Our Best Answers to Your Most Common Interior Design Questions

Answering common decorating questions with Ballard DesignsWhen furnishing your home, it’s normal to have so many interior design questions you become paralyzed with decision anxiety. Between the cost and the exhaustive options, where do you start? How do you prioritize your furniture needs? And how do you solve common decorating challenges?

We want you to love your home, so today we’re answering the most common decorating questions with the hopes of jump starting your next home project.

Why It’s Important to Furnish and Decorate Your Home

Whether you’re a new homeowner or looking to breathe fresh life into an existing space, the right pieces can transform the way your space looks and more importantly how it functions.

But, if you aren’t a seasoned decorator, there are a lot of challenges to work through as you plan your rooms. The good news is that there are solutions to even the most complicated interior design questions!

How to Get Started

We love a beautiful room with gorgeous colors, patterns, and shapes. But if your room doesn’t function, even beautiful furniture pieces will be a disappointment. That’s why it’s important to start with function first, then determine your style and vision.

When it comes to function, we always recommend measuring your room (or rooms!) first. Inches matter in decorating, so knowing exactly how much space you have to work with is crucial.

Then, measure all of your favorite furniture pieces that you plan to keep in your space. From there, get started on your furniture plan, using a virtual Room Planner or some graph paper and a pencil.

     Read more: How to Start (and Finish) Your Dream Decorating Project

Consider Your Home’s Style

One our weekly How to Decorate podcast, we’re always asking our interior designer guests where they start when embarking on a new project for a client. Often, they begin with the architecture, style, and location of the home. Your own style is important, but if you take your home’s unique style and context into consideration, you’ll get a better end result.

Taryn's House

Exterior of Taryn Schwartz’ Home, a How to Decorate Podcast host; Taryn covers her journey of building a custom house and how that inspired her approach to interior design on Ep. 345 of the How to Decorate Podcast.

For example, if you have a mid-century modern ranch, incorporate sleek, curvilinear lines and mid-toned woods. Or if you have a traditional Georgian home, work some traditional antiques into the space.

An easy win is to look to the nature surrounding your home to inform your general color palette — coastal homes call for pastels and washed out palettes, woodsy spaces look beautiful with earth tones and deep colors. Don’t think of your home as a period film, but add a few nods to the home’s own personality and we think you’ll be happier in the end.

Common Interior Design Questions

1. Furniture Placement

What is the best way to arrange furniture in a small room?

When working with a small room, make your measuring tape your best friend. Use a room planner to see how different scales of furniture work in your space and to test traffic patterns. Just because you have a small room doesn’t mean you have to use small furniture though. It all depends how your room needs to function.

Typically you’d want 30-36 inches for walkways and between seating, in a small space 24″ works. If you’re struggling to find seating options in a smaller scale, look for antique chairs which often have a more compact footprint.

And, most importantly, every item should serve multiple purposes. Some good examples are:

  • An ottoman works as a coffee table but can also become extra seating.
  • Sneak storage into side tables.
  • Use furniture that can be easily moved around for entertaining.

What is the best way to arrange furniture in a large room?

Large rooms can be deceptively tricky to arrange, but the most common mistake is not breaking your room into multiple areas. Instead of one huge seating area, try two smaller seating ones or one large seating space with a couple more intimate nooks to the side. Use rugs to help divide your space.

Read more: How to Layout a Room

A large living room divided into smaller seating areasHow do I create a balanced layout in my living room?

Balance is so important in a room. Think about a literal scale, adding elements to each side with the goal of each side being even. But furniture isn’t the only thing to imagine on each side of your scale. Color, art, window treatments, and lighting can all add balance if your room feels heavy in any one spot.

Try to create a focal point on each wall of your room, whether that’s a piece of art, a console table, a sofa, or a large window.

2. Decorating Styles

What are the different interior design styles?

