How to Design a Room

If you’ve found your way to this page, it probably (read: definitely) means you’re looking for advice on how to design a room. You’ve come to the right place. We’d like to start out by saying we’re rewriting the rules of how to design a room. The rules are… there are no hard and fast rules! Design is subjective, and your design process will inevitably look very different from your friend or neighbor. We believe in individuality and using creativity to do your own thing, especially when it comes to designing a room.

So with that in mind, don’t worry about whether or not you know how to do the thing (the thing = design). Instead, join the rest of us and pretend like you know what you’re doing—until you inevitably figure it out, that is. 🙂

Last updated
January 19, 2024
Table of Contents:
Step One

Daydream & plan

Image Credit: Dylan Thomas (via NYT)

Big ideas start with an even bigger daydream. If you haven’t already been dreaming about what your room could look like, this is the perfect place to start. Dream big, and then find a way to reel it in later in the room design process.

Gather your design inspiration

Think about what inspires you and where you tend to find that inspiration. Starting with the obvious, there’s certainly no shortage of inspiration online. Spend some time scrolling through your favorite feeds (think Instagram, Pinterest, Spoak) and save any photos that call to you. 

If you prefer to find inspiration in the physical world, browse your favorite interior design magazines and cut out anything that speaks to you. That stunning custom furniture designed by Sarah Sherman Samuel in the latest Architectural Digest issue? File that in your daydream folder. You can save those clippings to make a mood board either online or on paper.

EXPERT OPINION by
Lisa Galano
“There are no boundaries or rules when it comes to mood boards. You can find inspiration in people, places, things, colors, interiors, exteriors, materials, literally anything that helps articulate your ideal vision for your design project. Think of it like you’re painting a picture for yourself and getting those creative juices flowing!”

Another good inspiration exercise that can be done is taking a walk outside and noticing what your eyes gravitate towards. Do you find yourself coming back to the color periwinkle in the flowers you walked by? Are you obsessing over the sconces of the hotel in your neighborhood? You may start to notice certain trends in what you’re eyeing. Write them down or snap a photo to reference later.

Your inspirational images don’t always need to be photos of interiors, either—they can be more abstract. When you think about your room, how do you envision it feeling? Words or themes can also serve as design inspiration and help guide you in the right direction with your room. 

The moral of the story is that inspiration can be found anywhere.

Determine your room’s purpose and function

Determining the purpose of your room early on in the design process will help you with every aspect of your design, like what type of furniture and accessories you need to buy, like throw pillows, wall art, side tables, etc., and guide how you will use the space.

Start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What will you use the room for? Is it a living room meant for hosting? A master bedroom meant for lounging?
  • How many people do you expect in the room at once? For example, if you live in a studio apartment, then someone might be watching TV on the sofa while another uses the dining table as a pseudo-home office.

While balancing your design wants with your design needs can be hard, you ultimately want your room to be functional and useful, so keep that in mind when thinking about what you bring into the space.

Do some decluttering

If you’re designing a room from scratch and starting fresh, this tip might not apply to you—but if you’re redecorating your room, you likely already have furniture and accessories that will be coming along for the ride. Instead of bringing everything into your new room, do some de-cluttering.

Let go of anything that doesn’t serve the purpose of your room, and don’t hold on to items that aren’t sparking joy. This step is particularly important for those designing small rooms since your space is more limited.

PRO TIP: Be proactive and schedule declutter sessions regularly. There's always going to be something you can declutter, and donating or selling whatever you decide to let go of is a great way to feel good about letting go of your belongings. Try to sell your old pieces on Facebook Marketplace, Kaiyo, or a local thrift store and use this budget towards your new space.
Step Two

Make initial decisions

Image Credit: Lauren Thorp (via Spoak)

Create your room layout

This is where things start to get a little more technical, albeit still fun! The fact of the matter is that you need to know the measurements of your room to know your home design possibilities and limitations.

PRO TIP: Don’t let the word “limitation” fool you. Use your measurements and quirky room size to your advantage! Come up with creative solutions to let your room shine.

Begin by measuring the length and width of each wall in the room. Be sure to measure from wall to wall, including alcoves or recessed areas (these tricky spots are often the most crucial!). It's also helpful to measure the height of the walls and any architectural features like windows and doors. 

Once you have your measurements handy, input them directly into a user-friendly floor planner tool to create a to-scale floor plan. This will help you visualize your room accurately and plan your furniture layout effectively. Remember to double-check your measurements to make sure everything is accurate. There’s nothing worse than ordering furniture only to find out it doesn’t fit in your room.

Choose your colors

Color plays a big role in interior design, and depending on how much you love using color, you might consider tackling this tip at the beginning of the design process. Be our guest!

