Design Pros Share the Questions Their Clients Ask Most Often (& the Answers!)

Design Pros Share the Questions Their Clients Ask Most Often (& the Answers!)

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Julia Brenner
Mar 20, 2017
(Image credit: Reagen Taylor )

"Where do I put my TV?" "Do dark walls really make a room look smaller?" "Is wood flooring okay in the kitchen?" There are just some design quandaries that feel universal. And because sometimes it's reassuring to get a professional opinion, I reached out to six trusted design professionals to find out what the most commonly asked questions are that they get from clients. Chances are, some of these may be on your own list of design dilemmas.

Expert: Naomi Stein of Design Manifest

Most asked question:

"How do I embrace kitchen and bath trends in a non-permanent way, so that the space feels of-the-moment now, but avoids looking dated in the future?"

Professional opinion:

"Keep the cabinetry and tile simple and classic, and indulge in a trend via lighting, hardware, textiles or bar stools. These elements can take a plain-Jane kitchen and jazz it up, and when you're ready to update, they'll be relatively easy to swap out for something new again."

Examples in Action:

Amy and Todd's kitchen reads as very of-the-moment, but on closer inspection, it's really just the presence of their bright red mod kitchen stools and boldly colored kitchen accessories that create this effect. Swapping to more traditional seating and accessories would easily create a different tone.

The ultra modern look of Nick and Andrew's kitchen is largely due to their use of black accent paint. Their cabinetry is neutral, so if they choose to move away from this aesthetic, they can do so easily by changing the paint color to a softer or more neutral shade, or even trading out the hardware to match their new style.

Expert: Erica Lugbill of Lugbill Designs

Most asked question:

"What's better to use in the kitchen: wood or tile flooring?"

Professional opinion:

"I love continuing wood floor into the kitchen. It creates better flow throughout your home and makes the space feel larger, rather than transitioning to tile in certain spaces. Anytime you switch flooring material, it catches your eye and breaks up the space. Just be careful to clean up spills in a timely manner in the kitchen so you don't damage the wood floors!"

Examples in Action:

(Image credit: Lugbill Designs)

This photo is from one of Erica's projects and shows how hardwood flooring serves to create an extended flow and amplifies the space of this fairly narrow kitchen. A runner would help to quickly soak up any spills.

(Image credit: Briitany Makes)

For the best of both worlds, you can still achieve the look Erica describes using an alternative, such as this porcelain tile, designed to emulate wood. The above photo is from the home of blogger Brittany Cramer of Brittany Makes. Check out this post on how to achieve this look.

Second most asked question (because one didn't cover it):

"I want to add color to my home but nervous about taking the plunge. Where do I start?"

Professional opinion:

"I love adding color via curtains, accent pillows, art prints (and frames!) and accessories. These items can be changed out with the season and are not a large commitment. Another great spot to integrate color is an accent chair or bench that can be reupholstered if you change your mind down the line."

Examples in Action:

Simram's tour is one of my favorites for demonstrating the power of creating a "colorful" room strictly through layering textiles and accessories. Her large pieces are very neutral but the room comes across as colorful and happy through Simram's low-commitment, easy-to-change decor choices.

Allison's living room is another example of a room that immediately translates as bright and colorful—but take a closer look and it's primarily the large-scale colorful artwork that is creating this effect. If the artwork were to be removed and a mirror or more muted piece of art were put in its place, the room wouldn't feel nearly as colorful. In fact, it'd basically be black and white.

Expert: Summer Thornton of Summer Thornton Design

Most asked question:

I'm a strong believer in intentionally not matching everything perfectly, which sometimes takes clients a bit to get used to—they'll ask "but shouldn't the metals all be the same finish?" or "but the wallpaper color doesn't match the rug perfectly, shouldn't they match?" to which I say, "absolutely not!"

Professional opinion:

"The variety of shades and hues is what makes a space feel layered, curated, and complex—if things are too matchy-matchy the design won't have enough depth."

Examples in Action:

Erin's home is a great example of various textures and earth tone hues working with bursts of gold and pops of brighter colors (her adjacent kitchen is a deep turquoise) to create both warmth and sophistication. Think complementary rather than "matchy-matchy".

Anne, whose home is featured in the above image, notes that her style "is a mixture of everything. We have a traditional sofa, antique textiles mixed in with Blithfield & Co., and mid-century abstract artwork." It is Anne's layering of these elements that creates such a richly cozy living room—and nicely reflects Summer's advice to embrace variety and complexity when decorating your home. And first and foremost, have fun celebrating your taste and what you love!

