Houston Interior Designer Pamela O’Brien Shares Her List of Interior Design Dos and Don’ts (Plus a Bonus Tip)
By: Pamela O’Brien
As an interior designer, I certainly see a lot of great design. Right alongside, there are also plenty of design mistakes. Having happily done this for years at my Houston interior design firm, I have honed a list of interior design dos and don’ts for nearly any project that can save you time, money, energy, and frustration.
It’s not a long list, but adhering to it as strictly as possible will enhance your design choices and improve your life and sanity. Make sure to stick around for my bonus tip at the end!
My List of Interior Design Dos and Don’ts
1. DO Have a Plan
At the top of the list is having a plan. Spending hours scouring home improvement stores or furniture showrooms and coming home with nothing is just not that fun. I started my business partially because, as a new, single homeowner at the relatively young age of 27, I spent many weekends getting nothing accomplished in my visits to hardware and furniture stores. After a few weeks of returning empty-handed to my empty home, I finally figured out that preparing a plan in advance would garner better results.
The plan can be as simple as taking photos and measurements for a new living room sofa or as complex as spreadsheets and architectural drawings for a new construction home. It’s worth putting the effort into this step. If you have a goal and a way to get there, your plan will lead you to success.
2. DO Create a Budget (And Then Increase It)
Have a budget and add 20 percent. Most building professionals will tell you to add 10 percent. However, prices are rising in design, and a 20% buffer will greatly help your bottom line. If you need it, it’s there, and if you don’t spend it, you will be thrilled!
Budgets are weird things. People are afraid of them. Trust me, not having a budget is a lot scarier. If you aren’t comfortable talking numbers with your builder and designer, then the trust is missing. Maybe you need to find a new design team. Money is at the heart of every build or renovation. Just because you give us a number does not mean we will spend every dime.
In fact, a budget saves you a lot of wasted design time. Even in flat-fee jobs, most projects have some sort of hourly component. If your designer does not know your budget, they do not know where to shop for you or at what level to make suggestions. When I speak with prospective new clients, I say, “I don’t know you yet. I don’t know if you drive a Toyota or a Mercedes.” I think everyone gets that. We all spend money on some things and not on others. Your designer needs to know your budget and what things will be important for you in your project. Knowing what you are comfortable spending and having a financial cap eliminates a lot of guesswork for your designer, which costs you less in design fees and saves some cash to boot.
As designers, we want to make your design dreams come true. We hate to find the perfect item only for you to be disappointed because you can’t work it into the budget. Have a firm budget up front with a healthy overage to be safe.
Of course, you will overspend on some things. However, you will save on others. When we built our house a few years ago, we closed our construction loan a few months early and at a lower cost than initially planned. This resulted from careful budgeting, knowing where to splurge, where to save, and deciding what really mattered in our build.
3. DON’T Be Too Trendy
Trends are fun. I get it. However, timeless, classic design will always look good. You can add a few trendy items here and there without breaking the bank. Don’t buy the latest puffy sofa and lock yourself into a style that you are ready to change a year or two from now because it screams 2023. Buying things you love makes them classic to you, and you should not get tired of them later on.
4. DO Reuse Your Favorite Pieces
Consider how to reuse quality items you already own or even purchase vintage, gently used, antique, or consignment pieces that are new to you. Some of our most beautiful projects are full of reupholstered sofas, family treasures, consignment finds, and reframed art. We’ve painted dark 1960s furniture bright white, refinished a grandfather’s hand-made sofa table, and reupholstered a suite of 12 office chairs for a dining room because they were the only chairs that fit our very tall client.
5. DON’T Forget to Save Money for Decor
If you are building or remodeling, you will likely become weary of all the expenses. However, not saving money for rugs, window treatments, and essential new furnishings will make you unhappy with your home. You may have the most dramatic backsplash that money can buy, but if there is nowhere to sit in your kitchen, it will be hard for you to enjoy yourself.
When building the budget, remember important things like window treatments, area rugs, accessories, and key new furnishings you will need. Trust me on this: Everyone is astounded at the cost of window treatments. With the enormous windows that everyone loves these days and the proximity of our neighbors, most of us need window treatments. Plan for them.
6. DON’T Go Cheap on Rugs or Art
Quality rugs and artwork are some of the only items in your home that could hold their value or even appreciate. The minute you bring home that $15,000 sofa, you’d be lucky to sell it for $5,000.
Not everyone is a collector, but consider finding art that you really enjoy. Buy from a local artist or an up-and-comer online. We are lucky in Houston to have a vibrant local art scene. It’s fun to meet, support, and follow local artists. There are bargains galore for original pieces that might speak to you. Your walls can tell a story through your art choices.
I am sure some of you are saying I can’t have nice rugs because I have dogs and kids. Many of our clients have dogs and kids, and they still invest in a few nice rugs. Work with your designer and a good rug dealer, and be honest about your budget, lifestyle, and needs. Many of our clients move their quality rugs from house to house and are always thrilled with how well they can transition from one home to another. Our clients who buy cheap rugs generally throw them out if they move. Just like fashion, it makes sense to consider what something costs over its lifetime. Art and good rugs can last a very long time with proper cleaning and maintenance.
BRIGHT IDEA BONUS TIP: DO Select Some Stylish Lights
Lighting has gotten so exciting in design. The good news is that you can get high-style lighting at nearly any price point. Mix it up a bit and consider a mid-century modern fixture in a traditional room, or add a classic chandelier to a modern bedroom. This is a sure-fire way to create some design mojo in any space. Some of the best lighting companies now have entry and mid-level lines. If you need to save on costs, look at what they have to offer. You’ll love what great lighting can do for your home.