Planning a Successful Design Project Image

Planning a Successful Design Project

By on Feb 19, 2008

The Successful Design Project

The successful design project, whether it is a full scale renovation or a one room décor update, requires a thoughtful, creative and practical approach to ensure that what you do meets your function requirements and looks great.

The first objective is the most important and should really dictate how you spend those limited design dollars. Your living space should not frustrate you because you can't do what you need to do in the space. The second objective requires thoughtful planning before you go shopping and requires a multi layered approach to achieve a beautiful result. The following are some of the important ideas to consider before embarking on any design project.


Ask yourself, how do you want to use this space? Make a wish list and make it a broad list. You may not be able to immediately afford all that is on this list, but then you can prioritize and plan how to get what you want even if it is in several project installments. You can build your budget and project list from this wish list.

Sorting out your budget can be a frustrating process as you can never afford all that you want and everything seems to cost twice as much as you expected. This is a great time to involve a design professional be it a designer, decorator or architect. They can help you to understand what you can afford to do and to maximize your design budget.

If you are going to do structural work, devote your resources to things that need to be done while you have the walls opened and trades available. Upgrading wiring and plumbing won't give you that exciting feeling like new furniture and carpet will, but better to avoid having to rip up fancy walls to fix faulty structural issues. Next invest as much as you can in the finishes: flooring, tiling, stone etc. These are not easily replaced. You can add furniture later, change light fixtures and even plumbing fixtures without too much intrusion or destruction.

Also, make sure you get the appropriate permits and that your contractor meets or exceeds the building code. It can feel like an extra layer of paperwork and expense, but the building department is here to help you avoid shoddy workmanship.

Three Dimensional Perspective

It is important to try and visualize how your entire room will look. A room is not just the floor plate but the ceilings and the walls too. I recommend having drawings for almost every project, even if they are just rough drawings. Taping out on the floor where things go will also help you visualize the space. Add furniture to your drawings to make sure the pieces fits in the space.  Also consider your wall sizes. Do you have artwork that you want as a focal point in the room? Make sure you have the perfect wall to hang the piece. This is again where a design professional can really help you to maximize function and enhance style.

Vertical space is as important as horizontal space, especially in small residences. Consider over height storage for seldom used articles. Over height doors give elegance to tall rooms. Artwork and open storage spaces build visual interest and can warm up tall skinny rooms.

Do not overcrowd your space. Start with the basics and with what you are sure will fit comfortably. You can always add items later. Hold off on the ottoman or the charming occasional table unless you know you have plenty of room and that it furthers the overall mood you are trying to achieve. 


Speaking of mood, before starting on any design project, decide on the atmosphere you want to create. Is it Zen, cozy, elegant or vibrant? Make sure the mood is consistent with the function too. The mood can be created by the use of colour, texture, lighting, furniture and accessories.

Also, consider when you are going to use the room. For example, dining rooms are generally used in the evening so consider how to create your mood for an evening event. You can also create a different mood for day and night. Lighting and accessories can help you alter the mood from day to evening.

Symmetry and Scale

Size and frequency are important factors in creating your design aesthetic.

If you use different sizes in a room then your eye will notice this and be drawn to looking at the various parts of the room that make up the style and the drama in the room. Height can be accentuated by using oversized tall items and contrasting them to low profile items. Use a tall, striking vase rather than a small vase that will use the same floor space to draw your eye and create impact.

Using multiples almost always creates a positive design punch. Three urns of same or similar size and texture will draw your eye. One lonely pendant will often get lost in a room. I recently placed five pendants closely together in a reception area and it created instant visual appeal. I like using odd numbers with collections because it tends to emphasize the collections and gives the feeling of there being a beginning, middle and an end.

Symmetry is also important to give a room balance and proportion. If rooms are not proportional you can create the image of proportion with clever cabinetry, drapes and even furniture choices. Often fireplaces in living rooms appear centered, but then you get out the measuring tape and they are off by five or six inches. When you purchase furniture for either side of the fireplace make sure you don?t select pieces that are so large that they fill up the space as then you can really see the space difference. Try two fantastic chairs instead of two large cabinets to maintain the trick of the eye that there is equal space. Using two of the same furniture or accessory also helps create symmetry.

To highlight a room that has a strong symmetrical impression, add an asymmetrical note for juxtaposition. Something as simple as a throw pillow will do it.

Great Lighting

Lighting can destroy or accentuate and enhance mood, depending on how you use it. Lighting is also an important practical component to any design project. You have to be able to see what you're doing.

Generally most rooms should have a variety of lighting to meeting the needs of the room including:

Atmospheric Lighting

There is generally not much illumination with this kind of lighting. It is used to set the mood, highlight a portion of the room, create a restful mood for entry or transition spaces.


You want to be close enough to the bulb to read but without the bulb blinding you. Lamp shades and heights are important factors to consider when purchasing reading lights.

Task Lighting

You need a direct source of light without shadow to complete those tasks. Pendants lighting is excellent for kitchen prep work as you are mostly looking down at the chopping block or stirring the pot. Bright sconces, overhead lighting and over mirror lighting are necessary for dressing and vanity tasks.

Spot Lighting

Art, objét and interesting architectural features should have a specifically directed light to maximize visual impact. Track lighting and pot lights have come a long way in terms of functionality and style and they work very well as spot lighting.

Natural Light

Don't forget natural light. It can be your friend or foe. Nothing is nicer than a morning coffee in your kitchen with natural light streaming in, however if you have neighbours who can peer in, proper attire will be required! If you require privacy or want to create greater intimacy in a room with abundant natural light, window treatments will be necessary. They can be simple or resplendent, but they need to also fulfill their purpose.

To incorporate all these lighting considerations, a lighting plan is essential.  Work with your design professional and electrician to build a lighting plan. There are also excellent lighting systems out there from the simple and inexpensive options of preset dimmers to expensive automated systems that have preset programs to light your entire home for morning, afternoon and night. Your lighting budget could be limitless, but do plan for some lighting budget as it is one of the most important parts of any design project.

Colour and Texture

A quick way to build or destroy your design aesthetic is the proper or improper use of colour and texture. With colour and texture, both consistency and contrast are important. A jumble of colours or textures that do not relate to each other will make the most beautiful furniture and finishes look hodgepodge.  Conversely all one "safe" colour is going to dull the room and be boring.

Colour and texture should be used to enhance the feeling of warmth or coolness to the room. No one colour is either warm or cool. White can be warm or ultra cool. The key is to play with the paint swatches and you will start to see the undertones in the colours. If you can't see it or you get option paralysis from all those colour chips, involve a design professional or a paint consultant.

Colour can be used to create symmetry too. You may have gone with a pure white aesthetic except you accessorized with a burnt orange pillow, vase and painting to emphasize and yet break up the whiteness of the room!


Remind yourself when the inevitable stresses of decisions and finances occur that this is supposed to be a generally pleasant experience and that the objective is to improve your personal enjoyment of your home life.

Understanding your stress capacity for the design project will help you decide whether this is a total do it yourself project or whether you need to turn yourself totally over to design professionals. You want to look at the finished product and enjoy what you see and feel, without resentment.

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