How to Identify and Develop Your Home’s Style

This post comes to you after I’d asked what you guys would like to see on my Instagram and this was the most-asked question. I wasn’t sure how to word my response because it was something I’d never actively thought about. It comes naturally to me, I always thought. But really — it didn’t. Look back at my old apartment in 2011 in Chicago when I was 19 and it’s a very far cry from the colorful, bold style that we have come to associate with our home. And maybe that it comes with maturing, but maybe it doesn’t.

A very sad snap of my first apartment’s gallery wall (and my broken table lamp).
A more recent snapshot of my kitchen and dining room in my current house.

So how did I get from that sad apartment to where I am now? I thought long and hard, and here’s what I came up with.

Identify where your inspiration comes from.

This is going to be more or less like creating a mood board. Collecting inspiration and decoding what you’re naturally drawn to is like putting in the research before writing a paper. Are you inspired by a certain movement like minimalism or maximalism? What about hygge? Color? Is there a designer that you gravitate towards like Dorothy Draper, or one more like Amber Lewis?

To get a start on discovering your inspiration, utilize Pinterest, interior design magazines, design blogs, and Instagram. Follow hashtags that inspire you, and bookmark the images that speak to you. Do this without giving much thought to it. Just pin, save, and collect. When you pull away and look at all of the things you’ve pinned or saved, jot down what the unifying themes are overall. For example, here’s a screenshot from my Interior Style Inspiration Pinterest page:

I see themes of color, clean lines, and basic shapes. I also see a good bit of a nature theme, exemplified by the use of green and leaves. It’s generally devoid of loud textures, like fur or suede, and instead my style just naturally gravitates toward more smooth surfaces like acetate, tile, wood, metal, and shiny leather. It’s also worth noting that while I love color, my style mostly moves in the direction of color blocking versus patterning. There are, obviously, images where there are notable patterns, but the overall vibe is mostly of solid color.

When you’re collecting your inspiration, remember: the goal is not to carbon copy the exact space in the photo. You’re in this step to get inspired and understand the basis of your inspiration. Decoding the recurring themes on a mood board is important: it spells out what you’re naturally drawn to in a a way that is easy to comprehend.

It’s safe to assume that we should keep these themes in mind when deciding on paint, patterns, accessories, and fabrics/textures. Don’t focus so much on one element, but rather an overall feel. For example, if you look at the screenshot of my Interior Design Inspiration Pinterest page, you’ll notice that many of the colors fall into a tropical category, so I’d probably move in that direction if I were stuck when deciding on a paint color, a pillow cover, or some artwork. Use your themes as your guide.

Fine tune a few themes from your inspiration.

Once you have dialed in the things that inspire you, make a list of the themes that are most important to you or resonate the most with you. For my home, the most important themes are:

  • Shapes in their purest form (clean lines, basic shapes)
  • Tropical colors
  • Natural accents, nature-inspired (ie concrete, wood, ceramic, plants; abstract mural depictions of nature scenes)
Here are all of my main themes covered in one shot: shapes, tropical colors, and natural accents.

You’re allowed to be inspired by multiple movements, styles, and designers. I like to call these people Style Mutts, and I’m one of them. We don’t control what we like and we shouldn’t police it either for the sake of following a popular trend. That was a huge problem for me when we bought our first house in Nashville — I had no clue where to start with decor. By having no vision and no guide, I was influenced by the Americana culture that is hyper-prevalent in the South, as well as the Joanna Gaines hype starting to take form. I didn’t particularly resonate with either of these, but I was influenced by them solely because of proximity.

What I ultimately ended up with was a neutral palette (we called that house the Fifty Shades of Grey House), abstract gallery walls, and furniture that I loved but didn’t serve my vision. This vibe was okay for the time we had it, but I always felt unsatisfied with how the house felt because it just wasn’t a reflection of us.

Once we moved into our current house, I was much more patient with developing my style. I felt like I strayed away from my color-loving heart for too long and I knew I didn’t want to live in a neutral home anymore. I painted every wall a neutral-tone white (Falling Snow by Behr) and that was my jumping-off point. I slowly added color here and there like colorful little building blocks. I followed design blogs on Instagram like Christin Haussmann of Terra+Tint and Bari J. Ackerman of Bari J. Designs, who both use color in incredibly dynamic ways.

Notice something here? You could say a lot of the themes that I apply to my house also apply in these rooms. Natural accents, clean lines, and tropical colors. Your natural pull to certain styles will become more obvious as you focus in on it.

