Designer 101 How to Create a Design Plan

Use designer Kenneth Wingard’s 5-step process to create a foolproof design plan.

By: Kenneth Wingard

As much as we dream of how nice unlimited time and funds for a decorating project would be, the reality is usually different.

Taking on any project is daunting — especially one with as many moving parts as decorating — so coming up with a realistic design plan and budget is essential. Not only will it make the project more enjoyable, it will save you a lot of spousal stress along the way.

Here are five easy steps to coming up with a plan.

Step 1: Define the Scope of Your Project
Are you redecorating your entire house, just the public rooms, downstairs, the nursery? As tempting as it is to say you want to redecorate your entire home, try to limit the scope. You can still get satisfaction finishing a smaller project, and it’s better than becoming mired in a larger one.

Step 2: Come Up With a Budget
Do you want to spend 500 or 50,000 or somewhere in between? There’s no right or wrong answer.

A couple hundred dollars can go a long way in refreshing a bedroom, and 50,000 will fill an entire home with new custom furniture, but that may not be what you need or want. If you don’t have the budget to do everything right now, plan ahead. Know that you have 1,000 to do your living room and dining room this year, and you’ll have another 500 to do the master bedroom next year.

Remember, this isn’t something you want to go into debt for and it isn’t a race. Once you know how much you have to spend, divide it up into spending categories: 1,000 for a contractor, 500 for furniture and 100 for accessories.

Step 3: Start with a Completion Date
Timelines are often dictated by events: You want to have your dining room done for Thanksgiving, or the nursery needs to be finished by your due date, or the guest bedroom before your in-laws visit. If that’s the case, plan on having the room finished two weeks prior to when you need it, as this will give you some time for delays — which will inevitably happen.

Also, know that you can have several completion dates. If you have a lot you want to get done, look at the bigger picture and divide the project into stages. When we found out we were having twins, I came up with a 10-year decorating plan for the house. It starts with an ensuite nursery when the newborns came home, and then transitions through the toddler years when all three kids would move into a redecorated master bedroom, and finally into the elementary school years when we would give them their own rooms. It made a very daunting task very achievable.

Step 4: Work Backwards on a Schedule
Write it on a calendar so you get a clear visual of what needs to happen when. It will also let you know if your plan is realistic or not. If you need the dining room completed by Nov. 24, plan on having it finished by Nov. 10. Take into consideration whether you’re going to have to order any custom pieces and plug those dates in — a new dining room table could take four weeks to be delivered.

Is there any work that needs to be done to the room itself — floors refinished, a door widened, etc.? Get a quote on how long these will take from your contractor or handyman and plug that in.

In general, you’re going need to complete any messy construction work first, and then address your floors (carpet, tile, etc.), paint your walls, get your furniture in place, and add your accessories. Once you get all of this on your calendar, you may find that you needed to have started two months ago! If that’s the case, don’t panic and remember you’re in this for the long haul. Don’t be tempted to cut corners or choose the table that you don’t really like because you can get it in time for Thanksgiving. Remember, you’ll have plenty of Thanksgivings down the road, and you don’t want to be sitting around a table you don’t like for all of those.

Step 5: Develop Your Design Plan
What big pieces and what small pieces do you need in the room? Which ones are you going to buy? What are you going to repurpose? What are you going to make yourself? What are your colours?

Have the entire room laid out in your mind and then on paper before you begin. Create a design board for the room or rooms with colour chips on it, fabric swatches, photos of the type of sofa you want, what window treatments you’re looking for and attach a cost to everything to make sure that it stays within your budget.

Once you have all of that settled — and while you’re waiting for the sofa to arrive — you can be making pillows or picking out vases for the mantel while the floors are being refinished.

With a plan and a budget in place you can actually enjoy the decorating process — and maybe even still be on speaking terms with your spouse when it’s all over.

Kenneth Wingard attended Princeton University’s School of Architecture and has studied art, sculpture and architecture in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was during these travels he developed an appreciation for the skill of the local craftsmen and began to think about how to combine those talents with his own design sense. He’s worked for Williams-Sonoma and was the Divisional Director of Pottery Barn. His products have been spotted at the New York and San Francisco MOMA, LACMA and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get to know Kenneth here.


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