• Wei Shen

You are missing the big picture

Some may think that the most important advantages of interior designers are their resources. However, I would like to say, the real difference between an interior space designed by a professional and one designed by an amateur is about the procedure.

Operating a holistic design approach all the way to the end is key. Easier said than done.

I have summarized three major confusions occurring to non-designers regarding this subject and how to improve on those aspects.

Concepts vs Styles

When planning a home renovation, many would start by choosing a style.

The drawback of selecting a style upfront is that people tend to fall into the trap of conforming to certain formulas related to that recognizable style consciously and unconsciously, which would potentially sacrifice your creativity and perhaps inconvenience your own lifestyle.

I have always believed that the best style is no style. A named style that can be distinguished at the first glance is often bland and flavorless. Here is my previous post about understanding styles.

The world we are living in is comprehensive and diverse. When you furnish your entire home following a checklist of a style you choose, you are missing the opportunity of being yourself. Your home should be a place to showcase your own taste developed by years of life experience, as well as accommodate your refind lifestyle over time. It's almost impossible that someone can find everything that suits their preference within one interior style.

The human civilization is always evolving, yes, we also evolve based on others' achievements, but why should we define ourselves or our work by predecessors?

personalized interior design-living room decor

Actress Ellen Pompeo’s House in Los Angeles shows a high level of personalized style where you cannot name the style with any recognized ones. Image from

What we really need to consider in the first place, instead of an interior style, is a design concept.

A concept can be any abstract descriptions you can think of.

It can simply be a color scheme that you extract from a painting; it can be that you have inherited quite a few furniture and that you want to arrange them in a way that suits your current lifestyle and well-trained taste; it can also be how to integrate the gorgeous patina of some old architectural features and intensify their impact by clever design choices, and so on.

Concepts are flexible and boundless. You will not find yourself restrained to any style code; instead, you have your indulgence to paint on a blank canvas in an unprecedented way.

Design Goals vs Design Tools

In spite of being significantly different, design tools are often mistaken as design goals.

Let me explain with examples.

It's not rare that clients tell me at the very beginning of a project that they want to use wallpapers or patterned curtains without specific requirements on their features.

There is nothing wrong with those requests except that they don't necessarily contribute to the interior goals they describe to me, whereas doing so just puts more restrains for those goals to be fulfilled without sacrificing the integrity of a design concept.

From the two examples above, we can feel the balance and synergy among all design elements while the wallpapers are dominating the general aesthetic. Images from

Unlike area rugs, the primary intent of using wallpapers is for their visual function.

As we know there are tens of thousands of patterns to choose from when you opt for wallpapers, from classic damask to strong patterns with vibrant color, from subtle plain color to a mural of avant-garde design. Appling each of them would lead to a totally different visual effect.

If you have a specifically chosen type of wallpaper and you can tell why you like it, as well as why you want to use it for this project, then it becomes a design mandate, and the designer needs to integrate it into your home in a nice and unique way. Only in this way will you be more aware of other corresponding design decisions and understand more deeply about each choice.

Otherwise, leave the possibility open along with the design process. It's more critical to focus on the ultimate goal of the overall aesthetic, as using any type of materials or patterns is one of the tools for achieving that goal.

The same applies to patterned curtains. Unlike other types of window coverings in a solid color, patterned curtains have extremely strong visual impacts, and most of the time, are tricky to work with.

Draperies usually take a big portion of the wall, especially when closed. When you only focus on selecting a strong pattern that you feel attracted to, it will probably end up like the two examples above - a stereotypical result, as not much flexibility is left while choosing other items in the room. Images from

Generally speaking, given the special location and volume of curtains in a room, it's not a smart choice to make them a focal point, in other words, they should not be too eye-catching that your attention won't be able to go elsewhere.

Of course, many people would be content with interior looks like those above, but I always advocate that we take all chances to train our eyes thus bring our tastes to another level. We should not limit ourselves to a conservative showroom-like design goal.

My suggestion would be to leave the decision to the end and find a pattern/color that works with the overall design. Everything you choose needs to contribute to the harmony, instead of killing it.

