10 Steps For Your Design Do-Over

Updated: Mar 5, 2018

10 steps to get you started on the track to "recovery."


The realization.


If you're like most, you woke up and started your day like any other. Alarm, coffee, quiet time, let dog out, a crazy blur, get the kids to school and then BAM . . . out of nowhere you suddenly get hit. Bad. Like an unexpected dodgeball hit to the face.


Your whole home needs a complete overhaul!


I mean ev-er-y-thing. A spring cleaning and declutter session would only expose the shamefully outdated fixtures and styles.


What do you do?


Where do you start?


Well, rarely hiring an interior decorator to do a massive overhaul is in the budget. So, let's start with these 10 helpful steps. (And, feel free to add to these with your own below in the comments.)


1. Figure out what matters the most



Most artists do not pick up a brush without having any idea what they're gonna paint. You, too, must start with at least a basic plan of what you're trying to achieve. And, I do mean it can be very basic.


When you take on such a massive project as an overhaul, a complete "do-over," always start first with the big picture. What is your home most used for? Living, entertaining, resting, creating?


Sketch out a diagram of your house and put 1-3 words in each room. Remember, this is your notebook, it doesn't have to be pretty or perfect. These descriptive words will be the basis from where you will start to create your new home.


What is each room's purpose? Write it down. And, don't skip any room in the house. Often, overlooked and unused rooms give you the most capability to maximize your square footage. Forgotten rooms can become your saving retreats to escape to. Laundry rooms can become mudrooms and extra pantry or storage space. A half bath can be a place where you display your latest collection. Guest rooms can store your library. Be creative and think functional.


This is a time take in the family's input. What do they see each room as? You might be surprised to find out that the formal dining room you see for entertaining guest is actually seen by the rest of the family as a storage room for fancy stuff you don't use. Now is the time to designate the unused formal dining room as your new office space. Or, perhaps the dark, dungeon in the forgotten den can now be the new boy's game room.


Setting these"boundaries" will be key for moving forward. One of the beautiful things about design is that we can determine what a space does for us. The catch-all corner becomes your favorite reading nook - simply because you designed it to be a reading nook.


Take your time on this - this is your foundation. Set a budget - it doesn't have to be big, just predetermined.



2. Clean House



Now that you have defined each room in the house, begin to determine whether or not the things in that room belong. Do they meet that room's defined purpose? If not, move them to the room where they do fit the room's defined purpose. Don't worry about exactly where or how it'll work - just get it in there for now. We'll work out the details later.


For example, I defined my bedroom to be a place of rest and relaxation. That meant the TV went. As did the useless cluster catch-all chair in the corner and a few other things that simply did not set the tone for rest and relaxation. As silly as it might sound, I asked myself, "Does this [insert item] bring me relaxation? Does it help me rest?" If the answer was no, I figured out where else in the house it should go.


One of my key sayings is, "When in doubt, throw it out!" This may seem harsh, but many very helpful charities do their work in your community from donations of used goods - so don't be timid to toss stuff out. If you don't use it, it doesn't have a family significance, or simply doesn't fit into any room's purpose, donate it. Chances are, in your new home, you won't even notice it's gone.


Helpful Hint: You need to be relentless here so seek your least sentimental family-member or friend's help on this one. They're much more likely to help you let go of the things that are burdens, not memories.

Tip: Leave an empty box by the front door for family to drop things in that they are ready to turn loose of - old toys, too small of shoes, read books, etc. Remind them that their goods not only help local charities but also make things affordable to those who may not be able to afford such things.



3. Color



At this point your house went from a slightly out-dated home to a flaming hot mess. Every room has things moved around, empty spaces on walls, furniture piled into the middle of rooms - total chaos.


You know the old saying, "It's the darkest before the dawn."? Well, I like to say in terms of design, "It's total chaos before the design." You're at the worst point now, but there is no going back - and that, my friend, is a beautiful thing!


So, let's talk color.


Color is the basis for your design and for creating the spaces you've defined and determined in Step 1. Refer back to the terms you used to define each room. Those terms invoke feelings. Those feelings are reflected in color.


First, add two to three colors that come to mind or "reflect" the emotions or purpose behind each room. For example, the laundry room is the place you "clean" clothes - so a clean color is white. Simple, right?


Taken a step further, if you want a relaxing bedroom, think greens. But, if you want a bit of romance, add soft pinks. There you have it - greens and pinks.



Now that you have gone through each room and determined the colors you want, you need to somehow intertwine them. This is where a lot of people get off track, but you don't have to have one of those crazy schitzo color schemes running through your house. You will find a neutral color that ties them together nicely. This neutral color gives a seemingly cohesive pallet throughout the home.


