Interior Design

Interiors expert Chris Barrett reveals her 6 essential design steps

The California-based designer takes these steps to achieve an elegantly balanced room scheme

Living room
(Image credit: Chris Barrett)

We are always fascinated by the design process of interiors experts. Unsurprisingly, many of them have very defined steps that they always take when embarking on a new project.

Today, we share interior design secrets from California-based designer Chris Barrett, who tells us how she approaches transforming the blank canvas of a client's room into an elegant but approachable space.

'When designing a home, you may wish to create an elegant space while not knowing how to achieve that goal,' says Chris. 'The days of filling a room with beautiful antiques and art are replaced with a more curated view combining comfort and style. An eclectic combination of traditional and modern concepts can be a tricky balance to accomplish. 

'Achieving elegance with an approachable view has long been an important mantra when working with my Southern California design team. Whether a project is in New York, Florida, or Pacific Palisades, clients come to me because of my ability to create an approachable sophisticated interior. Achieving this goal in my design process, I pay attention to following points.'

1. Decide how you want the space to feel

Living room

(Image credit: Chris Barrett)

'When starting the design process, imagine a room empty first. Then think about how you want the room to feel. Imagine a room you share with your friends and family – perhaps you enjoy martinis in elegant seating or prefer a place to flop down on the sofa and put your feet up? Sophistication and elegance can exist in both spaces – you decide how you want to live.'

2. Know which finishes to prioritize

'By changing the existing finishes in a room you will begin the process of creating your palette. This becomes the base that you will use as a guide for the layers of furnishings and decorative items to come. 

'Think about what really needs updating. Does a wood floor require refinishing? Is there a fireplace surround from the eighties that is screaming to be updated? Now is the time to pull off the plaster and bring your home back from tired trends of the past.' 

3. Find the room's focal point

Living room

(Image credit: Chris Barrett)

Creating a Focal Point 

It is not an uncommon concept that creating a focal point in a room can be essential. A fireplace or special peace of art, are often the ideal candidates. Sometimes the subject may not be in the room at all. A beautiful view of the garden may be the better choice. When attempting to high lite a view consider how you frame the window. A floor to ceiling drape can grab your attention not only to the view beyond but ads height to your space. 

4. Know what to keep – and what not to

'It is not an uncommon concept that creating a focal point in a room can be essential. A fireplace or special piece of art are often the ideal candidates. 

'Sometimes the subject may not be in the room at all. A beautiful view of the garden may be the better choice. 

'When attempting to highlight a view, consider how you frame the window. A floor to ceiling drape can direct your attention not only to the view beyond, and adds height to your space.'

5. Begin to layer in color and texture

Living room

(Image credit: Chris Barrett)

'After I have decided on the base finishes, my next step is often to start with a rug. In a calm monochromatic space this may invite a rough textured sisal or wool. For a fun, livelier interior, a rug with punches of color is an excellent starting point. 

'Think about mixing your wood finishes, they should complement each other but should not all match. 

'When selecting, fabric a mix of texture and pattern is essential. Consider forgoing the matching throw pillows and layer pillows of different sizes and fabrics, this will elevate a simple clean lined sofa to an elegant display.'

6. Introduce lighting

Living room

(Image credit: Chris Barrett)

'The final and often under-estimated element in an elegant space is the lighting. To flood the room with nothing but an overhead fixture and a table lamp you may be missing the boat. Ambient lighting on a piece of art can make it sing. Consider dimmers on every fixture. 

'Think about how you would need the room to function. Creating a work, game, or party space atmosphere is a function of the lighting. General lighting may be good for doing a puzzle or reading but think about the same room providing an intimate area to share a glass of wine with a loved one.'

Lucy Searle
Content Director

Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she also took on the editorship of the magazine. Today, Lucy works as Content Director across Homes & Gardens, Woman & Home, Ideal Home and Real Homes.