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How to Find Your Decorating Style


During my youth, my family owned and operated a very large monthly antique show. I befriended vendors that were committed to collecting and reselling so many interesting and wonderfully strange things. Of course, as an 8-year-old, I was a moth to a flame. The more curious the collection, the more interested I became.

Back then, I came away with the idea that people actually decorated their homes with such oddities — including old circus posters (yes, clowns), to baseball cards (I had my own collection), taxidermy, marionettes, mannequins, movie posters, and scary baby dolls. It’s a small miracle that my affinity for creepy things didn’t translate directly into my decor. :)

Fast forward to 2005.

I took a gigantic leap of faith and built my very first home.

As you can see from the pictures, I lived in a builders-grade, all-white “gymnasium” for several years. I had very little furniture and I had already exhausted my budget strictly on square footage expansion – which meant I sacrificed all the pretty upgrades. My new home lacked style and character (see how we transformed it here!) While I had long since abandoned the notion that creepy dolls would make good lawn ornaments, I was totally overwhelmed with the prospect of decorating my own home – and I had no idea how to find my decorating style.

It was around this time that I developed “decorator’s ADHD” and had way too many ideas. I was all afterburner – no rudder. If you, too, are struggling to define your decorating style, here are some tips that worked for me.

How to Find Your Decorating Style

Get Acquainted with Your Spaces…

Live in your space (even if it’s empty) for awhile – and learn to visualize your new space! This is your time to get acquainted with Pinterest and create inspiration boards. Hop on Craigslist and get specific on what you’re looking for. Make lists. Ballpark your favorite paint colors. Take measurements of walls. Try different configurations using the furniture you have. Tastes and styles change, and I firmly believe you need to live in a space for awhile until your style and vision become clear. Otherwise, you run the risk of making hasty purchases and acquiring pieces that don’t make sense. Curating and collecting the perfect pieces for your home should be the goal. Make it fun!

Almost every room I’ve redecorated has gone through a similar process. Each project was done purposefully and was carefully curated to match our current tastes. We now can say that our home has evolved into exactly what we want.  Enjoy the journey!

Address Function + Flow…First 

You can have a stylish, yet uncomfortable or disorganized home if you don’t address one thing first — function! Make sure your home accommodates all of the people (and pets) that live in it. After awhile you will realize exactly what every nook and cranny your home needs. If you have young kids, having washable slipcovered couches may be the answer. But leather may work better for others. If you have a pet, can you easily access all of your pet “gear”? Do you have a place to hang your keys when you come in the door? Once you identify all of the functional deficits and understand the flow in your home…there is always a stylish answer to address a functional need. (Read: “How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects)

DIY Dog Crate Table With Free Plans

Define a Mood or Feeling You Want for Your Home

I love the sound of water. When I hear ocean waves or a babbling brook, I am instantly relaxed and imagine a soft breeze, wooden textures with cool hues of blues, greens, and greys. When I lived in the city, I loved the hum of the traffic outside during the wintertime, but only when tucked away under a cozy blanket with a glass of wine and a magazine. I can remember songs that played during significant moments in my life. Or how I felt when I traveled to some of my favorite places. (Read: My Interior Paint Colors)

Master Bedroom Beautiful Day Art Cover

So many of the colors and textures found in my home are associated with a mood, feeling or moment in my life. I’m attempting to capture a feeling more so than a “look”. That’s why you’ll find maps, song lyrics or images of postcards throughout my home. When you’re confused about defining your style – try capturing a feeling instead!  

Identify the common threads

In the very beginning when I perused my Pinterest boards, I could see a theme developing: I was inspired by farmhouse and industrial decor, repurposed furniture, bold contrasts (lots of black painted doors) and textures (no scary baby dolls). So I tested out a few ways to incorporate that look in my entryway. Once my confidence was established and I figured out “the look” I expanded from there. The key is to start in a small space to see if you like the overall look. Decorating a small space in a new style is a great way to whet your appetite for tackling larger and more complicated spaces.

Hone Your Collections

Grandpas Bottles Summer Home Tour @SnazzyLittleThings

I totally agree with shopping your home and displaying mementos from your past. But I also think it’s important to edit your collections and honor only your most cherished pieces. Displaying too much of your family history can look like it’s a shrine to your past. Classy little snippets and whimsical representations are the key. This is what sets your style apart from the rest. It takes considerable time to curate a special collection and repurpose it exactly into a modern aesthetic, but the payoff is gorgeous and it demonstrates a well thought-out space. Each room can benefit from a mixture of old and new. Many of the antiques I’ve rescued and repurposed have become my favorite pieces. It’s a fun way to add sophistication and character in your home. (Read: How to Quickly Sell Items on Facebook)

Showcase Your Favorite Items

Notice I didn’t say showcase your “FARMHOUSE” items or your “French” items? I mean, showcase your favorite items! These pieces are the parts of the puzzle that make up your own personal aesthetic. Don’t let a style define you. Sometimes we stray a bit and try a new motif. Sometimes we make bad choices and end up purchasing things that don’t work. But don’t be afraid to try new things and to mix styles. For example, my style is far from Victorian…but this Victorian table is my most favorite piece in my home. This beauty had a lot of stains and water marks when I bought it, but when I applied a coat of Paris Grey Chalk Paint…I was in love.

DIY: $35 Victorian Table Upcycle

Historically, I have been a minimalist when it comes to decorating. I even temporarily abandoned antiques for awhile (let’s just say I had to cleanse my decorating palette from my early days). My preference today is a no-fuss approach, with clean lines and a simpler look. As much as I love farmhouse, or industrial…I don’t fully embrace any motif. I find ways to mix in elegant pieces with industrial ironwork, old chippy windows, and I love ALL tufted furniture. Interesting vintage items almost always make their way into the trunk of my car after an afternoon of thrifting. And because of the exquisite craftsmanship of French-inspired opulence, I am always drawn to anything from France. The language, the wine, the food…and of course, the furniture.

