Interior Design Time: One Hour with an Interior Designer


Josie Ortega met with an interior design professional to get some quick and easy home tips; and she came away with confidence and a plan! 

Two years ago, I received a thoughtful Christmas gift: the “fun money” to schedule an interior design consultation with my friend Jacki. Literal years later, I put off procrastination and actually scheduled the meeting!

Jacki works for a high-end interior designer in Alexandria, Virginia, and she graciously talked with me about applying the same design concepts with a less-than-high-end budget. (We won’t call it low-end. We’ll call it creative and resourceful.) Here’s what I learned.

My Interior Design Objectives

First, I asked Jacki to help me identify any low-hanging fruit—things that I could do relatively easily, quickly, and inexpensively—that would make a big difference in our house.

I also had some specific questions about decorating ideas I had in mind, and I had a list of “problems”—that is, things I don’t like.

Finally, aside from those “easy” items and specific questions, I asked Jacki to help me think through how to plan for other house projects down the line. I want to feel organized about it, so that thinking about home décor is enjoyable rather than overwhelming.

We weren’t starting from scratch; I’ve been married for over a decade and through the years we’ve bought, inherited, been given, scavenged plenty of furniture, art, and housewares that we love. I have a pretty good sense of what I like, but decorators and designers like Jacki have the practical knowledge and experience to make spaces actually work and look good.

Interior Design Room by Room

A helpful way to approach home design is to ask: What’s working in this room? What’s not working? 

Making those two lists might reveal some easy fixes: you need a small end table next to a chair for someone to set a drink, or the flow of traffic in a room necessitates some kind of adjustment. Or, like, just maybe, my husband kind of throws random stuff on the floor in this one corner of our bedroom. (Far be it from me to ever toss things on the floor.) Jacki suggested a basket for that spot. Good design solutions save marriages.  

The Backbone of Your Interior Home Design

Let’s start with the general plan: Jacki advised me to take one room at a time, and Marie Kondo-style, see what sparks joy in each room. Take everything out if we can! Or, at least mentally. Identify the pieces we really love in each room.

That gives us our bones, our jumping-off point. With a room’s backbone in place, we’ll identify other pieces of furniture that are fine for now, but we’ll want to keep an eye out for a replacement. We can approach those pieces as temporary until the new one is found.

Remember scale

For furniture pieces on our to-be-replaced-at-some-point list, measure and get dimensions. When we spot a great chair out at the flea market, I can measure to see if it would actually work in the space. You might find a beautiful sofa at Restoration Hardware that looks great within the scale of the store but would take up three-quarters of the room in our older Virginia home.

Jacki suggested Chairish as a source of both new and vintage furniture, with a search function that I can filter by location and dimensions.

Decorating Ideas – Make Pinterest work for you

Jacki likes using Pinterest the way many of us do, to find and gather inspiration and to get a sense of style. But wait, there’s more!

Because I want to be very systematic and organized, Jacki recommends creating a board for my house. Pinterest added a new feature that allows us to divide a board into different sections, so I can create sub-boards for different rooms. In each room’s section, I can upload images or my own pictures of the “backbone” items. That way, as I look to add or update elements of the room, I can get a visual idea of how something will work with the rest.

Low Cost, High Impact Design

Disclosure: “low cost” is a relative term!

In my house, there are several light fixtures that are functional, but I just don’t like them. Also, I have a personal vendetta against mini-blinds. We have a handyman who will install these types of things that make a big difference and are fairly simple to change. Very straightforward—as soon as I can make a decision and pull the trigger on a purchase!

Before and After mini-blind replacement:

family room design

Even if you can’t tell the difference, my life is now 65% happier.

Consider this list of items that can carry houses or apartments a significant way toward becoming real, warm homes:

  • Baskets, pillows, lamps. Jacki says check Ross or TJ Maxx!
  • Window treatments. In our house, we have some professionally measured, custom made natural shades from Smith and Noble. And we also have some DIY curtains made from drop cloths! I love both, and the bottom line is that dressed windows look better. (Only two windows with mini blinds remain, and their days are numbered.)
  • Rugs. Jacki suggests checking out Fibreworks.
  • Light fixtures. Her trick is to pin a light fixture from a high-end place like Circa, then use Pinterest’s visual search to find something similar for less. Rejuvenation and Hudson Valley Lighting are other good sources.
  • Paint, wallpaper in a small space, or temporary wallpaper. Jacki approved my idea to paint the powder bath black and gave me some inspiration images.
  • Jacki didn’t actually say this to me, but: addressing clutter, storage, and cleaning up goes a long way for a room! Cleaning up may help us realize that what we have now is already pretty wonderful.

Our Master Bedroom

After a walkthrough of the house and her general strategic advice, Jacki asked what area I’d like for us to focus on with the rest of her time. I wasn’t planning on it, but it was clear at that moment that our master bedroom suffers as our lowest design priority. It’s the least public room in the house; therefore it’s where we put anything that needs to get out of the way. And since guests don’t really see it, I’m less focused on it. (The remaining windows with mini-blinds are in our master bath and closet.)

lovely master bedroom design

Jacki and I re-visited that room and came away with several small, quick, easy projects for that room:

  • There’s a large dresser in a medium wood tone that I don’t love, that I’d wondered about painting. She advised ebonizing it with a darker wood stain.
  • The aforementioned storage baskets for hot spots. And corralling clutter/storage items.
  • Switching out the knobs of our bathroom vanity would be cheap and easy. And paying any attention to our bathroom—art, hooks on the wall, etc.—would help. (It’s been such a low priority, there’s not even a real shower curtain, just the liner.)

As well as a couple bigger, medium- to long- term projects:

  • New carpet with a low profile, neutral but warmer than the current one.
  • Wall in a strange corner of the room (our MBR is a finished attic) to create additional storage, and add built-in shelving in a couple of uniquely shaped nooks.

I have the vision! I can see it now!

Confidence, Freedom, and a Plan

I want the freedom to enjoy other people’s homes, in real life, or in magazines, or whatever, without feeling the burn of jealousy and the need to have that thing for myself, immediately. Like I tell my children about toys, etc.: it’s more fun for all of us to have different things.

Now, if I do spot something that we should implement in our home, I can add it to my well-organized house project list in an orderly fashion, in the proper order of priority.

Talking through the house with someone else, an expert either amateur or professional, helps immensely. It’s like a counseling session for your home. Often a good counselor mostly listens and asks the right questions, and suddenly you hear yourself expressing insights and finding your own solutions. And it’s worth every penny.

Thank you, Jacki! [Mini-blinds: Look out. Your days are numbered.]

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