There are too many interior design styles to name! If you’re reading your favorite shelter magazine, you’ve probably seen words like ‘farmhouse,’ ‘grand millenial,’ ‘industrial,’ ‘maximalism,’ and many more. And while putting a name to a design style you appreciate can help you stay on track when envisioning and furnishing your home, every style is really up to personal interpretation.

We recommend finding a small group of images and naming the types of feelings you want your room to achieve. Do you want your space to feel cozy? Open and airy? Do you want it to playful or restful? Name the feelings you’re hoping to create, then find some corresponding images that embody those feelings to you.

Also keep in mind that each room in your home may require a different feeling. Maybe you want your TV room to be cozy, while your bedroom is restful and serene. Those feelings can help you guide your decor decisions as you’re working to furnish your space.

How can I mix and match styles without it looking chaotic?

Yes absolutely! In fact, combining a few styles together will create a more unique and personalized look for your home. Whether you’re combining your own style with a partners or you’re trying to blend two styles you love, mixing and matching styles doesn’t have to look chaotic.

If you’re unsure how to accomplish the mix and match look successfully, think about bring the two opposing styles together while keeping some similarities.

For example: say you love antiques and sleek contemporary elements. Try to find antiques with a more streamlined shape, like Swedish or Louis Antiques. Then unite them with fabrics and a cohesive color palette. Color is an easy way to bring to disparate styles together in a cohesive way.

3. Color Schemes

What colors work well together in a room?

There are so many ways to create a cohesive color palette, but we have two foolproof strategies.

First, use the color wheel. Pick your favorite color, then use the color wheel to pick a complementary or analogous color.

  • For a more serene, restful color palette, pick an analogous color or a hue adjacent to your favorite color.
  • For a more energized, playful palette, pick a complementary color, or a color across from your favorite color on the wheel.

Voila! Instant color palette.

Our Lyle fabric inspired the color palette of this room with blues, coral, and yellow

Another option is to use an inspiration piece source like a rug, fabric, or art piece. This is going to be your ‘anchor’ as you’re decorating. Take an item that has a color palette you absolutely love, then pull the colors from that item and use them throughout your decor.

For example, in the room above, we use our Lyle fabric as our anchor piece, bringing the blue, coral, and yellow into the decor elements. We’ve used a variety of colors, but all of the hues come from this inspiration fabric, so we know they all ‘go’ together.

How can I choose the right color palette for my space?

Colors can look different from space to space, and this usually comes from how much light your room gets. In a dark room, colors will seem muddier and dark, but in a bright space, those muddier, darker colors feel more vibrant and alive. Take this into consideration when picking a color palette.

A few sections before this, we talked about it can be helpful to articulate the feeling you want your room to achieve. Color is an important way you’ll achieve a desired vibe, so don’t discount your emotions and how you react to colors when deciding on your room’s color palette.

4. Storage Solutions

How do I declutter and organize my home effectively?

Any professional organizer will tell you that before you plan a functional storage solution for your space, you’ll need to sort and purge the belongings you’ll be storing in that particular room. Then, develop your plan.

Closed storage is always a winner, and in a small home, we like to find really beautiful cabinets or bookcases that can be a gorgeous focal point but that can be a home for necessities like entertaining wares, books, craft supplies, tools, mail, or whatever it is you want to store and keep organized.

The best storage solution for your space really depends on what it is your looking to store, so you’ll need to think through your own specific challenges.

Store things beautifully in your home by Ballard DesignsWhat are creative storage solutions for small spaces?

Whenever possible, we love to display items in a beautiful way. Give a favorite collection a prominent home by turning it into a home accessory.

