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Don’t know how to decorate your house or living room? An award-winning California interior designer shares what to do—and what not to do.
7 min read
February 13, 2020
The process of redecorating a home is exciting and inspiring, but it also comes with its fair share of frustrations and challenges. The undertaking can quickly become overwhelming, especially as you start considering the countless details such as selecting the right furniture, finding the perfect artwork, balancing the various color schemes, and placing each carefully chosen item in the ideal spot. It’s enough to make you reconsider decorating altogether. Luckily, there are insider secrets for those who don’t know how to interior design—or where to begin—so the overall process can begin to feel less daunting and more empowering.
We chatted with Lafayette interior designer Leslie Price, founder of Price Style and Design, to get her tips and tricks for transforming an uninspiring room into a wow-worthy space. Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, the award-winning interior decorator boasts 30-plus years of experience in visual merchandising and design. She draws inspiration from the fresh colors of nature to create colorful, light-filled interiors that spark joy. Price also takes pride in designing spaces that reflect the indoor-outdoor California lifestyle and speak to the personality, preferences, and unique experiences of her clients.
Here, Price shares some advice on where to start when tackling design projects and how to showcase your distinct aesthetic in a tasteful, cohesive way. So whether you’re renovating your California beach house, sprucing up your Airbnb rental property, or simply seeking inspo for your San Francisco apartment, her insider secrets will help make sure you take your home decor to the next level and create the sanctuary of your dreams.
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First thing’s first: You need to determine what you like (and dislike) so you can hone in on your specific style—whether it’s traditional or modern, relaxed or formal, bold or subdued. Every room in your home should be a place where you can feel comfortable and peaceful, so it’s imperative to pay attention to every detail and express your creativity so your home is reflective of you. This is often easier said than done, but Price advises starting with a Pinterest board or a Houzz Ideabook. “You'll start noticing trends of what you're picking,” she says. “It might be the lines of a chair arm. It may be certain colors. … You’ll see different patterns emerging.”
Price also suggests taking note of places or everyday things that make you happy. Recall a hotel in which you’ve stayed or a restaurant in which you’ve dined that particularly struck your fancy. Perhaps it was a minimal interior from your weekend trip to Big Sur or a hip coffee shop in Los Angeles furnished with worn leather chairs.
“If you start taking photos of whatever it is that made you happy—whether you just saw a beautiful piece of art or walked by a tree—build on that momentum,” Price says. “Pay attention to how you react to certain things, and try to be mindful of what sparks joy.”
For some people, it might be easier to consider what they don’t like, as it allows them to eliminate some things and narrow in on others. A bold, large-scale print, for instance, might remind you of something from your past that you don’t want to see in your own space. Or, a wingback chair may bring back memories of being sent to time-outs for pulling your brother’s hair. Likewise, a certain color might evoke feelings of a previous design trend that you aren’t eager to repeat. These memories and reactions are very personal and individual, but they also help define your tastes.
No matter your process for finding your style, don’t rush it. It’s important to take the time to curate your space carefully. “It takes a while to figure out what you like,” Price admits, “but if you keep coming back to [something] and you still like it, then you know it’s right.”
It may be tempting to hit your favorite home decor and furniture stores once you’re ready to get started, but it’s essential to set aside time for space planning before you dive in. Price says people often make the mistake of buying items that don’t work well in their existing space or using furniture that is too large or too small for a room. “Things always look great in a store, but then you bring them home and they just don’t look the same,” she explains. “You realize something’s not quite right.”
To avoid feelings of regret, build around the furniture and items that you actually have space for. Think about the balance of the room, too, and ask yourself, What is this space used for? How can it be used better? What is it missing? For larger rooms, consider establishing zones for different activities: a seating area that is conducive to conversation; another area for watching TV; an area with a desk or table for working. Then, slowly come up with a plan. “Don’t rush to fill the space,” Price says. “It will come to you if you let yourself find some clarity.”
