How to Communicate Your Design Style to Your Builder, Architect and Interior Designer

Every time I ask someone what their style is, they respond with some phrase that includes the word modern.

I like modern with clean lines” roughly translates to “I have no clue what my style is, I just want it to look new“.  

My style is modern farmhouse” roughly translates to “I want my house to look like an HGTV special“.

When I start to pull apart someone’s style, it’s rarely what they told me.

For example, Modern Farmhouse is really a mix of 3 styles:  Scandinavian, Industrial, and Country.  Often when someone tells me this is what they want and we pull up some Modern Farmhouse images, they say “well I like this, but not this piece it’s a bit too country…. and this piece is also too country…” and by the time we’re done we’ve discovered they don’t like ANY of the “farmhouse” elements… so really their style is more Industrial Scandi.

There are 3 reasons why clients defining their styles is a BIG problem:

1.  Each person defines Modern, Traditional, Transitional, Mid-Century, etc. in a very different way.  So, if you tell your General Contractor you want a Mid-Century Modern renovation, he may make decisions based on his interpretation of that style.  This means you may not be 100% happy with the final result.

2.  Not clearly communicating your design style makes everyone’s job — especially yours — more difficult during the entire build or renovation process.  Mistakes are more likely to happen.  Things will absolutely take longer than expected.  And eventually, you and your entire build team may wind up feeling deflated and exhausted during the process.

3.  When a client describes their design style without doing the work, your budget takes a beat down.  It’ll mean more hours on materials decisions.  More hours sourcing.  More expensive change orders.  Overall, we’ve found it can add up to 10% to the cost of a new build or renovation project when the client isn’t able to clearly communicate their style to the project team.  

10% may not seem like a lot, but it translates to thousands of dollars (or even tens of thousands) over an entire project.

So, while hiring a Designer that can create Renderings and visuals for your Builder or General Contractor to reference will certainly help to alleviate these pain points, it’s important that you — as the one who is actually going to live in the space — do a bit of homework before your new build or renovation begins.

To make it easy, here is the discovery process that we bring clients through at the beginning of a project to help us better understand their style.  We’ve found it very effective as it typically helps us nail down what they want the very first try:


Step 1 In Defining Your Interior Design Style is to Get Pinning


You don’t have to actually user Pinterest to make this happen, but the idea here is that you collect as many images as you can without thinking about whether or not they’ll actually work for you or your project

Simply put, if it makes you stop and think “do I like this?” then it gets added to your collection of images.

There are many tools to help you with this, but I do recommend going to a variety of sources because the aesthetic on one platform will be pretty specific.  By pulling from multiple sources it’ll ensure your file doesn’t become media biased.

For example, everything I see on Instagram these days pretty well looks the exact same.  White walls.  Light grey sofa.   Antique rug.  Plants (so many plants!).  

On Pinterest, so many images have been edited to appear far more light and bright than most homes can be.  It’s amazing what a photo filter can do.  So again, you’re going to get many photos of the same look — but is it really YOUR look?

Houzz is another decent source for photos, though to be honest they’ve made their platform much less user friendly since trying to monetize the living daylights out of it.

Magazines are also a fantastic source.  I particularly love Canadian House & Home, Dwell, Architectural Digest, Traditional Home, House Beautiful, and Elle Decor as they feature a wider range of projects than some of the others out there.  They’re also readily available across Canada.

Pull photos until you have at least 20 images in total that you like.

Again, I can’t stress this enough, DO NOT think about whether it’s practical, whether it’ll look good in your house, or whether or not you’ll get sick of it in a few years.  That type of thinking ruins this exercise and always gets in the way of really getting to the core of your own personal style.


Step 2 In Defining Your Interior Design Style is to Narrow Down

Once you have 20+ images gathered together that you really like it’s time to play “this or that?“.

Take the first two images from your collection and within 3 seconds, decide which you like better.  The other one get’s tossed from the pile.

If you can’t decide within 3 seconds, set both images aside and move on to the next two.

Keep going until you have just 3-5 images remaining.

Again, you’re not worrying about whether it’ll work for you or if you’ll get sick of it.  This is a gut exercise and the next steps will help wrap practicality into your choices.


Are you moving, building, renovating or redecorating?  Let us help you make your home stylish, comfortable, and a reflection of who you are.

