Step By Step: How To Plan A Room
When it comes to questions that pop into my DM box, there is none more popular than how to plan a room. It’s an age old problem encountered by many. Move into house decorated by previous owner, feel elated at prospect of making your own mark on it, have panic at the amount of work to be done, become overwhelmed by task in hand, have palpitations about implied cost and upheaval, traumatise self by scrolling through countless inspirational Instagram images, leave it indefinitely as too stressful to think about. Yep, been there. Having lived in both new builds and very old houses, I can confirm that this sequence of events applies to both.
The first house in which I totally transformed a room was a four bedroomed semi detached 1920’s property in which we lived on Hemdean Road, Caversham. Comprising of three levels, our bedroom was in the loft, complete with en suite bathroom. Unfortunately, the conversion had obviously been done on a budget as there were no dormer windows, meaning that only about two metres of the space was head height. The ensuite, crammed into the corner, had a tiny bath with a ceiling so sloped above it that it was impossible to relax in it, least you rise unthinkingly and knock yourself out. The same applied in the bedroom - this, disastrously, had consequences after bringing Max home from the hospital and placing him carefully in the moses basket next to the bed. The next morning I woke, looked over at my lovely, gurgling newborn, picked up him whilst still lying down, lifted him above me and promptly walloped his head on the sloped ceiling. Shocking. Luckily there were no ill effects. I don’t think so, anyway.
Downstairs, the galley kitchen had been knocked into the dining room and a small glass extension had been erected on the end. It was a bright, open room that was ripe for repurposing. Farrow & Ball obsessed, I painted the cupboards (twice - Cooking Apple followed by White Tie), painted the entire room in Off White and covered the black and white lino with wooden floorboards. I was, at this point, fully immersed in what can only be described as the shabby chic movement (this was, I hasten to add, back in 2003). The room was adorned with cream sofas, ticking roman blinds in subtle colours and a full complement of ‘vintage’ styled accessories and pine furniture. I was massively proud of it.
Unfortunately, this whole relaxed, calming look was offset by the fact that we had rats. Big ones. The glass extension had cavity walls and we backed on to a huge park (the neighbour told tales of the park being dug out years before and a Pied Piperesque plague of rats running down the gardens). Our suspicions were first aroused by my amateur ‘great parent’ cup cake baking attempts being scoffed directly from the kitchen work surface overnight. Reading Council were called and Roland the rat catcher (yes, this was his actual name) was recruited to dispose of them. Combined with our two half Burmese, half feral cats who were prone to bringing in huge headless squirrels as love tokens and leaving them in unexpected places, my transformed labour of shabby chic love was a rodents paradise.
Anyway, as the years have gone by, I like to think that I’ve nailed the room update situ. Addicted to change, there’s nothing more that I enjoy than planning out a space from scratch - it’s a hugely therapeutic task and never fails to lift my spirits when I put those plans into action. Here’s my step by step guide to making what can seem a daunting task into a simple one. Easy as pie.
1.Pinterest To The Limit
This is the first step towards planning your new room. It may seem simple, but it’s an absolute guarantee that the end product will tick your boxes. Set up a Board and name it, then get pinning. Pin indiscriminately, pin wildly, pin ecstatically, pin loudly, pin like your life depended on it. Pin as if we weren’t leaving the EU. Sob. It doesn’t have to be rooms, it can be clothes, accessories, anything that appeals to you, anything that has the ‘look’ that draws. You might find that you’re pinning mint green jumpers, you might find that you’re pinning gold jewellery. Combined with your room pins, eventually, there’ll be a running theme. Keep that Board going for a week and keep at it. Pin on the train going to work, pin when you’re AT work (quietly, obvs), pin when you’re sitting in the car waiting for the kids to come out of school trying to avoid all the other parents. Why do this? Because by pinning what you love, you’ll focus on your core style, even if you’re not sure what that is yet. Eventually, you’ll have a Board that will sing to you. But then what?
2. Moodboard The Shit Out Of It
Ah, this is my absolute favourite thing to do. I LOVE a mood board. In the old days (I was there so I’m allowed to say that), mood boards were manual things. Squares filled with fabrics, colours, tactile to the touch. They looked beautiful but let’s face it, we’re in the digital age now, people - get with the programme. That programme being Canva, an online tool that’s free as a bird and makes life much easier when you’re getting your mood board head on. I wrote a step by step blog on how to use it, you can click here to read it. Upload your favourite pins from your Pinterest Board to the app and add in the extras - wish list items, furniture of dreams, but also pictures of products that you actually want to include. I’ve been known to trawl eBay looking for the perfect photography of a vintage Pieff chair (already owned) to place on the board. What this does is focus your mind on the space. You might think that the gold side table you’ve pinned is an essential, but when you put it alongside the other elements you want to include, it might not gel.
