The 6 Most Effective Ways to Create Timeless Interiors

6 tips for creating timeless interiors title image

So, you decide that your home needs an interior design facelift.  You dash madly through your local Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and finish off with some accessories from a Home Goods store.

And then days, weeks or months later, you are tired of all of it.  How could it be that I thought this was so current and on trend such a short time ago.

One reason is that your interior design goals should be for timeless design...with just a sprinkle of trend mixed in.  You want the largest "pieces" or most costly to be the most classic and timeless.  

You can always change out pillows and accessories or even paint color fairly inexpensively.  I change accessories seasonally as a matter of fact.

Quality interior design is generally an investment for most people.  If  you work with a professional, they can show you how to make the most of your budget and value engineer your project.  

I tend not to work in fads but to create what I refer to as timeless interiors. That way your investment is well spent and you get the best value from it.  Now that does not mean that it is old fashioned or dated.  

Not at all.  Think of Coco Chanel…timeless.  The Cartier tank…timeless.  An Eames lounge chair…timeless.  It is possible to create homes that are timeless as well.  I have been asked by clients how interiors that I have created many years ago still feel fresh and current.  

While most of that comes from experience and knowledge, there are some tips that can help you avoid having your home look like a relic from the disco era or feeling like you are living with Dallas style “big” hair.

Black Eames chair

 

1. Simplicity

 One of the most important aspects of great design is simplicity. It can be quite elusive.  A trained eye is able to edit…not an easy thing when there are so many beautiful things that we love.  

Too much of anything can go bad quickly.  I’m sure you have heard the sage advice in regards to fashion—take off one accessory/piece of jewelry before you walk out the door.  In all good design be it graphic design, architecture or interiors, negative space is crucial.  

It gives contrast so that one can actually see the focal point or object.  Think of grouping smaller items in groups of three or have one large object grab the spot light.

 

Pink peonies

2. Bring The Outdoors In

 Nature is always in style.  Touches of nature can be added thru my most favorite way—cut flower arrangements.  

I tend to go for simplicity (see #1above!).  A couple of bouquets of tulips, hydrangeas, or peonies  all in the same color are always beautiful and timeless. The great part is they are readily available at grocery stores and green grocers at a nominal cost.  Since my early days out of college I have always had fresh flowers every week..even if it meant Ramen for dinner.  

Other natural objects could be a bird’s nest under a glass clouche, my go to, seashells, sand dollars and drift wood.  I find a little goes a long way in keeping a room from feeling “theme-y”.  

Also, consider prints on natural objects such as shells and coral.  Twigs in a tall vase can make a simple and strong statement.  In the spring gather a bunch of Forsythia branches and put into a large tall vase for a touch of spring.  

During the holiday season, I love forcing paper white bulbs and the fragrance is divine.  I also force Hyacinth bulbs in the winter and early spring.  They also have an amazing scent.  Dining tables create an opportunity to use nature in a tables cape that reflects the season.

 

3. Use Antiques, Vintage and Salvage Items

The contrast of new and old items add depth and patina to a room. An aged object can be wonderful contrast to an otherwise contemporary or clean and light room.  

stone architectural antique bracket or corbel

The mix of old and new keeps a room from looking like a furniture showroom or worse a model home (and no, that is not a good thing!).  The common denominator in those two spaces is that they usually lack character or warmth and feel like no one really lives there—because they don’t.

Now don’t go overboard.  We have all seen space that are overly designed to look like an old barn.  In fact an older home would look great with a contemporary or abstract piece of art.  

There are some beautiful pieces of salvage that could either be incorporated into the architecture of the space, such as antique doors hung with sliding barn hardware or sometimes simply displaying the  piece, like an old window hung on a wall as a focal point.  

Don’t forget to incorporate family heirlooms into your space.  One of my favorites is antique silver.  Some pieces are family heirlooms others are pieces that I have collected.  

One word of caution, particularly if you collect a number of things, you don’t need to display everything at once! (see #1 above!). Think of your collections as rotating.  Change them out a couple of times a year, maybe seasonally.