Keep in mind that the theme may vary from room to room, but for a cohesive look, try to keep a majority of them in place. For example, my living room and adjoining dining room are bright, tropically-inspired spaces, but walk down the hall to my bedroom and it’s black. Even then, the themes of clean lines, basic shapes, and natural accents is still prevalent, regardless of color coordination.

Define the feeling of “home”.

A large part of style is curating the way that a room feels when you enter, and that feeling varies from home to home depending on what your definition of home is. It’s for this reason that you often feel out of sorts when staying with someone else, or why it feels so good to come home after being away — their definition of home is likely not the same as yours.

In order to define what home means to you, you’ll need to do a little emotional digging. For this exercise, I recommend journaling a little. Get a piece of paper out and start with the sentence “home is _________________,” and fill in the blank. Don’t think, just write. Let the subconscious make its way onto your paper. Do this a few times until you have an idea what home means to you.

Ask yourself some questions, like:

  • Is home simply a place to land between travels, or is home a place where you nest for long periods of time?
  • Is home a place that’s made for the needs of few specific people, or is home based on welcoming and hosting guests?
  • Is home a place that’s clean and airy and helps me clear my head, or is home a place where I’m grounded in my knickknacks and heirlooms?
  • Is home a place that feels like a piece of art, or is home a place that feels like an old friend?
  • Does home feel more like a warm mug of tea, or like a cool drink of water?

It might feel weird to think of your home metaphorically like drinking water vs tea, but think about the feeling you get from each one. Is home warm like a hot toddy? Refreshing like a cool drink of water? Energizing? Chaotic? Fast-paced? Slow-paced?

For both Jake and I, home is a place that we go to get re-energized. For Jake specifically, it’s a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of his busy day job. He works around people all day and he charges his batteries at home. For me, it’s very much the same: I use my home as a place to refocus my energy and relax after a day spent working with kids or running errands.

By identifying what home means for us, it allows us to feel both energized and relaxed. We don’t feel guilty about ensuring our home serves our own needs first, but ask my grandma and she’d tell you something different. Ask Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who live in a minimal, boundary-less home, and they’d tell you something different still.

Kim and Kanye’s stunning plaster hallway designed by Axel Vervoordt.
Their home encompasses simplicity, nature, and minimalism to balance their chaotic life.
Photo by Jackie Nickerson for Arch Digest.

Try stuff on to see what fits. Be patient when it doesn’t.

Now that we have our inspiration, our themes, and our definition of home laid out: we try it out.

This parts equal parts fun and daunting. Let me just tell you the best advice I ever got: don’t settle.

Don’t settle for a paint color (or an entire mural, *ahem*) you hate because you spent time and money painting it. Don’t settle for a coffee table or a rug or a lamp because you have it and you don’t feel like searching for another because what if you fail to find the right one again?! I’m not saying go out and splurge on luxury items by any means — in fact, most of the things in my house are thrifted or from Facebook Marketplace or estate sales.

Save for your splurge items if you can’t stop thinking about them. Be patient when searching for accessories. Thrift often. Don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t work out, but when it does work out: take note! Build from there.

And sometimes, even when you spend a lot of time and effort creating a space in your house, it won’t feel right. This happened to me a few times, but most notably in my dining room. You can go back and read my post about why I changed that mural. And even though the first one took me hours of labor, and I’d have to put the same amount of labor into the new one, I changed it anyway.

After I changed my mural from the Roberto Burle Marx one on the left to the one I designed on the right, this space went from feeling like I was almost there to feeling like yes! This is IT. That instinctual feeling. It’s my guiding light, and nothing signals *ding ding ding! YOU DID IT!* more than that.

Aside from my dining room mural, I also changed our bedroom paint color twice before landing on black (it doesn’t even have a color name — just the darkest pigment available). I bought three different rugs for my living room in three different sizes until I landed on the current one. I re-stained my dining room table from dark brown to whitewash to move the focal point up. I traded up my coffee table on Facebook Marketplace. I replaced my dining room chairs from grey metal schoolhouse chairs to all-black Windsor chairs. I painted and then changed and re-painted my office mural, which you can read all about in this post.

When something doesn’t fit in your home, you’ll know it just as well as you do when a pair of pants don’t fit you right. Sure, you can probably get by with wearing them anyway, but do you really want to? Probably not.

Basically, you do you.

I’m sure there are a bunch of ways that you can curate a style, this is just how I’m pretty sure I did it. But the moral of the story here is to just pay attention to what you like and why you like it. Your home is a reflection of you, not Joanna Gaines (unless you are Joanna Gaines), not Instagram, not your mom (unless you live at your mom’s house).

Just because something isn’t plastered all over the Internet doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Just because someone raises their eyebrows at you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. There really are no hard and fast rules about curating a style.

Do it. Make your home yours.

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