How to Start the Design Process: Programming 101

Whether you’re designing a new kitchen, a small bedroom, or a whole house, the design process can feel incredibly overwhelming, especially if your only exposure to designing a space has been arranging hand-me-down furniture a’la post college dorm life and calling it a day. It’s okay, we’ve all been there. If you’ve decided you want to take on the task of putting together a space that has some substance, cohesiveness and truly reflects your style and personality, there’s going to be a little work involved. Being a designer myself, I unsurprisingly believe strongly in the value of people working with a designer, however, I do understand that isn’t always going to be the case.

Here are the first steps to designing a space you love and suits your needs as well:

imagesWhat Do I Like?

Take the time to research and really understand what kind of interiors you’re drawn to. Don’t worry about correctly defining whether it’s modern or contemporary , just gather a collage of images you know you like. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many of my clients come to me with only words to try to describe what they’d like me to create for them. This should be an easy place to start getting your feet wet. (If it isn’t, then send me a message, you need me!)

images-2What Is The Problem?

Next will be a bit trickier, but so crucial and worth it for the end product. Sit down and write a detailed list of things you know you like and don’t like, and any problems you can think of with your existing space. Specific is the key here.

For example:

  • likes: geometric patterns, textures, clean open display storage
  • dislikes: orange, cluttered knick-knacks everywhere, bar-height seating
  • problem: not enough storage for kid’s school stuff
  • problem: lack of seating options when entertaining

This is part of what designers call programming and it is the most important part of the design process IMO. This is where you determine the problems that need to be solved. You may not even recognize them as problems at first, but that cramped eating space that you just sort of deal with and have become so used to you barely even think about it, yeah that’s what we call a problem. What good is a brand new kitchen if you end up with that same awkward eating space and lack of storage? Design, while creating spaces that bring joy, is also about solving problems. If you can successfully capture as many of these as possible, that will give you a great place to start designing/problem solving.

images-3What Do I Want to Keep?

When redesigning a space, you sometimes can’t purchase everything new, or may not want to. Figure out the pieces you already have that you really love and want to reuse. You’d be surprised how awesome grandma’s armchair can look when paired with a modern patterned throw pillow to completely juxtapose it. The key is though, don’t plan to keep anything unless you have to (budget problems) or you really love it.

images-4How Do I Keep All of This Straight?

  • Get a binder and have copies of steps 1-3 all in one place. This will become your bible, your lifeline. I tend to be a believer that the more notes I take about a client, the better. This rings true when designing for yourself as well, and the only way to make use of all this information is to make sure it’s accessible to you when you need it. The design process can be stressful enough without having to frantically search for that one picture you know had the perfect dining table.
  • Create a pinterest board. This will be your digital bible, which sometimes these days is more useful than a hard copy. I’m sure most of you are familiar with pinterest, perhaps intimately, the way I am. I sometimes think I spend more time on pinterest than I do paying attention to my husband. Gotta stimulate those creative juices! The thing that is great about pinterest when you’re working on large project is that you can pin items you’re considering purchasing and that will keep a log of the links so you don’t have to remember where that random throw pillow you love was from.

And that’s it! Get to designing. You’re ready to go. Trust your gut, have fun with it, and don’t take it too seriously. You may even surprise yourself. If you don’t have a design-inclined bone in your body, then trust the binder you’ve assembled, or give me a shout and I’d love to help you create a space you can brag about.


Designer vs. Salesman

There’s a question that’s been creeping into my mind more and more lately that I can’t seem to shake. In one sense, I love it. The fact that I’m allowing my brain to acknowledge that I may have some actual raw talent is refreshing to say the least. In another sense, I wonder if it runs completely counter to the design process I spent four years learning to eat, sleep, and breathe.

The question I’ve been wrestling with is this (as sent verbatim to my good friend, Lisa):
“I’m wondering if I take too much design direction from my clients for the sake of them feeling like I’ve understood their needs but instead I don’t wow them with some design initially that is just something I think looks good because I’m a designer”.

This thought has been birthed out of years spent riding the line of designer and salesman in my job as a kitchen and bath designer. The line is muddied with talk of “re-sale value” and “top design trends” and before I know it I’m letting my client’s fear of not selling their house 10 years from now be the reason I’m whole-heartedly following their pinterest board into the sunset. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m quite possibly the biggest believer in the programming part of the design process. Getting as much information from the client as possible in order to make the best design decision.. I eat that shit up. I literally live for that. The conflict arises when I allow the salesman to overtake the designer. I want the sale, and after 6 years worth of clients coming to me with long lists of things they’ve already decided they want, despite knowing if they will meet their needs, I’d rather happily nod and roll with it than risk losing the sale. I caved.

Here’s what I’m thinking; and this is for anyone, not just designers. If you’re an aesthetically aware person like I am, stop letting trends, re-sale value and what other people think stop you from designing what you know is going to look good and is going to suit your needs or the needs of your client. For the designers out there, what I’m proposing is not to completely hijack the programming part of the design process but rather to focus on it entirely and then ask your client to trust you. If you’ve done your job and collected extensive information, then this is where your gut should come in.


If you as the designer believe that something ballsy is what’s going to fit your client’s needs, despite it being “last season” or completely out of the box, you should absolutely go for it. At the end of the day, you are the designer and they’ve hired you for a reason. My goal is to start trusting that and be more daring with my designs because I know that some of the most inspiring designs are the ones least expected and against the grain.

If you’re a home owner/renter who’s not working with a designer and beginning to freak out as you’re reading this, don’t worry. Here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with trends, as long as the trend is something you actually like. Don’t completely overhaul your home with Edison bulb light fixtures if you don’t truly love a more rustic feel. That’s just silly! If there’s a trend that you’re liking, by all means, incorporate that faux-fur throw into your living room scheme. I know I am.

Stay tuned for tips on what to do when you’re sans-designer and still want to create a bomb space!


Stop doubting, start living

I watched a documentary last week that completely blew my mind. I truly have never been more inspired by the life of a person than I was by Bill Cunningham who, embarrassingly enough, I was unaware of before I watched this film. I sat there in absolute awe of how fearlessly he lived his life and how passionate he was about his craft. He was blunt with his opinions but never rude; only blunt for the sake of saying what he thought was right. It was clear to me that he never hesitated in trusting his gut when it came to capturing the unassuming moments of everyday life and how that is played out in street fashion.


I’ve always been a self-conscious person, doubting my thoughts and comparing myself at every turn; paralyzed with fear at the idea of failing at anything. Over the past few years, this has led to a long struggle with immense social anxiety and as I watched this adorable old man bike defiantly through the streets of New York doing what he loved despite anyone’s thoughts on the matter, I felt an enormous weight lifting. In that moment, I was watching someone embody so much of what I’ve always wanted to be but have never been able to execute. The feeling of freedom was seeping through the screen and I was getting hype. Not only was his general “IDGAF but I’m still super approachable” demeanor entirely enthralling, but the way he viewed the world and believed in the importance of aesthetics as part of the human experience was like ripping a page out of my playbook.


And that was it. Bill gave me the courage to finally start the blog that I’ve been thinking about starting for years. This blog is essentially an experiment if I’m being honest. I’m interested in seeing if I can trust my gut and let my propensity for aesthetics be used to unashamedly just say something about anything for the first time in my life. I hope in addition to my self-liberation I can also provide some legitimate help and inspiration!


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