Once you've decided to start a redecorating project, it's hard to resist the temptation to start shopping and ordering right away. But shopping without a plan is a surefire way to end up over budget and with a room design that isn't as functional or cohesive as you'd like it to be.
Living Rooms can be the most difficult rooms to furnish because there are so many options! Unlike a bedroom or dining room, which have a more limited purpose, living rooms have many more possibilities for furniture styles and arrangements. Before you buy anything, make sure you've first done these 5 things first:
Get Rid of Anything You No Longer Love
You know the saying "You can't see the forest for the trees"? Sometimes our rooms can be so full of stuff that it's hard to envision it being anything else. By taking the time to clear out the clutter first, you'll be able to see your space with new eyes. Consider parting with any furnishings that are in bad condition, aren't as functional as they could be for your lifestyle or that you simply don't love anymore.
Small accent furniture and accessories in good shape can be donated, consigned or sold on Craigslist right away. Save the money you make towards your decorating fund! If you are planning to sell larger pieces like a sofa, chair or media cabinet, go ahead and take photos and measurements of them now, that way you are ready to list them when your new furniture arrives.
Try a New Furniture Layout
Now that your room has been pared down to only the pieces that you intend to keep, brainstorm some new furniture arrangements! Sketch them on some paper first, or if you are more the spontaneous type, just start moving things around! (I usually just wrestle with the furniture myself, but at my latest install we used these. So much easier!) Test out a layout you've never tried before. Maybe try moving the sofa across the room to sit in front of the windows, or try bringing in the arm chair from your bedroom and the bookshelf from the basement. Now's the time to experiment! Use what you already have to see what layout feels the best to you. The best way to save money on a decorating project is to start with things you already own first!
Take a Picture
It can sometimes be hard to analyze the "big picture" of a room while you're standing in it. Use your phone to capture an image of each wall, and then two or three overall room shots. Now that you can see the room in a "bite-sized" format, what's missing? Is there a big empty space between the sofa and the chair that a side table or ottoman could fill? Is your coffee table the right size and shape for this new arrangement, or do you need to go bigger or smaller? Where are the natural focal points? What can you do with art, accessories and lighting to make these focal points even more special?
Put your designer hat on! Brainstorm some ideas that you can sketch into a notebook to take with you when you shop. While you're at it, take some overall dimensions of the room to jot down in that notebook too! I guarantee you'll find shopping so much easier when you have your notes and room photos to reference! If you ever see me out shopping, chances are I'll be standing by some piece of furniture or art, holding up my phone and just staring back and forth trying to really envision that item in the room I'm working on. With a little imagination, it's the quickest way to "try it before you buy it".
Make a Detailed List
Now organize that brainstorming into your shopping list. Start with the big pieces, like upholstery, side tables, coffee tables, storage and media cabinets. Since you've already determined your new room layout, next to each piece write the general dimensions that is has to be to fit in the space. I usually write the ideal dimensions, but also the maximum dimensions that will fit. That way you don't have to second guess yourself if you find a great bargain on a piece that is just slightly bigger than you were looking for.
For sofas and chairs, make sure you are accounting for enough room for end tables plus a little breathing room. You don't want everything sandwiched so tightly together that the end tables are rubbing up against the walls.
For storage pieces like bookshelves and media cabinets, make sure to measure from the inside of any door or window trim. Ideally you want to leave room for curtains to be hung high and wide, but you especially avoid having wood furniture that overlaps or covers the wood casing. That's a small detail, but it's something that can really make the proportions and scale of the room feel out of whack.
Even at this early stage of the design process, I am always thinking about 1 or 2 Key Accessories that will really set the tone of the finished space. You may not have decided on a color scheme or overall style yet, but you do know where your focal points are. Take some time to measure these wall spaces to determine the ideal and maximum dimensions of the artwork you plan to hang. If you are planning to style the bottom shelf of your media cabinet with large woven baskets, measure the height, depth and width of the space where those will go. You'll save yourself from having to return too big or too small items, because you'll know exactly what size to look for before you even step foot into a store.
Now that you've prioritized what to furniture to buy and exactly what to look for in each piece, you're ready to start shopping! If it's not on the list, don't buy it! Aside from your 1-2 Key Accessories, save small items like trays, vases, bookends, sculptures, plants, etc. for after you have your new furniture in place. You'll have a better idea of what you need after you see the room starting to come together.
Set Budget for Each Item
As a designer, I have a relative idea of how much things cost depending on the quality and style I'm looking for. Most people only purchase furniture every 7-10 years, so if you fall into that category or if this is your first time buying furniture, spend some time researching pricing online before you shop to familiarize yourself with what price ranges furniture is selling for today. You'll avoid sticker shock and be able to pin point stores and retailers that meet your budget and style needs.
Here's how I determine a reasonable and realistic budget for my client projects and my own decorating projects: Next to each item on your list, write the least expensive price you saw online and the most you would be willing to spend on that piece. Then add up the low prices and the high prices to come up with an overall budget range for your project. You decide where in that range you feel comfortable, then set the final budget and stick to it!
Making a detailed shopping list and setting a budget before you shop will save you time and money by keeping you FOCUSED.
If you are in the process of redecorating your living room, I hope you found this post helpful! You also can (and should!) apply these same steps to any room project you're working on. For dining rooms and bedrooms, you just won't have to spend as much time playing around with different layouts. My quick rules of thumb are centering dining tables in the room wherever possible and placing the bed on the wall you see first as your enter the room. The rest of the the furniture placements fall into place after that!