Images from

In the first picture above, I could hardly find one positive word to describe this room. I guess that the person who chose this design liked the wallpaper applied here on the ceiling, the curtains in strongly contrasting patterns, as well as the patterns on the area rug. But when put together, especially with other bold colors, I am confused by what kind of aesthetic quality was intended to accomplish.

In other words, he or she liked each of the elements individually and wanted to put them together to get the maximum impact. Apparently, it doesn't work this way.

The second image shows a finer outcome of a design procedure. Although strong patterns are used on both the ceiling and the entire wall, the reduced number of colors used here suggests a more sophisticated approach. The humble rug design provides a generous stage for other members to shine. However, in my opinion, things would look more focused and better balanced if the back of the chair is in solid black instead of the pattern which kind of takes away the appreciation of the striking wallpaper.

All design ingredients are supposed to be used as tools and their job is to constitute a cohesive interior space altogether.

Finding products is the approach for achieving a specific design goal, not the goal itself.

Interior Design vs Product Design

After the schematic design phase, we are moving towards the design development and procurement phase. This is where the design usually gets deviated from the original spirit.

During the schematic design phase, everything is taken into account by the designer as a panorama. In other words, the selection of each material and item is not made isolated and has to work together with others. They may have been tested and evaluated on the computer along with physical samples time and time again.

For example, a piece of wall art is chosen carefully because the geometry and color scheme of the art maximize the impact of being juxtaposed with a designer's credenza which has a unique combo of materials and colors. Once you go to the store and are presented with all the available finishes for that credenza, you may want to switch the metal finish from gold to black simply because you really like the black finish in person although the gold finish is not bothering you either.

Now you are missing the big picture, because the black finish may take away the power of that specifically chosen wall art in accordance with the initially selected gold finish on the credenza.

The worst part is that if you are shopping without the designer, you may think you have made a brilliant decision on changing the spec of the furniture while not realizing the damage done to the original design. If this happens many times during the procurement stage, you will end up getting so far away from the fruit of the well-thought-through design.

Choosing a designer means that you want your space to be handled at a professional level, and interior design is far more than shopping for delightful objects.

When you shop without the holistic design in mind, not to mention sticking to it, you are zooming in from the big picture to a microscope view and putting yourself in the position of evaluating product designs, not the interior design.

There are countless smartly designed products on the market, you will never be able to pick a best one whereas you can always choose the one that suits your design needs the most.

Undeniably, the product design of each item should be selected under certain criteria depending on the project, but this shouldn't change the hierarchy of the interior design procedure.

Let me exemplify by the case of using a round area rug below:

Images from

The first image above shows a very elegant bedroom design with delicate details. A large area rug in a solid light grey is placed under the bed. Although there is a mural that is quite eye-catching, the entire space feels soothing and peaceful.

Imagine you are picking a round rug in a store based on the conceptual design. But their collections are so overwhelming that you get carried away by those beautiful rug designs. Not only are they all featured in beautiful graphics, but they also have a nice selection of colorways to choose from, so you finally decide to betray the initially specified rug in plain color and pick the one shown in the second image.

It is gorgeous and creates similar energy and atmosphere to that of the first image. But when you replace the original rug by this one, the harmony of the scene is all broken, and everything doesn't work together anymore.

In this hypothetical case, the preferred rug design is reducing the quality of the space design.

Many people are falling into this shopping pitful when renovating or decorating their homes. Because they are messing up interior design with product design.

There are infinite interior products with wonderful designs under each design category while there is only a limited number of options that fit your specific design aesthetic more than most of the rest.

So is it forbidden to change product selection after the design is done?

Of course not.

When you really want to alter the selections, you will have to reevaluate the entire picture and maybe even redo the design work. After all, you could develop one thousand design versions for a project if you have no intention of getting the job finished.


Shenwei Design is thriving to accommodate everyone who is passionate about life, who embraces details in the day-to-day living experience, and who loves challenges. Share your thoughts in the comment area below and let me know how your dream home looks like.


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