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3 Tips for Finding Your Decorating Style

by | Mar 9, 2009 | Details, Finding your style

3 Tips for Finding Your Decorating Style

I took some time Sunday afternoon to do something I love — sit in a big comfy chair surrounded by stacks and stacks of my favorite magazines. Bliss!

While I have leafed through these same pages dozens of times, the ideas feel fresh and new again when you’ve moved into a new home. What may have been overlooked as ‘not right’ for the last house is quite possibly BRILLIANT for the new home.

I have gone through this magazine ritual in each of the six homes I have called my own. I love looking for clues as to what my new home will could like, room by room — how it will feel, what the ambience and character of the home will be. While I mostly use what furnishings I already have, each home has a unique personality that can be incorporated into the overall mood of the decor.

I know not everyone wants to risk looking at magazines for fear of “room envy,” but I don’t seem to suffer too much from that! I love to dream and drool over what I see and then find ways to recreate the feel with what I already have. It is something I have loved to do since I was very young — a simple pleasure that stirs up my creativity and contentment with what I have been blessed with.

If you get stuck on where to begin with a decorating project or are confused as to what direction you are going with your home, here are three tips I use to define my style and give some clarity to my thoughts:

TIP #1:
Brainstorm ‘inspiration words’ to define your style & the mood of your home.

Think about places you love (or would like to go!), the style of your home’s architecture, the landscape or terrain around your home, inspiration from favorite books, flowers, hobbies, etc. (For more help in finding inspiration words, skip to tip #3!). Use a few inspiration words to paint a picture in your mind of what your home will look like.

I came up with a few inspiration words or ideas for the style of my house:

water (we can see a lake from our house and are near Puget Sound so water is everywhere around our home),
a getaway (my husband and I would love our home to feel like a getaway or vacation home for ourselves and our guests),
adventure (we love old maps, things collected from travels, books, etc).
ships (we love the idea of compasses, ships, porthole mirrors, etc.)
old world (we love the character, texture and richness of old world ambience)

TIP #2:
Make a list of treasures you’d like to collect or find over time.

Once you have a short list of inspiration words, you can zero in on appropriate ideas to focus on as you move forward with your projects, rather than go with every style whim or buy every random trinket you see.

Making a list of the kinds of things you want to have in your home helps save tons of money (no more random purchases you don’t know what to do with) and gives you some fun things to scout out at garage sales or thrift stores.

It also helps you WEED OUT the things you no longer need in your home.

TIP #3:
Find appropriate inspiration photos.

Look for photos in magazines that evoke the feelings you want to have in your home. For best results, find rooms that have something in common with yours, such as size or style of windows, similar room layouts, comparable architectural styles or other similarities.

Don’t get hung up on worrying that it is an expensive room full of things  you can’t have. That is stinkin’ thinkin’. Recreating a look on a budget is fun and completely doable.

Decide what you love about the inspiration room and find a way to get the same feeling for less money. Focus on a few small details that are easy to reproduce, like open shelving displays, types of lighting, color schemes, curtain styles, mix of woods or fabric patterns you love.

I designed or decorated my last three kitchens based on inspiration photos, it really helps! There is no shame in being inspired by beautiful rooms.

What should you do with your inspiration photos?
See this related article:
Inspiration Boards and Notebooks


  1. living with lindsay

    Thanks for these great tips! I find it hard to focus on exactly what I want, so keeping these tips in mind should certainly help!

  2. Becky K.

    I am going to try this!

    In the past I have just come up with a picture in my mind and worked from it with no external help. It is ok but is way too easy to get drawn off course when something else catches my eye.

    I need to be more intentional in my design.

    Have a great week!

    Becky K.s inspiring blog post..Honey Wheat Bread…and a Diagnosis

  3. Amanda

    Girl you & I are cut from the same cloth. I could not agree more. My favorite hobby- a cup of tea, a cozy chair & piles & piles of magazines. I keep all my magazines because you never know when you might see something in a new light. BH&G, Traditional Home, Romantic Homes, Victoria, Creative Home- I have em all!!

  4. duchess

    Great advice. A lot of people get overwhelmed by magazines – personally, I love every one I can get my hands on.

  5. Adrienne

    Great ideas! I love to go through my magazines – over and over again – and find the tiny, little details I’ve missed or that work for ‘now’. Can’t wait to see what you decide for your new home. ~Adrienne~

    Adriennes inspiring blog post..You Are God’s Idea

  6. suzanne

    Oh, i agree….give me some magazines and a cuppa something and I am a happy camper! I love to find inspiration in magazines, but like you, often it is just a starting point for my own inspiration. They give lots of food for thought and inspiration!

    suzannes inspiring blog post..I’m going to be doing some of this today……..

  7. Shannan

    I have been keeping 3-ring binders of pages that I tear out of decorating mags for years! I refer to them all of the time. Just last night, my hubby and I looked through the Big One searching for flooring ideas. It’s such a great resource for me. And my love for magazines started way back when, too. As a child, there was nothing better than when the big JC Penney catalog arrived. I loved “shopping” in it and would practically have it memorized by the time the next one rolled in!

