want to feel good in – I want the furnishings and finishing to not be fighting with each other or screaming for attention. Being up with the latest trend and constantly on the lookout for something I should buy, covet or change is FAR from my strength or area of interest. And what I love about Maria’s advice and training is that it worked for me as well as the professional decorator.
Firstly, it is practical and honest. Maria’s training shows you how to break the decision making into manageable components- differentiating between fixed and trendy elements, identifying priorities, and understanding what will boss you around no matter what other great decorating decisions you might make. This has really helped me handle being overwhelmed or intimidated in the decision making process. Maria is not a decorating snob – she gives straight shooting advice, has a sense of humour, and can acknowledge where she has made mistakes.”
Kathy Bestwick, West Vancouver, BC
Which Decorating Tip is your favourite? What would you add? I’d love to know.