Where to Start

The best design advice I can give to new clients is to start with something so simple they probably think I’m kidding.

It’s free and it can be pretty quick to implement. You can definitely at least start today. You can probably have this totally done in at least one room in a few hours.

The foundation for most well-styled rooms in my experience? Are you ready?

Simplify. Declutter. Clear away the excess.

That’s’ it. Honestly!

Regardless of the colors, the wood tone, the drapery, the furniture, the art… regardless of all those elements maybe being less than perfect, if you remove the clutter, the room can look instantly more styled and put together.


And on the flip side, regardless of the beautiful art, the gorgeous furniture, the perfect wall color, if every surface in the room is covered with junk, if the art is hanging crooked and the bookcase is filled to overflowing with stuff that doesn’t belong in the room and looks messy, the room feels off.

I’m not always concerned with this when I’m working with clients on their homes. After all, I’m there to help you get a job done, not critique your lifestyle. Even in my personal life, I try really hard to give myself some grace in my own home, because we all *live* in our spaces. There is going to be signs of life.

This isn’t a tip about living in your home or any criticism about clutter, this is a fundamental styling tip.

I would love for you to consider this as the first step towards designing your room instead of buying something new and shiny.

Want to refresh your décor? Want to know what color to paint to make your room look great? Want to know what tile to install or bedding to buy that’s going to transform your space and make you fall in love?

None of that is going to matter if the foundation isn’t there… and that foundation starts with clearing the excess and letting what remains have some breathing room.


My point here isn’t that we should live in some way that’s just not maintainable, but more that when searching for where to start, or how to make a space look and feel better, from my side of things, as a person that is hired to design and style homes, the best thing to start with is the easiest. The room will look better if you pare it down.

Even without changing a single element, those exact same items, when given some space, seem more purposeful. A room stripped down to the basic furniture, a few intentional pieces of art on the walls, a well-placed accent light and some purposely chosen accessories looks instantly polished.

You do not have to spend a dime to do this!

If you don’t believe me, take a look at Pinterest or search Instagram for beautiful rooms. Without paying too much attention to the style or art in the room, just look for space and airiness. Look for one piece of art on the wall (not a jumble of 5 or more things, gallery walls aside). Look for a chair alone near a window with one pillow on it, and a side table with a single lamp and one decorative object, not a stack of loose papers and an old water bottle.


Last week I was visiting a prospective client in her home and we were discussing a major renovation. She was lovely and so excited to transform this part of her home so that it would function better (and I completely agree, the space was poorly designed by the builder and didn’t work for their growing and changing life, fair enough)… but this was a beautiful home and it was not in need of most of that renovation at all. What it needed before any other purchases or major decisions, was a deep and unmerciful decluttering. The new kitchen cabinets and flooring were not going to magically fix the issues she was facing.

A more tactical first step was to try to make the space *function* properly by reducing the excess to get a clean slate, the rethink how she could use the space she had to function better… then decide if major renovations were needed. I hate seeing people start anywhere other than the beginning, so that’s what I told her. ‘I think we need to start with clearing out all that doesn’t belong here, then let’s see if we can rework how you use this space to make it function properly for you… then let’s evaluate if the rest is needed.’ It wasn’t the design advice she was expecting but, to me, it was what she needed to do most.

Sometimes it is the unexplainable details that make a room look great. And more importantly, feel great. A clean, clear room, with meaningful pieces always, always looks styled and intentional, regardless of the items in the room.

Give it a try and see what you think!



I’m so happy to have added these fresh new mini-guides to my shop! Simple. Efficient. Beautiful. Done. Check them out if you are looking for an easy way to ‘hire’ an interior designer to pull together all of the design details for your home in a really streamlined and simple way.


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Hi, I'm Tara.  I'm a professional interior designer living in rural Canada where I help the practical & down-to-earth to love where they live.  I offer professional interior design services in person and online and am the author of a design & style guide to Living With Oak.

I believe you can become a happier person in a more beautiful home and I’m here to guide you in creating a practical plan to pull it all together. I’m here to offer interior design advice and inspiration to help you make that happen.