Decorating ideas: The ultimate guide to getting it right

These expert decorating ideas are stylish, timeless and easy to recreate

Decorating ideas
(Image credit: Future)

The whole purpose of interior design is to create a room or rooms that answer the needs of the individuals living in them while reflecting their personalities with good design, space and functionality. 

It's about making a space feel like home and catering to the wants and needs of the people living there, and making sure that the space is practical and fully functional for day-to-day living. 

Once the practicalities are met, you then need to ensure the room looks beautiful and is designed to the tastes of those living there. 

Our pick of the best decorating ideas will show you how to create your dream home.

  • For more decorating ideas, see: Home ideas: The ultimate guide to interior design at home

Decorating ideas

These decorating ideas cover everything color scheme to working with pattern – and even designing outdoor spaces. Follow our simple formulas to get your home decor spot on first time.

1. Get creative with color 

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

It’s tempting to play it safe when it comes to injecting color into your home, but interiors that experiment with bold tones are often the most striking. The key is to do your research, testing contrasting palettes out before decorating, using color and fabric with confidence. 

‘Adding color to a room can instantly change both the look and feel,’ advises Michael Curtis Green, Mahout Lifestyle

‘Vibrant shades will create an uplifting, positive mood whereas cool hues and soft blushes will create a calming ambience. Always add a surprise, whether it's a feature wall, a large rug or a bright couch; it’s a great way to create a focal point. 

'If you're mixing colorful patterns, use large with medium, or medium with small. Choose prints and patterns with one color in common, for a scheme that feels coordinated.’

2. Display books 

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future)

'You can spend a huge amount of time, money and effort on creating a beautifully designed space, but it’s not until you add books that it becomes a home. Stunning furniture and lighting and so on are all very well, but it is books that are essential to completing a project, and giving it character,' continues Michael Curtis Green.

'Start with key books and build around them. Try to develop a rhythm, so you might have lots of big books spread out across the shelves, punctured with smaller ones in between. It’s not an exact science, but then I don’t like things to look too perfect.'

3. Let your fireplace take center stage

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future)

There’s nothing quite like a fire in the winter, when you’re tucked up under a cozy throw with the flames flickering from the fireplace. 

However, it’s not only the fire itself that can add a magical touch – the surround itself can be turned into a fabulous feature to show off. Dressing and accessorizing the space around the fireplace can be key to making  the best of it. 

A large fireplace, offset by a symmetrical arrangement of chairs and identical shelving either side, is a tried-and-tested classic, and makes an inviting setting to sit in front of. 

4. Add character to a rental property

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

If you are a renter, there are plenty of ways to make your home your own. 

While significant changes such as structural improvements may not be an option, you can still enhance a property’s best features with a host of decorative touches from striking wall treatments to freestanding pieces.  

A good way of injecting new life is to paint the walls – if you plan to rent long-term, most landlords will permit a fresh colour scheme as long as you agree to revert to  the original décor. 

But if that isn’t an option, look to enliven the walls with framed artwork, bearing in mind that large-scale pieces look more generous. 

5. Enhance an entrance

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

Hallways are often overlooked, despite setting the decorative tone for the rest of your home. Think of your hallway as a room in its own right and not just as an interim space. 

Once you’ve made the most of its natural features, consider how to personalize it from a decorative point of view. 

Though very dark colours can be tricky to incorporate, avoid the opposite approach, which can result in a bland magnolia finish. Instead choose a hue that harmonises with the rest of your scheme and try highlighting the skirting and door frames in a stronger shade for definition. 

Add texture with rugs and stair runners, such as an unusual runner made of antique Persian rugs, or opt for a smart hardwearing covering such as a large bouclé sisal or herringbone jute.

  • See: Hallway ideas – stylish ways to create a welcoming first impression

6. Be bold with block color   

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Carolyn Barber)

Block colors can create a sophisticated, eye-popping scheme, adding interest and personality. It takes courage to create a look like this, but a confident approach pays dividends.   

The key is to contrast bright color with plenty of neutrals and natural tones, to avoid an overwhelming look. But used carefully, a scheme like this can create a powerful style statement. 

The secret is to break up color with a neutral base, such as white, which really allows bright tones to pop. Stick to a maximum of  three colors, and try to introduce them creatively. Look for areas within your scheme that will allow a block color to really sing out,  such as a chimney breast, sliding panel, the back of a bookcase, or a door. 

7. Lay down a rug

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

Used for upholstery, wall hangings and soft furnishings, the characterful motifs and delicate shades of Persian carpets and kilims are an inventive starting point for richly textured schemes.   

The large-scale pattern of this floor rug makes a design statement, which is balanced by monochrome wallpaper for a harmonious overall effect. 

8. Style your space with stripes 

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Simon Brown)

From highly tailored pinstripes to bold and broad lines, the diversity and timelessness of stripes makes them suitable for every room of the house. 

According to Roselind Wilson, Founder, Roselind Wilson Design: ‘Stripes bring order and structure to a space and have the ability to redirect the eye. When incorporated into an interior scheme, they inject a dose of understated elegance and sophistication.’ 

To prevent stripes overpowering a room, choose your color palette and then add pattern and accents of that colour palette in darker and lighter shades. 

If you feel hesitant about decorating with stripes, perhaps start with a small room or space in your home. Or as an introduction to bringing graphic pattern into your interior scheme, use a decorative element, such as a striped vase or striped cushions.

9. Decorate with white

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Michael Sinclair)

Evoking purity and cleanliness alongside confidence and sophistication, white is a wonderfully versatile color for interiors. 

‘Small accents of white are a stylish way to lift and freshen any color scheme,’ explains interior designer, Katharine Pooley. ‘Accessories made from mother-of-pearl, white candles and white flowers will elevate the whole palette and draw the eye. 

