Interior Design Is Not What You Think It Is!

By: Katie Anderson
March 30, 2018


Hint: Buying things is not design.

I recently saw this title about buying things for an online discussion involving interior designers and found it quite compelling for several reasons.

One is that I (and many other designers) are approached by prospects who have already “shopped” for themselves and want to know how much it would cost to have me sort out their purchases and put it together in a design for them.  This is a backwards approach to design.  It would be next to impossible to do if you want a truly great result as individual items purchased with no overall design concept will have no effective relationship with one another to any specified need or end use.

Second is that people honestly think that they are “designing” their interiors by selecting items piece by piece and making a purchase.  This is like shopping for ingredients for a dinner party without having an actual meal or course plan, cruising the supermarket isles and selecting “favorite” items and then expecting to be able to put it all together within a cohesive construct that you and your guests will enjoy; a marshmallow fluff curried beef lasagna with cookie dough crust…..this would likely be an epic failure.

Third is the collective bafflement in the industry as to where the public gets the idea that they are doing the quality work of an educated, trained and seasoned interior designer by merely shopping and buying things.


Buying Things is Not Design and Shopping is Not Creative

So let’s look at what an interior designer actually does and why you may want to hold off on pre-selecting what you think you want to buy.

Interior Designers Create Unique Concepts to fit their Client’s Wants & Needs

In order to get to the phase of developing the actual design I work with the big picture first: a design concept.  What is a design concept you may ask?  It is simply a singular idea that incorporates many components such as the client’s lifestyle, needs (or business mission and product or service if it is for a business), existing architectural style (if any), the building views (if any) and future lifestyle or business goals.

The concept is crucial in order to create a cohesive design, incorporating your taste, lifestyle or business mission as well as your big dream.  The concept is the core reason for the type or style of components, color and lighting selection.  Without a reason to be, there is no actual design, merely a collection of random purchases thrown together resulting in a cacophony rather than harmony.  It is the big picture idea that makes the design road-map plan.


A few examples of some concepts I have created are:

  • Roman Bathhouse (rental property residential bathroom)
  • Adult Glamorous Tree House (residential great room)
  • Mountain Retreat Spa (rental property residential bathroom)
  • Bobby Flay meets Betty Crocker (rental property residential kitchen)
  • Willie Wonka meets Betty Page (commercial retail)

It may seem a bit “out there” to you but the concept is the solid foundation to any interior design.  You may be thinking “well it’s just my kitchen so what’s the big deal, I know all the things I need to buy”.  Starting from a shopping list is too narrow of a view, there is so much more to consider.  Who are you in your kitchen?  What is your identity in that area of your home?  What do you want to feel like in your kitchen: Mistress of Mash & Hash? Sir Sirloin? Owner of a tiny chic airy patisserie (in your fantasy)?  Do you want to be left alone with doors closed while cooking (in your secret laboratory) or are you active and social with frequently visiting guests, feeling more like Grand Central Station?

Why Having an Interior Designer is Important

Here is an exercise that may help drive home the importance of this:

Imagine a kitchen that is like a chic boutique (small), airy patisserie.  Put yourself in this image… quick, what do you see, what are the colors?  What shapes do you see, what is the lighting like?

Now imagine a kitchen that is like an old rail road station. Put yourself in this image… quick, what do you see, what are the colors?  What shapes do you see, what is the lighting like?

When a design is approached from this greatly expanded view there is vast creative possibility and opportunity to create a truly personal, original interior.  Using a concept does not mean that the ultimate design will be a literal translation.  It is the inspiration for all the components that will make up the end result and how the interior feels to be living or working in.  The two examples above likely had very different images for color which would be a “springboard” element to developing either of those designs.

Many people are inspired by web or magazine images and think that they can replicate that space for themselves by purchasing items in the image and by doing so it will be the exact same result for their own interiors.  I doubt that this approach ever yields an exceptional quality as there are too many design components missing; the concept of course, but after the idea there are the 5 foundations to be addressed in any interior:

  1. Scale
  2. Proportion
  3. Volume
  4. Color
  5. Light

Our home lives and businesses reside in fixed structures, having different floor plans, ceiling heights, widow size, views etc.  Similar to people, many of these structures are not a one-size-fits-all compatibility for retail purchases, needing custom solutions instead.  The photo you saw online or in a magazine that looks beautiful and you believe you want to have exactly the same thing may not be appropriate for the home you have, or would actually create the ambiance that suits your personal needs or business vision.  That gorgeous living room in the photo may not translate well into your living room if you were to try for an exact copy.

Fact: You are doing yourself a grave disservice if you approach the design relationship with a pre-fixed selection of merchandise and color.  Doing so means you are not allowing yourself the advantage of working with your designer of choice and you are also not allowing that designer to create something better and unique that is a perfect, personal fit for you.

Instead of trying to make a replica of the images you love, take advantage of your designer’s education, training and experience.  Keep your mind open, don’t fixate on the image, shift your focus to how that image makes you feel.  What is it that the image is telling you, what do you want to have in your day to day life that makes you feel better, focused, energetic, at peace etc.?  Share this with your designer, this is great information for them to use to create your special brand style that is all about you, creating the core concept to achieve an end design result that supports your personal needs, personality and style.

Once all the analysis has been processed and a concept is ready for design development……it’s time you and your designer get shopping!


Ready to Meet Your Interior Designer?

Katie Anderson Interior Design Consultants is a full service design company specializing in custom interior design for luxury residences, offices, boutique hotels and cannabis dispensaries. We’d like to learn more about your vision and see how we can help create it. You can reach us at 415-722-9124 or click here to contact us.