Do you really know your decorating style?


— You have a new home or your first apartment and dozens of crazy ideas to make it look the way you want. But do you really know your own decorating style?

Perhaps it was easy to see that your mom had a taste for historic, Colonial decorating. Maybe you’ve always marveled at the way a friend embraced midcentury modern style to create the perfect “Mad Men” pad.

But if your decor seems to lack that kind of continuity and flair, you’re not alone.

Fight feeling overwhelmed

In this day and age, asking someone to name their decorating style is almost a trick question, said Better Homes and Gardens home content director Jill Waage.

Thanks to nebulous decorator terms such as “eclectic” or “personalization,” interior decor isn’t as easy to typify as it was even 10 years ago. (Remember “Moroccan style”?) That makes decorating harder than it used to be, Waage said.

Since 1924, Better Homes and Gardens (first published under the name “Fruit, Garden and Home” in 1922) has been giving all manner of home economics and homemaking advice. Readers’ questions have always betrayed an anxiety over home decor.

“Pick a decade,” Waage said. “People are still looking for tips about how to use color, arrange furniture, always looking to make their home better.”

What’s different in 2014, Waage said, is that homeowners itching for a living room makeover are indelibly changed by the design information available to them.

By now a generation has grown up witnessing complete home redecorations within the span of a 30-minute television show. Early adopters of Pinterest and devotees of tutorial-disseminating decor blogs are largely empowered — or sometimes overwhelmed — by this media, Waage said.

The magazine still delivers decorating tips and examples, but instead of a few fresh looks every month, tips now include online color choice generators and automatic room planners.

Even with a new understanding of the mechanics of decorating, it’s still difficult to orchestrate the room of your dreams, or even realize what it is you like in the first place, she said.

So what’s a DIY decorater to do?

Be brave enough to try

Bravery and experience are what helped self-taught blogger, photographer and decorator Emily Clark handle her home decor. Figuring out which interior styles influence you is born from self confidence that only comes with age, she said.

She no longer focuses on the giant set of matching furniture she and her husband bought as newlyweds in their first grown-up home. She encourages slowing down to make decorating a gradual process.

“It’s about not second-guessing yourself. As you get older, you get more confident in your decisions,” Clark said.

It has been 15 years since she lived in her first apartment, and her family now lives in its second home — and Clark finally feels comfortable broadcasting her style to people around the world through her blog.

“A lot of people get stumped or scared they’re going to mess up,” when applying their tastes to interior decor, Clark said. But discovering what you appreciate about decor means you have to be brave enough to try decorating in the first place, she said.

“Taking chances and enjoying where you are and what you’re looking at every day. It’s better than sitting around looking at blank walls, worried about what to do,” she said.

“My philosophy has been, if I don’t love it to begin with, it can’t get any worse. If I have a piece of furniture sitting here that I detest to begin with, slapping a coat of paint on it isn’t going to make it any worse.”

Through clipping magazine images from Southern Living or House Beautiful and looking online when she decorated her first home, she uncovered some obvious patterns, she said.

“There are things I am naturally drawn to,” she said, “I love black and white stripes, I love blues, I love textures. I like a good mix of things.”

What she doesn’t like, even among her decor blogging peers, is the accelerated pace of decorating trends and how many bloggers adopt them, making those ideas feel a lot less personal.

“I want to know what you like, I don’t want to know that you bought every Nate Berkus piece at Target,” Clark said.

When she finds a blogger whose home shows a distinct personality, “it motivates me to get off the computer and do stuff to my own house,” she said. “That’s a good house!”

It’s OK to call the pros

Alexis Kraft, owner of the Kraft Studio design firm and an interior design professor at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, teaches his students not only how to recognize and manifest the decorating styles of clients, but also how to do the same for themselves.

“A designer starts to realize early on in their education and in their career that they need to have a sense of style,” he said. “They need to embrace and embody (a design style) that then becomes marketable for them: Their style becomes part of what (potential clients) are attracted to.”

That ability is something of a superpower, he said. “I like to think anyone can be an interior designer, but it’s not something everyone can do,” he said.

He likens interior decor to music. “We all have opinions of (whether or not) music is good,” he said. “Not all of us can be musicians.”

The interest in design, an innate sense about art and an ability to understand the relationship between objects and space is part of why interior design is such a specific career path, he said. Interior designers spend years in school and internships learning little details like where to mount a toilet paper holder or how a kitchen tile can keep a remodeled kitchen looking fresh for decades.

Kraft can not deny the grip that a modern, DIY attitude has on Americans. Miraculous TV makeovers or bloggers who document their decorating adventures are compelling, motivating voices in the interior design conversation, he said.

But there’s a chasm between the way we talk about design and the effort it takes to create a beautiful room in your own home.

“There is still an art to it that has to be developed,” he said.

If you’re not happy with the look of your home, you can work to hone that artistic ability — or you can call for backup. Sometimes, he said, hiring an interior designer is the way to discover your style.

What’s your decorating style? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter @CNNLiving or on CNN Living’s Facebook page.


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