“Where do I begin?” seems to be what most people want to know when they’re thinking about redesigning a living room, followed by “Should I start with a particular color? What is the right floor? Which style is the correct one?” This is putting the cart before the horse. To start, and to succeed, you need to go back a step or two.
The first thing to think about before considering a project of your own is something every US designer or architect does on first meeting with a client: define a brief. It’s such a simple and integral part of the design process, but most people don’t spend enough time on it – or indulge in the kind of drilled- down attention to detail that is required at the beginning of a project.
The design brief arises from that conversation between designer and client, but if you’re project-managing a job yourself, this will be a discussion between you and any other stakeholders (your partner and possibly children) and the lead trade (the builder). It should be a free-flowing discussion about desires and challenges, outcomes and constraints.
From this discussion, and with a reasonable amount of insight and intuition, the designer – or you – can elicit enough information to flesh out answers to the following questions:
What is the space? What is it used for? Who will be using it? How many people use it and how many at a time? What are the ages of each user? What needs to be included in the space? What functionality is required? What are the maintenance and safety needs? What works in the space now and what needs to change? What are the must-haves and must-tons? What mood do you want to create, or how do you want to feel in the space? And finally, What is the budget?
There may be more questions but this is a good checklist to start with.
The mood you’re after will dictate color and material selection, and will stem from whether you want to feel warm and cosy or fresh and bright or homely or pristine – or whatever you want to feel when you and your guests enter and interact with the space.
There is a good reason to consider these questions and do all of this work upfront: it will give you a clear idea of the likely outcome. Simply, if you don’t know where you’re headed you may find yourself in a place that’s very different to the one you had in mind. Or you may wind up totally lost. Your mantra should be: Start with the end in mind.
By knowing what you want, you can then toss out anything that doesn’t work in with your ideal outcome, based on your initial brief. Then you can edit and tailor and seek out all the things that suit your circumstances, family, lifestyle and desires.
With these parameters in place it’s easy to create a clear picture of what the room needs to do, what it should feel like and what needs to be acquired to bring your space together. This set of boundaries will give you the freedom to search far and wide for the things that will help you achieve the look you want. After that comes the sourcing stage – which means there’s shopping to be done! But we’ll get to that later.