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Decoding the seven steps of design

Decluttering with Design in Mind

We all love the idea of living in an organized home. But sometimes life gets out of hand resulting in a cluttered living space. Some find it motivating to keep the clutter down if the room has beauty in it. With that in mind, we’re going to delve into how to put practical beauty in our spaces.

Practical Design: Most people don’t live in magazine-like spaces. I don’t know about you, but my book shelves are filled with books and games, not a perfectly placed ceramic sphere next to a candle stick and a basket. If you live in a small house, like I do, you can appreciate that every square inch has to have a practical purpose. Today we are going to look at seven steps of practical design. We'll look at making your bookshelves pretty and practical and apply that to your rooms as well. Sort of a microcosm/macrocosm idea.

1. Decide what you love: William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The first step would be to purge anything that is no longer useful or beautiful. You are not required to keep everything you were given or bought until Jesus returns. It’s also ok not to display everything you have. I have a shelf in the storage area of my basement filled with tchotchkes. I trade them out as the seasons change. I call them my Hobby Lobby shelves. It’s my little store of items available to be used in my house. I have an area of baskets, another of vases and antique canning jars, and a candle section. All of these are still beautiful and useful, but there are more than I can use all at one time. I purged everything else when we downsized.


"White space is like air: It is necessary for design to breathe." Wojciech Zielinski.

2. Space: When putting these knick knacks on the shelves, leave some space for the eye to rest. (I can not emphasize this enough. Having negative space is just as important as how you fill the space.) Fill each shelf about 1/2 to 3/4 full of books. Place a couple of books on their sides to act as a book end. You can put a small picture, or faux succulent on top of those book-end books. You may have a few inches of empty shelf space left. You can choose to put a taller tchotchke in the blank space. - or leave it blank. Limit these items to just one or two per shelf, otherwise it just becomes visual clutter.

In a room, leaving space would include not covering every square inch of wall space with art or other wall hangings or having space between furniture. If your room feels claustrophobic, you may need to re-evaluate how much you have in that space.


"For a house to be successful, the objects in it must comunicate with one another" Andre Putman.

3. Balance: Balance is easy to create on a book case. If you start lining up your books on the left-hand side of the top shelf, line them up starting on the right side of the next shelf down. Again, put some books on their sides to act as book ends to give some interest in height on the shelf. The next shelf starts again on the left side and so on down the shelf. You are, in effect, balancing left and right as well as up and down. Each shelf should have some high and low spots.

In a room, balance is achieved by furniture placement. If you have a fireplace on one end of the room, you may want to balance it out by putting something equally proportionate on the other side, such as a book case or couch. If you have a window on one wall, consider placing a mirror on the opposite wall to bounce the light around. Balance is related to our next concept, weight or mass.




"A room should never allow the eye to settle in one place." Unknown.

4. Weight/Mass: To balance mass on a book shelf, you'll want to put larger items on the bottom. Your bigger books should go on the lowest shelf. Not only is this visually pleasing, it is safer. If your shelf isn’t attached to a wall, it could more easily tip with heavy items on the top. Coffee table books, Large photo albums, a large, pretty, closed box are good choices for the lowest shelf.

In a room, you will have pieces with a heavy visual weight (a hutch, or book case) and pieces with a lighter visual weight (a small chair or side table) - see “Layering”). Spreading the heavy pieces around the room gives you a more balanced visual weight. If you put your room on a balance scale, would the mass of the room be predominately on one side? If not, then you have a good balance of mass in the room.



"A room should feel collected, not decorated." Albert Hadley.

5. Layering: Another design consideration is depth. You will want to have some items pushed back and others pulled forward. Layering one item in front of another, so you can still see most of the back item, keeps these layered items as a cohesive unit, like they belong together. This probably goes without saying, but if you layer, you will want to put the taller/larger item behind a smaller one.

Layering is a great tool if you have some books that perhaps aren’t so pretty, but you still want to keep them. Putting something in front of them that is beautiful, but can easily be removed is a good way to disguise the not-so-pristine books. Framed pictures or lettered signs in front of a row of cherished paperbacks will draw the eye away from their tattered condition and toward the lovely sign or picture.

In a room, layering translates to making the room feel warm and cozy. A soft rug, curtains, smaller pieces of furniture that are more personal in nature. - your grandma’s side table, a piece of art that is special to you. Baskets, plants, pillows, and throws are another example of how to create layers or depth in your space. Careful not to cross the line from layering to cluttering. Add slowly. Less is more.


"You don't get harmony when everyone sings the same note." Doug Floyd.

6. Cohesion: So how do you avoid having your shelf look like a bunch of books and trinkets? You will want a harmony amongst your items. This is where organizing plays a part. Group books of similar topics together. (All reference books, together, Books of poetry, Bibles/Devotional books, Biographies, Fiction.) Not only does this make design sense, it allows you to easily find the books you’re looking for.

Choose your knick knacks carefully. Use them sparingly and only use those make sense sharing the same space. For instance, you wouldn’t want a high gloss fancy-pants item next to an antique clothing iron. Nor would you expect an ultra modern chair next to an antique side board.

Another way to unify is to have a theme to the shelf or room. It would be fun if the books reflected the theme. A shelf full of classic leather-bound literature would pair nicely with a small bust of Bach, for instance. Maybe you have farm roots, and you have a model tractor and a rustic frame of a farm landscape as part of decor. Maybe it’s Americana and you have a baseball and a little flag, and a patriotic plate on the shelf. Little pops of red and blue against a white shelf would work here. Beware, though. I little goes a long way. You don’t want it to look like the Constitutional Convention was held on your shelf. Then harmony turns into a visual cacophony.



"Color is the place where our brains and universe meet." Paul Klee.

7. Color: Color is the easiest way to unify any space. On a shelf, if you have a set of books with a predominant color, build on that.You may have a candle and a pitcher in the same color family. Pair that with a small vase with faux flowers in that color. If you use color to unify, you don’t need it on every shelf. It should be sprinkled lightly and evenly. Have a spot of red on the top right, and three shelved down, repeat on the left. If you drew a line between each pop of unifying color, it should lazily zig zag around the shelf.

Think about the color that you have throughout your home. Generally, the color from room to room should flow seamlessly. It helps to give the home a cohesiveness if there is one color that is sprinkled throughout. (You see this all.over. HGTV.) This is really important in open floor plans.

There is a tried and true 60-30-10 color rule. 60% of the room should be the main color choice. 30% is the secondary color and 10% represents the accent color. For instance, if you had a bedroom with tan walls and rug (60%) and a white bedspread and curtains (30%) with a black iron headboard and black framed pictures on the wall (10%) you would have a good balance of color in that room.


"Be faithful to your own taste, because nothing you really like is ever out of style." Billy Baldwin.

I’m a big proponent of “use what you have” to make the space reflect your family. It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have. The goal is to have your home look like it was curated over time - lightly sprinkled with unique pieces from a life well-spent. Design your space with a balance of space, mass, layers and colors to create a cohesive look. When you surround your self with beauty that you created in your home, you are more motivated to keep those spaces clutter-free. Remember, you are a child of God, beautiful and unique in every way. I pray that your home reflects that precious identity, beautiful, unique and greatly loved.

Laura ~ your organizing girlfriend

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Check out one of the contributors for this article. It's me! There are a lot of good ideas here. Hope you find this helpful. It was fun to collaborate with other POs for this article. Enjoy! https://w