 

4. Go Neutral

I say neutral, you think boring.  Not so!  There is a big difference between consciously choosing a neutral scheme and defaulting to it because you can’t make a decision or are afraid to make a mistake.  

I often use neutrals particularly in expensive and difficult to change elements such as an expensive sofa or tile. By keeping these pieces neutral, you can add color with accessories or even wall paint color.

Paint is the least expensive bang for your interior design buck.  By keeping the big things neutral you can also change out your color scheme whenever the mood or season hits you.  

By changing out pillows and throws, accessories, or even artwork, you can instantly change things up for a completely different feel.  

I have a friend who an artist and also and art collector.  She could never display all of her collection, so she switches it out.  You could have your own personal gallery.

 

5. Bring the Indoors Out

Outdoor spaces often do not get the same TLC that indoor spaces do.  If you live in a warm client (lucky you!), you probably have a great appreciation of your outdoor living areas.  

Even if you live in a cold climate, it is absolutely worth putting away and taking items out seasonally.  Think of your outdoor spaces the same way you would approach your indoor space.  

Think about a comfortable “lounge” area with pillows and accessories. If you are able to add outdoor drapery, it looks fabulous.  This works in porches, pergolas, or between columns where there is an overhang.  

Also, in the outdoor dining area, dress your table like you are indoors.  Use china and glassware, flowers and candles just like you would of an indoor dinner party. There is nothing more festive.

pretty bright black white and pink outdoor dinner table setting with glass and china

 

6. Work With the Architecture

 Be aware of the architectural elements.  Use these elements to line up furniture and artwork.  And while we are at it, never randomly put furniture at angle or on the diagonal.  

Two story entry foyer designed by Dawn P. Gepfert Design Southport CT

Two story entry foyer designed by Dawn P. Gepfert Design Southport CT

Furniture should be arranged with both function and in relation to the architecture in the room.  So, unless you have an angled wall, forget the random act of angles.  Try to center a seating arrangement in front of a fireplace.  

Look at where widows are located.  What is the view?  Would it make sense to be able to look out onto a beautiful garden?  

Keep traffic lanes free.  This is best viewed in a plan view.  When you lay out a furniture plan, (and you are doing a plan that you have measured everything-right?),  you should clearly be able to see the traffic patterns around the room and into other spaces.  

Is a window or doorway in an awkward place?  Could it be moved or removed? Sometimes it’s not expensive window coverings that are needed but a new window!  

This doesn’t mean your interior needs to “match” the exterior style of your home. The contrast of a traditional or historic house with contemporary or transitional interiors is a wonderful contrast.

 

The tips above will help you avoid buyer’s remorse and help create an interior that will feel great and look good for years to come.  

Interior design should support how you live and part of that is keeping things that you love and give you pleasure. There is something comforting about having objects in your home that tell the stories of your life.

Besides, timeless  is the ultimate in “green” design—keeping and repurposing has the most impact on our environment.  It also makes your initial investment worthwhile. 

The Art of Interior Design Style: How to Find Yours

The Art of Interior Design Style...Find Yours title image

Many times when you hear design style, you think something like, French country, art deco, modern,country etc.  While those are styles, the most important style is…Yours!  Developing a personal style can be a bit overwhelming for most homeowners.  

We all see so many things that we love or don’t love but clearly, you can’t have everything you like in one house let alone one room.  I have some suggestion which will help you develop and get clear on your personal style.  

This is imperative whether you are going the do it yourself route or working with a design professional.  By seeing what appeals to  a client, designers can hone in on a style that works for you.

 

Be Aware of The Things That Turn You On Visually

 

One of the best ways to “develop an eye” is to be observant.  Notice your surroundings.  What really captures your senses.  I mean this in all aspects of your life…the music you listen to, the food you eat, the fragrances you like.  

Woman with a DSLR Camera

The more curious and interested you are, the better honed your eye will become.  Notice details like how pieces are constructed.  

The best details are not merely decorative but reflect the construction of function of a piece.  If you begin to understand the “why” of design, you will begin to spot a “phony” or bad design.

 

I think it is helpful to use your camera.  I think photographing often helps to develop an "eye".  Learning to "see" is the way you begin to appreciate good design.  

