Inspiration and the Interior Design Process


I’m currently in the planning phase of a new project. You might assume that means I head right to the fabric swatches, wallpaper books, and furniture catalogs. But there are important steps to take first.

I always want to start by thinking about how this family will be living in their new space. I do an awful lot of walking around in their shoes, thinking about how they’ll use the home, where they might need extra seating or storage, and which rooms are going to be used the most and will need to withstand the most wear and tear. I’ll spend some time deciphering images they’ve pulled off Pinterest, trying to find the common threads between pretty pictures and all the conversations we’ve had. That’s what’s going to lead us to the perfect coffee table.

Like most professionals, I create spreadsheets and action plans to keep everything on track. Mine are also full of room measurements and contractor schedules and other “décor data.” The other document I create is far more artistic: a mood board.

You’ve seen these, probably. I collect images from all over the web, and I build them up around the images that the client has collected. Then, I’ll gradually edit down until there’s a cohesive vision for me to share. Later, I’ll create a physical board that includes fabric and paint swatches, samples of marble and stain, and even carpet.


Mood boards help to plan out all the artistic elements that go into designing a room.

It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of mental work. I spend a lot of time thinking through different visions, and may find two or three that seem right. Or I may find the perfect object or fabric or piece of art that suddenly changes my view of the project entirely. Sometimes, I’ll head down a path and realize that I’m about to make a mistake I made 20 years ago, and I’ll have to back up a few steps.

The more experience I gain (and let’s be honest, I’ve gained a lot), the more I recognize that good design isn’t only about “pretty” — it’s also about function, convenience, comfort, and durability. Pretty is important, of course, but maximizing beauty can come at the cost of livability. And pumping up the pretty in every room can leave the house as a whole feeling like one of those “designer showcase” model homes, where each room has so much personality that the home is a frantic, jumbled mess.

Design is a journey. And even though the map may change, I always want to make sure that the client and I agree on the final destination before we begin.

Product Information:

Nunez Coffee Table - Celadon
Ornamental Ball Pendant
Diamond Velvet Pillow
The Oriental Shop
Allison Harbor Chaise - Celadon
Marketplace Interiors
Marketplace Interiors
Designer's Gallery
Lexington Fabrics

How do you start planning a design project? What special tools are most helpful to you? Let us know in the comments.

Mary Spalding is a Nashville based interior designer with over 30 years of experience. She has overseen countless home revitalizations, renovations, and restorations. She can be reached with your projects and ideas at

To shop Mary's collection, click here. To read more posts, click hereFor anything else, leave a note in the comment section.  

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