Check out our full range of interior decorating and design services here.

Step 3 In Defining Your Interior Design Style is to Pick The Photos Apart

If you’re working with a Decorator or Designer (which, if you want your project to be on time, on budget, and stunning I HIGHLY recommend!  But, I may be biased…) then this is where they’re going to step in and help.

If you’re DIY’ing (which, even if you have amazing taste, you may want to reconsider for reasons listed in this post and this post) then you want to really spend some time here.

Look through your remaining 3-5 images and consider each element of the space.

What pieces do you love the most?  Why is that the case?

Which pieces do you not love so much?  Is it really that you don’t like them?  Or do you have a preconceived notion that they might become dated quickly?

What do all of the images have in common?  Colours?  Do they all have vintage pieces?  Do they all have a tufted sofa or a gallery wall?

Keep a detailed list of the things you like, don’t like, and the things the images have in common to share with your entire project team — Your Architect, Builder or General Contractor, Trades, and your Designer.


Are you moving, building, renovating or redecorating?  Let us help you make your home stylish, comfortable, and a reflection of who you are.

Check out our full range of interior decorating and design services here.

Step 4 In Defining Your Interior Design Style is to Consider Your Style In Other Areas

This is where your mind is going to mess with you a bit, but it’s an incredibly important piece to the process.

I want you to go to your closet and see what’s inside.  What colours are there?  Fabrics?  What outfits do you feel the best in?

Your room should not only look great and be comfortable and practical — YOU should also look amazing in the room!  So, if you look your best in warm tones, it makes sense to decorate with warm colours also.

Also consider what your favourite colours are.

My mom and dad just painted their kitchen walls yellow.  Many tried to talk them out of it, but they LOVE it.  And they’re the ones who live there.

From the time I was little we ALWAYS had yellow in our home.  Yellow and blue was a staple for my parents my entire life.

When they painted their kitchen walls a soft grey, they got sick of it quickly.

GASP!  How can that be?  Don’t we use neutrals so that we DON’T get sick of things?

The truth is, neutrals date far faster than your favourite colour does.  I haven’t met anyone whose favourite colour as a child was grey or beige.

My favourite colours have always been blue, green, and yellow.

My 3 year old niece LOVES purple.  No one can change her mind and I’m certain that in 20 years, she’ll still love purple.

When we dig into the colours we loved as kids and the things we loved in Grandma’s house, it really helps us discover who we are and helps us to make our homes more reflective of our personalities.

That never gets old and is always a more timeless investment than the latest neutrals.

Sidebar funny story:  My sister recently purchased a beautiful modernized wingback chair from us after we had staged her home for a Holiday Tour.  When I asked my niece what she thought of her new chair she said “Mummy made the wrong choice auntie.  I’m quite concerned.”

I asked her “Why do you say that?”

Because I don’t like blue, auntie.  I like purple.  It was the wrong choice.  Please tell mummy.”

My whole family dies laughing at how blunt my little niece was.  But, what’s interesting is that when we’re little we don’t have social media and years of absorbing marketing telling us what we should and shouldn’t like.  We simply make decisions based on raw gut reactions.  If we all were more like kids, we’d feel far happier in our homes!


Step 5 In Defining Your Interior Design Style is to Show Rather Than Tell

 You’re almost there!  This last step is pretty simple — gather your list from Step 3 and 4 together with your 3-5 images into a folder.

I like Dropbox because it’s easier to share amongst your entire team with just one simple click, but a physical file can also work.

This will really help your entire project team understand your style — with very little room for interpretation.  

It’ll help you save money, avoid change orders, and get the home you dream of!


Thinking of starting your build or renovation within the next 6 months?

Your Designer should be one of the first people you hire.  They’ll be your advocate for getting what you want with your Architect and Engineer during the planning phase.  Will help you plan for the finishes, layouts, and millwork so that you can get an accurate quote from builders and avoid expensive change orders.  Your Designer can even help you oversee the project right through placing the final toss pillow.

Is it expensive to hire a Designer?  Working with any professional won’t be cheap, but Designers tend to help you save a lot more than they cost.  

If you’re interested to see if we’d be a good fit to work together on your project, our first step is always to book a 30 minute Discovery Call to learn more about your project and discuss our levels of service to fit your needs. 

Book your free Discovery Call here to get started today.