Think about the colors you want to incorporate into your room and create a color palette to influence your design decisions later. A color palette (often six colors, but who’s counting?) will help you set the mood for your space.

Have you ever walked into a room painted a sad shade of gray and immediately had a visceral reaction? That’s the power of color. On the flip side, you’ve also probably walked into a room with shades of paint colors ranging all over the rainbow that made you feel something wonderful, like a sense of calmness and relaxation. 

It might sound woo-woo, but when you decide how you want your room to look (and feel), and the rest will fall into place.

EXPERT OPINION by
Tiffany Thompson
"We promised no rules in design, but this is actually one rule that we can get behind. When in doubt, turn to the 60-30-10 rule—it recommends picking three core colors and then distributing them in those three percentages to keep the palette balanced and harmonious. 60% will be the dominant color, 30% will be a bit bolder, and 10% will be the accent color (often the boldest color)."

Find your focal point 

Every room should have a focal point, a specific element or area within a space that draws attention and becomes the center of visual interest. It is the "star" of the room, so to speak!

Sometimes, your focal point is really obvious, like a fireplace in your dining room or a dramatic architectural detail. Sometimes, you might need to intentionally create or DIY a focal point through furniture, lighting, or something else in your home decor style. And to add another layer to the equation, sometimes you can have more than one focal point in a room. It all depends on what your space is working with. If your room has more than one focal point, make sure they are enhancing one another and not competing for the spotlight.

Think of your focal point as the room design’s pièce de résistance, aka something you want everyone to draw their eyes to immediately.

Step three

Create a budget

Talking about money can feel taboo, but to that, we say, revel in the uncomfy until you get comfy! You need to feel comfortable with your budget before you start purchasing things. Knowing how much money you can spend upfront will help you know your limitations (ahem: creative opportunities) and decide where you want to splurge vs. save.

EXPERT OPINION by
Lisa Galano
“On average, you can estimate 10-20% of your total budget for art and accessories. You want the room to feel finished, but not at the expense of having your functional needs met first. Take your priorities into account in order to determine your budget, especially if you plan to phase things out.”

There are several different ways to approach budgeting. Investing in a project management tool can save time and money while streamlining your process, giving you more time to design and less to worry about. If you know that your pièce de résistance is not an architectural element in your space but rather an expensive piece of furniture you need to purchase, like a coffee table or an area rug, bake that into your budget.

Step Four

Source & shop

Image Credit: Sight Unseen

Get in loser, we’re going shopping (is that reference dating us?). But seriously, get to sourcing! For unique pieces that feel special, check out Etsy or other vintage shops to find something truly one-of-a-kind.

Once you have your wishlist of items for your room makeover, create a rendering in a room planner tool to help you visualize what it all looks like together before you even whip out your credit card. Let your creativity run wild! Try different options out and move things around. When you feel like you have your foundational furniture pieces (typically larger pieces of furniture), you can move on to the details.

EXPERT OPINION by
Step Five

Install & style

Image Credit: Loods5

The moment you’ve been waiting for: install day! Once you’ve ordered and received your big-ticket items, you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and start assembling your furniture. Remember that room mock-up and floor plan you created earlier? Those are going to come in handy right about now to know exactly where things should go.

Add in all the little details

Building off your foundational pieces, sprinkle in some of the more decorative elements into your room—think light fixtures, smaller decor like vases, artwork, etc. This step goes beyond just physically adding items into your space. This is the part where you get to inject your personality into the room.

What makes this room feel special and unique? How can you leave your personal touch and test out unexpected design ideas in your room?

EXPERT OPINION by
Hilah Stahl
"Every room should aim to have at least 2-3 sources of light to achieve a nice balance and that gorgeous ambient feeling we all know and love. Create a lighting plan (a map where you plan to use light) to help you accomplish this. Add in task lighting first, like a floor lamp, where you’ll know you’ll want to read. Then layer in accent lights, like a plug-in wall sconce, to add to your wall. And don’t forget to consider natural light when designing your room!”

Style, rinse, repeat... enjoy!

Interior styling is all about messing around with the decorating ideas in your space to create a room that feels just right. Layer textural elements in your room to create depth. Play with scale and mix in really large pieces of art on your gallery wall. Bring out your favorite tchotchkes and display them proudly on your bookshelf.

TLDR: Get your hands dirty and make your room feel like you.

If there’s one final tip we can leave you with here, it’s to enjoy the process. Remember that most design choices can be reversed. Try not to stress out too much about the decisions you are making, and most importantly, enjoy your new home.

Great things take time. Even better things take an email.
Not ready to start designing yet? Sign up for our email list today to get regular updates on our latest and greatest design content. No spam, scout’s honor.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Please fill out all form fields before submitting.
Our mission is to make interior design easier and more enjoyable for everyone. 
Join Now
Start DesigningJoin Spoak