The Ultimate DIY Guide to Decorating a Room

Does anyone else get into a state of paralysis when they get overwhelmed?  When a project seems to big, my first reaction is to go into turtle mode and hide inside my shell where I can pretend it doesn’t exist.  I find the best way to combat turtle mode is to get a plan together.  Currently I am in turtle mode over pulling together my living room, so I’ve gathered all of the best information from dozens of resources and put together the Ultimate DIY Guide To Decorating A Room.  ***This post contains affiliate links.  If you click one and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no additional expense to you.  Thank you for supporting Lifestyle for Real Life!***

The Ultimate DIY Guide to Decorating a Room

Image Credit to FreeDigitalPhotos

My family room has been in a state of almost there for, gulp, 9 years.  Yup, since we moved in.  To be honest, all of my rooms are always going to be in a state of “almost there” because I do love to change things up, but the family room is like 35% there and the rest of the house is definitely well over 60% there.

It should be the room we spend the most time in, but I’ve noticed that we tend to skip this room for the kitchen or our bedrooms.  It’s not the vibe I want for my house:  Walk in the door, eat, go to your room.  It’s feeling more boarding house than cozy family home of late. I truly believe it’s because the living room is sorely lacking in the creature comforts department.  Things like a cozy sectional, good lighting, a crazy comfy throw blanket to wrap yourself in.  All that.  We have none of it.  There is at the moment, one lamp in the room and it’s shade broke, so it’s basically just a bulb.  That is the overall feeling of this room.  We’ll call it Naked Bulb Chic.  Except it’s not chic in anyway, at all, ever.

I’m going to banish Naked Bulb (not)Chic and get this family to start family-ing in this room!  Here’s the plan I’ll follow, and so can you for that room that is putting you in turtle mode.

Step 1 – Inspiration

  • To Do:  Pin What Inspires You

This is the part I usually am great at.  I can pin inspiration photos til the cows come home.  Some people will create an actual, real life pin board, hang it at there desk and fill it with inspiring magazine pics.   Whatever works best for you, just start pulling together whatever speaks to you.  This is where we can cast a wide net and put a virtual or actual pin in it.  Don’t limit yourself to pinterest or magazines, either.  Take an afternoon and do some real life browsing.  Head to Home Goods or Target or even the Thrift Store and snap photos of whatever stands out to you.  Add these to your board.

While you’re getting inspired, keep an eye out for that one thing.  That thing that makes your eyes go wide.  That’s your lead inspiration piece.  It might be a vase, a fabric, a quirky chair or a great piece of art.  When you’ve found that one thing, you’re going to be basing a lot of decisions off of it.  Buy that thing first.

  • To Do:  Edit your inspiration

If you’re anything like me, you have approximately 8.7k pictures that inspired you.  Time to pare that down.  Look at the colors that are most prominent in your inspiration, the metals, the textures.  Using your lead inspiration piece as a guide, what is going to work best in the room? Edit yourself down to a cohesive look.  Everything should feel inspired by the lead inspiration piece.  If you’re using a pinterest board, start deleting the stuff that needs to be edited out (you can repin it to another board first if you don’t want to lose the pin).  If you’re using an actual board, do the same.  Well, you can’t really delete in real life, so just remove from the board and organize what’s left over.  You should now have a mood board that will guide everything from your paint choices, fabrics, accessories and furniture pieces.

Step 2 – Plan the Room

  • To Do:  List the Things You Plan to Do In Your room

As an example, my family room will be used for watching tv, reading, an office, eating snacks and maybe even some board games.  Basically, this room will be used for everything.  Luckily, it is a fairly large, long room so it is suitable for multi-purposes.  You’ll need this list for the next to do, which is:

  • To Do:  Make a List of Every Thing That the Space Needs

Based on your list of things you plan to do in your room, make a list of the things you are going to need in that room.  For me, I need a new sofa, a coffee table, lighting, accessories, chairs, a table to sit at, a desk for the computer, a console table for under the tv, art, a bench.  Now, don’t worry, you probably don’t have to buy everything that is on this list.  For instance, from my list, I already have chairs, a table to sit at, and a desk for the computer. The more you can shop your own house for items, the smaller your budget will be.  (We’ll get to the budget shortly!)  If you’re planning on painting your room, make sure you include paint in your list of things the space needs so that you don’t forget to budget for it!

