Do you ever wish there was an “easy button” for decorating? Would you like an easy button when you move into a new house and you’re overwhelmed by everything on your to-do list? Or after twenty years when you look around, don’t like what you see, and wish you could start all over? Or every day when you stare at your disheveled bookshelf or blank walls?
When I started this blog, I shared my projects and my rooms one by one, just like everyone else, as if each one happened in a vacuum. But behind the scenes I was doing something different than most everyone else. I didn’t talk about it, because it felt like I was cheating. It made decorating so easy, I thought surely I was doing something wrong. Now I know my unusual approach isn’t a weakness, it’s my greatest strength.
I approach decorating like a scientist, not an artist.
It wasn’t always that way. I’ve always been scientific-minded, but I haven’t always applied my rational thinking to decorating. I use to approach the task like an artist (even though I am not creative) and it showed in my first two homes.
When I finally made the shift from decorating as an art to decorating as a science, my entire outlook on my home changed. Instead of feeling helpless to create the spaces I dreamed of, I felt empowered and confident. I already had all the tools I needed to be a successful decorator, I just wasn’t applying them.
My new approach to decorating didn’t rely on creativity, it relied on knowledge. My scientific approach gave me an edge over a purely artistic approach, making decorating easier.
Decorate Better With These Mindset Shifts
There were five key mindset shifts that made me a better decorator. These are the foundational principles of how I decorate my home and how I teach others to decorate.
1. “The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts” – Aristotle
I looked at my home as a whole, a single entity, not a collection of individual rooms. Instead of focusing and fixating on one room, one project, or one problem, I chose a more holistic approach.
In my first two homes, I decorated room by room. In the end, the rooms didn’t feel like they all belonged in the same house. There was no flow and I never achieved a cohesive, comfortable feeling.
In our current home, my husband and I started with the whole. A key example of this is our whole house color palette. We chose all our wall paint colors before we ever painted a single wall or even decided which color would go in which room. The result is a home that flows together. We don’t ever agonize over choosing a new color paint, we simply pull from our pre-defined palette. We took a similar approach with the accent colors with which we decorate with.
It also means that no room is left behind. You live in your whole house. You need to feel good in your whole house. A killer dining room doesn’t make a comfortable house. It stopped making sense to me to decorate one room at a time, while others went neglected. If you focus too much on one room, it becomes disproportionate to the rest of your house. You start resenting the other “unfinished” rooms more.
Instead, we continually prioritize improvements based on how they would contribute to our quality of life and how we feel in our home. We’re raising the bar across our whole home. Yes, it means not finishing one room before moving on to the next, but it also means we have made some improvements to all of them and we feel good throughout our entire home. No door gets shut in shame when company comes over.
2. Build a Body of Knowledge
I was sick of solving one decorating challenge, only to be faced with another. It was exhausting and I knew there had to be a better way.
Instead of approaching every new decorating challenge with fresh eyes, I set out to build a body of knowledge and experience to draw from. Instead of trial and error, I started a more practical approach to figuring out why something worked. At first, it still involved some trial and error and tweaking. Once I got it right, though, I dissected why it worked, so I could apply the same technique elsewhere.
I categorized and explained my successes, so they could be repeated. With each new decorating challenge I started with a larger body of knowledge about what might work.
When you take a scientific approach to decorating, you focus on building a body of knowledge that you can draw upon later in a variety of situations and rely less on trial and error. That means faster and easier decorating.
3. There’s a Difference Between GUESSING and Experimentation
Whenever you’re learning something new, some trial and error is always involved. But there is a big difference between guessing and experimentation. Guessing relies on luck and lots of random attempts to get to the desired result. Experimentation takes a more practical approach to get to a desired result that can be predictably repeated. Experimentation takes some trial and error, too, but leaves out the luck and randomness.
Being able to repeat your decorating successes is the key to easier decorating.
Scientists call their approach the Scientific Method. There are generally five parts to the scientific method:
- Make an Observation
- Ask a Question
- Form a Hypothesis (a theory or probable solution)
- Conduct an Experiment (using the probable solution)
- Make a Conclusion
The most important elements of the Scientific Method are asking a specific question, using what you already know to make an educated guess (hypothesis) to answer the question, and then seeing if you’re right or not.
Here is how you can apply the scientific method to decorating:
- Make an Observation – Example: This room looks so small.
- Ask a Question – Example: How could I make this room look bigger?
- Form a Hypothesis – Draw on what you already know or do some research to form a theory (probable solution) that answers your question. Example: In our last home we hung the curtains high and wide and it made the room look bigger. I also read that if you paint horizontal stripes on the wall, the room will look wider.
- Conduct an Experiment – In decorating you can either make the changes and see if it works or you can create a mockup of the idea to “test” your hypothesis.
- Make a Conclusion – Example: Hanging curtains high and wide and painting stripes on the wall will make the room look bigger.
The most important shift in using this method to decorate is that you are making an informed decision about what will work based on your past experience or research for known solutions. So, before attempting changes to make the room look bigger, you form a strong hypothesis or answer that you believe or know will work based on knowledge, not guesswork.
4. Observation Trumps Assumption
One definition of science is the study or observation of the natural world. A key component of the Scientific Method is observation. A good scientist is constantly in observation mode.
To be a better decorator, I became a keen observer in my home. I observed how my family lived, how they interacted with the things in our home, and how their behavior was impacted.
One observation I made was everyone squeezing through a narrow space between the window wall and the end of the sofa. It wasn’t intended to be a walkway, but it became a shortcut, because no one wanted to walk all the way around the sofa from the kitchen to the living room.
This observation led me to change the furniture layout in the living room to work better for the way we actually lived – with a wide walkway from the kitchen into the living room.
Decorating isn’t just about creating a beautiful space, your home also needs to be functional and work for the way you live. The only way to figure that out is through observation.
In another example, when we first moved into our home, I made assumptions about how we would use our kitchen and placed all of our things accordingly. After about 6 months, I realized we weren’t actually using the kitchen the way I assumed. The utensils weren’t close enough to the stove. The silverware was in the cooking zone, so the person setting the table kept getting in the cooks way. By observing what wasn’t working, I was able to reconfigure the kitchen to work for the way we lived.
Sometimes the only starting point is to make an assumption, but a good scientist or decorator always follows it up with careful observation. Reevaluate once you have more data and make improvements.
5. School is Always in Session
I’ve always considered myself a lifelong learner (it’s that curious scientist in me). But, I foolishly thought a beautiful home would just happen and stay that way. I was wrong. Decorating – creating a home – isn’t a discrete event, it’s a continual process.
Whether you believe in evolution or not, I think we can all agree the only constant in life is change. Our homes need to evolve to meet the demands of our changing lives. A scientist seeks to both understand what works today, but also to predict and prepare for change. If you ignore change, your home will stop serving you the way you need it to.
Learning about decorating started out as a hobby for me, but now I see it as a way to create and evolve the best home for my family.
Your “Easy Button”
It took me years to make this shift and build my body of decorating knowledge. I want to give you the shortcut that I wished I’d had. That is a place where you can continually learn to decorate for yourself and find the dream within your home through decorating. Décorography has an entire library of decorating classes to help and share what I’ve learned.