My Best Tips To Design A Space From Start To Finish

When you’re staring at a blank room, unsure of what the heck to put in it, it can feel very overwhelming. I remember when we purchased our current home and I couldn’t wrap my head around decorating this entire house from scratch! We were coming from a small condo and I now had four bedrooms to design! How the heck was I going to do it? The answer? Little by little.

I took the approach of decorating and renovating our home room by room, very slowly. Yes, that did mean that some spaces were left alone for a long time, not looking their best. But going slowly has worked well for me as I’ve figured out my design style and how I want our entire home to feel. I’m not a professional interior designer. I’m just a girl who has slowly created a home that she truly loves!

Enjoying our modern organic bedroom

If you’re struggling to design a space, I am here to help! I want to walk you through my step-by-step process to take a room from a blank canvas to something you truly love. Let’s dive into it!

Start With Measurements

Measuring for a kitchen renovation

The first thing I do is grab my tape measure, a pencil, and some paper. I take measurements of the entire room so I can later use those numbers to create an accurate floor plan. (More on that in a few minutes.) I recommend measuring the length of all of the walls, and the height of the ceiling, and take note of any windows, doors, and room obstacles. This is the first step towards creating a room layout that works.

Figure Out The Function & Feel

Painting our bedroom gray blue

This next part might sound creepy, but I then just spend some time in that space. Even if it’s empty, I’ll sit on the floor and spend at least 15 to 30 minutes gazing around. I want to get a sense of how it feels to physically be in that room. I look at the windows and envision future window treatments. I try to imagine paint colors or furniture that might work in the space.

I just spend time in the space to get a sense of how I want to feel in that new space. Do I want to feel cozy? Invigorated? Calm? Playful? What feelings do I want the room to emit when it’s all finished? I know this might sound a tad woo-woo, but it’s a crucial step in the creative process!

Our main bedroom in our finn fixer upper

After feeling, comes function. I list out what I need in the room. If it’s a bedroom, I need a bed. Do I also need a dresser? I think about the functions of the space and make a list of the must-haves for that particular space.

Use A Free Floor Planner

Moody bedroom design plan- the new layout for the space

Now that I have my measurements and a sense of how I want the room to function, I can start to play around with different furniture arrangements. I use the design software for all of my floor plans. It’s free, very user-friendly, and works well for effective space planning. It does take a little while to get used to the software, but once you do one space, you’ll be set for any future rooms.

Moody bedroom design - how to create the perfect layout

This is my main tool when working on your design dilemmas. Readers will email me photos and measurements, and since I can’t be in the physical space, I rely on the floor planner to make sure that any furniture I recommend will fit. This is how I plan out all of the room layouts that I work on.

My floor plan for a new living room turned home office

Once I get the room’s measurements into the planner, I can then play around with the furniture placement, rug sizing, scale of furniture, and more. It gives you both an overhead 2D view and a 3D view where you can move around the space. Let me know if there is another room design app that you use for your interior design process. And if you want a low-tech option, you can always grab some graph paper and floor plan that way!

Keep These Layout Mistakes In Mind

The back of our couch in the living room

When playing around with the arrangement of furniture, I want to highlight a few design mistakes I see quite often.

  • Don’t push all of the furniture against the walls: I have an entire blog post about this design no-no. So many people automatically push every piece of furniture to the perimeter of the room, especially in the living room. This leaves a lot of dead space in the middle. Don’t be afraid to float your sofa! I walk you through my tips to correct this mistake right here.
  • Don’t ignore scale: This is another common mistake I see when it comes to buying furniture. You don’t want a bunch of tiny pieces in a room or a few ginormous pieces either. This blog post walks you through my best tips to master scale and proportion in design.
  • Do create zones: If you have a larger room to design, you may want to break it up into multiple zones. The best way to do this is with a rug to anchor each space. This is a good way to make a big space feel cozier.

Gather Inspiration

How I use Trello to Plan my week

You now have a sense of the layout of the room and what you’ll need to make it a functional space. The next step is to figure out how you want it to look and feel. This is where social media comes in handy for me. If I’m working on a particular room, I will spend a good chunk of time just gathering pretty images. I’ll save Instagram photos to a folder or create a new Pinterest board of ideas.

save your favorites on pinterest when you design a space from scratch

When doing this, I’m not looking for the perfect room to emulate. Instead, I’m just pinning anything that strikes my fancy and noting what I like about it. For example, I might love the wall color of a room, but not the furniture style. I just take some time to gather inspiration and compile it all in one spot.

how to use pinterest when designing a space

I don’t think that you ever really have to put a name to your personal style. I have a hard time even describing what my home’s style is. Instead, it’s about figuring out the vibe, shapes, and color palette that you’re most drawn to.