The camera on your phone is perfect because we always have it with us.  Practice photographing things you find interesting.

A garden, an outfit someone is wearing, an architectural detail, food and flowers. Be sure to zoom in to catch the detail and pattern and zoom out to see the big picture or the scene in context.  

Over time you will have this interesting visual collage.  You may begin to see patterns of things that resonate with you.  You will also start to see how and where you spend time.

 

 

Observe How You Really Live

 

We sometimes have a romanticized view of the life we live.  Reality collides with fantasy.  Don’t get me wrong I am all for aspiration but, we need to temper it with the reality of our daily life.  

You may envision a house bathed in white upholstery and light flooring, but your reality is that you have kids and a dog, no housekeeper and can barely manage traffic  through your home.  

Now there are ways to achieve both…with a little compromise.  How often do you really use your formal dining room?  Would that space better serve you as a dining/library/office?  Or, would the formal dining room be of service as a less formal dining room.  

In other words, how do you entertain and how do you entertain?  Maybe you haven’t entertained much but would like to.  Now is the time to really think about how that would look?  Formal dinner parties with good china and sliver or more casual affairs or both?  

These can all be accomplished.  You just really need to be thoughtful and honest about how you live.  There’s nothing sadder than a stuffy traditional dinning room that nobody uses except for the holidays.

 

Cheery Mudroom Design by Dawn P. Gepfert Design Southport CT

Cheery Mudroom Design by Dawn P. Gepfert Design Southport CT

The other key is to observe how you move through your house.  Should the laundry be near the kitchen and on the first floor or would it be better on the bedroom level?  

Where does your family usually enter the house—this is rarely a formal front entry.  Whey not make that everyday entrance as functional and accessible as possible.  

I have had a few battles with contractors who wanted to cut square footage from this valuable real estate.  I know how used this space everyday and it had to be functional.  

I prefer a walk in closet for coats and boots and sporting equipment.  Now I know those cute little cubbies look adorable in the magazine layout—but it’s the only time they look good!  The reality is that they are not functional or provide enough storage for an active family.  

We live in the northeast, so while I want a hard surface (tile) that can mop up easily, I wanted heated floors to encourage my kids to take off their shoes.  

My very sunny laundry is off of this space—purposely.  I want it near the mudroom entrance so dirty clothes (baseball pants) can be deposited and not tracked through the house.  I also want a pleasant and functional space to do what isn’t always a pleasurable job.

 

Excavate Your Closet

 

There is a gold mine in your closet.  What style would you say you have? Traditional and tailored, chic and current, trendsetting, label aware?  Are you a jeans and t-shirt kind of person?  

These all offer clues about your style.  Like most things, we are not all 100% of any particular style.  Many of us are hybrids—which makes us so much more interesting!  

And just like people, interior design is most interesting when it is curated and reflects the personality of its’ owner.  There is nothing more boring than interior that is too matched.

We need contrast in all forms of design. Without it, a space becomes very flat and uninteresting.  Now knowing how to balance harmony and contrast is the trick.  

The more you observe this, the better trained your eye will become.  I encourage to seek out great original sources of design. There are fantastic resources and shelter magazines that show great work. 

 

I encourage to learn from the best and avoid some of the DIY world.  Much like the world of fashion where haute couture is shown on the runway, the average person doesn’t buy those pieces, but the ideas are trickled down for mass market.

So, learn from the source.  Then you can analyze and figure out what works in that interior and why.  Then you can begin to apply those principles to your interiors.

 

Ways to Save Your “Curated Collection"

 

You can curate your own collections by using Pinterest.  Create boards for different categories.  Make sure you make note of why you pinned that image. You could make boards by rooms, by colors, by style, by designer etc..  

When you look over your boards and pins, you should start to see common elements or themes starting to develop.  I like for clients to keep boards on Pinterest as it gives me an overview of their aesthetic.

Pinterest Boards of Dawn P. Gepfert Design

Pinterest Boards of Dawn P. Gepfert Design

 

Another way to curate collections is on Polyvore.  You can have great fun creating boards for your home.  The can be organized by color, room, style etc..

