When you’ve lived in the same place for a few years, things can start to feel stale. That cheap secondhand coffee table you’ve had since your first apartment is definitely out of style. And you know the living room layout needs tweaking, but you just aren’t sure how to change it up without blocking the fireplace with the sofa.
Alas, this all-too-common dilemma has a name: the home decor rut.
For many of us, design change can be hard (even when we’re desperately seeking it). We’re often too familiar with our homes, which can be a major roadblock when reimagining a room. Plus, when there’s so much to be done, it can be hard to know what to do first. So we don’t do anything at all, stuck in our own personal decor escape room.
That’s no way to live! You can dig yourself out of a design rut with a few tricks from the pros.
1. Make changing your decor an urgent priority
Photo by Chris Snook
How long have you been staring at your problem room, waiting for a solution to magically pop into your head?
Stop staring. Instead, “create urgency,” says Stephanie Plymale, president and CEO of the Portland, OR-based Heritage School of Interior Design. “Nothing gets done until you make a decision.”
That decision could be something, anything to force you to look at your room differently—for instance, getting rid of an enormous piece of furniture or painting a single wall a strange color.
Not sure where to start? Consider: What’s causing you the most stress? Plymale suffered her most recent design rut in her bedroom.
“I realized that the anchor piece in my bedroom, a large bed with an imposing headboard, was dominating the room,” she recalls. “It had to go.”
She called a friend and asked her to take the headboard away.
“At that moment,” Plymale says, “I became committed to change. Don’t let fear stand in your way.”
2. Identify your mental roadblocks
Now it’s time to think about what’s been holding you back from mixing things up.
“If you’re in a rut, a limiting belief of some kind is keeping you there,” Plymale says. “In my case, for some reason, I had a limiting vision of what a headboard was.”
Think about the design beliefs you have that could be holding back your imagination. Maybe you’ve never strayed from a bohemian chic aesthetic, or perhaps you can’t imagine anything but neutral gray on your walls. If so, take a look at midcentury modern design, or consider navy blue paint—anything to shake up your preconceptions.
“I finally found my inspiration—the piece that broke me out of my rut,” Plymale says: a headboard built from a room divider, stretching from floor to ceiling. “It made the room feel twice as big. I knew I needed to find my version of that vision.”
3. Empty the space
Photo by Mark English Architects, AIA
If the deep-dive into your psyche isn’t revealing any good reason for your home decor hangup, start from scratch.
“Completely empty the space,” says Ola Swarn, an interior design blogger at J’adore le Décor. “Leave only the large-ticket items, like the sofa, coffee table, and chairs.”
This has two benefits: First, you can better visualize alternate furniture arrangements. Maybe the couch really ought to live on the opposite wall—or your dining table should be rotated 90 degrees.
Second, removing all the small furniture lets you look carefully at your bigger pieces. If your decor tastes have changed dramatically, this might be causing your rut.
“Ask, ‘Do I like the bones of this furniture? Am I still in love with the style of it?'” Swarn advises.
Once you’ve answered those questions, you can focus on either replacing your large furniture, or updating your smaller pieces to get you closer to a style you adore.
4. Go ‘shopping’
Designer Justin Riordan of Spade & Archer has a brilliant strategy for climbing out of your design rut: While emptying the room, organize all your items into categories. Put all your art together, for instance, and set your chairs and side tables elsewhere. Accessories go on another table.
Take a break. Clear your head. And then, “go ‘shopping’ in the ‘stores’ you created,” Riordan says. When looking at your belongings out of context, you might just come up with a brilliant idea for a new design.
This process works best when you’re redesigning your whole house, Riordan admits. But if you’re truly stuck in a single space, give this funky strategy a go.
5. Shift your design style ever so slightly
Photo by Carolyn Reyes
If you outfitted your home when you were going through a farmhouse phase, figuring out new decor might get complicated. After all, you can’t buy all new furniture. But everything looks so, well, farmhouse.
All is not lost! You can keep your farmhouse furniture and just change your accessories for an entirely new vibe.
“Many times a lateral shift to a different version of the same style is all that is needed to refresh a dull home,” Swarn says.
For example. farmhouse has a dozen variations: rustic farmhouse, industrial farmhouse, modern farmhouse, farmhouse glam, and more.
“Most of the big-ticket furniture items in each of these versions will likely be very similar,” she notes. “It’s how the room is accessorized that swings the pendulum from one design aesthetic to another.”
6. Find another set of eyes
Still can’t figure out how to escape your design rut? Bring in a fresh pair of eyes. A friend or family member might be able to figure out what’s missing. Maybe your living room demands a chandelier, or your kitchen’s clamoring for some bright-red paint.
If that’s a bust, it’s time to bring in the big guns: a professional.
Yes, hiring interior designers can be pricey: You could easily pay in the thousands of dollars for their services. But if you’re truly struggling with a room, their professional eyes can quickly pinpoint the problem. And cheaper solutions do exist for tighter budgets. E-design services like Modsy offer basic design services for less than $100.
Getting out of your rut requires pushing your comfort zone and trying new things. But that little bit of effort creates a room that’s both surprising and delightful—and not boring at all.
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