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Pull together as many interior design magazines as possible and collate images that reflect what you would like your home to look like. Pawan Singh / The National
Pull together as many interior design magazines as possible and collate images that reflect what you would like your home to look like. Pawan Singh / The National

Design like a pro with our expert tips

Your budget may not allow for the services of an interior designer but these tips will help you create a home that looks like its been put together by a pro.

Many of us crave the beautiful interiors we see in glossy magazines, but hiring a top-notch interior designer is beyond most budgets, and even if we can afford it, many of us would rather put a personal stamp on our homes. Either way, the question I get asked more than any other is: "Can I get a designer home without a designer?"

Here's the short answer: it's not easy, but it is possible. Before you start, ask yourself these questions: Do you really have good taste? Are you blessed with a natural feel for good and bad design? Do you have a clear vision of how you want your home to look? If the honest answer is no, seek outside help. You stick to your day job and hire a designer to do his or hers (I'd never try to fly my own plane, repair my own car or cut my own hair). However, if you genuinely believe you've got a bit of design flair and talent, follow this five-step plan that professional designers use.

Step 1: Concept design

For professional interior designers, the process starts with a brief from a client. Concept design is about taking a vague notion of the client's vision and turning it into something concrete. So we might suggest three options: cool and breezy Mediterranean style; stark, minimalist Scandinavian style; or plush, grand Burj Al Arab style.

We call this stage picking the "design language" of the project. It involves going through design books and websites to a get a feel for the client's stylistic preferences. This is also referred to as "precedent analysis" - design jargon for collecting images that reflect how you would like your home to look. Don't worry at this stage about what is possible, just find images you love - homes, hotels, yachts or art galleries - that fit with your design language. Spend a few hours compiling your favourite interior images from sites such as Houzz and Pinterest. If browsing online isn't your thing, there's no shortage of design publications - Frame, Objekt and Elle Decor are a few of my favourite magazines for interiors inspiration. Collate your shortlisted images into a mood board - it's a good idea to do this by room.

Ask yourself why are you drawn to these photographs? Is it the colour palette, furniture and accessories or the materials used? This will help you narrow down the "look and feel" you are after. A word of caution: marina views and beaches are very tempting but no good if you live in the desert. Carefully curate interior images and edit out the ones that are simply good photographs.

Another idea is to familiarise yourself with the different interior decorating styles and periods - are you drawn to art deco, contemporary or postmodern? Pick a genre and start from there, but remember that you aren't limited to just one style. Blending genres can create a unique and eclectic look.

The final part of concept design is to set your budget. Yes, this is always painful.

Step 2: Floor plans

Reach for your computer and draw up dimensioned plans of each room. Trust me, this will save you numerous trips to the furniture store to return pieces that don't fit and prevent expensive mistakes when ordering custom items such as curtains. Don't be intimidated - the process isn't as hard as you think.

Start by measuring the walls and windows and recording the dimensions (spending a few hundred dirhams on a laser measuring gadget helps). Then plug these dimensions into a free design software such as SketchUp or SmartDraw. You'll probably have to spend a few hours on tutorials or Lynda.com watching videos on how to use the software - nobody said it would be easy being your own designer.

Step 3: Palette (materials, texture and colour)

Next up, interior designers create what we call a "sample board", a compilation of suggested materials such as paint, wallpaper, tiles, wood and fabrics. Texture is hugely important to the feel of a space, so think about whether you want hard polished surfaces, grainy woods or matt finishes. Ask yourself similar questions about the texture and patterns in fabrics and always consider durability when picking these.

Then there's colour. A growing body of research into colour psychology gives scientific proof to what we have instinctively known for years - that different colours affect our mood. If you want a neutral interior that creates an illusion of space, pick tones such as warm grey, beige and pastels. For a more invigorating atmosphere, choose hues such as bright reds, deep oranges and vibrant yellows. Blue and green work well in bedrooms as they are restful and calming, while bright colours such as yellow work nicely in entrance hallways, creating a welcoming feel.

Step 4: Furniture

In the business we call this stage FF&E, which stands for furniture, fixtures and equipment. Any serious interior design practice will have a dedicated FF&E specialist, whose only job is to know how to source the perfect sofa/door handle/bath or light fitting. Spend plenty of time trawling through shops, taking photographs and notes. Do the same online, on sites such as architonic.com. Bear in mind that if you want anything out of the ordinary, a 12-week delivery time is pretty standard. Once you've shortlisted your pieces, start arranging them on your dimensioned plan - do several versions to compare.

Step 5: Project management

Now you've got to execute. The mantra of the interior design industry is "on time, on budget", which is never easy to achieve. Create a single document called a project timeline (typically designers use a spreadsheet software such as Excel, but you can use pen and paper if you prefer - the point is that you stick to it). Down one side, write a list of all the things you have to achieve with costs, and along the top write a calendar. Then fill in the gaps to give a deadline for each stage. Remember to sequence tasks appropriately; for example, put in the wall and floor finishes before the furniture arrives. Remember to factor in plenty of time for ordering furniture and booking contractors such as painters. The final date is hand- over - when you the designer turn over the finished project to you the client. Good luck!

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