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7 Rules of Interior Design

Find out what it takes to create a beautifully designed room with these steps.

Photo: Mark Lund / The Nest

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What is it that makes a beautifully decorated room? Is it expensive curtains? Or plenty of light, or original artwork?

According to interior designer Michael Wood of IX Design, there isn't one magic formula to create the perfect room. Even an interior designer starts from scratch with each project, working with both the client and the space.

The key to a beautiful home isn't spending a ton of money on pricey furniture or designer fixtures. It's about making sure everything in your space works together.

Magic formula or no, 15 years of projects gives you some insight. So Wood shared his seven key principles of creating a great space, from where to start to what to avoid. The best part? Doing it right doesn't mean draining your checking account.

Live With It

"It's especially important for people on a budget to go slowly," Wood advises. "You literally have to live with these decisions, so it's not a good idea to rush into something and look back with regret." Even though it's tempting to finish an entire room at once, Wood emphasizes living with each choice before moving on to the next one. New couch? Let it sit (and sit on it) before moving it around the room or covering it in pinstripes.

How do you know if it's a good fit? Ask yourself two questions: 1) Does it make you happy? 2) Is it functional in the way it was intended?

It's also important to spend time at the beginning choosing exactly what you want. Wood says it's critical to nail down your vision for the room before you get started, because there's nothing worse than spending money you've worked so hard to save, and then regretting it.

Soften the Corners

Most things have 90-degree angles: rugs, tables, chairs, pictures. According to Wood, one of the ways to make a room more visually interesting is to "soften the corners," or mix in some pieces with rounded edges to avoid a succession of sharp corners around the room. "Throw in a round coffee table or a rug to make things more interesting," he recommends.

Never Buy a Set

"Don't go into the store and buy every piece in a set--it will look like you went out one afternoon and did everything," Wood cautions. According to him, people respond best to to blended, organic compositions of furniture. "It's like putting together an outfit," he adds. "It isn’t about the skirt or scarf--it’s about how it all comes together."

This goes hand-in-hand with living with your purchases. Everything you buy should blend together visually, Wood says, but shouldn't be too matchy-matchy. Taking your time amassing different elements in a room gives you a chance to evaluate how each piece fits before adding another, and to figure out if you need anything new at all. He continues, "Sometimes you can repurpose an existing piece, change up the pillows or just move the furniture, and that's enough."

Don't Over-Theme

"One thing I notice as a designer is that a lot of people want a particular look for a room, but go overboard," Wood says. It's all well and good to have a nautical room, but when you have only blue and white stripes, rope knot pillows and porthole mirrors, things start to look strange. "An affinity or look is one thing, but you appreciate the look of a room more when it isn't over-themed," he adds.

Choose the Right White

"If you’re going to do white, you have to use the right white," Wood says. "There are a million whites out there. They can be pink, blue, or yellow, and once I found my favorites I stuck with them." His favorites:

•For a contemporary interior, crisp but warm: Benjamin Moore White Diamond
•For trim, a cooler feel: Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White
•For warmer interiors: Benjamin Moore White Dove
And how do you find the right white for you? Wood recommends getting a small board and painting it with your potential white. Move it around your room to see it at different times and with different light. The board is better than painting on the wall, Wood says, because, "If you paint one square on one wall that faces south and love it, what about how it looks on the north wall at night?" The board gives you a chance to live with the color, because no matter how easy it seems to repaint, it can be a real pain!

Don't Fight the Architecture

"If you have really amazing moldings, that's one thing. But highlighting the cheap casing--the frames around doors and windows--from the '70s and '80s (by painting the walls a contrasting color, for example) is another. There's no need to make a room into something it's not," Wood explains. Of course, what you love about your home is entirely up to you, but it's like dressing for your body (which we've discussed here)--emphasize your best assets and play down your weakest. That way, you're giving the best impression of yourself to the world. "Only highlight something when you love it," he adds.

Start With the Box

Wood looks at every room in stages, starting with the biggest stuff first. "What is a room, really?" He asks. "It's a box." When putting a room together, start big and get increasingly smaller in your changes: the walls (the box), things attached to the box (light fixtures and trim), large furniture and so on. "Sometimes a client will say, 'I like this coffee table,' at the beginning of a project. I say, 'Great, but we're not there yet.' That coffee table will give me hints as to the overall scheme, but we don't start with the coffee table."

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