  • Vases – Store beautiful vases or pitchers in a bookshelf instead of in cabinets. It puts beautiful pottery on display and fills bookcases
  • Platters – Mount platters or serveware on the wall, then remove when you’re ready to use them.
  • Shoes – display them on a dresser or in a bookshelf to serve as both art and clever storage trick
  • Storage Ottomans – Conceal toys, mail, shoes, old magazines, blankets, extra bedding, or whatever else it is you’re struggling to find a home for in a storage ottoman with an easy to lift lid.
  • Shelves – You can almost always find a new place to hang a shelf. Take advantage of a tall ceiling, little niche, or hallway by running a long shelf or a series of small shelves and tucking in extra storage.
  • Drawers – drawers are the most efficient way to store things but if you don’t have drawers in your kitchen, cabinet, or closet, considering adding pull-out drawers or even lightweight basket so you always have access to the back of your cabinet.
  • Baskets – You can never have too many baskets. We store everything in them from bedding, blankets, dirty laundry, kitchen utensils, mail, and virtually anything else you can think of.

Read More: Room Organization Ideas for Every Room in the House

5. Budget-Friendly Tips

How can I decorate on a budget?

When you have an entire home to decorate, buying furniture and décor can quickly add up! Here are a few things we recommend when working in a limited budget:

  1. Set a budget early. Knowing a fixed amount you want to spend on your space will help you prioritize and set limits for yourself.
  2. Make a plan. Know your floorplan, know exactly what dimensions you need, and don’t shop sales unless you’re sticking to your plan. This will keep you from making mistakes in the name of a good deal. We’ve all done it, but don’t buy something just because it’s affordable. If it’s not the right size, even a great deal won’t look right in your space.
  3. Prioritize. Make a list of everything that you need for your room, from the large furniture pieces even down to the smallest accessories. Then decide where you’re comfortable spending the bulk of your dollars. We typically recommend focusing on upholstery (especially the fabric!) and rugs which both take a beating. You’ll want these best materials you can afford for both of these elements.
  4. Shop vintage. Thrift antique stores and Facebook marketplace can help you get a great deal, so long as you’re sticking strictly to your plan. Antique wooden pieces, rugs, accessories, and art are great places you can get a high quality piece for a fraction of retail cost.
  5. Reimagine – reimagine pieces you already have in new ways. Paint and creativity go a long way when decorating on a budget, so reuse as many pieces as you can!
  6. Be patient. Once you have a plan, don’t rush. Wait for a good deal on the thing you really love rather than buying something that’s good enough for the right price. The goal is to purchase things you’ll want to own for a long, long time, so settling can lead to buyer’s remorse.

Read More: Budget-Friendly Finishing Touches for Your Home

What are some affordable ways to update my home decor?

Color can totally change the look and feel of a room, so whenever we’re feeling tired of our space, we look to perking up or switching out color!

  • Add a secondary color – If you have a color in your room you already like but you’re looking to add new energy, consider adding a secondary color. Orange is a great accent to blue, or add in plum colors to a room with lots of green. Use the color wheel to help you pick secondary color combinations.
  • Perk up neutrals – Neutrals are necessities in a room, but adding in a bold accent color can breathe new life into your space. Swap pillows, paint colors, add a throw pillow, or even change lampshades. Add accents of color throughout your room to update your space on a budget.
  • Change Your Throw Pillows — As we covered in our 101 Series on YouTube, refreshing your decorative or sofa throw pillows is a fantastic, cheap way to refresh your space and add new pops of color in a room.
  • Change your wall color
  • Update lighting
  • Add window treatments

Read More: How to Add Color to Your Neutral Living Room

6. Lighting

How can I improve the lighting in a dark room?

If you’re a lover of shelter magazines, you’ve probably flipped through their pages and envied the bright, open rooms that seems to glow with sunshine. That’s something many of us would love to have in our homes. If your home doesn’t have bright natural lighting in a room, there are two ways to approach it.

Add Lighting Sources

You can add light sources to a room to create warmer, more inviting lighting. Typically, we suggest having a minimum of 3 light sources per room, although 7-10 is really best depending on the size of the space.

Try to incorporate lots of light sources at eye level — lamps and sconces are especially flattering. Overhead lighting like canned lights are great in room where you need task lighting, like kitchens or offices. And of course, beautiful light fixtures will not only add beautiful light but interesting shapes and personality to your space.

