You want your first apartment to feel like you — but that’s quite a daunting task if you’ve never been responsible for decorating a home before! What happens if you don’t know what, exactly, your interior design style is?
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to finding your style, start below. We asked experts how to actually home in on and describe what you love — and how to implement that style in your first place.
To begin, you can stick to the basics: Ask yourself whether you’re drawn to lots of colors or prefer neutrals or grayscale.
“Naturally, one is either attracted to color or not attracted to color,” says Palley & Southard owner and designer Lane Blank (with whom I work on an antique and estate jewelry business). “The style doesn’t even matter at this point. This is the first question that you should answer for yourself.”
Start scrolling, and then scroll some more. Check out Pinterest, Instagram, Apartment Therapy house tours, and even TikTok. In addition to digital photos, “for a first-time decorator, Etsy has a wonderful assortment of vintage decorating books with beautiful imagery and informative information,” says designer Emily Wolowitz. “I personally love the timeless Colefax and Fowler decorating books, and I usually can just buy them used for a fraction of the price.”
You might even do a little historical research, looking into both past and modern interior design styles — from Art Deco to industrial to minimalism — to see what you gravitate toward, suggests Alexia Sheinman, director at Pembrooke & Ives.
Once you’ve pinned, favorited, and clipped images you love, look at all of your inspiration as a whole and connect the dots, recommends designer Isabel Ladd of Isabel Ladd Interiors. “Find common themes amongst the inspo pins you save, and stick to that aesthetic you’re clearly drawn to,” she says.
Even if you plan to buy furniture and decor items online, you might take an in-person stroll through stores to get a better idea of what each style looks like in the flesh, versus in an image that you’ve bookmarked on your computer. “I also encourage my clients to browse through antique and home stores on their own to recognize what kinds of styles catch their eye,” says Wolowitz.
With all of the above information in mind, you can start to articulate your interior design style. That said, forcing yourself to straight-up pick just one style could be a recipe for total overwhelm. Instead, you can choose between several sets of two adjectives and construct a style from there. For example, Blank asks, do you prefer cool or warm? Sparse or accessorized? Soft materials or hard surfaces? Patterned or solid?
Once you’ve answered those kinds of questions, you will quickly realize that your style doesn’t necessarily fit into a nicely labeled box — all farmhouse or all contemporary, for example — but it doesn’t have to! In fact, some of the most interesting living spaces are born at the meeting points between textbook design styles.
After you’re able to describe your interior design style in a vacuum, it’s time to begin thinking about how you can apply it in the real world — aka, in your first apartment, where you assumedly have budget, space, and other constraints. For example: “If you live with four animals, you don’t want white sofas,” says Blank, no matter how many images of white loveseats or silk pillows you’ve favorited.
“I think it’s important that a room is designed to not only look beautiful, but also work hard to serve the needs and lifestyle of the people living in it,” says Wolowitz.
Just as you should ponder what style will functionally work in your home, you should think about what style you’ll want to live with day in and day out. So while you may fangirl over a maximalist photo on Instagram, you may want to decorate with something more subdued in your small space.
Wolowitz urges her clients to consider what they truly love and not just what they think they are supposed to go for. “We discuss what kind of places make them feel most comfortable and at ease,” she says. “For example, some people may initially love the look of layered prints and chintz in a photo, but when it comes to actually selecting items for their own home, they will gravitate towards timeless styles in saturated hues and textures.”
Ladd goes so far as to encourage her clients to not consider the opinions of anyone other than themselves. “Do not ask friends, family, or your Amazon delivery person their opinion,” she says. “Only consider your opinion… and maybe those who live with you and will share the cost with you.”
Even if you do want to run design ideas past your loved ones, remember: This is your home; your friends and family have their own spaces to decorate the way they would like.
“Decorate for you,” says Ladd, “not for other people.”