10 Steps For Your Design Do-Over

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

A woman mapping out a total re-do design project for the home

The realization.


If you're like most, you woke up and started your day like any other. Alarm, coffee, quiet time, let the 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 A spring cleaning and declutter session would only expose the shamefully outdated fixtures and styles.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


Dad holding toddler daughter on dock while watching ducks pass by.

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 starts 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 functionally.


This is a time to 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 guests 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 specific 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


Outdated furniture and toys piled up on side of the road for garbage pickup.

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 the family to drop things in so that when they are ready to turn loose of things, they have a place to do so - old toys, too small shoes, finished 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


A pile of worn paint brushes with various wild and bold colors of paint.

At this point, your house went from a slightly outdated 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.


Gorgeous deep emerald green walls in modern bedroom.

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 is 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.


Stunning modern kitchen with deep green kitchen cabinets and white marble countertops and wood floors.

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.


Dark and moody blue green powder room with modern details.

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 create confusion and disrupt transition throughout the home - even if they seem to go together. Reserve the bold colored walls for rooms that are well separated - like bedrooms and bathrooms. In open spaces, walls should be kept more neutral to allow smooth 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


Bamboo separators for organizing kitchen drawers.

After deciding on your colors and during this state of 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 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 $20,000-$30,000 for a remodel.


Clean modern open shelving in kitchen with white subway tile backsplash.

Changing out light fixtures, updating door and cabinet knobs, simplifying or changing out the window treatments - all pretty simple projects but with a BIG impact. This doesn't just help your budget, but you are 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. 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 later on down the road - make it as neutral and classic as possible! You'll thank yourself in the coming years.


5. Bring In Some Order


Drawer full of various vintage metal letterpress type press blocks.

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 an office - everything has its place and everybody knows where it goes. Whether it is the vacuum or winter mittens - give everything its 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.

Vintage wooden library card catalog.

This will be a lifelong 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 knew how much copy paper they had on hand?


Bins, baskets, jars, whatever it takes! Think spa-like bathrooms and guest-like bedrooms. Pull those cotton balls out from under the sink and into a nice apothecary jar in the bathroom. When necessities are visible, you are better able to keep inventory. Plus, house guests (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 shelves, everything. Clean the surfaces and then slowly add back what you have to have. You'll add design to exposed areas in later steps.


Helpful 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


Beachy boho house with coastal decor and tropical plants.

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" set up 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 such as accents. In addition to adding style, these useful accents help concrete the purpose of the space. For example, set up 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


Multiple pieces of framed art sitting stacked against the wall to be hung.

Walls can be fascinating places to add storage, texture, dimension, and character. We often overlook their potential to add dynamic elements to 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 considered 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 with 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.


Modern clean white apartment with nice bike hung on wall.


8. Incorporate Life Into Your Home


Modern leafy tropical indoor plants in boho basket.

You're almost there. You should be pretty much loving your 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 painfully slow death - artificial is OK - all is forgiven.)


Try to add plants in each room, even if it is a small succulent plants. 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.


Dad throwing toddler boy in the air to catch; child smiling.

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 the most 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.


Vintage baby blue VW Bug with luggage rack on top parked on the side of the road.

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


The 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.