When I planned out my family bathroom, I was obsessed with pink tiles. Desperate, in fact, for them. However, I couldn’t make it work on the board and soon realised that despite the fact I would have sold my dog Buddy to include them, they weren’t part of my core style. I replaced them with a more neutral tile and immediately the room worked for me. Keep adding and taking away on the board until you are happy with it. Then give yourself a massive pat on the back and large glass of Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll need it for the next bit.
3. Clear The Decks
Right, let’s DO THIS. The first step is to clear the room. Dependent upon space, you might be able to do this physically but if not, clear out everything that you can. Strip those shelves, take down those pictures, toss those textiles aside. I do this a lot. Many a time my family have returned only to find that they are unable to access anywhere because the hallway is full of furniture, books and styling equipment (AKA charity shop tat, as Joe likes to call it). Work out the items that you still love. You may have had that Present From Cornwall sand filled glass bottle for 20 years, but is it still relevant? Would it be better in the bin? Sorry, I meant box of memories? And that pile of old University text books (husband, take note) - it is essential to have Motor Trade Management & Finance sitting smugly on the shelf?
Set into three piles. Pile one should be items that you love and want to include in the room. Two is for items you love but don’t want to keep in the room. And finally, three is for items that you no longer love and that can be taken with a hop, skip and a jump off to be recycled at the charity shop. As an obsessively transient decorator, I usually find pile three is quite large. Be ruthless - as Mufasa said, it’s the Circle Of Life. Send it off to be loved by someone else.
4. Shop Your Home
So, you’ve got your pile of loveliness ready to go back into the room. You’re likely to find that pile three was so large that pile one is a little small. So what to do? Shop your home. You’ve got a house full of stuff, ffs, make the most of it and move it all about. Look around for items that will fit the theme of your newly designed room. Art prints, vases, cushions, books - add to your pile with items that will fit the space. Don’t just stop at accessories, either. The best furniture can be multi tasked from room to room so take a good look at what you've got and do some swapping about. Not only is this a cost free option but it’s also a sustainable way of making your house work for you. Try your hand at upcycling - if an item looks as though it’s had its day, revive it with paint or wallpaper and if it’s a chest of drawers or sideboard, invest in some new knobs or handles. Click here for some projects that I’ve previously undertaken to bring an item back to life.
5. Look At The Bones
So, your room is clear. But what first? Let’s look at the walls and the floor. If you had a paint colour on your moodboard, now is the time to slap it on. If it gels on your moodboard, the chances are it’s going to work. But if it doesn’t? It’s only paint. I’ve been known to change a room colour within a week if I’m not happy with the look so be brave and go for it. If you’re worried, keep it neutral - paint it white and then once you have lived with the new space for a while you can add the colour in. Take a look at the flooring. Okay, sometimes your floor covering isn’t ideal - my bedroom is fully carpeted and I’m really not keen on it, but it’s a big space and far too expensive to replace at the moment. If, like me, you’re saddled with it for a while, go for a big rug to cover the worst bits - I’ve got a few vintage ones that I move around my house, all from eBay and all under £150. Layer them up, if necessary.
Check underneath to see if the floorboards are acceptable - I sanded the floors in my sitting room (I wrote a blog about it here). Not an easy task, but SO satisfying when it’s done, plus it can completely transform the look. Take a good look at your window dressings - are the window frames something to shout about? If so, reveal them. Don’t hide the pretty bits away - look at roller or roman blinds instead of heavy curtains. And if you have a view from the window, ensure the window dressings frame this rather than obscure. Finally, is there a fireplace in the room as a focal point? If it’s pretty, show it off. And if not, get the paintbrush out and make a difference. My sitting room fireplace had 90’s tiles and a beige marble hearth - I used black tile paint and chalk paint (waxed) to transform it at absolutely minimum cost. Get the basics of the room sorted and then move on.
6. Add What You Love
I run Styling Your Home workshops with my friend Dee and the first question we always ask people is, what’s your favourite and most treasured item? The next step in creating the perfect room is to add this in first. Whether it be a sofa, a special art print, a side table or an accessory, place that in first and work the rest of the room around it. For example, one of my favourite items is a Jentique sideboard. I bought this beauty for ten pounds at a Sue Ryder Charity Sale, throwing my body on to it until the man with the money belt came and took my cash to confirm ownership. When I’m planning a room, I add this item in first. Once it’s positioned, I can then move forward with the rest of the room. You’ve already done the deck clearing and the ruthless bit - everything that you’re going to add will be pieces that you love.