Don’t feel the need to make everything symmetrical, either. Consider the visual weight and distribution to create a balanced space. Proportion and scale are key to any design—and beware of overfilling a space. “You don’t want a lot of excess stuff, especially in a smaller space,” Price advises. “Put in what you need and add what you like, but don't overfill it. Be creative with what you can do in the space you have.”
Once you’ve determined your style direction and created a spacing plan, keep the creative juices flowing by selecting the artwork that will adorn your walls. “For me, art makes a room,” Price says, “so if there's a piece you love, make it integral to your design and build your space around it, because then everything will make you happy.”
Visit local galleries such as Lost Art Salon—one the top art galleries in San Francisco offering contemporary and vintage art—attending art-focused events like the West Coast Craft Fair and the monthly Alameda Point Antiques Faire, and perusing unique California home decor stores. “Start local, and then build from there,” Price suggests. This not only gives you the opportunity to support your community and local artisans, but also instills more soul into your home.
As you weigh your options, bear in mind that pedigree doesn’t necessarily mean better, whether it be art or furniture. Consider a lesser-known artist or designer and purchase based on shape, comfort, and how the item works for you and your needs. The most humble objects can have the most soul and be the most beautiful thing in a room. Don’t be afraid to mix high and low price points—not everything must be precious to be important—and don’t feel guilty about splurging on something you really love.
Many Californians lead an active lifestyle and enjoy the great outdoors—spending weekends pedaling along the top bike trails, relaxing at the best California beaches, and hiking in the Hollywood Hills—so it’s important to keep your daily activities in mind when redesigning a space and buying new furniture.
“I always recommend family-friendly, kid-friendly, pet-friendly fabrics that are geared to California indoor-outdoor living,” Price says. “I focus on providing something that people can actually live with instead of going, I just redid the sofa; don't sit there! So, I’m really big on Crypton fabrics because they’re stain repellent.”
While you may be eyeing the 2020 home decor trends, don’t feel pressured to conform to mainstream tastes. Remember that trends come and go with the seasons, so it’s more important to find keepsakes and colors that capture the essence of how you want to feel, whether it’s serenity, happiness, or nostalgia.
“People just need to find colors they like,” Price asserts. “It’s less about trends and more about what makes you feel good. For me, growing up in Hawaii, the colors that I like are the ones I grew up with: pinks for the sunset, blues for the ocean. Other people like different colors for different reasons.”
For one of her most recent clients—an avid hiker who wanted her 5,000-square-foot Orinda home to showcase her passion for nature—Price outfitted the property with touches that were reminiscent of Lake Tahoe’s snow-capped mountains, blue waters, and coniferous trees. This included painting the powder bathroom in a forest green shade, even though darker colors are often dismissed.
“Many people think dark walls make something look smaller, and I just don't agree with that,” Price says. “If it's a color you love, then you are happy within [a space painted that color], so it feels more open. With my client who was into the outdoors, we used a metallic forest green because we wanted that forest-y feel, and even though it’s a small bathroom, it feels super nurturing in there.”
Along with infusing your California home with colors that conjure joy, adding plants to your living areas will also enliven the ambience. Succulents and air plants are popular choices because they require much less maintenance. Visit a local plant shop to see which species speak to you and create your indoor oasis.
“I love live plants that are hardy because I don’t have a green thumb,” Price says, laughing. “I love a good fiddle-leaf fig, and I love orchids because they last a long time and are so elegant. Snake plants are stunning, too. They’re architecturally beautiful and so interesting to look at. … They make great additions to any home.”
If you ever find yourself stuck during the process, consider reaching out to a local interior designer for guidance—but do your research first. Look at the designer’s portfolio to see if you’re drawn to that person’s work; everyone has a distinct style. It’s also important to meet with the professional to ensure it’s a person you can trust and feel comfortable with.
While interior design is often seen as a luxury service, Price says many designers offer different services for various budgets, and the expense is worth it. “Interior designers can help you avoid making a big mistake—that you don’t go to [a store like] Restoration Hardware and think, Why does it look like this? I wish I didn’t buy that” she says. “So yes, [hiring an interior designer] is an investment, but it’s really an investment in your own sanctuary. ... We help you figure out what makes you happy.”
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