Serious Question: How are We Supposed to Find Design Inspo These Days?

published Mar 21, 2021
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Once upon a time — you know, before our homes turned into our offices, gyms, restaurants, and coffee shops — many of us were in no shortage of new design inspiration. New ideas were everywhere: the trendy new restaurant that just opened around the corner, your friend’s place, and that awesome hotel you stayed at during your last vacation. Now though? A year since goodbye was said to any semblance of normalcy? Well, it’s only natural to feel aesthetically stunted. I mean, staring at the same four walls isn’t exactly exhilarating.

Sure, social media is a great way to score inspiration, but there’s only so much scrolling a person can do in a day. So what else can a design lover do to bring some innovation to a space? Don’t worry: Help is on the way! Several interior designers shared their go-to methods for finding inspiration these days. Though their responses run the gamut from television shows to gorgeous colors that are hiding in plain sight (really!), one thing’s for sure: Their responses prove that inspiration is all around — you just need to know where to look.

Your camera roll

Raise your hand if you’re spending a lot more time on your phone? Trust me, you’re not alone here. Instead of seeking inspiration from other people’s feeds, designer Liz Caan likes to take a walk down memory lane via her phone’s camera roll. “Inspiration is curated a little differently these days,” she explains. “I have been finding it in my iPhoto albums and archives of photos I have taken over the years; the memories spark imagination and remind me about the inspiring places I have been.”

Remember all those snaps you took of that cool co-working space that you never ended up posting? Turns out that image might hold the key to sprucing up your space. Plus, a quick photo search can temporarily transport you to somewhere else mentally, and if that’s all the travel many of us can really do these days, sign me up. Looking through your camera roll can also be a good way to tease out what kind of interior style really suits you. Look for common color palettes, decorative motifs, patterns, and other elements that seem to pop up in the photos you take. These repeated details can reveal a lot about what you subconsciously gravitate towards and could be used to inform your home’s decor.

Credit: Minette Hand

The virtual world

If you are going to look at your social media feed for inspiration, why not get a little specific? Designer Kevin Isbell searches a specific geo-tag and often goes down a virtual rabbit hole as a jumping-off point when he’s researching inspirational images for a project.

“I’ve often found buildings or museums that I’d never heard of before only to find myself on their website or watching YouTube videos on the topic,” he explains. “While nothing can compete with physically being there, the internet and social media are full of firsthand accounts and images from everywhere on earth.”

Alternatively, other design pros turn to social media to find inspiration from their community. After all, there’s strength in numbers. “I find inspiration by looking to the people around me,” says Liana Thomson, a product developer at EQ3. “Instagram is often my main source for inspiration. As a platform, it allows me to connect with so many different people from all over the world that showcase their individual style. Seeing people and homes in different cities, from different backgrounds and cultures, is the best way to find new ways to incorporate color, texture, or a new design trend. “

Credit: If Walls Could Talk

Your home’s new needs

For designer Joelle Smith of If Walls Could Talk, our homes’ ever-changing roles have inspired her to transform the mundane into something beautiful. “COVID-19 has forced so many of us to work from home, and for most of my clients in Jamaica, there was no home office or workspace to transition to,” she explains. “So my design inspiration ironically comes from the new necessity that COVID has created: A designated workspace.”

Since home offices haven’t always been the norm, this time inside has encouraged Smith to think strategically about making the most of any given space. In her project shown above, the goal was to create a functional and inspirational workspace that still feels like home. “Being [in] a high-rise complex with not much green space, I also wanted to bring the tropics indoors with the rich blue leaf print wallcovering that also doubles as a backdrop for video calls and Zoom meetings,” Smith explains. “We designed the desk as an extension of the custom media unit in the living room to create cohesiveness throughout.” The result? The perfect mix of form and function, if I do say so myself.

Credit: Sylvie Li

Your past (or even your childhood home)

After spending so much time at home, many are motivated by nostalgia these days when it comes to what to listen to, watch, play, or even eat. For some, that longing for the good ‘ol days can actually offer plenty of design inspiration, too. “All this isolation has made me very introspective, which has really sparked a nostalgic streak, remembering all the homes I lived in,” explains designer Amy Sklar. “I think that I’m finding comfort in some of the designs I grew up with: floral linens (think Yves Delorme), curtains with matching cornice boxes, needlepoint pillows, fabric skirts on powder room sinks, fancy China. I think that the kids today call it ‘grandmillennial,’ but we called it ‘granny chic.'”

