Don’t start making major purchases or picking up painting supplies until you’ve taken this simple step.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated September 20, 2018
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Decorating a new space—or giving an old space a fresh look—is exhilarating. Who doesn’t dream of transforming a space with a few carefully curated selections, of leaving your mark on a space in the most beautiful way possible? The process of picking new paint colors, comparing curtain fabrics, customizing the sofa of your dreams, and all the other parts of decorating a room can be intoxicating, but you can’t just jump into the fun stuff: You have to do a little prep work first.

That’s probably not what you want to hear, but it’s true—just like with painting, there’s one major step you need to take before you’re ready to really get into the nitty gritty of decorating a room: Creating a mood board.

Just like in grade school, when you pulled images from magazines for in-class collages, you want to put together a comprehensive mood board for your space before you so much as look at couch options. Include images of rooms with vibes you’d like to mimic, popular decorating ideas, scenic photos with colors that inspire you, patterns you love, pieces of furniture that catch your eye, and anything else with an aesthetic component you’d like to incorporate into the room. (If you’re making a physical board, you can even pin fabric and paint swatches to it.)

Once you have your mood board put together, you can take a step back and look at the space as a whole. This is the time to self-edit (or have a tasteful friend take a look) and remove colors, patterns (there's a right way to design with bold patters), or pieces that won’t work in the space or that seem too trendy. (Try balancing hot trends with timeless decorating tips as much as possible.) This way, when you’re in the midst of picking coffee tables and ordering wallpaper, you can look back at your board to make sure everything fits your original vision and works together as a cohesive whole.

When you start shopping around, you can look for pieces similar to those you’ve picked out, rather than get lost among the seemingly endless array of options out there. The purpose of the board is to be inspirational, and to help guide you as you make your final selections for the space. If, at a certain point, you realize that platinum globe light won’t suit your space (or your budget), you can always pick another option, using the remaining pieces of your mood board to guide that selection.

Courtesy of Robin Henry Studio

RS Home entryway mood board example

Take the mood board Robin Henry Studio put together for the entryway of the Real Simple Home, a four-bedroom penthouse in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, that we worked with designers and professional organizers to transform. The board (made digitally, with just a few selections to help guide the tone of the space) uses colors, furniture ideas, and textures to outline the space. The design team worked off this initial board to create the space and then completed it with extra finishing touches.

The final space, below, reflects the initial ideas of the mood board, but also expands upon them—and includes a few add-ons.

Christopher Testani

RS Home entryway for mood board

Making your own mood board can be as simple as cutting out images and pinning them to a board. If you’d rather keep it digital, Pinterest is a great option—you can create a board for each room of your home. What matters is that you capture the look you want for your updated space early on in the process—you’ll thank yourself later.