Teaching myself interior design
September 6, 2015 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to teach myself interior design (for my own spaces, not to do work for others). I think I have the ability to do it well, but so far I've been disappointed with my results. What resources do you recommend?

I know that top tier interior design is very much an art and a talent. I have no illusions that I'll be able to do the kind of work that a really great professional designer can do, and I have no aspirations of becoming a professional. I've hired designers in the past, and will probably continue to do so for bigger projects. But I really want to be able to design a nice room myself; one that my family and I will be happy with. I know several people who seem to just have a knack for this, putting beautiful rooms together without breaking a sweat. But I am not one of those people. I’ll shop for months or years to find the “right” things, and then be disappointed by how it comes together when it’s finally in the room.

I do think that I have the aptitude to learn to do this, but for some reason it doesn’t come naturally to me. I'm decent at graphic design and photography. I'm not a professional graphic designer, but I like to think I have a good eye for composition, and I have done some studying of the foundations when I was in college. My photos and designs (both web and print) have been successfully used in high-profile professional contexts, and have received good feedback from designers, instructors (when I was in school), and others.

But interior design has may complicating factors that graphic design does not. 3D space, texture, lighting, more elements overall. Additionally, rather than being able to create anything I can think of (as I can in Photoshop and Illustrator), I'm limited to what I can buy or have made. And experimentation is much more costly in both time and money. Sometimes even if I have an idea in mind, then finding the pieces that make that idea a reality seems impossible.

I'm willing to dedicate a lot of time to this, creating my own "interior design self study course," but I don't have the schedule flexibility to actually take classes. I’m hoping I can find a series of books, maybe instructional videos, blogs, podcasts, and other media to help me develop this skill.

What do you suggest?
posted by primethyme to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
What you failed to mention was your personal preferences. Do you like modern, clean minimalism; mid-century modern; shabby chic; avant garde; romantic; gothic; industrial? What style of architecture is your living space? Without this info, it is difficult to point you in any given direction.
posted by zagyzebra at 11:34 AM on September 6, 2015

Response by poster: I think what that actually points out is something else I didn't make clear enough in my post:

I'm not looking for pictures of example rooms, or a source of specific ideas. It's really easy to find thousands of pictures online of any given style of room, or to buy magazines for inspiration. But I want to learn the foundations, so that I can both create my own ideas, and when I see a room I like, understand WHY I like it (without knowing that, I find it hard to effectively translate inspiration into reality). Just as a professional interior designer doesn't go to school just for "modern" or "traditional" design, I'd like to educate myself broadly, and then once I have a better foundation I can zero in on more specific styles.

So, sorry to not answer the question, but I think that getting into that will result in answers here that aren't really what I'm looking for (and besides, I like a number of styles, and might use different ones in different places).
posted by primethyme at 11:47 AM on September 6, 2015

Try reading interior design textbooks.
posted by Bassariscus at 12:46 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Long-time lurker/MetaFilter beneficiary! Had to answer:

I found this very helpful and complete.
posted by chocolatefault at 12:46 PM on September 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

What about looking up community education classes in your area? You don't say where you live, but I have since interior decorating classes offered, even though they are less common than things like drawing or guitar lessons.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about online community education? My local university has an online Introduction to Interior Design course for a small cost. Try your local university or community college if you don't mind taking an online personal development course.
posted by Fairchild at 1:08 PM on September 6, 2015

It might help to read about vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture seems to be more bottom up than top down. People with formal degrees do a top down approach. This is more organic and comes more from local traditions. It is richly steeped in what works for local climate, local materials and local lifestyles. Maybe that angle will help you.
posted by Michele in California at 1:22 PM on September 6, 2015

Christopher Lowell had a book a few years ago that gave a "formula" for decoration, which I thought was very practical (sorry- hard to link from my phone)
posted by sarajane at 1:50 PM on September 6, 2015

You might try reading A Pattern Language, which talks about... I guess why different features in architecture make us feel the way they do. It's very much a classic. I'm still looking for its equivalent in interior design, but many of the ideas carry through.
posted by wyzewoman at 2:33 PM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

In addition to what's already been said, I would recommend perusing home design blogs when you have an idle moment. My favourites are:
posted by mossicle at 2:59 PM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Emily Henderson has a great "Biggest design mistakes" series of posts, on hanging curtains all wrong, generic sofas, too-small-rugs, painting small, dark rooms white, and hanging art correctly. She also has a drool-worthy post on some of her favourite living rooms that she has designed.

Of course, some of this is a matter of personal preference, but it's a good starting point.
posted by mossicle at 3:42 PM on September 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

I had the same inclination as you and for my own edification, rather than professional outcomes, I joined a local art college and studied interior design units. They were great, especially for drawing, perspectives, making things in the workshop etc. I made lots of friends and through them, and the college's own networks, myself and a few friends found ourselves asked to do an interior installation in our state gallery, windows for community festivals, and I even got a very easy, enjoyable and educational job as the 'Architecture Gal' in our state newspaper. If you have interest and passion, an artistic mind and some good mental arithmetic skills, interior design courses are stimulating (often more demanding than you think!) and absorbing. They get you out to fabric companies, stonemasons, tiling warehouses, salvage yards. It's practical, hands on learning. You'll also learn various CAD programs and 3D modeling. Fun!

HOWEVER. After two years of interior design, I interviewed for interior architecture at a good university. I think, and I sense this from your considerations of interior space, that you would get a LOT out of an interior architecture course. Basic design technology in first year is superb for getting you to understand force and movement, also site and materials, for example. The philosophy of interiors, another first year unit, really helps to conceptualise and contextualise how to look at space, interiority and our psychological responses. After one year of admittedly hard slog, I felt IA gave me much more confidence about my understanding of the built environment and how to regard space. I'd Google online IA classes in your country.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:46 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try the blog young house love. It's now defunct but there are years and years of posts.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2015

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