You don’t need to have just one focal point - the best rooms are those that draw the eye to several different areas. Create a cosy corner in a normally dead space with a chair or a side table and add a small gallery above as a point of interest. Think about new ways to position furniture - does the room have a view? Don’t obscure this, make the view the winning feature. In a living room, try not to position everything towards the TV. A great tip is to incorporate it into a gallery wall - check out this post by colour expert Emma Jane Palin for the perfect solution to this problem. By adding focal areas to your room that make you look twice, you’re diverting attention. As someone who has a family obsessed with massive fuck off televisions, this is my specialist subject.
In the words of Madonna, strike a pose and juxtapose your furniture and accessories. Gone are the days of the standard room set design, three piece suites, matching side tables and shelving units. Although if that suits your style, then, of course, that’s right for you. All I’m saying is that in an age where we are focused on sustainable living and careful spending, making your furniture work hard for you (see my post on shopping your home) is a good option. Mix old with new, modern with vintage. A mid century modern bookcase teamed with an urban art print is super cool and effective.
Never rule out buying vintage - look out for dovetailed joints, solid wood and makers marks when you’re scouring the charity and junk shops. These pieces were beautifully made, some are 100 years old and they’ve lasted this long for a reason. Invest in good quality, solid modern pieces to work with them. Think carefully before making major purchases and avoid buying on impulse. Live with the space in your house whilst you wait until you can afford to make that step (add a plant in the meantime). Don’t buy because you NEED to, buy because you LOVE it.
8. Get Your Layering Game On
Now you’ve got your furniture in position, get layering. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve written these words in my blogs - it truly is one of the most important parts of making your room shine. Mix up your textiles and use contrasting materials in your furnishing to add interest to the space. Vary the height to your shelf and table arrangements, collate similar items to curate a collection. One pink vase alone can look a little boring - add it to similarly toned items to create an interesting feature. Mix wood with metal, velvet with linen, old with new.
9. Try Something New
Push those boundaries. The most asked question on my blog is how to create a gallery wall. This is a brilliant way of including items that you love in your home - old family photographs, special prints or good memories (I’ve got a framed menu from Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant that we visited when I was pregnant with Ella). Click here for my step by step guide to how to pull a gallery wall together in your own home. Oh, and add plants. Lots of them. Don’t even consider styling a room without a shit load of plants - big ones are much easier to look after than you think they are. Personally, I’m a big fan of Monstera (literally impossible to kill) and Yukka (I’ve actually managed to bring one of these back to life which is miracle akin to Jesus feeding the multitude). Bringing the outside in is a guaranteed way to lift spirits, both from an aesthetic and environmental point of view. Green is good.
10 And Finally, Light It Up
Bring in the light. Ambience is the King of room design. Think carefully about your central light (if there is one) - it should look just as good off as it does on, in fact,it should look even better. I rarely have any of my central lights on in my home, they are more focal than functional. Varying your lighting heights is the key. Use a variety of standard lamps and low level lighting to achieve a cosy feel to your space. Think about what you are using the room for. If it’s an office, you will need targeted desk lamps combined with warmer lighting in other areas of the room for when you are working late into the night (unlikely to happen in our house as generally Netflix is a more popular option).
In your living space, you need at least five lighting options in a standard sized room for every lighting eventuality. A reading corner will need brighter lighting than a vignette focal point, for example. Kitchens should always have dimmer switches, and preferably two lighting options for creating the right ambience. I have spotlights which are great for when I’m cooking, but that can be dimmed when we are eating, combined with a central light with the same options, both of which can be operated independently. You want the space to feel warm and welcoming, so plan your lighting accordingly.
So that’s my step by step guide to planning a room. Transforming a space from basically boring to brilliantly beautiful is the BEST feeling. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and lose the love for a space but taking a step back and reassessing can totally up the ante. Your home is your castle, your very own blank canvas and it’s so exciting to think that you can make those changes, often with nothing more than a pot of paint, a bit of a rearrange and a whizz around your own rooms. It’s hugely therapeutic and also allows you to let your creative juices flow. Use Pinterest and Instagram for free of charge inspiration and GO FOR IT! Just watch out for the sloped ceilings :)