Reader Mary wrote into The Lovely Side with her decor challenge: planning the interior design in her new place. The catch: she hasn't found her new place yet.
This January, Mary's moving to Astoria in NYC with one of her childhood best friends. Like many of us who end up here on The Lovely Side, Mary is very excited to get going on her decorating – so she's a bit ahead of herself in designing the future apartment.
She's implored that I share my insight for achieving a style she loves, tying all her design elements together, making already-owned things work, finding a color scheme she likes, and stocking up on things slowly over time – all while sticking to a budget.
So here they are: my ten tips for pre-decorating a space. It's quite wordy and jam-packed with tips, so bear with me. :)
1. Identify your desired look and feel.
...And create a Pinterest board for it.
Warm colors or cool? Neutrals or neons? Boho-chic or mid-century modern? Mis-matched or coordinated? Answering questions like these will help you make key decisions as you pre-decorate. Browse Pinterest, but don't impulsively pin. Instead, really study the rooms that catch your eye. Pin them if you totally love everything in it. Put it on a special board. You can refer to this board when you need to be reminded of the "big picture" when it comes to your style.
2. Take inventory of what you have.
...And what you're willing to do to it.
Since you haven't moved yet, chances are that your furniture and possessions are stowed away in storage or a family member's basement, garage, or attic. Make a physical list of what you'll definitely be taking with you. Now, refer to your Pinterest pins. With each piece of furniture, consider how it can fit in and what you'd be willing to do to it. Don't stress too much. Mingling styles can look great, so don't feel pressured to paint an antique heirloom dresser from grandma. On the other hand, you might have a plain-jane coffee table that would look sleek with a fresh coat of crisp white paint.
3. Commit to a color scheme.
...Or forgo one entirely.
This sounds harsh, but it will make decorating so much easier. You can always bend or change the rules when you get there. My recommendation is to choose a color palate for every room – or to go without one completely. Wholeheartedly deciding that your living room is going to be purple, turquoise, and orange (like I did) will help in choosing what to buy. Or for example, a neutral bedroom will give you a lot of freedom. (There are lots of neutrals and they all work well together!) Lastly, you could go the free-spirited option. You don't have to have a color scheme. In fact, many decor styles just look better without one. Look back at your Pinterest pins. Were you drawn to coordinated things or mix-and-matched things? Go from there.
4. Buy things that can be used anywhere.
...Preferably in basic styles and neutral hues.
When it comes to certain things, you should buy them as basic and neutral as possible. This only really applies because you're pre-decorating. Curtains, for example. You don't want to dump money into four purple window panels for your living room and move into your new place to find out the living room only has one window – or has three and the curtains are discontinued. Buy several sets of curtains that will work anywhere. White sheers are always lovely and airy. Plus, they can often be found for cheap. So if you eventually want to replace them, you won't have lost out on much. The same goes for bedsheets (they're going to be hidden most of the time, so splurge on your comforter instead), dinnerware, bathroom towels, etc. Then again, if you're forgoing a color scheme, feel free to go wild!
5. Go thrifting, antiquing, and bargain hunting.
...But go with a mission and a budget.
Before you step foot into any home decor or department stores, hit up the thrift shops and dollar stores to see if you can get what you need/want there first. Dollar stores should be your go-to for things like towels, curtains, silverware, etc. Plus, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the cute rugs and throw pillows that can be found there. Thrift stores should be your one-stop shop for furniture that you can give a DIY makeover and picture frames to create an eclectic wall gallery (or spray paint one color for a more unified look).
6. Hunt for cheap but trendy options.
...In major retail and big box stores.
For example, a great area rug is probably something you won't find in the thrift or dollar stores. (Although, dollar stores are great for plain rugs you can DIY. And I've found some stylish little bathroom and kitchen rugs at Family Dollar.) It's hard to look away when places like Urban Outfitters showcase their goods, but trot to the nearest Target or Walmart first. I bought my gorgeous turquoise living room rug from Walmart for under $50 and I'm beyond pleased with the look and quality. I've also scored adorable area rugs at Target for around the same price – and often on clearance.
7. Patience is a virtue.
...And it really does pay off.
I know what it's like to want to have everything ready to go. You imagine opening up your boxes and suddenly your brand new apartment is transformed into a perfectly decorated space. We all know that's not going to happen. There will be something(s) on your list that you can find in the color, style, or price range you want. Don't bend and buckle. Don't settle for less. Just wait and shop around. It might be a few weeks before you find the perfect area rug in your budget. You might be settled into your new place for two months with a big blank spot in the hallway until that Target bar cart you've been lusting over goes on clearance. Some things will be missed, but some things will be scored. Better to make do than to break the bank.
8. Don't be afraid to do it yourself.
...But don't go overboard.
DIY is a fun, affordable way to give your space a personal look. Go ahead and take chances, but first consider what you should be taking chances on. For example, if your roommate's couch and your sofa are an unsightly, mismatched pair, that's a must-tackle DIY project. Spend your time money wisely by researching ways to make them work together. Maybe you're both willing to paint the upholstery (yes, it's a thing) to match with latex paint, fabric medium, and water. (I have a tutorial here.) If that's too permanent, look up no-sew slipcover projects on Pinterest and layer the sofas with blankets and pillows to give the plain slipcovers personality. When it comes to DIY, try to refrain from unnecessary projects that you might not actually use or have room for.
9. Know when to say "no."
...And when to say "yes."
In the weeks before your move, put the word out. You might have friends or relatives that need to get rid of some things. It's great to get free furniture and household items, but remember your "big picture" board on Pinterest. Always check something out before you welcome it into your storage with open arms. Will it work with your style? What if you painted it? Or swapped out the hardware? If it's a basic bookcase, dining table, coffee table, take it! It'll probably blend in with any decorating style – or you can give it a little DIY makeover to make it fit. If it's a really ornate armoire and you lean toward clean lines – or it's a totally cool retro chair but you just can't see it working in your room – turn it down. Politely, of course.
10. Stay true to your vision and your budget.
...And have fun while you're at it!
Maybe you're a planner and you just love having everything all planned out and organized for your move. Maybe you just love decorating, shopping, and do-it-yourselfing so much you can't wait to get started. I get it. (I'm both.) But take your time. Slow down and have fun. It took me months to get my old place just how I wanted it. And when I finally did, I ended up moving out and into a new place! Interior design is always shifting with your changing tastes, style, and budget. So don't stress out if it's moving day and you haven't found the right rug or didn't buy enough drapes. Finding the right space and eventually living in it will give you a whole 'nother dose of inspiration. It will all come together.
FREE, DOWNLOADABLE PRE-DECORATING LIST:
Click here to download and print this handy checklist to help you keep track of your decorating plans and color schemes room by room. Use it to keep track of furniture you already own, things you need to buy, or do-it-yourself projects you need to tackle.