  • To Do:  Create a Floor Plan w/ Measurements

Before you go crazy buying stuff, you really need to have a good drawing of your room.  You can do it by hand or you can find a good on-line tool to help, but you want the drawing to include accurate measurements of the room.  And not just 24×16.  You want to know the distance from the wall to the doorway, the width of that doorway, the distance of the wall between that door and the next doorway, etc…  Plan where your windows are and what their measurements are, including how high they are off the ground. If you have annoying non-moveable things in the room like heat registers, make sure to account for the depth they may take up.  For instance, I have old school heat registers that come out from the wall about 4 inches and are about eight inches high.  Imagine if I didn’t account for them and went with the wall to wall measurement where I want my sofa to fit.  I would end up with a sofa that would not fit because of the heat registers.  This part is crazy boring, but it’s important and it really doesn’t take that long.  I put this off for the longest time because it seemed complicated and I hate math, but when I finally did it, it took me about 20 minutes to map everything out.  PS – I used this room planner from Jordan’s Furniture to make that picture!

Now you can start to map out where you want furniture to go.  And the tv, if that’s going in the room.  Which is a good time to mention that you should be picking a focal point in the room.  No one in the world with an ounce of design/decor know how will ever tell you that your tv should be a focal point.  But, here’s the thing.  In *my* family room, the tv is going to be the focal point.  85% of the time we will be watching tv in there.  It’s a practical fact of our lives and I’m certainly not going to design the whole room around, say, the fireplace which is on the opposite wall and would mean we would probably all have stiff necks from craning away from the fireplace and towards the tv, just because the design rules say so.  Almost everything in the room will be facing the tv and the world will go on.  It will even look good.  I promise.

  • To Do:  Create a Lighting Plan

Lighting in a room is as much ignored as it is important when you’re DIY’ing your home decor.  A properly lit room will attract people to come and sit in it.  I know this mostly because, as I’ve mentioned, my living room currently has one bare bulb as lighting and no one wants to spend a minute in there.  Design principles will tell you that a  properly lit room will have 3 sources of light around the room in a triangle at eye level.  Even if you have overhead lighting, I think it’s still important to stick to this rule of three lights at eye level.  If you’ve ever taken photographs with only overhead lights, then you know the nasty shadows that overhead lights create.  Not that I don’t like overhead lighting, but it’s definitely a good idea to balance it with some eye level lighting.  PLUS, if you’re working on a multi-purpose room like a family room, there might be times when 3/4 of the family is watching a movie and 1/4 wants to read, so you’re going to want the overhead lights off and one task light on.

To figure out where to put these lights, grab your floor plan and figure out a triangle arrangement that makes sense.  In the image above, you can see three sources of light, the chandelier from above, the stand up lamp on the left, the table lamp on the right and what you can’t see because it is out of frame, is a third table lamp on the right.  (ps, that’s not my room, don’t I wish, I would so not be writing this post!  It’s from Shades of Blue Interiors).  I’m planning on one lamp on the end of my sofa, one by the fireplace and one between the chaises.  Because this room is so super long, I do plan on adding one additional hanging light over the table at the back of the room.  And maybe a small desk lamp on the desk.

  • To Do: Create Your Budget

I know you don’t want to do this.  Well, some of you might like this, but I would bet that most of you are ready to click back to Pinterest at this point.  But, hear me out.  You’ve already made a list of what the room needs, right?  Right down how much you want to spend on each thing next to that.  Or make a quick spreadsheet and enter the info there.  That’s what I did.  It took all of ten minutes.  It’s a good way to feel less overwhelmed about the project ahead of you.  In my mind, I was thinking I would spend way to much money on this project and was a major factor in why I have not really started on this.  The budget that I came up with puts me at $2000.00 and that is including $1k for the sectional sofa.  I also remembered to add 20% to my total to account for taxes and overages.  I always over estimate a little when I budget, too, so I may still come in below that number.  For instance, I alloted $200 for a coffee table, but I would really like to find a thrift store table and do a little makeover.  That would cut that price more than in half.


The other option for budgeting is to start with a pre-determined amount of money and work your budget backwards from there.  For instance, if I had squirreled away $500 to spend, then I would scratch the sectional and maybe just buy a new cover for my existing couch, cut back on the accessories and just focus in on the key pieces that will make the room comfortable.  Do what works best for you and your wallet.

