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Four Steps for Choosing Inspiration Images for a Design Project

When you have a space to design, one of the most important (and sometimes overwhelming) parts is just getting started. Whether you fill your home or room all at once or over the course of 10 years, it’s important to have a plan so that you know what you want the space to look like and you feel confident when choosing pieces that you not only love, but will all go together and achieve the overall look that you want. One of the most important first steps is to choose inspiration images. This helps you to see possibilities of what’s out there, it gives you ideas for what could work in your space, and should help solidify the styles, color palettes, patterns, and pieces that you’re attracted to. When I’m looking for inspiration images, or going through them with a client, these are the steps I follow to guide me through the process:

1. Look at lots of pictures!

Pinterest. Instagram. Google images. Magazines. Catalogs. Whatever way you like to look at pictures, spend some time doing that! Don’t make this process endless - you’ll see too many images and become overwhelmed. But, do try to devote at least an hour (even if it’s 15 minutes at a time) looking through pictures and marking/saving the ones that you like. If you’re looking online, try different search terms to make sure you see a variety of images. Include style words like transitional, farmhouse, eclectic, classic or glam, along with different colors or patterns. At this stage don’t worry too much about what’s realistic for your home or particular space, just gather the images that you like.

2. Check for commonalities in your images.

Look through all the images that you selected and check for common themes. Are all your pictures farmhouse style, except that one that’s really contemporary? Do all the sofas have roll or slope arms? Are rugs light with simple patterns, or bright and bold? Is every headboard upholstered, or are there lots of wood sleigh beds? Does every kitchen have white cabinets? Is there a common accent color, or is everything mostly neutral? Does it feel warm, or are the tones cooler? Spend some time thinking about what your pictures have in common, why you’re drawn to those, and how that could translate to your space.

3. Consolidate your images.

Before you get rid of any pictures, try to note what stands out to you about them. If you like transitional styles but saved a mid-century living room, is it the colors that you liked? Or a certain chair or table shape? Save any images that have a particular element that you LOVE (not just like - but love enough to own it and have it in your own home), otherwise get rid of anything that doesn’t fit the overall vibe/style/look that you’ve found in the majority of your pictures. And while you're doing this, also pay attention to what you don't like! If you like most of an image but not a certain accent color or shape of a piece, make a note of that, too. (It’s okay if you see more than one style/look, but try to narrow it down to just a few and get really clear on what they are!)

4. Consolidate even more.

Get rid of images that aren’t realistic for your home. Maybe they include dramatic pitched ceilings, huge built-ins, or multiple seating areas and your living room is small with no built-ins and an average ceiling height. Or you love how really light colored rooms look, but don’t like spending time cleaning white upholstery. If you can’t translate much of anything from the picture and envision it in your actual space (not your next house, or the one in your head that you might build someday when you’re a billionaire), and your actual life (the one where kids or pets make a mess) toss it.

Hopefully at this point you have less than fifteen images. If you don’t, go back to step 2 and go through the process again! When you’re really honing in on your style and what you want for a specific space, you want to make sure you have firm direction. It’s okay to like lots of different colors, patterns, and styles, but usually not every single thing you like can work together harmoniously in one space. On the other hand, you also want to have at least three images for inspiration because you don’t want to completely copy any single room or look. The best spaces have a consistent, cohesive vibe, but also feel like the people who live there because they combine a variety of items and styles that feels personal.

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