Q: Since I've just finished school and am moving into my own apartment, I'm in need of some basic advice about how to design a room. Should I draw up a floor plan? And how should I decide what to buy first? Please note that I'm operating on a pretty limited budget.
A: I was delighted to receive your query because it gives me the chance to review some of the fundamentals of interior design. Your question also offers an opportunity to stress one of my standard bits of advice.
Most people consider furniture an absolute necessity. Thus, they relegate art and accessories, like lighting, to a lower priority. Such "extras" they assume, can always be bought at a later date, after all the "essentials" have been procured.
In many cases, however, later never arrives. And even if it does, the purchase of decorative elements is often made compulsively. Very frequently, too, art and accessories are acquired during trips as reminders of good times and exotic places. Items of that type seldom bear much relationship to the design of a particular space.
I therefore strongly urge you to leave room in your budget for decorative elements, even if that initially means not being able to buy another chair or side table. When you see a painting or an "impractical" object that you really love, don't hesitate to buy it. I predict, with some confidence, that you'll be glad you made such a choice rather than sacrificing for the sake of a standard piece of furniture.
As for the other part of your question, yes, I think a floor plan is indispensable in creating a satisfying design. And don't limit your sketch to the layout of the furniture. After that's been done, try to make some simple scaled elevations that include line drawings of the furniture. This doesn't require a great deal of artistic talent. The point of such an exercise is to find out how much space will be left on each wall once the major furnishings have been installed.
It's then possible to calculate how many lamps, pictures, mirrors and table-top accessories you will need. By assigning a dollar value to each of these items, you'll soon discover that your budget cannot accommodate all of the so-called basics and every single accessory. That's when it's important to understand that the usual priorities are not necessarily the wisest.
To illustrate my argument, I've chosen this photograph of a contemporary living room that contains furnishings from various periods. Look carefully, and you will see that the beauty of this space depends to a great extent on the flowers and plants as well as on their colorful containers. The unusually textured fabrics on the pillows and throws likewise add a lot to the room's styling. Notice, too, the family photos in silver antique frames that adorn the lamp tables.
Accessories are what make a room fun to live in, while also giving a space a personal character. And because they're small, accessories are easy to rotate. They can be moved around a room or stored away for a while, with others introduced in their place. That makes it possible for a setting always to look fresh and inviting.