Embrace Dimly Lit Rooms

Of course, sometimes embracing a darkly lit room can be really beautiful and cozy. Try this in a guest bedroom, a den, or rooms in a downstairs basement. It seems counter intuitive, but rooms that are often enjoyed at night can be really beautiful in dark colors and with dim lighting. They’re cozy, warm, and intimate, and in a room that doesn’t get a lot of natural light, this can be a very chic way of turning a drawback in a room into its strength.

Read More: Living Room Lighting: How to Layer More Light into Your Space

What are the best types of lighting for different areas in the house?

Each room in your home should have a mix of ambient, task, and accent light.

Ambient Lighting – In most cases ambient light implies general, overhead lighting like canned lights or light fixtures. These are the first layer of lighting you’ll have in your room. We recommend having all overhead lighting on a dimmer so you can control the amount of light you’re getting.

Accent Lighting – Accent lighting sets the mood in a space and often refers to table lamps, floor lamps, and sconces. We recommend having at least 3 ambient light sources in a room at roughly eye level to create the most flattering light.

Task Lighting –Task lighting refers to any lighting used to help accomplish a task, like under cabinet lighting in a kitchen, a floor lamp beside a reading chair, and task lighting at a desk.

Incorporating each of these types of light sources will create the best light in a room.

Read More: How to Light Your Room with LED Lighting

7. Rugs and Flooring

How do I choose the right rug size for a room?

If you’re shopping for a rug for your room, it’s crucial to pick the right size for your space. In general, we recommend the largest size rug that will fit in your space while leaving between 6-12 inches around the edge of the room. In most living rooms, an 8 x 10′ or 9 x 12′ rug will works best.

Read More: Choose the Right Rug Size

8. Art and Accessories

How do I choose the right artwork for my walls?

Choosing art for your room is highly subjective, so there’s no right or wrong answer to what kind of art to hang in your space. You should buy art you love, but when it comes to where to hang it in your room, take two things into consideration:

Color – Your art doesn’t need to ‘match’ your room, but it should coordinate. Hang art that contrasts the other colors in your room in order to make the art more of a focal point. Or use similar colors in your artwork if you want a more serene feel or art emphasizing a different focal point in the space.

Size – When hanging art in your home, the most important thing to consider is size. If you hang a small piece of art on a very large wall, it’ll make the art seem dinky and out of proportion. Over a piece of furniture, the size of the art should be 50-75% the width of the furniture piece it’s hanging over. If hanging on a blank wall, you’ll want it to be even bigger, filling around 75% of the blank space. Hang small art pieces on small slivers of wall rather than on large empty walls.

If you’re unsure about picking art for your space, find other types of wall decor like mirrors, wallpaper, or wall storage.

Read more: How to Decorate with Mirrors and Why We Love Them

What accessories can enhance the overall look of a room?

Without accessories, your beautiful furniture pieces won’t shine and your room will feel devoid of personality. But styling your console table, bookshelf, or coffee table can be intimidating. Here are some things to consider when adding adding accessories to a room:

  • Color Choose colorful accessories that will compliment the color palette you’ve chose for the rest of your room which will help reinforce your spaces’ color palette.
  • Shape The shape of your accessories is so important! Interesting curvilinear lines or sculptural shapes will add personality and balance to your furniture pieces. For example, use a round tray on a square coffee table to add movement.
  • Height Height helps your eye move across of piece of furniture, so vary the heights of your accessories, choosing some tall and some short. This will create rhythm across an expansive surface.
  • Texture A mix of finishes and textures will add personality and dimension to your accessories. Glossy, ceramic lamps look beautiful on an antique wood console table. Or on a slick metal coffee table, add a woven tray. You don’t want everything to be the same finish, or nothing will stand out.
  • Negative Space it’s important not to add too many things to your surface, so be sure to leave negative space while you’re styling your console table, coffee table, or bookshelf.

Read more: Our Complete Styling Guide for Console Tables, Coffee Tables, and Bookshelves

Learn more with these other blogposts from How to Decorate:

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.