There is a difference between an interior designer and a decorator. Sometimes the difference doesn’t matter and sometimes it does. A “designer” is familiar with architectural and electrical procedures and codes and often works with contractors. Unless you need walls knocked out or rewiring, a “designer” may be overkill. A good decorator will be perfectly knowledgeable about colors, patterns, furnishings, fabrics and more. Since there is so much overlap, I’ll stick with the term “interior designer” for now.
Find an interior designer or two whose work appeals to you. You can find their work on the Internet, in libraries, in magazines. Study them to find out what appeals to you in their work. Every designer is different. Some are known for particular styles and others are known for style eclectism. Quite a few are versed in historical styles or antiques, whereas others are up on the latest trends or materials. (Remember, you don’t necessarily have to hire an interior designer. You just need to learn from them.)
Don’t be overwhelmed. No one can be an expert on everything. If you collect porcelain dolls, vintage roller skates, fountain pens, sculptures, paintings, you may well know more about the subject than a designer. But they will be able to help you figure out how to display these items to advantage. And that’s what you want — somebody who knows how to figure out what to do with your favorite stuff.
When I met my husband, he had already done some outstanding work on public and private spaces and was familiar with the work of a lot of well-known interior designers. Through him I learned names like John Saladino, Bunny Williams, Mario Buatta, David Hicks, and Mark Hampton. I thumbed through lots and lot of design articles and discovered that, personally, I favored a style closer to that of India Hicks’ (daughter of David Hicks) English Country House, far less sumptuous but more inviting to people like me who like walking in the rain, bicycling, and working barefoot on too many projects.
I dearly love much of the work done by Chip and Joanna Gaines (Fixer Upper) in the city I left behind. I used to bicycle past the Silos on my way to work. You can learn a lot watching what they have done with the Silos, older homes, and the ingenuity that has gone into updating them. However, as with all decorator showcases, the result is still different than a home that has been continuously inhabited. Mario Buatta, I believe, said that it takes years for a room to acquire character.
It must be true, for it took a very long time to accumulate the things I love: family pictures, old bottles, books I valued enough to keep, plus odds and ends that just sort of blew in from so many places. (Above my desk hangs a brass censer from a High Church — now where did that come from?)
Resources: Making Dreams Come True
I have become a great fan of Alexa Hampton, the late Mark Hampton’s daughter who took over the helm of his business when he passed. In my opinion, there is no better starting point.
Decorating in Detail by Alexa Hampton
I’m flabbergasted at how inventive she is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qwt3Go-7C8