Sarah Montgomery Design

Tuft and Tassel

The blog of Sarah Montgomery Design

Four Things to Consider When Furnishing a Room from Scratch

Many of my clients today have just purchased their first home or larger condo and they are ready to upgrade their furniture. The things they have brought with them from the old place are outdated or the wrong scale and style. Often there is more than one living space to think about furnishing from scratch and this can be very overwhelming. I know how it is to want all the things all at once! If you rush into things you may end up with the wrong pieces, a room full of furniture from the same store or nothing at all because you are paralyzed by endless choices.

Whether you are thinking of hiring a designer or going about it on your own, I have 4 tips to keep in mind when furnishing a room from scratch.

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

1. Assess your priorities and how you plan to use the space.

If this is the main living space or family room, comfort usually takes precedent. Do you host? How many people would you like to seat and do they all need to see the TV? 

Think about the shape of the room and how you want it to flow. Remember, furniture does need to be shoved against the wall. It can float and be used to break up the space. If you are having trouble imagining a layout, you can always search Pinterest for things like “long narrow living room layout” or “living and dining room floor plan ideas”. You may see an example of chairs in front of the TV, but facing the sofa. If the chairs are low enough, it won’t block the TV! If you have enough space swivel chairs would allow guests to face towards the sofa for conversation or the TV. 

Winchester Coach House photo by Emma Fialo

Winchester Coach House photo by Emma Fialo

Are you thinking of finally pulling the trigger on that big comfy sectional or do you desperately need window treatments? Even if you just moved in, I always encourage people to consider resale value when thinking about the things not to spend money on. You’re going to take that sofa with you to the next place, but those window treatments are going to get you more value when you sell. I’m not advocating you skimp on either of these pieces, just to prioritize if you have to. 

Kenilworth Historic Home photo by Margaret Rajic

Kenilworth Historic Home photo by Margaret Rajic

Is the room a neutral, boring box? Are you willing to repaint in order to pull off the look you want? Are you willing to add wallpaper? Sometimes what seems like an extra expense actually can save you money you might otherwise have to spend on furniture or artwork. Doing something on the walls can actually help make the space feel more full and interesting without having to actually put more stuff in there.

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

Lastly, how do you want to feel in the space? Is it going to be a space you veg out in every evening after work or are you looking at it all day when you work from home? Do you want an interesting dining room so you are inclined to have more dinner parties? Do you want a place that’s still comfortable and functional but isn’t taken over by your kids things?

Corner of Linden bedroom project photo by Margaret Rajic

Corner of Linden bedroom project photo by Margaret Rajic

Rather than spending time thinking about all of the things you need, thinking about your why can help you move in the right direction. Hey, I think this concept applies to almost anything we want in life, right?

2. Think about your values when it comes to budgeting.

Think back to when you were growing up and your parents made bigger purchases for the home. Did they shop the sales at big box furniture stores or put your grandmother’s hand me downs to use? Did they spend money on the biggest TV or a china cabinet to house the family wares? Did you have an outdated and tattered but comfy sofa or something that looked great to your mom but nobody wanted to sit on? All of these memories can influence how you think about spending the money to furnish your space. This will give you insight into what is most important to you in creating a space you love.

Kenilworth Historic Home photo by Margaret Rajic

Kenilworth Historic Home photo by Margaret Rajic

As much as you need to wrap your head around the fact that it’s going to cost a lot, it is a good exercise to sit down and itemize everything. Start with this plan:

1. Write down your all in budget

2. Write down your wish list

3. Assign a dollar amount to each item, either what you know you want costs or what you think it should cost. 

4. Add 20-30% for deficiencies, tax and shipping.

5. Total this up- is it equal to your all in amount?

If not, that’s ok, we just need to shift our expectations and prioritize. It’s better to know this now rather than after you have purchased a few items and need to halt the process to recalibrate. You may find yourself with a beautiful rug and nowhere to sit.

When I onboard new clients I work through the answers to these questions and if it’s a couple it helps to see if they are both on the same page. Whether you plan on hiring a designer or not this is a great way to start the process when furnishing a room from scratch.

3. Think in new ways about things you already own.

I recently completed a project where we made the most out of a few items the client already had. I was working with a living/dining room combination space with sparse grey walls. In addition to furnishings I knew I would need to be clever about adding interest to the walls. We needed to fill them, but I didn’t want to suggest incorporating more than one large art print. A gallery wall would be one option, but a lot of time needs to go into incorporating the right pieces so it looks intentional and collected.

The client had three vintage Fornasetti plates which I loved the look of and knew I wanted to incorporate. I got to thinking that if we added new Fornasettis to this collection we could hang them on the wall for a big statement. They would make an impact in the space now, and later be a collection they can pass down. Even though ⅔ of the plates are new, the display holds sentiment because of the three that were handed down.

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

I incorporate vintage or antique into every project but it’s even better when the client has something to contribute. The same clients had a mid-century split back chair acting as a seating area stand in when we first started. I loved the shape and patina but it couldn’t very well serve as a chair for lounging or even a dining chair. When the clients mentioned there was another one in storage at their grandma’s I got to thinking it would be easier to incorporate the two into a design statement.

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

Flanking the entryway console, these chairs help fill out the space and make a statement. They had warmth and character and even serve as a place to unload.

Do you have anything you’ve been holding onto but don’t quite know how to incorporate into your space or is it time to take a trip to visit your aunt and raid her basement??

4. Think about pieces you can buy now that may serve you in the future.

Designers have to use this tactic to help sell their designs to clients. But if you’re going it alone it’s smart to think this way too. This concept goes beyond investment pieces. Of course there are recommended items you want to put the money into like upholstery, but you can also think about the type of piece you bring in to achieve the look you want. Here are some scenarios to get you thinking.

Do you love the look of a bar cart, but have an empty wall and a large collection of booze and glassware? Think about incorporating a buffet or console to act as one. You can have a tray with glasses and a few decanters on one side and a lamp and leaning artwork on the other. Even better you can hide that bottle of Crown you only have for when your cousin comes.

photo by Christopher Patey via My Domaine

photo by Christopher Patey via My Domaine

Do you read all about styling shelves and dream of one day taking a shelfie, but you don’t have any books? Don’t buy bookshelves to flank your fireplace unless you also want to spend the money to fill them. Maybe opt for a vintage secretary, it’s higher than a console so you can get away without putting something over it and leaving it open it gives you a little room for a display moment.

image via  house beautiful  | design by  juan carretero

image via house beautiful | design by juan carretero

Do you work from home and have an office, but prefer to sit at the dining room table? Ditch the idea of an office chair and think about incorporating head dining chairs that are on casters so it’s easy to get up and down when you drink too much coffee and have to pee a lot.

How many places can a console table be used? This is both a trick question and a riddle… A console table can be used along a dining or living room wall, in an entryway or behind a sofa. If you purchase one for behind the sofa in your current home, you can be sure there will be a spot for it in the next place.

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

Iowa Modern Duplex photo by Gene Yoon

If you spend a lot of time gathering beautiful inspiration images and making a mental list from there, make sure you also take the time to get clear on your lifestyle and how you plan to use the space now and in the future. Don’t let your impending lifestyle changes halt you from making a decision now. If you’re stuck, enlist the help of a designer in some way, it’s their job to blend your inspiration with your reality.

It’s so much to think about on top of your project list, I know!

Even if you plan to hire a designer, taking this time now will get everybody on the same page quickly. If you are on the fence, it can break things down and help you determine whether or not you can go it alone. I hope you’ve found these tips juicy and helpful, tell me what resonated with you in the comments!




Sarah Montgomery