Choosing your decorating style is generally not a sudden discovery. Instead it is a process that evolves over time. When you move into your first place, generally an apartment, your choices are limited by the space itself. Flooring, wall color and fixtures are out of your control.
Chances are your first furniture comes in the form of hand-me-downs from family members combined with garage-sale finds. Often it's not until you move into your first home that you actually have a chance to choose anything beyond some smaller accessories.
You may find that by the time you actually have some choice in how your home will look, your taste is well defined. But if not, here are some suggestions to find the decorating style that will feel like home for you.
Look at Your Past When Choosing Your Decorating Style
Did you grow up in a traditional-style home? Or maybe your parents preferred more contemporary furniture. Start by looking back at the homes you grew up knowing. My mother's style was more traditional and she preferred newer things. We always moved into new homes – generally custom-built – and the feel of the furniture was classic Ethan Allen. We always had wood flooring, but generally in lighter colors like maple. It was comfortable, very suburban, but it never felt like my style.
My grandparents' house, on the other hand, was a hundred-year-old farmhouse. It had white kitchen cabinets with an old wooden table in the center, wallpaper on the walls and a rich selection of family hand-me-down antiques. There was also a nice front porch with a hanging swing on it. It sat in the center of a 15-acre farm that grew everything that could be grown in Ohio, from tomatoes and corn to peanuts, pecans, peaches and much more. The basement had a room to store all of my grandmother's canned goods on shelves.
Growing up, I loved both places. But as a grown-up, I find I much prefer the feeling of homes like my grandparents' was. I like plaster walls, old-style fixtures and the furniture to go with it. I ended up with most of the family's antique furniture because no one else wanted it. The only thing I hung on to from my parents' homes was a love for wood flooring. But I like darker colors and wide-planks.
Looking back, what do you love about those past places? And, just as important, what do you want to avoid?
Take a mental walk through those homes. You may be surprised at how much you remember! Take note of those features you really enjoyed. What elements do you want to carry forward to your own home? Maybe it's a love of color or the feel of plush carpeting. It might be the type of lighting or window locations. My mother always loved having a window over the kitchen sink to look outside when doing dishes.
This journey will give you a good start.
Look at Other Homes when Choosing Your Decorating Style
When you visit the homes of friends and colleagues, take time to really look at their style choices. Does the home feel welcoming to you? Could you be comfortable living there? Take advantage of local home builders in your area to explore model homes. Often these homes are decorated by professionals so you will find lots of ideas. As you look, pay attention to certain issues. For example, are you drawn to leather furniture? It can be striking and durable. Be sure to sit on the sofa or chair to see if you like the feel as well as the look of leather. And there are so many styles to choose from. Do you like clean contemporary lines or something that looks like it belongs in an English library?
Do you like walls with color or does plain white seem crisper to you? How much color is enough and when does it get to be too much? Curtains, blinds or shutters? And as you wander through these homes, take pictures of the things you like the most. As you build your collection of photos, you may notice some trends. You can sort by types of room to start so the patterns are easier to spot. For example, you may lean toward light and bright kitchens but bedrooms with dark rich colors. There's no reason why you can't have both.
Look at Online Resources when Choosing Your Decorating Style
Pinterest may be your best resource for looking at rooms from various homes. Houzz is another great option. Both of these give you the opportunity to save those ideas that work best for you. Be careful not to get overwhelmed, however. Too many pictures can just add to your confusion. Start by collecting anything that seems appealing, but at some point you're going to want to edit. The best way to do that is with Pinterest. Take a look at each board – maybe the kitchen board to start. Then pretend you're getting your eyes tested for glasses. Look at two or three and ask yourself, “this one or this one?” Choose the top dozen and start a new board called “Kitchens I would like to cook in,” or something that works for you. Look for common features and write down that list. When it's time to choose your next kitchen, you will have a starting place.
You can go through the process of collecting and editing for every room category. Eventually you will probably see similarities across rooms. Your shaker-style taste in cabinets, for example, may match the clean lines of the coffee tables you like. Or your Arts & Crafts preferences in furniture may also show up in your favorite artworks or accessories. But here's the good news. You don't have to live with one defined decorating style. Today's homes can handle an eclectic mix of many different styles. So that favorite antique Victorian fainting couch you fell in love with doesn't force you to go all-out Victorian in your bedroom.
And understand that choosing your decorating style isn't a matter of one and done. It will keep evolving as you do. Don't be afraid to edit things out as you go through your life. Yesterday's perfect armchair may be today's thrift-shop throwaway.
You may make decorating mistakes too. Forgive yourself and fix it as soon as your budget allows you to. After all, you don't wear the same clothes at 50 that you did at 20. Let yourself evolve, and give yourself permission to let your decorating style change as you do.