Expert: Suzanne Childress of Suzanne Childress Design

Most asked question:

"Where do I put my TV in my small living room/bedroom so it's not the main focus of the space?"

Professional opinion:

"With the increasing size of TVs, it can be difficult to hide them. I prefer to have the TV surrounded by a custom built-in cabinet or an entertainment unit. This helps balance the presence of the TV in the space. I am not a fan of putting the TV over the fireplace, except when absolutely necessary. On one project, I resolved this by installing an automated mechanism with a piece of the client's artwork mounted on top that slid up to watch TV and down to hide the TV. On another project I had to work around a very large TV, so I designed a cabinet with an articulating armature that allowed the TV to be easily visible in the room but was completely hidden behind folding doors when not in use. It kept the peace and worked well for my clients."

Examples in Action:

In this example, the TV is placed over the fireplace, which Suzanne doesn't love in theory, but I think this photo nicely illustrates Suzanne's advice that flanking a mounted TV with bookshelves can balance out the presence of the TV and prevent the black hole phenomenon that a mounted TV can create. The whole space is nicely balanced, with several visual points of interest.

While most of us are not able to custom build cabinetry to hide our TVs, we can achieve a similar result using available resources, such as Sanja's choice of a black accent wall, which causes her TV to recede into the background of her living room. Darker hued paint or a dark-toned console can help a TV blend into the larger context of a room rather than serving as a stark focal point.

Expert: Shelby Girard, Head of Design for Havenly

Most asked question:

"How does one merge styles when moving in together?"

Professional opinion:

"When it comes to merging styles, it's hard not to take things personally! We all want a place that is 'pulled together' so that we can feel satisfied in our homes. Therefore, disagreements and conflict typically occur in the decision making process around the small details. To help you cope, here are four nuggets of wisdom I regularly share with clients:

  • Begin the decorating process by talking about how you want each room to make you feel and to speak in more general terms first. This way, you'll set the tone and an overall goal that you can both refer to later.
  • When you venture into sharing your space with someone else, it's all the more considerate to think about how you can keep certain items stowed away. This step can be vital in avoiding passive-aggressive behaviors down the road.
  • Stay open minded and creative in how you use your items and how you apply color schemes. For example, teal might be your favorite color, but it doesn't mean that it is your roommate's/significant other's. The two of you may not be able to agree on a teal colored wall in the living room, but chances are much higher that you will be able to agree on some smaller teal-colored items.
  • Shop together! If both of you are bringing a majority of the items with you from previous homes, it's a good idea to consider going shopping together. This can be a lot of fun and a nice bonding experience."

Examples in Action:

Christine and David's first apartment together is a great example of a couple merging styles for the first time and, for the most part, enjoying the process. As Christine states:

"Before I moved in with David, the interior style was masculine; definitely a bachelor's pad. Together, we essentially redesigned our home completely, merging respective pieces and purchasing new and gently used items. I'd say we lean towards eclectic with a rustic modern feel. We both love nature and it's important to have elements that remind us of it like wood finishes, landscape artwork, collected shells + stones, and plants (lots of them!)."

Amy and Steph are two longtime best friends who decided to move in together—not because they had to but because they wanted to. They attribute their success at merging styles to keeping an open mind, generosity of spirit, and by expressing their individual personalities in their separate spaces, as their tour notes:

Amy and Steph have kept things simple but with a cool vintage flair. Their bedrooms are bright and speak to their own personalities (as well as the personalities of their dogs). The first floor has exciting, boldly colored walls, family heirlooms, and a couple of really awesome gallery walls. Amy and Steph don't necessarily label their styles—they just do what they want and what feels right. They're investing in their home and their belongings, and it really shows.

Expert: Jana Rosenblatt of Jana Design Interiors

Most asked question:

"Will dark or bright paint colors make my room look smaller?"

Professional opinion:

"It is usually lack of light that makes a room appear smaller than it is. I love color and suggest that you choose the shade and intensity that gives you the look and feel you desire, just make sure the room is well lit!"

Examples in Action:

In theory, blue and gray adjacent walls may sound like a muddy proposition, but a soft gray paired with a patterned blue wallpaper look classic and soothing in the context of a well-lit room with natural woods.

Theoretically, dusty rose walls, grays and blues seem like an overwhelming—maybe even gloomy combo—but the filtered light in this living room works with the bold colors to create an elegant and welcoming feel. If you're interested in trying a deeper wall color, test out a few small areas see how the colors play with the light in your room. You may be surprised!

I did Amy's house tour and so I can attest to the fact that her living room is not large (her entire apartment is only 700 square feet), but her bright yellow living room feels open and cheerful due to the ample sunlight during the day and smart lighting at night.

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