Also, see what colors you can cross over. The deep-sea green from the relaxing and romantic bedroom paired perfectly with soft pink. You may find the same green also works wonderfully against a white and black kitchen. Use as many of the same colors throughout the house as possible - just mix them with new, unexpected colors in new, unexpected places. Additionally, this cuts back on the number of paints you actually end up purchasing and storing.



Colors will look different in various lighting - so take advantage of using the same color in as many different ways as possible. Additionally, different sheens of paint will bounce light off differently - so be creative with sheens as well.



The hardest job is finding that one beautifully neutral color that looks great with all of your "defining" colors. This may mean a trip to the local hardware store to raid their color samples. Don't be timid - remember, colors appear different in your home and even throughout your home, so bring any color you are drawn to and test it out in each room.


Helpful Hint: Gray has made it in a big way for a reason. Gray is super neutral, clean and sophisticated - yet simple and goes with about anything. If you really don't know where to start, try checking out a soft gray.

That one neutral color will serve as your base and will be carried throughout your home. You want to be comfortable with this color. In some rooms, it'll be on the walls - in others, it'll be as subtle as a vase or pillow. This color should look fabulous with all of your vocal accent colors.


NOTE: Bold colors on walls look great in magazines, but realistically, you should be careful with the number of rooms you paint with a bold "defining" color. Too many strong colors creates confusion and disrupt transition throughout the home - even if they seem to go together. Reserve the bold colored walls for room that are well separated - like bedrooms and bathrooms. In open spaces, walls should be kept more neutral to allow more flow.


Painting remains one of the most affordable updates with the biggest impact. And, if you can do a good job yourself, you can stretch a tight budget! (Don't forget to consider painting furniture, floors, fireplaces, trims, bookcases and anything in the room that can take a coat of paint.)



4. Small But Impactful Updates



After deciding on your colors and during this state of total chaos, consider doing those small yet amazingly impactful updates.


Two things to consider:


First, updates are to bring fresh modern style into your home. They add to your current structure and don't require a total remodeling. Using the framework of your current home, think closely about the details that really bum you out. Is there something small you could do to change it?


For example, you could paint the kitchen cabinets and update the hardware as an update, whereas ripping out the cabinets and re-drawing the floor plan is a remodel. Well, duh?


But, maybe you could add some tile behind the backsplash and take off the top cabinet doors to create open shelving. Then, color coordinate your dishes and add a modern light fixture. Now, you have a completely NEW kitchen for under $500. Simple enough, but nowhere near a $20,000-$30,000 for a remodel.



Changing out light fixtures, updating door and cabinet knobs, simplifying or changing out the window treatments - all pretty simple projects but with BIG impact. This doesn't just help your budget, but your likely gonna want to change it all over again within the next 10-15 years anyway.


Kitchens are an easy and obvious place to start but don't let your creative juices stop there. Consider adding shelving or bookcases to a room, frosting the glass in a window for privacy in place of dated curtains, or hiding your TV with a piece of art. Really consider what small adjustment each room could use to make it more desirable or functional.


Secondly, when comes to updates, I highly recommend being bold where it is the easiest to change. Changing the paint color on a wall is pretty easy. However, changing the color of the tile in the bathroom - not so much.


Helpful Hint: When it comes to re-doing something not easy to change - make it as neutral and classic as possible! You'll thank yourself in the coming years.


5. Bring In Some Order



So, enough with the chaos. It's time to get your place back in functioning order. Your family (and yourself) will thank you. Since you have pared down to only the things you really need or want, you have likely discovered how much stuff one home uses!


As you start organizing your new home, remember it is never too late to donate! As you begin to place furniture in its rightful place and fill in drawers and shelves you'll quickly see that you held on to more than you realized in Step 2, so keep that donation box by the front door for a little while longer.


And . . . what do you do with all of that seasonal stuff? How do you keep your children's toys organized?


Glad you asked! My favorite - label, label, label. Label everything! One of the greatest investments I ever made was a labeler. File folders, drawers, cabinets - everything is labeled. It is not super pretty but the labels are out of eyesight and it gives every item in the home its own place.


The quakers were fantastic about labeling. Think of how much smoother things go in a workspace such as a factory or office - everything has its place and everybody knows where it goes. Whether it is the vacuum or winter mittens - give everything its own place. I like to call this your business step. Think of it as though you're setting up your home as efficiently as a business does.


