The bigger picture

Step into any home and you will know instantly whether an interior designer was involved: there will be a well thought-out, consistent colour scheme; the best features will be accentuated and the less aesthetic ones minimized.

The furniture will fit the space and ornamental pieces will provide interesting accents around the home. More importantly though, the interior design of a home will reflect the personality and style of the owners.

Getting to this point is not as simple as the final result would suggest, however.

As a home owner, you may not necessarily have a clear and detailed image in mind of how you want your home to look. Hopefully you will have a few ideas, descriptions and pictures though, however disjointed they may be. From this fragmented start, an interior designer will work with you to extract a clear and coherent end result.

“It is important to me to have an early meeting with a new client in their current home to see how they use their space and what kind of lifestyle they are after,” says Michelle Butler, of Design Studio. “Sometimes this happens through a process of elimination. A critique of what isn’t working is often as helpful as the “wishlist” for the future design.”

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in the world of interiors this holds particularly true. If clients can gather a collection of photos, clippings from magazines and web pages with design ideas they like, Michelle says, this gives the interior designer an instant idea of the style and atmosphere a client is drawn to.

“If you see something you love take a photo of it–it doesn’t matter what it is. The packaging of a box of macaroons, the silhouette of a jacket, or the colours in a painting can inspire a direction for an interior space.”

For those who do not have a clear mental image of the interior they want, it is often helpful if they can visit some of the designer’s completed projects, or view their portfolio.

By assessing the clients’ reaction to these, and through detailed discussions, a designer slowly builds a thorough understanding of their client’s style, likes and dislikes, wish lists and must haves, as well as how they are going to use their new home.

“You need to make the clients think about their lifestyle, how they live in the space,” says Sherrill Bushfield, of Woods Furniture and Design. “Do they have children or do they plan to in the future? Do they entertain? If so, do they tend to have formal sit down dinners or more of a buffet style affair? Do they like to watch TV in the living room or would they be more inclined to use a dedicated media room?”

Through in depth talks with clients an interior designer will build up a clear picture of the client’s style and how the home can best be fitted to their current (and future) needs.

There is a difference between interior design and interior decorating, Sherrill explains. Interior decorating focuses more on furniture, swatches and paint samples, whereas interior designers are also trained to look at architectural drawings: how the different rooms relate to one another, which ways the doors swing (will it be giving a clear view of the toilet?), how many doors open into a room (which will affect where you can plan to position furniture against the walls) and more.

Interior designers look at scale and proportion, to ensure that the furniture is not too big for the room or the area rug too small for the floor space. They may well present clients with a selection of possible items of furniture, floorings or drapes and guide them through their choices, but their overall priority is to ensure the interior décor flows easily throughout the home.

“The important thing is knowing where you want to end up,” adds Sherrill. “People often get diverted because they like a particular rug or bedspread and lose sight of the bigger picture.”

A mistake commonly made by non-professionals is believing every item they choose should be an eye catching and unique design piece. “Not every piece can be a starring piece, you need a supporting cast as well, a backdrop for other pieces to stand out,” says Sherrill.

Michelle reiterates this observation. People who choose to go it alone, she says, “see so many things that they love and do not have the heart to edit some of those choices. Achieving an eclectic look often requires a high level of restraint in order to make sure that the space still makes sense.”

The easy, effortless flow of a professionally designed interior belies the long and winding path it might have taken to reach that point. Whether it’s a cool and breezy beach house, a state of the art condo or a family-friendly rural retreat, the chances are it took a designer months to ensure that home elicited exactly the right response.


Michelle Butler Design Studio
Stephen Clarke