Polyvore also has links to actual products incase you are interested.  Again, pulling together images of other items, such as clothing, gives insight into what interests you visually.

 

Evernote is another place to organize your materials in one place.  The web clipper can be used to “clip” articles, images, websites etc. into Evernote.  You could also upload floorpans as well and keep everything for your project in one place.

 

If you are old school and like to have physical book of your ideas, you can always use a binder and add tear sheets of magazine photos as well as drawings etc. into a binder.  Many samples and manufacturers tear sheets can also be kept in a binder of file folder.  

Developing a personal style is an evolution. It really requires being observant. If you are working with a professional interior designer, they should be able to help you uncover that style and help merge the different aspects of that style.

 

 

This is one of the most important steps in the design process.  I know everybody is so excited to start choosing things, but if you are not firm in your style and goals, it can become a very expensive and unsatisfying endeavor.  

Take the time to really figure out how you live and what gives you pleasure.

 

The 7 Things that can trip you up in a Home renovation... (and how to Plan for them)

7 mistakes homeowners make when renovating

 

The most important aspect of a successful design project is planning properly. Many homeowners are often very excited to get moving and seeing progress happen that they overlook this very critical process.

I know, I know it isn’t as sexy as choosing beautiful stone or a gorgeous soaking tub, but, without it, that tub may not fit up the stairs into the bath or the floors may not be prepared to take the weight of the stone.

Many renovation problems can be tracked back to lack of adequate planning.  It is much less expensive and painful to make errors on paper rather than on the job site!

 

1. Underestimating  the time and money that the planning stage takes.

This planning phase is the  most important part of the project.  This is where a program is created which will determine the goals of the project.  The site and existing building will be documented and measured.  

This is the time where any issues with the site or building will come to light—well except those unknowns that are behind walls or underground.  It is also where design solutions are created and evaluated.  It is where you try to head off and anticipate challenges that may arise.

It is crucial that this stage is thought out and the proper time is taken.  It’s hard to believe but, in many cases this can take more time than the actual construction portion.  

Dedicating the time upfront, saves time and money down the road by not having to re-do,un-do or remove later.  Also, if you will be moving out during the work, it saves on rent on alternate housing.  

designer working at her desk with sketches

 

Many times clients want to skimp on design fees.  This is not the place to skimp. You want the best design and expertise as this will ultimately save you money.  

Professional interior designers are versed in best practices but also should be able to value engineer.  Value engineering simply put, allows you to spend/distribute your budget where you will get the most value.  

Speaking of value, that is what you should be seeking.  Does spending tremendous amounts of money ensure a quality outcome?  Certainly not. Neither does cheaping out with the lowest.

Be careful of fees.  If someone charges hourly and is not very experienced or quick, they can quickly become more expensive then someone who is more experienced but charges more per hour.  Flat fees are good alternative if you are good about making decisions and sticking to a specified scope of services.

 

2. Underestimating the Time and Money for the Approval Process

Regardless if you live in an apartment or on an estate, there is always some sort of approval process.  Depending on the specifics of the property, you may need approval of zoning, building department, health, wetlands and conservation, to name a few.  

If you are New York co-op resident, you also must receive approval of the board in order to do work in your apartment.  The point of bringing this up, is so that you prepare yourself.  

Approvals can take weeks to months and longer depending on the scope of work and the prickliness of those doing the approving.  For any kind of a variance (something outside of the local codes or ordinances) you have to get a slot to present your case which occurs monthly many times.  

And of course, almost every application requires some sort of fee.  Do your best to plan but let nothing surprise you.  Government  entities and co-op boards move at their own speed…many times it’s glacial.

 

3. Not Making Plans For How You Will Live Through the Construction Process

In order to minimize the challenge of living through construction, again, it helps to have a plan.  If you are able to move out if the work is substantial, lucky you. This option will ease your crabbiness, and could actually make the work go faster as subs don’t have to work around you.

If that isn’t an option, consider how you will live.  Communication with your general contractor is crucial. So see what his schedule will be and how you can live around it.  If you are doing a kitchen, is there any chance that you can do it in the summer when grilling outdoors is an option?