All that’s to say, which design trends did you love back in the day? Maybe more importantly, how can you update or reinvent your favorite pattern, color, or decor style for 2021? Was there something from your childhood home growing up that stuck with you? Maybe it’s time to look at some old photos or home videos and bring a little retro decor back into your life.

Your streaming queue

Ah Netflix, what would I do without you? Not only do your favorite streaming platforms offer endless entertainment, but they can also serve up some seriously good design inspiration, too. “The virtual world that we live in provides a lot of design inspiration,” say Janelle Hughes and Kim R. Williams, co-owners of KJ Design & Mortar Styling. “Set design in television and movies has served as a source of inspiration for us as we spend more time at home.”

For Sklar, her lineup of go-to television shows allows her to travel the world — no passport required. “Some of the most intriguing spaces I have seen have been the sets of “Westworld (Bernard’s house!),” the imperial Russian palace in “The Great,” the lake house in “Ozark,” and Ted Lasso’s quaint English neighborhood,” she says. “Let’s not forget that adorable island from the Allstate commercial! I want to go to there!”

Those coffee table books

Chances are your coffee table and bookshelves are adorned with piles of well-curated art and design books. Be honest though: Have you ever read them? Well, now might be the best time to do so. “I’ve made it a point to peruse all of the books that social media has made me too lazy to look at for the past few years,” designer Robert McKinley explains.”It’s been a whole new world of discovery that has been creatively satisfying.”

If you want to limit your screen time, trade in social media or your streaming services for a book, at least at night for some creative wind-down and inspiration-gathering time. Want to replenish your current selection? Check out our favorite tomes here.

The great outdoors

From grabbing a bite at your favorite socially-distanced park to making the most of your outdoor space (yes, even if that consists of just your fire escape), there’s a good chance you’re spending some time outside. So why not bring Mother Nature’s influence into your home?

Designer Gustave Carlson loves to go for afternoon walks — and picking up au naturel inspiration along the way. “Colors are moving toward a more organic and layered approach and less machine-like and slick,” he explains. “I find it is a direct response in myself toward trying to balance and be away from technology and get back to a garden or a cleaner, healthier environment.”

When designer Linda Sullivan, principal of Sullivan Design, goes for her regular walks and drives, she focuses on the artistry in her environment. Some highlights include the curvature in live oak branches, the color scheme in bark peeling from a eucalyptus trunk, and the rolling gold California hills. “We strive for our clients to have a sense of serenity and inspiration in their homes,” she shares. “By drawing upon nature, we are able to make wise design selections and create a home that is connected to the outside.”

Credit: Sarah Rocco

Those everyday moments

Let’s face it: The past year has felt like “Groundhog’s Day.” Many of us wake up, “go” to work a few feet from our bed, clean our home, make dinner, go to bed, repeat. Since many are doing the same thing virtually every single day, it’s hard to be inspired by your surroundings. No matter how monotonous your routine feels, however, you are always surrounded by design magic. You just need to stop and appreciate it.

“Design inspiration does not have to come from looking at other rooms,” says designer Rachel Cannon. “In fact, it probably shouldn’t. Color is all around us every day, from the piece of blueberry cheesecake at lunch to the drive on your way home. Pay attention to interesting color palettes and combinations that are everywhere to expand your creativity.”

On the other hand, DecoratorsBest’s Barbara Karpf found her color inspiration at the intersection of real life and pop culture. “I first fell in love with Nicole Kidman’s maxi green coat in “The Undoing” and began envisioning how that rich color would look in my NYC apartment,” she says. “Then I became mesmerized by Amanda Gorman and her Prada coat at the Inauguration. Gorman’s words and her glorious coat captivated my being and filled me with hope, and now my apartment will have bursts of yellow in it.”

It’s so easy to glide through each day, especially when they all start to blend together. However, take a cue from Cannon and Karpf by taking note of the beauty in your everyday moments.