This will be a life-long habit to start and will be an ever investing commitment in your home. And, it is SO worth the effort. The time you save being organized will give you more time to enjoy your new home with the ones you love. Plus, knowing what you actually have is a major help. Can you imagine an office that never new how much copy paper they actually had on hand?


Bins, baskets, jars, whatever it takes! Think spa-like bathrooms and guest-like bedrooms. Pull those cottonballs out from under the sink and into a nice apthocary jar in the bathroom. When necessities are visible, you are better able to keep inventory. Plus, house guest (and you) will appreciate being able to access necessities without rooting under your sink.


Designer Tip: When tackling organizing a space - clear the space ENTIRELY! Pull everything out of the cabinets, off the shelfs, everything. Clean the surfaces and then slowly add back what you have to have. You'll add design to exposed areas in later steps.



Hint: If you're not a natural organizer, start big. Put all of your linens neatly folded together in one place. Then move to your off-season clothes. After that, head to the kitchen. Work from biggest to smallest - never the other way around.

Once you have the major part of your home sorted and life back in order, work on the small areas that need organizing like under beds, in closets and file cabinets. This step is really a never-ending project which constantly needs refinement. For now, just focus on getting your new home set up in the newly defined spaces with their newly defined purposes.



6. Accents, Accents, Accents



This is where the fun begins and you will reap the reward of all your hard work. With color chips still in hand go through all of your "fun"stuff and begin to place items in corresponding rooms. Use your color pallets as your first criteria for where to place your accent pieces. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how fresh an item becomes when you simply move it around to a new place in your home.


If you've fallen out of love with the painting that was purchased to hang over your living room suit, search within the painting for some overlooked colors. Do some of those subtle colors match other "defining" colors in another room? If so, try it out in a different space. It will likely take on a whole new look where different colors pop because of a change in the surrounding colors.


You'll be amazed at how many things you can change up by just moving your accent pieces around. Don't forget to think outside of the box and include useful items as accents. In addition to adding style, these useful accents help concrete the purpose of the space. For example, setup a cocktail station with color coordinating glasses in your "lounging area."


You're adding style and color with a lovely reflective quality while also solidifying the purpose of that space - to relax and lounge. Keep color coordinated journals near your reading nook with fun pencils in a small unique vase as an accent. You've got this!


Think: Color, Style & Purpose for each accent piece to emphasize your "defined" purpose for the room.

Finally, be sure to include textures by adding blankets, rugs and pillows. Include layers and lines within shelving and be sure to add points of interest on tabletops.



7. Don't Skimp On Your Vertical Design



Walls can be fascinating places to add storage, texture, dimension and character. We often overlook their potential to add dynamic elements within our homes. We think, paint them a pretty color, add a few pieces of art - bada-bing bada-boom, you're done.


Have you ever consider the added storage you could have by just adding pegs to your wall? Or how about the ambiance of a soft glowing light coming from a vintage neon sign? Old school maps to mark the places you have traveled?


Be creative with what you hang. Functionally, if you're tight on space, consider how to maximize your floor space by replacing bulky dining chairs for stools that fold up and hang on the wall. Stylistically, incorporating texture with rugs or weavings is a great way to soften a room and give it depth.




8. Incorporate Life Into Your Home



You're almost there. You should be pretty much loving hour new home, but just a few more things to finish off the "Do-Over."


Now that you have a beautifully colored, coordinated and purposeful home, you need to add life to it. The easiest way to do this is by adding real life to it with plants and flowers. (If you are cringing at the thought of hundreds of dollars going down the tube for plants that suffer a painful slow death - artificial is OK - all is forgiven.)


Try to add plants in each room, even if it is a small succulent plant. No need to go into the science here, but humans respond well to having greenery in their spaces. Plus, they improved air quality and add height, texture, and eye appeal to your design.


Life can be added in other subtle and clever ways. Replace those staged, overly-posed family portraits with pictures of family and friends in motion - actually living life. Even if a professional photography session with the family isn't on the list of things to do right now, be brave and venture out with your phone camera.



Family, pets, local historical sites and even street shots from your neighborhood are all great places to start. Spend a Saturday with the family shooting pictures around town and then decide together which ones speak to your family and add them into the home. (Be sure to have your family get the subject's approval before they shoot.)



Seeing life through the eyes of your family will help you to get to know them a little better. This challenge will tap into each of their creative sides and you may be surprised with what they come up with.


Designer Tip: Bring your paint color samples with to spark creativity.


Last thing to consider when adding "life" to your home is to be sure life can actually happen in your home. Especially with kids, you have to be real with how the space is going to be used. If you find the room not being used for its intended purpose simply redefine the space for what naturally continues to happen in that space.


