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5 Tips I've Learned From Working With an Interior Designer

From starting a room to finishing touches.
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It's been almost exactly a year since Geoffrey and I purchased what we're still referring to as our "new" house, and we've been using the majority of that time to slowly, thoughtfully design the space alongside Katie Hodges. It's such a unique privilege to be able to work with an interior designer—not only has our home come out better than we could have imagined, but it's also given me the opportunity to cull some tips directly from an expert.

You may have noticed that I haven't shared more than a few quick glimpses of our home, and that's because we've been working with House Beautiful on an exclusive feature that hits stands February with the full reveal! Until then, here are a few sneak peeks—and five of the simplest, and most effective, tips I've learned from Katie: 

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Before working with Katie, I underestimated what a key role curtains and draperies play in pulling together a room. This was most obvious in our living room, where we questioned getting drapes at all, but the moment we put them up, it felt like a new space that was approximately ten times better than before; significantly cozier and more finished

Katie's window treatments were custom-made, but I was able to find similar options online, which is what I did most recently in our guest room. I chose this rod and matching rings in matte black and two of these panels from Pottery Barn. 

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If possible, call a local drapery company or designer to measure your windows and suggest window treatments. If done right, the effect of beautiful draperies is worth a splurge! 

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Our last house had plenty of pops of color, but throughout the process of moving into our new home, we ended up selling or donating some of our boldest and brightest pieces. After six years, many no longer fit my style. Similar to when you're investing in a classic piece for your wardrobe, in order for an item to feel timeless and classic, it's often best to go with the neutral option. Our goal for this house was to design it in a way that would feel soothing when you walked in, with pops of neutrals like olive green and heather grey against the beige color scheme, as opposed to primary and neon colors. Katie's color choices helped to make the house feel cohesive and warm, with classic shades I can't imagine ever getting sick of. 

The trick to keep the house from feeling boring is to play with different textures and patterns. For example, we have an olive throw over our velvet couch in the same shade, which adds nice dimension. Katie shared a bit more below! 

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If you’re color-averse and prefer a more neutral tonal palette, it’s important to remember the following principles to prevent the space from falling flat and feeling boring: 1) Vary textures and fabric weaves when going tonal, 2) Contrast adds dimension and impact…use is wisely. i.e. Do not choose beige for every item in the room, and 3) Pillows, candles, accessories, and books are key in adding interest and pops to a room.

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There are a lot of different theories on where to start when designing a room, but when Katie designed our living room, she began with the rug because it can be easier to build from the ground up than to work backwards. She explained it this way: "For living rooms, I usually start with the rug because it’s easier to find a sofa fabric around a rug than the other way around. Similarly with the dining room, we needed to confirm the rug before selecting upholstery fabric."

One thing I've struggled with in the past is finding the right size for a room, but sites like Lulu and Georgia have helpful online guides I've referenced in the past. From there, I use a tape measure and painters' tape to map out the size of the rug on the ground and confirm that the size is right—if you have a rug that's too small, it can make the space feel claustrophobic and a too-large rug can feel clownish. 

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For rooms with significant or special upholstery pieces, start with the rug because there are far more fabric than rug options. However, if your design calls for drama in the drapes or a colorful piece of furniture as the design starting points, it’s perfectly acceptable to select the rug once the "stars of the show" have been cast. 

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In working with Katie, I knew I wanted a relaxed California vibe that was elevated, but not so polished that every room felt untouchable. A big part of that formula comes down to mixing vintage, worn pieces with newer items. This really came into play in our bedroom, where we combined modern touches, like our streamlined bed frame and a chair upholstered in a teddybear fabric with a worn-in vintage rug and weathered wood side table. 

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My favorite pieces to purchase vintage are: chairs (dining and armchairs), rugs, and accessories.

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A lot of the pieces Katie finds for final touches—a rustic bowl on top of a stack of books, candlestick holders for the fireplace mantle—are neutral, and often have a vintage or handmade element to them, like a ceramic vase that's been chipped over years of use. And while it's easy to find curated pieces like these in high-end boutiques, they're also readily available in places like flea markets, estate sales, eBay, and Etsy. Once you have a few search terms to rely on (like "primitive bowl," "rustic vase," or "chipped jug"), you'll uncover a treasure trove of objects that add an amazing amount of warmth and depth to a space.

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When we accessorize homes, we pick books with varying shades of neutral bindings that coordinate with the room. Also, mix materials: wood, ceramic, plaster, and stone are all fantastic when mixed.

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