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t let demolition in a kitchen or bath occur until all cabinets have been delivered and checked for damage.  It is so common that the contractor goes great guns and demos everything…..and then you wait…and wait some more for one missing cabinet.  

That holds up the appliances and countertop installation. So, really plan how you will be living through this.  Make sure you can clear a relatively clean and quiet place (relatively speaking) to work and relax.

I don’t want to kid you, even with perfect planning, surprises will occur, things will not go according to the perfect schedule. However, I can guarantee they will go much smoother with detailed planning.  

You do not want to be designing on the fly on the job site…it rarely turns out well. That’s when a design falls apart.  Making  decisions under pressure about all the little details you hadn’t thought about doesn’t work so well.  

So, plan and then you will know where your project, your design, and your budget will go.

 

4. Not Allowing for Lead Times

Lead times simply refers to the time it takes for goods to arrive.  Don't underestimate the importance of this.  Many times homeowners are left sitting for months in a demolished kitchen waiting for cabinets or appliances to arrive.

For custom furniture 8-10 weeks is the average time it takes for items to arrive.  I generally feel that it is best to wait for the items that you really want and that really makes the design...which means taking the lead times into account.  

You can adjust buy not doing demo until you know when your fixtures will be available.  

There can be overlap as well.  Once the construction plans have been finalized, you can order furnishings as much of this is waiting time once the orders have been placed.  

Orders can always be held at the receiving warehouse until the project is ready. Although there may be a cost involved, it's better than having things damaged on a construction site or after waiting through a renovation, having to wait longer for furniture.

 

5. Not Having Complete Documentation for Bids

While not having every single detailed designed and drawn is necessary, the more information the better when getting accurate bids. It is really important to have the main part of the project designed and specified.  

If there is not enough information, a contractor will allow an "allowance" for that item...And believe me if you are envisioning a beautiful hand chosen slab of Carrara marble for your counter tops and the contractor price a home depot slab of granite, there will some very disappointing news coming.  

Because there are always surprises on a job site, it is even more important to control the things that you are able.  Many surprises can be lurking behind unopened walls...structural, electrical and plumbing to name a few.  Contractors are giving their best estimate based on what they are able to see.

 

When specifying, it is best to be as specific as possible so there are no misunderstandings.  You may also want to include a "no substitutions" clause in your specifications.  Contractors may substitute similar items that may look the same but do not perform the same.

contractor working on the jobsite

 

6. Not Getting Multiple Bids

If you have a solid set of drawings and specifications, you can easily get multiple bids.  It also keeps the bids as equal as possible. 

Multiple bids will help get an idea of what the cost of the project will be.  

While the lowest bid isn't always the best bid, homeowners need to take into account recommendations, experience in the specific type of work and what the contractor's  availability is.  

Only consider contractors who are licensed and insured.  I have found that many times the lowest bid ends up being not so low in the end.  

 

7. Not Having Confidence in the Professionals You Have Hired

It is critical to do your home work before hiring anyone.  If you spend the time up front, you will more confident with the choices and decisions down the road.

When hiring design professionals look for design education  and certification. Beyond that, take a look at their portfolio, knowing that that work reflects not just the designer but the specific client as well.  

Equally as important as education and training, is how you personally  connect. Designing a home is an intimate experience and you need to make sure you are able to communicate well. Understand the process and what your role will be and that of the interior designer.

If you choose wisely, it will be easier for you to trust the person you have hired. It is really important to trust the vision and experience of the designer.  

The temptation to get opinions from everybody can be tempting.  DON'T DO IT!  

It is very difficult for non professionals to see "the vision" before it is completed...It's why they don't do it for a living.   As much as you want to get input and share the progress with friends and family, resist this.  It can be a quick route to sabotaging a project.

It's ok to voice your concerns to your interior designer.  And  a professional should be happy to discuss them and maybe alternatives.  

But remember when you start pulling apart elements of the project, it can fall apart.  So, hire wisely, communicate well and trust yourself and the person you have hired.

Renovation projects are both exciting and frightening at the same time.  The better you plan, the more excitement and less angst you'll experience.  The investment in quality advice from professionals is worth every penny...your home is not the place to be penny wise and pound foolish.