    Shannans inspiring blog post..Stealing Beauty

  8. black eyed susans kitchen

    My style, ever evolving, I also save and look through magazines again and again. It is only this year though, that I started to put the pictures onto a board instead of into a book. I think that the board is a brilliant idea.
    ♥, Susan

    black eyed susans kitchens inspiring blog post..PERFECT DAY AND PUSSY WILLOWS

  9. Vee

    All right. I’m going to put your tips to work at some point today. I have a great pile of magazines as inspiration and your blog and so many others… I can do this!

    Vees inspiring blog post..Flea Market Finds

  10. LuLu

    Wonderful post!!! I find magazines to be the best tool for inspiration and you are right drooling over photos gets me so energized!! Your ideas for your new home water, spa, maps etc sounds perfect! Can’t wait to see all you do! Have a great day, you inspired me to pour a cup of tea and sit with a magazine to get energized!

    LuLus inspiring blog post..Welcome To Our Garden Party!

  11. Sabrina

    I love to do the same thing with my old stacks of decorating magazines. It never fails that I find an idea that i completely overlooked before.
    Thanks for all your great tips!

  12. Penny

    Wonderful tips! I do this! Remember the HGTV show Sensibly Chic? They recreated expensive designer rooms for alot let….. Sometimes they got stuck trying to “match” it perfectly. I love finding a room that inspires me, then interpet it my way.

    I am starting an inspiration board for my master bedroom….

  13. Carole

    I love doing that! I just returned 5 great books on beach houses to the library. We had such fun going through them.

    You find a look you like, and adapt it to what you already own, and add a bit of your own personality to it. It’s a lot of fun.

    And then to hit flea markets and antique stores to find treasures that will fit in is fun too. Spring is coming!

    Caroles inspiring blog post..Spring Gardening Fever

  14. kerri d

    I always start with great intentions, even doing all the suggested things… then forget half of my list/board/words while I’m actually picking out the fabric/paint/etc… I love ’em but I do blame the new magazines each month for my fickleness.

    kerri ds inspiring blog post..A Walk in the Parque

  15. Robin Rane' ~ All Things Heart & Home

    Love it! I find it very difficult to throw out magazines so I tear out the pictures that speak to me and put them together in a notebook! I’m on my second big notebook and have been doing this for years…now I call it my inspiration notebook since I heard that term and it’s perfect!
    Can’t wait to see what you’ve chosen for this house :)

    Robin Rane’ ~ All Things Heart & Homes inspiring blog post..Baby Shower!

  16. Lazy Mom Leslie

    I can’t wait to see pictures of the room that you come up with based on your tips! Great ideas to get someone started, thanks for sharing.

    Lazy Mom Leslies inspiring blog post..Keep A Basket Handy

  17. Kim

    Great post Melissa! I love to look through magazines and pick out things that will work in our house. Things like water, maps, and boats work for me, too!

    Kim @ Forever Wherevers inspiring blog post..Shell Frame Tutorial and Giveaway!!!

  18. Pam D.

    This may sound crazy, but as an old classic movie buff, I love to watch the films that have fabulous homes in the backgrounds — over and over again . I get so many ideas for architectural details, window treatments, English or Early American furniture (great comfy chairs and elegant little tables, window seats with elegant moulding and fluffy pillows) from these great old movies! Even if the movie is so-so, I can enjoy it for all that great set in the background! A couple of examples — the original version of “The Women” is often shown on TCM, with Joan Crawford. The home that the main character lives in is to die for — much too large, but if you look at all the beautiful decorating it is the stuff my dreams are made of. Another one is “The Dark Angel” with Merle Oberon. So many cozy and lovely room ideas I’ve found in that one! The trouble is that I don’t have the picture in hand to convey to someone else like a contractor…so that’s when I hunt magazines to match what I’ve seen in those movies… :) But oh, what do you do to get rid of magazine clutter?

  19. A-M

    Great advice Melissa… as frankly, I do not know where to start. Step by step… first step ….. move in! (in 2 months or so). I’m going to start today by compiling a list of inspiration words to kick start finding my decorating style! You are always such a great help! A-M xx

  20. Heathahlee

    Thanks for the advice! I need to pare down my magazine page collection. I started to last night, but then realized there were two more magazines I hadn’t gotten to, so I couldn’t start weeding quite yet. I’m glad I read this beforehand, though, so I can really cut out stuff I won’t really use.

    Heathahlees inspiring blog post..Darling Daffodils

  21. Gennaro

    Never thought to approach decor with a brainstorming seesion for inspirational ideas. Interesting concept. It makes sense as it’s great to build a living environment that is consistent with your core interests.