And, be sure you are meeting the needs of the family. For example, if the little ones don't have a place to do their homework, you may find you "entertainment" lounge area becomes the new "homework" lounge - which nobody wants.


This is a great time to "test"out your design and make adjustments as needed.


Your goal is to have your home to be an inviting, functional and comfortable place. If any one item out of place disrupts the design, revisit the "purpose" of the room. You may have to take another look at what your goals are for that space.


A staging secret is to make an area look "lived" in which is to say great staging appears as though the subject of the place just simply stepped out of range of the lenses. Leaving your favorite book or magazine left open atop the stack on the coffee table or adding fresh fruit and cut flowers to your dining table keeps your place lived in. You may find hanging your weathered paperboy bag by the door or just leaving your favorite snuggies blanket draped over the oversized ottoman looks comfortably real. Obviously not messy, but a safe distance from immaculate.



9. Pepper Personality Throughout



Now, you're on the home stretch. Incorporate your unique and somewhat quirky finds throughout your home. Those pieces that are conversation starters, family memories, or simply unusual finds while traveling should be carefully placed around your home for that last layer of depth.


The oddities that speak to you can be those final touches that make your home your own. Allow the randomness, age and quirkiness to blanket your home in a way that warms your spirit each time you walk through the door.


Let your home tell your family's story. And, let's face it, nobody wants a boring or predictable story.

This is where you can seek your family's input again. Make a fun game of it and ask each family member to find one thing that reminds them of each member in the home. It could be a book, a baseball, a ceramic dish - anything that holds a fond memory for them.


Box the items up and go throughout the house to find a place they can be displayed and incorporated. Use thoughtful ways to connect it to the room. Perhaps it doesn't fit the style or purpose, but the color is an exact match. Somehow having a few items "out of place" will actually make the home feel more real while also giving it the stand-out attention it deserves.


Designer Tip: You may find items that have not been used in a while take on new life. Bring a little nostalgia to the surface of your design with these memories to help stay connected to each other.


Having things we "like" ready and available as part of our design will mean that you will actually use them more often. If you're passionate about music - make music assessable. If your child loves to draw, "pepper" vintage drawing books where they naturally lounge. Don't forget a few drawing notebooks and sketching pencils. Remember, this is your home your creating - not a designer's.



10. Ladies and gentlemen, we are preparing for landing. Please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. . . .



You're home has just encountered a complete "Do-Over," so take a moment and soak it all in. Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You'll begin to get use to where things are and you'll notice that stunning shade of green has become such a part of your bedroom, you could never imagine it before.


And, you will gradually take note of the small changes that still need to be made and a few bare spaces. Keep in mind that you still have quite the life to live, so leave a little space left to fill. You'll see that life has a way of bringing just the right thing to fill that spot at just the right time.


Undoubtably, cabinets were overlooked and still need cleaning out and you just ran out of steam in the basement bathroom. Now that you are no longer overwhelmed, handle whatever remains using these steps. Let your home grow with you. Paint will need to be touched up and things will inevitably wear out. You're home is ever growing just as each one of you is ever growing. So be patient with yourself - the hard work is done for now.


See what you enjoyed the most in Steps 1-9 and plan a time of year where you revisit those steps you "liked" doing. For some, organizing was the highlight of the trip. For others, playing with color tickled your fancy. Whatever you enjoyed - make it a regular annual tradition to do - something to get excited about.


For the things you didn't enjoy (hold your breath) - do them more often. Don't let them become the sneaky monsters they once were. Tackle the jobs you hated the most on a regular, manageable schedule so that they don't become overwhelming.


Instead of something you dread - which often holds you up from what you love - make a point to incorporate these task into your routine cleaning so you never really notice them.


As you enjoy your new home, remember why you set out on this journey. Revisit the goal and purpose of each room and USE THEM! All of them! Spend time with family and friends in those new beautiful and "purposeful" rooms - and create a life full of memories with loved ones.



And Now, You're Kind Of A Pro



Well, my friends, I hope that you hold onto that journal of your road to recovery and victory! You should refer back to it - consider it a bit of a business plan or reference guide for your home per se.


I hope this 10-step guide has helped you reestablish your domain in your home. More importantly, I hope that you and your family LOVE coming home to your new home!


You just don't know when your home "Do-Over" might inspire your neighbor, friend or a family member. You just might be called in to help rescue them! So take your journal with you and help guide them through their own Design Do-Over!


Feel free to share your photos of your before and afters or other tips below in the comments. Get a Checklist & Guide here.