According to Chrissie Rucker, Founder, The White Company: ‘In a predominantly white home, texture is absolutely key. By using different weights and weaves of fabric, you can animate a room, adding depth, warmth and visual interest.’ 

Here, crisp white walls act as the perfect backdrop to display art and make the pieces sing out. Sticking to a smart monochrome palette will give added impact and the idea can be extended to set off other decorative elements, such as a collection of black and white ceramics. 

10. Put the focus on florals

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Katya De Grunwald)

From delicate blossom to big, showy blooms, flower motifs can add a new dimension to every interior. 

‘Flowers are an integral part of interior decoration and have been for centuries,’ says Gillian Newberry, Director, Bennison Fabrics. ‘Floral textiles can furnish every room, as curtains, upholstery and wall coverings. They have a softening effect and also bring the garden indoors.’ 

Classic floral designs often have a symmetry that is particularly pleasing to the eye and a fine proportion that complements the arrangement of furniture in both traditional and contemporary schemes. The historical designs that tend to work best in modern interiors are those that have a lot of space between the motifs, giving an illusion of depth. 

Here, floor-length curtains and mismatched florals conjure up country cottage style. To prevent the scheme from looking dated, keep everything else simple. In this space, untreated floorboards and a roll-top bath create a modern-rustic feel. 

11. Add wow factor with a window dressing 

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Carolyn Barber)

Whether you have a tricky bay window, an awkwardly shaped recess or a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass, there are a host of clever design solutions that will finish your scheme to perfection. 

‘I like window treatments that create an informal, relaxed feel,’ says interior design, Adam Bray. ‘Instead of complicated or flamboyant styles, I prefer something simple and clean-looking made from high-quality fabric softened with hand-tied curtain headings.’ 

Curtains in plain silks or linens, carefully made and well finished, allow the beauty of the fabric and the architecture of the room to shine. 

Blinds work well in settings where curtains would be unsuitable or impossible to fit, perhaps due to the complex architecture around a window. 

Flat-panel sheers are useful for privacy, and blinds for protecting furniture and curtain linings from sun damage. Beautifully tailored curtains, however, are best for adding balance and completing the design of a well-dressed room.

12. Hang a mirror 

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Damian Russell)

Mirrors are a versatile design feature, adding instant glamor and interest, while maximising light and boosting the sense of space. 

‘Placing mirrors near light sources will brighten your space and maximise the reach of the light,’ explains Astrid Limal, Founder, Perch & Parrow

‘To create an extra light source in a room, try placing a full-length mirror between two windows. Alternatively, reflect daylight and your garden in your home by positioning a large mirror opposite a window.’ 

According to Rupert Bevan, Managing Director, ‘Heavily antiqued mirror is currently on trend. It will utterly transform a room and bring real drama to any space.

There are many mirror finishes you can experiment with, including antiqued, mottled, sand-blasted, etched, glided, hand-decorated and églomisé. Bevelled, hand-blown and cut glass are also available.'

13. Build a stylish study space

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Jan Baldwin)

Whether it’s a fully fledged home office or a dedicated corner of a room, ensure your work area is as inspiring as it is functional. 

‘It is best to situate your work zone where there’s plenty of natural light, although task lighting can always be incorporated into a design,’ advises interior designer, Emma Sims-Hilditch. ‘Practical features, such as power and data sockets, will need to be considered. Always opt for more sockets than you think you’ll need and include a charger drawer with power built in for your mobile phone and tablet.’

She goes on to say: ‘I like to keep the colors calm in home office to promote a good working environment. Try combining florals with fresh, white paint to give the room a crisp, uplifting feel.’ 

‘Make sure your desk is the right height (around 70cm is perfect) and that the screen isn’t facing a window, so you are not dazzled by daylight. The room should also be warm – underfloor heating is more practical than radiators if space is tight.’ 

14. Set up an outdoor room

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

From canopied seating areas to bespoke banquettes, ensure that the garden becomes a true extension of the home with a stylish outside living space. 

‘The key to making an outdoor space an extension of the home is to continue elements of the interior scheme outside,’ says Charlotte Rowe, design director or Charlotte Rowe Garden Design. ‘This can be done with materials, such as stone flooring, or by bringing the color palette into the garden.’ 

Small gardens lend themselves particularly well to creating an outdoor room, as they have a feeling of intimacy. Designing a room within a larger space garden requires some form of portioning in order to delineate the space and give it a sense of coziness. ‘I prefer to do this using “green architecture” such as trees, hedging, shrubs or plant pots,’ explains Charlotte.

How can I decorate my house cheaply? 

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Simon Brown)

There are many ways to redecorate your home on a budget. For example, flea markets, auction houses and second-hand boutiques often stock well-loved, good quality pieces for affordable prices. 

If hiring an interior designer is out of your price range, then make the most of readily  available resources, such as Pinterest, Instagram for inspiration. 

How do I know my decorating style?

Decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

‘One of the staples of interior design is to create a truly timeless interior, and to do this you must make sure that you choose pieces for your home that you genuinely love,’ advises Emma Sims Hilditch. 

‘Inspiration can be found in a variety of places, and the chances are you have already accumulated furniture, artwork and furnishings that you have a particular affinity with. These are a great starting point, and you can use the array of beautiful imagery on Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration on how to progress these ideas into a design scheme for a room.

Once you have identified a theme that speaks to you, you can start to choose the fabrics, wallcoverings and soft furnishings for your interior. Start by ordering samples and laying them out on the floor or kitchen table so you can see them next to each other. This will give you a good visual confirmation as to whether you want to go ahead and order these items.’

Jennifer Ebert
Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. 

Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.