My Advice for Pulling It All Together? 

To take your time. Relax and enjoy the journey of developing mood boards, decorating and developing your style. Be patient when seeking the right pieces for your home. Edit your collections. Avoid the temptation of buying the first item that comes along that happens to fit your dimensions. If something isn’t working, remove it from the room, and try it elsewhere in your home. Or give it away. Always visualize an item’s potential, whether it’s an old piece of furniture or a full room ensemble. This opens your mind to all the possibilities – even thrifted items.

And when in doubt…simplify. It’s the most economical option there is when it comes to DIY and decorating! Simpler is always prettier in my book! 

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  1. I enjoy seeing your before and afters. Many of us are in a similar situation; taking lemons and making lemonaide. At midlife I bought an older 1950’s ranch-style home with not much style. It was affordable and best of all on 5 country acres to die for. One of the best thing going here is this homes open floor plan and a large three-season porch that overlooks our poperty with 40 some majestic White Oak treees. During the past 15 years I have made this house my home. My style is a mix of country and farm house without all the nick-knacky stuff that farmhouse usually signifies. I use lots of antiques and painted vintage furniture with an emphasis on easy-upkeep so I can spend much of my time outdoors with my chickens, dog and gardens. I enjoy having a lot of plants in my home, area rugs to define living spaces and myhandmade paper artwork. The best thing I did early on was replace all my flooring; pulling up the old brown carpet and adding Amtico linoleum throughout that could handle two large labs and a life lived out of doors (complete with tracked in sand, dog hair etc.) Oh so slowly I have transformed the indoors and the outdoors here at The Small House Under a Big Sky. My home would never make a magazine cover but it is comfortable, cozy and it is mortgage free! Donna at the Small House Big Sky Homestead.

    1. Great story, Donna. Thanks so much for sharing! Decorating is certainly a process and can be incredibly confusing. I had to stop reading the designer books and just go with my gut when it came to creating a home that worked for me and my family. xo

  2. Hi there! I love your blog! Could you please tell me the paint colors you used for your basement walls (cream color) and basement doors (black color)? Thanks so much!

  3. this was such a beautiful post full of gorgeous photos and very wise and practical decor advice! Thank you of linking it up to Waste not Wednesday Link party! you were our most clicked post this week! We will be featuring you tonight at 10 EST!

    1. Kellie, oh how exciting! Thank you for hosting and for the feature! I’ll stop by to say “hi” today!

  4. Hi! This was a great read. I’ve been trying to find my decorating style for a while now, but somehow I end up always having a mix of styles. Thank you for the post!

    1. You bet, it really did take us awhile to figure out how to decorate our large space. Now I’m sticking to what I’ve loved for years – pretty neutrals with black and white photography. I don’t think that will ever change :) Thanks for commenting!

  5. Linda C Johnston says:

    I just found this post and would like to comment even though it’s two years late! lol I am a retired Interior Designer. Not and interior decorator. Two different species! As so, I often read posts on design and decorating that make me wince with pain. Not so with this one. The first three elements in good design planning are: Function, Mood and Harmony. You nailed it and in the correct order. One leads to another! I am so happy for people to receive accurate, well written advice. Another thing that bothers me in the pictures I see is folks jamming chairs, etc. back against the wall or way back into a corner. No! There should be at least 4 inches behind a sofa, usually six inches behind a chair in the corner, or more depending. Maybe these are the kinds of things you would enjoy passing on to your readers (if you haven’t already). Great job! Thank you.

    1. Jeanette, DIY Blog says:

      Linda…your post made my day! Thank you for your advice, please comment more often. As you know, I’m NOT a trained decorator by any means…but a professional mistake maker. Decorating is HARD for many of us and most of us are just trying to figure it all out. My hope is to sharing all the mistakes I’ve made and turn them into tips to help others. Have a great weekend!

  6. Carol Higgins says:

    Super wonderful advice! As a senior, you know, beautiful things are so available and inexpensive now, compared my younger years. All you have to do is go to Homegoods or Hobby Lobby and you drool over everything! Nothing of this caliber was ever affordable when i was a young mom. Plus now my house is so full of “accessories” and I have a small house. I’ve had to tell myself that I can’t buy any more accessories. If I do, I have to give something away! I think we’re all kind of impressed with Marie Kondo’s advice about being organized and not having too much “stuff” by asking “does it spark joy?”. Thank you for helping we who love decorating so much to be a little smart about our shopping!

    1. Jeanette, DIY Blog says:

      I’m so glad this helped! It’s so tempting to bring home trinkets that strike our fancy. But in the end it overwhelms us. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book yet but I hear good things. I’ll have to give it a look.

  7. I am just starting a complete overhaul of my home and have currently got a pretty amazing collection of cherished items. Thank you for helping mefind the starting point to put it together. I hope when I finish my projects our home will look as inviting as yours.

  8. Karolyn Love says:

    Thank you, Jeanette..I, too have decided less is better AND I have to curb my “appetite” when I go into a thrift store and really give some thought about what am I going to do with this or where can I put it! It’s not always easy, but I do find myself not bringing so much “stuff” into the house anymore!!

  9. This was great. You nailed me and my basement. I intend to take a good look around at my surroundings, my living and my needs to see what I truly must have. Loved that Victorian table. You made it look great.

  10. I’m at the too many ideas point. I like the look of farmhouse, but realized that I’m a tropical type gal and love green. I’m going to take my time and re-evaluate the spaces in our home before redecorating this time.