The process starts with a spot of self-reflection. Sue McGregor, the tutor of Chelsea College of Art and Design's Decorating Your Villa or Apartment course, asks us to fill in an "Evaluating You" questionnaire. There are eight questions, designed to get us thinking about what we like and dislike, and how we relate to our home's interior.
"What are your favourite spaces and why?" the questionnaire starts. "What is the hub of your home and where do you retreat to?" Easy. My living room, because it is flooded with natural light, filled with comfortable seating and offers great views into the garden.
"How comfortable is your bedroom/living room/kitchen and bathroom, and what would make them more comfortable?" Reasonably comfortable, I decide, although I could do with a bit more colour, a couple more rugs and a few more personal touches in the form of artwork and photography.
Next up, "What colours do you enjoy living with and which do you dislike?" I'm drawn to neutrals, interspersed with pops of colour - blues, oranges and reds, in particular. I realise that although I gravitate towards black when it comes to my wardrobe, this is one of the colours that I find least appealing in an interior setting. Silver and gold also find themselves at the bottom of my list.
The one question that gives me pause is the one that asks me to describe my personal style. After much consideration, I settle on the word contradictory.
I like airy, uncluttered interiors but I'm no fan of minimalism. I love furniture pieces made out of natural woods but only if they look like they have a story to tell. And I like contemporary shapes, but not if they are too slick or over-designed. I skirt around the word eclectic but I'm not sure that it doesn't sound a little pompous.
It is day one of the three-day Decorating Your Villa or Apartment course, which is part of a series of short courses being offered by the Chelsea College of Art and Design in Dubai over the month of May. Seven of us, who originate from as far afield as Sweden, Kuwait, Palestine, Pakistan and Australia, have gathered in a conference room in the Pullman Hotel to learn more about the process of decorating a home. "Whether you are living in a space for two months or 20 years, you need to feel uplifted and nurtured in that space, and it needs to make a statement about you," says McGregor, who has been a designer for 25 years and is the founder of UK-based Interior Statements Ltd. "Your space should depict your lifestyle and you shouldn't constantly be apologising for it.
"Even if you are renting, there are lots of ways of making it yours. Number one is paint. Even just creating a feature wall with wallpaper will bring some focus. In each and every room you need a focal point and that will help you to develop a scheme around it. In a rented situation, you can't rip up the floors but there's no reason why you can't put in a chandelier. If I was an expat I'd be looking at those injections of texture or colour that make my heart sing. Get involved with pieces that you love.
"We are trying to get our students to understand how to evaluate their needs, or their clients' needs," she continues. "We are interpreting that into words, so that's the brief. From that, you can draw out the key words and start interpreting it into a visual format, which is the mood board. And from there, you have a starting point."
McGregor asks us to go over our answers and highlight key words, before choosing five that capture the essence of our preferred interior environment. I settle on "light, comfort, casual, colour and character". We then flip through a selection of design magazines and tear out images that act as visual representations of these words.
Spread out over the table, my cuttings offer an interesting insight into my design psyche. There's a love of statement pieces - sculptural chairs, oversized chandeliers and irregularly shaped bookcases - and pattern. My fondness for intricate wallpapers and brightly coloured accessories is obvious, as is my penchant for recycled and repurposed furniture.
"It's very eclectic," says McGregor, coming over to join me. We go through the images, selecting the ones that most appeal and grouping them together to create a cohesive statement. I settle on seven and attach them to a thick piece of card to create my own personalised mood board. I'm amazed at how all the different thoughts in my head have been condensed into one unified message.
Our next task is creating a colour palette. We use colour charts to find exact replicas of the shades that appear on our mood boards before cutting out colour chips and sticking them onto a small piece of card. Getting the exact tone is surprisingly difficult, but essential. "Too muddy, too dark, too bright … try this one," says McGregor. By the end of it, I have a pocket-sized colour chart that I can take around with me while shopping to ensure I stay true to my chosen palette.
"I think people make the mistake of not realising the emotional connection to colour and how powerful it can be. It's the first thing that affects you in a room, so if you don't get the colour right, it will alter the mood or give out the wrong impression, and you have to live with that," says McGregor.
One of the other big mistakes that people make is not developing a clear understanding of what they want from their interior before the design process begins - and this is what the first day of the course aims to address. "The problem is that people haven't developed the full frame of understanding what they want. Students have learnt today how to do it for themselves. Not knowing that framework is a problem. If you go into it thinking, 'I like a little bit of that and a little bit of that', and then jump into purchasing items for your home, you can end up making some very big mistakes, and spending a lot of money unnecessarily.
"It is important to inject your own personality, rather than going for trends, because it's your personality that has to come through in an environment, rather than something you see in a showroom."
At the end of day one, I leave the Pullman with my mood board tucked tightly under my arm. The second and third days of the course will focus on materials, textures, fabrics, soft furnishings and styling, but I have already learnt so much more about myself and my tastes than I could have imagined. When I get home, I prop my mood board up against a wall in the spare room, where it will stay, acting as a constant reminder of my interior aspirations and a guide to all future purchases.
The Chelsea College of Art and Design is running another three-day course on Lighting Design for Interiors from May 29. For more information, visit www.chelsea.arts.ac.uk/shortcourses/middle-east/lighting-design-for-interiors
Concentrate Think about what you want your interior to look like. Ask yourself where you spend most of your time, what colours you love and how you would describe your personal style. Condense this into five key words.
Research Search through magazines to find images that act as a visual representation of these words.
Visualise Use these pictures to create your own personal mood board. This will act as a reference point for your design style.
Focus Every room needs a focal point, whether it is a feature wall or a chandelier, so start with this and build your design around it.
Upgrade Think about what kind of technology you would like to incorporate into your interior, as this will need to be introduced early on.
Illuminate Lighting is essential. You can spend a lot of money on fabrics and materials but poor lighting will devalue the space.