Insider tips for home decorating

Decorating your home is not a big conspiracy – whatever your budget, there are quick and easy things you can do to make your interiors sing. From writing a design brief to finding your style – here are some inside decorating tips to get you styling your home like a professional.

1. HOW TO FIND YOUR INTERIOR DECORATING STYLE

The "Style & Error" technique is a fundamental method of solving problems, including design and interior decorating ones. "Style & Error" means repeated, varied attempts, until you find a style that is just right. It can be as unsystematic as you like. Don't expect this to be a finite or static thing either… the "Style & Error" operation will continue throughout your life.

Each new life phase or new property will force your hand, to somewhat reinvent your ideas on style. This is the ridiculously fun part – embrace it!

2. LAYER YOUR LIGHTING

Great interiors have a variety of layered lighting that can be individually controlled for different times of the day, events or moods.

Most rooms require three types of lighting: general, accent, and task. Ambient or general lighting illuminates a room in a fairly uniform manner.

Accent lighting is used to emphasise a room's features, such as art and decorative objects.

Task lighting is all about directional and adjustable light sources – think reading lights and study lamps. Try and illuminate most of your room with an assortment of lights and lamps, preferably all fitted with dimmers. And please, enough already with down lights!

3. CREATE A DESIGN BRIEF

Even if you are going to be your own designer it's important to follow a process. It all starts with the design brief… or perhaps a long wish list. A good design brief should focus on the outcome of the design. A design brief is often referred to as a scope of works.

It includes details on all elements that need to be covered in the project, a shopping list of needs and wants, together with ideas on the budget and timeline.

4. DRAW INSPIRATION FROM A RANGE OF SOURCES

I like to brainstorm all, and I seriously mean ALL my options, from the modest to the deliciously over-the-top. Travel, magazines, journals and trade shows help to keep a designer up to date with new products and materials, and even design ideas.

5. MAKE GOOD USE OF SAMPLES

I love a good sample. A sample pot, cutting, brushout, catalogue. Samples are a very useful tool – at the beginning of a project they represent possible options, a collection of ideas that are worthy of consideration.

The sample becomes a reference for many other materials, too. As the project develops the samples represent a record of selections. Always try and keep TWO samples – one is a "working sample" used to reference colour and texture as the project develops.

The other sample needs to stay in the master file. This sample will enable you to access the all-important code and colour numbers when you need to.

6. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

Many stores and suppliers will let you take pieces like artwork and rugs home on "appro". Rugs and artwork are two VIP "try before you buy" candidates.

I would even suggest that it's impossible to make a great rug selection without first viewing it insitu. The lovely exception is if you have the opportunity to simply buy what you like and build the perfect room around it.

7. REALLY UNDERSTAND YOUR SPACE

The easiest way to understand the size of a space is mock it up within a large room (or even a shed!). Include the key items of furniture, either by using real pieces or a stack of cardboard boxes to resemble the volume.

Masking tape and chalk can help with this process, too. The idea is to figure out what you need and where you can cheat.

8. CONSIDER FURNITURE AND FLOW

Allow for a generous corridor in a room, making it easy to move around and pass someone. Apply this generosity to the garden path, too.

Study the possible movement patterns on your floorplans – use different colours to track possible routes. Flipping the orientation and configuration of furniture in a room can dramatically improve the experience of how you live within it.

9. SPEND TIME (AND MONEY) ON CUSHION SELECTION

You need more time and disproportionately more budget to get these right. Understand that symmetrical positioning of cushions makes things more formal and structured.

Symmetry tends to work well in bedrooms and lounge rooms, but I would note a preference for keeping this look in the bedroom. Symmetry often means LESS cushions so this can be used as a strategy to manage budget constraints.

Random cushions need more "Style & Error" testing (see point 1) than just about any other item.

Cushion colours need to relate to something else in the room, but beware of the "perfect match" – this can easily go wrong. Play with pattern, but do try to work within just one or two same colour palettes.

Patterns can either be a similar scale or a balanced mix – just make sure you throw in a couple of low-key options or block colours so the eye has somewhere to rest.

Finally, play with shape too; larger cushions should be placed at the back, and layered forward to create a mix.

10. UNDERSTAND THAT CHAIRS ARE TO INTERIORS WHAT SHOES ARE TO FASHION

You know what they say about shoes: they will make or break an outfit. It's the same with chairs. Think of them as accessories. They are the perfect design tool to add sass to any interior.

It's sensible to play it safe on really big-ticket items like sofas, rugs and dining tables but chairs can defy the rules. Let loose. Fake fur, animal prints, velvet, vintage leather… Just remember that a chair has to be comfortable.

11. KNOW THE SECRET BEHIND GOOD CURTAINS

Please order full-height curtains only – and do take the rod or track right to the ceiling. Better yet, conceal the track inside a recessed pelmet.

12. CUT THE CLUTTER, CRAP AND CHAOS

Everything you own will be better for it. And so will your mental health. Go through your house, room by room, and seriously remove the crap. Keep only things that are both functional and beautiful.

This is the single biggest thing you can do for your home and the really great news is you can usually do it in a day (OK, maybe a week). If you don't know where to start, take everything out, bar the basic big-ticket furniture items, and "interview" all the other items before they gain entry back into the room. "Do you really belong here?"

13. IF YOU WANT GOOD STORAGE, PLAN IT

Be space-aware and "use" all the unused spaces. For lovers of books, magazines, ceramics, guitars, CDs, DVDs, kitchen accoutrements, say hello to joinery.

Joinery has gone viral and is inspiring household displays around the world. Joinery, bookshelves or storage display units can be designed to fit precisely what you need them to.

14. GET SOME EXTRA FABRIC WHEN ORDERING YOUR DREAM SOFA OR CHAIR

Always order an extra 3 or 4 metres of sofa fabric – this is your insurance policy. The fabric will be in the same dyelot as your original order which means should the unthinkable happen you will be able to re-cover a couple of large base or back cushions.

If you have pets, order enough of your sofa or chair fabric to make a throw-style blanket to cover the sofa or chair. This can live on the sofa day-to-day and be whipped off at a moment's notice to reveal nice clean hair-free furniture.