Step 3 – Start Shopping

  • To Do:  Create a list of the pieces you are going to buy

Ok, have I pulled you back in now that we’re going shopping??  Go back to your list of things you need for the room and get specific.  You need a sectional, what size, what color? You need wall decor, where is it going, what size, scale do you need?  How many throw pillows, how many blankets?  What types of lamps do you need?  When you get to the store, you want to have a very specific list or else you will overspend and buy things that don’t really fit in the room.  And don’t forget to work from your lead inspiration piece at this point.  It will help you to pick the colors and finishes for this shopping list.

It’s best to shop for your big stuff first.  Big as in size, not necessarily price.  I’ll be starting with my sectional and working my way from there.  Now is also an important time to remind you to be sure to double check your measurements before you buy.  You don’t really get a do over when buying something large and expensive like a sectional sofa. If you’re measurements are off, you’re going to end up with a waste of time and money.

Step 5 – Pick your Paint

  • To Do:  Create a list of paint colors you’re going to use in the room

Are you surprised picking a paint color has not made an entrance until now?  Doing this now will make your choice a million times easier, I promise. You have a lead inspiration piece and you also have made some purchases.  You’re going to pull a color from your lead inspiration piece as your wall color.  Which one you pick should be determined by what purpose you want the paint to fulfill.  Do you want it to create a calm and relaxing background?  Maybe you choose a grey or light blue.  Do you want the room to be bright and cheerful?  Go a little bolder with a yellow or maybe orange if you’re insane and brave.  If you want to give the room a super cozy feel, maybe consider a dark color like the Hale Navy I used in my bedroom.  I’ve found it’s a misconception that dark colors make a room feel smaller.  I’ve found that the dark colors make the walls recede and make the room seem taller and more spacious while at the same time making it cozy.  It’s kind of like magic.

Don’t forget that you may need to paint other surfaces beside your walls.  Window trim?  I’ll need to do that.  Fireplace brick?  Put that on my list, too.  And maybe even the dreaded ceiling.  I’ll also have to tackle my heat registers.  Oh and if I do end up making over some thrift store finds, I’ll likely need paint for those, too.

My best tip for paint is go bold.  If you’re choosing between two colors, go with the one you’re excited about but makes you a little nervous.  Every good decision I’ve ever made has also made me a little nauseous with anxiety.

Step 6 – Accessorize

  • To Do:  Make a list of what you need for accessories

This is probably my favorite part of the process.  I like to let my imagination run wild and I love scouring little shops or thrift stores or even the clearance stuff at Target for good deals. A good rule of thumb for accessories is to plan about 10-15% of your total budget for accessories.  But what, exactly, do you need to buy?  Grab your list of things you need to buy for the room and think about where accessories will fit in.  I’m buying a coffee table.  What needs to go on top of it?  A couple of candles?  A basket or tray to hold the remote?  A small vase for flowers?  My mantel will need to be spruced up, so what’s going on there?  That’s probably a better place to put my candles.   I’ve already got art work on my list of things that I need for the room, but I would include that on the accessory list, too, along with pillows and blankets.

Trademark Fine Art White Vase with Bright Flowers by Sheila Golden, 24x24 inches

Be bold with your accessories.  Making a mistake here leaves a small impact.  I don’t think I need to mention the rule of 3 or rule of odd numbers, here but if your buying a cluster of things, odd numbers do work best and any small collections should be groups of similar, not the same objects.  I tend to obsess over accessories because I don’t like to bring things in the house that aren’t useful in some way, so my accessories are usually things like pillows and blankets, candles, trays to hold things. The right lamp that is sculptural or otherwise really beautiful is a great accessory.

Your accessories are where you create the rooms personality.  Use them to bring in metals, textures and pops of colors.  Want a room that says farmhouse chic?  Bring in oil rubbed bronze (or whatever Joanna Gaines tells you to) and throw blankets that look (or are) hand made.  How about a glam vibe?  Shiny chrome, and faux fur, of course.  Whatever you do, go with the quirky thing that makes you smile.  I promise it will end up being the one that everyone comments on and makes your house feel like home.

Have you made it to the end with me?  I’m impressed, this was quite a long post.  Bragging rights to the first person who comments DUCK in the comments section.  GO!

If you loved this post, don’t forget to put a pin in it!

The Ultimate DIY Guide to Decorating a Room


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