    Gennaros inspiring blog post..Road Warriors: Bloggers In Motion

  22. teresa

    Loved all the tips and I’ve used a few in the past. My delima now- is my husband is starting to have decorating opinions, now that we are empty Nester’s {go figure} , where for the past 30 years not so much. {so I need to figure out how to work his ideas and mind together.}
    Have a wonderful day-

    teresas inspiring blog post..Mr. Mac

  23. Katie

    Thanks for the tips on developing inspirational themes for decorating. I am off to look through some magazines to find some great ideas!

  24. Pat

    I do these same things, Melissa. I still have the notebook/scrapbook and an album of photos from before we built our home.
    The album pf photos, I took at home tours etc, is one I look through, now and again, as I sit in front of the fireplace in the hearth room. The scrapbook has pages from various magazines. I also did a large story board when it was time to get down to the business of putting all those ideas together in ways that worked for our home.

    Of course, our home has evolved over the last 6.5 years, but all these “tools” were valuable and I enjoy looking back.

    Pats inspiring blog post..~The Double Bonnet Secretary~

  25. kris

    Thanks for these great and useful tips.
    Like you I love flipping through magazines.
    My problem is I like several styels for many reasons. I have yet to pinpoint a specific style and say….Yeah that’s it!

    Have a happy day


    kriss inspiring blog post..Monday’s Music…….On My Way To A Dream

  26. Melissa Lewis - Off The Wall

    Love your tips here Melissa! I, like you, have stacks upon stacks of magazines I got through from time to time. They never seem to get “old”. New ideas pop out at me every time I sift through the pages.

    Melissa Lewis – Off The Walls inspiring blog post..Monday Inspiration – Splashes of Color

  27. LeeAnn

    My previous decorating style has been “accept whatever free furniture somebody gives you.” Or “pick a paint color totally unrelated to anything else in the house.” But after five years in this house, I’m trying to make a cohesive look for all the rooms. We have a small house with a lot of people in it. I like so many things, it’s been hard to commit to one style. Thanks for the tips though. It’s made me think about what is really important to me.

    LeeAnns inspiring blog post..Attempt at discovering "My Style"

  28. Kim

    Great ideas! I think looking through magazines for decorating ideas is one of my favorite hobbies.

    Kims inspiring blog post..Wreath Questions

  29. Courtney

    great tips. I am big on using magazines for inspiration. I just cut out lamps, wall colors, as it doesn’t always have to the entire room that’s pictured giving me the inspiration!

    Courtneys inspiring blog post..‘moms night in’, such a fun time!

  30. Debbykay

    Yes! Keeping photos and other ideas from magazines is a great way of communicating ideas — even if it is just with your hubby! It is so helpful to have these snipets to convey our notions, especially when we have ideas so clearly in our head about a look and feel we are trying to create! Your post was a great reminder! Love the suggestions to be so organized.


    Debbykays inspiring blog post..Inspired by Red

  31. Angela

    This is a wonderful post – I feel ya! All it takes is one picture et voila, the creative juices and ideas start flowing!

    Angelas inspiring blog post..Random and Sincere Thoughts…

  32. meg duerksen

    i haven’t forgotten you. :)
    i love being able to come back here and you are just FULL of good ideas.
    i am going to do what you asked of me…soon.
    but life got crazy busy. i think it will slow down eventually here. i hope.

    love all these ideas. you are so helpful!
    how’s that new house treating you?!

    meg duerksens inspiring blog post..jewels for cora

  33. Melissa

    This is such a great post and so helpful! :)

  34. Ashlyn Carter

    such a wonderful post. you are so gifted! :)

    Ashlyn Carters inspiring blog post..loving this: nature meets home.

  35. Ashlyn Carter

    such a wonderful post. you are so gifted! :)

  36. Noelle Tomco

    I feel you are a kindred spirit. Ever since I was a young tween I’ve gorged myself on houseplans, house decorating magazines and paint colors. Now that my husband and i are finished with our twelve years of school and i have the opportunity to put it all to use i’m terrified i won’t like anything. i just found your site and i love it. we’re moving to anacortes – maybe i’ll run into you at pike place market.

    Noelle Tomcos inspiring blog post..Babysitting ad

  37. Miss Mouthy

    I love this idea. I recently started an image folder on my desktop. Super easy way to “store” images I love. Plus, I can play it as a slide show. Love it!

    Miss Mouthys inspiring blog post..Did You Earn a Gold Star Today?

  38. heidi

    I found my love of doing this as a girl too.
    My parents built a house from the ground up when I was a young teen so we had all these home planning and decor mags lying around for a full year. I would just pour over them – I’d find a blue print I liked and then put notebooks together containing clippings of rooms I found in the decor mags that I’d envision the rooms in the blue print to look like. ;)

  39. vonda jessup

    I have always loved anything that had to do with fixing up a house…even when I was young I always had a doll house to play with and fix up redoing it nearly every month..Keep up the good work sharing your ideas with others. Love, Vonda

  40. Krystal

    I just found your blog this morning while having a bit of a design identity crisis. Thank you so much for all your advice on personalizing a home! You have been so helpful! Please continue to do what you do!!!

    • Melissa

      Aw, thanks so much! :-)


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