You can look at all of the images you’ve saved and get a general sense of what you’re drawn to. Maybe you’re pinning a lot of bold and eclectic styles with color. Or maybe you’re saving neutral spaces with a lot of texture. Take note of the similarities, color schemes, and different elements between all of your pins, and run with it!

Make A Mood Board

Mood board to tutorial

Okay, here’s where the real fun begins for your design project. Start to shop around and create a mood board for the space. I walk you through my entire process to create a mood board in Canva (It’s free!) right here. This step-by-step tutorial is a must if you want to create your mood boards.

Moody bedroom design plan
Mood Board From This Design Dilemma

This mood board is crucial before you start shopping and buying. You want to make sure that the rug you love will look nice next to the couch fabric you’re eyeing. I use my mood board as a tool to “try on” different pieces of furniture or accessories in a room. I can love a particular dining table and another dining chair, but if I put them on the mood board and they look off, I know that I need to go in a different direction.

Don’t Neglect Lighting

My real review of our Castlery dining table

I also want to emphasize lighting. It’s not just about the furniture in a space. You can’t neglect the lighting! Even if the space gets a lot of natural light, you need additional light sources for ambient lighting. Again, this goes back to the function of the room. Do you need task lighting for a workspace or home office? Or lamps to make a living room feel cozy at night? This blog post goes into depth covering my lighting guidelines.

Figure Out Your Color Palette

my basement design plans

This step could come before you start mood boarding or after. Sometimes I have a particular statement piece that I know I want in a room and I then create the room’s color palette around that piece.

Our new basement furniture

For example, in our basement, I knew that I was adding this gorgeous panoramic wallpaper and I chose my wall color based on how it complemented the paper. Same for the couch, rug, and other pieces in the space. I wanted to make sure that the elements of each item worked well together. Your “anchor piece” can help with the overall color scheme.

Mood Board Tip: In Canva, you can “try on” different paint colors with your mood board. Google the paint color you’re considering and download a picture of it. Upload that to Canva and you can set it as your background color. I’ll often do this to see how a paint color might look with the various pieces I’m considering purchasing.

Use Your Floor Planner (Again!)

A long and narrow living room layout option

Before you start buying, make sure you input the potential furniture pieces back into your floor plan. You may have added a 60″ couch to your original floor plan, but you found a 75″ couch that you love. Will it work in the space? Make sure you input pieces of the same size into the software to double-check.

I also love the low-tech option of taping out the dimensions on the floor using painter’s tape. This can give you a good sense of how a piece will feel in a space and how large of a walkway you might need between pieces before you buy. Traffic flow is essential for proper space planning, so don’t neglect this important step.

Make An Action List

I’m a girl who loves a to-do list, so this is when I start making a room’s to-do list. I’ll list out exactly what needs to get done and in what order. Perhaps I have to paint the room first, while I wait for my large furniture pieces to arrive. Or maybe I want to add a DIY element to the space like picture frame molding or beadboard. Create a step-by-step plan to get your space done from start to finish.

Get Started!

My favorite room transformations

It’s finally time to bring your room together. All of this planning has led to this moment. You can start shopping, DIYing, and buying to your heart’s content. I want to note that rooms take time and it may not be realistic to buy $5,000 worth of new furniture for a room all at once. I’m always a fan of mixing old and new pieces in a space for a collected and layered feel. That might mean that the space will take a bit longer to pull together (thrifting takes time!), but it will be worth it in the end.

Ellis' nursery reveal

Having an idea of exactly what you need (thanks to that floor plan and mood board) helps when it comes time to shop. I suggest putting the information for the pieces you’re looking for into the notes app on your phone. That way, if you’re out and something catches your eye, you can have the ideal dimensions and info with you!

My best living room coffee table ideas

This blog post also has all of my best tips when it comes to shopping for home items, including a few money-saving ideas. And when you get to my absolute favorite part of the design process – the accessories and styling – you can check out this blog post with ideas to add your personality to a room. It’s chock full of clever solutions to display personal items throughout your new room.

Tweak As You Go

Similar roman shades

Rarely do I have a room turn out exactly like the mood board. I’m often pivoting and tweaking as the room takes shape. That’s okay and part of the overall design process. As long as I love the end result, and I had a fun time along the way, I’m happy!

My best tips to design a room from start to finish

I hope you found this room planning post to be helpful. It was fun to outline the steps I take when designing a space from start to finish. No matter what types of spaces you’re working on, I think this process comes in handy.


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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