Home design for non-designers Part III: What's YOUR kind of nice?

Today is the first set of assignments to help you play with discovering/creating your own design style. Did you miss parts 1 and 2 of our design for non-designers series?  

You can find them here and here

In the comments to Part II of our series, MamaHolt (from one of my favorite blogs, Wabi-Sabi Home & Garden), suggests that some of us have an eye for design and just know things are right because they feel right.

I am not one of that us.  I do not have a gut that I can trust.  I’ve had to use my head.

rita eating biscuits and gravy

My gut loves biscuits and gravy. It doesn't know much about visual design. Yet.

This is not bad news! As a writing teacher, I’ve long fought the idea that we’re either born writers or we’re not. That we have to have talent to be good writers. Not true for writing, and I’m coming to believe it’s not true for design.

Sure, some have a talent. But lack of natural talent does not mean we can’t learn how to do something.  Even to do it well.  Think about it:   We’re not all born athletes, but we can all learn how to hit a ball.

We might not hit it out of the park, but almost everyone can learn enough to get in the game.

Ready to play?

Thinking about the three big lessons we’ve learned about home design and how we learned them, we’ve put together a series of assignments for you to try. (If the word “assignment” triggers any kind of PTSD feelings stemming from school, think of them as games.)

We’re grouping them by lesson, and we’ve linked the lesson headings back to the earlier posts in the series. Today’s post is going to focus on lesson one.  Just click on the lesson heading if you want a review.

Lesson 1:  Determine what kind of nice is your kind of nice

Assignment #1:  Look at (“read”) lots of rooms–but not in lots of places.
The standard starting-out advice I see is to look at lots and lots of rooms to find what you like. When I was just beginning to think about creating a home all on my own, this advice was a little overwhelming and not targeted enough for me. All the images became a big mush and nothing stood out.

Look at lots and lots of rooms, but start with just one source or two that have lots of different images sorted by design styles. There are two we recommend:

Apartment Therapy is my favorite place to explore.  With the menu on the left side of the page, it’s easy to browse posts by design style:

screen shot from Apartment Therapy

I like AT because it has so many different homes you can look at.  Once you’ve exhausted the posts organized by decor style, another part of AT I find really useful are their contest entries.  To get to those, click on All Categories at the end of that menu on the left.  It’ll take you to a  page where you’ll be able to click on Contest Entries.  Two of my favorites are Make Room for Color and Small Cool.

Another starting out resource I like:  Better Homes & Gardens. Yeah, I know it’s your mother’s decorating magazine.  Here’s why I like it anyway:

  • It’s got tons of images organized by style
  • It’s got tons of resources for those of us who’ve never thought much about style/design
  • It’s got real-world ideas that work for real-world people

Both Apartment Therapy and BH&G feature homes of and for real folks.  Not that those in a lot of other magazines are for fake folks, but to me, high-end design mags (such as Dwell, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor) are like high-end fashion:  Fun to look at, but not much help to me in figuring out what to use in my real-world life.

fashion shot from Michael Kors

Don't think would really fly at Winco or parent-teacher conferences. This is more about art than about what most of us would actually wear. (Michael Kors via Vogue.com)

rustic kitchen from architectural digest

This "rustic" kitchen from Architectural Digest is the home design equivalent of the clothing pictured above. While it's a lovely space, it doesn't do much to help me figure out what I might do with my modest, 70s split-level kitchen.

You’ve got to dig a bit deeper into the BHG site to find resources by design style, but here’s how to get there:

Assignment #2:  Collect images you like.
The easiest way I’ve found to do this is through Pinterest.  I resisted Pinterest for quite a while, and I’ve only recently started using it. The main way I use it is to bookmark things I want to find again.  Pinterest helps me do it easily by topic.  You can look  here to see the small collection of images I’ve started to help me with our bathroom project.

Now that I’m looking for something specific, I’m using the search tool to find bathroom images.  You can also use Pinterest for assignment #1.  I put “eclectic decor” in the search box and it took me to tons of images.

If you haven’t dipped your toes into the Pinterest pool but you’re ready to get wet, check out this post from Megan Tietz at Sorta Crunchy.  It’s what I used to get started, and it’s got tons of information explained clearly.

Assignment #3
Once you’ve done a lot of looking (with your gut), time to do some analyzing (with your head).  Some questions to get you thinking:

  • What design style do you keep returning to?
  • Are there particular colors or patterns or materials you find appealing? Why?
  • Are there styles attached to time periods that you like? What are they?
  • What’s a huge turn-off? Why?
  • Can you attach any adjectives to your design preferences? (Cozy, spare, comfortable, open, calm, orderly, colorful, bold, quiet, etc.)

While sitting and thinking is better than nothing, you’ll get more out of your reflection if you actively do something.  Here are a few things you might try:

  • If you’re using Pinterest, you might make boards around your color/pattern/materials preferences or your adjectives to help you see patterns in what you like.
  • Another idea is to write out your answers to these questions, or talk about them with someone who shares your interest in design.

In the doing, you’ll see new things and start connecting dots in ways you likely wouldn’t from just thinking about it.  Think of it as picking up the bat and taking some warm-up swings.

grace swinging baseball bat

Let us know how it goes

We’d love to know if you find any of this helpful.  Please drop us a comment if you discover anything great or have other suggestions for beginning to learn what your design preferences are.

 And check back tomorrow for the next set of assignments!