Decorating magazines (and catalogs) offer a terrific source for decorating ideas. However, it can be overwhelming to see hundreds of "perfect" rooms and photographs in each issue.
So instead of feeling inundated with ideas and projects, try some of these techniques for looking at magazine photographs. Some of these are designed to help you zero in on your personal preferences and style, while others will teach you, train your eye, and give insight into decorating principles. Rather than just browsing a magazine, this is looking with a purpose. It's not just paging through a publication, it's sitting down with an assignment. By consciously deciding what you want to learn, you can focus on a particular topic and teach yourself more about design. Next time you're looking at a magazine, pick one or two of these techniques and see how much you'll learn!
Choose one photo of an interesting room and quickly write down all of the descriptive words you can think of to describe the room such as: open, white woodwork, traditional style, light fabrics, no green plants, fresh flowers, chandelier, inviting, floor to ceiling drapes, symmetrical art, plain ceiling. Write down as many as you can in 1 minute. If you can't think of very many words, then try reading the article about the room to see how the writer describes it, and what looks the designer intended to create. Add to your list of words as you're reading, and study the photograph to see how each word applies to the room. This exercise will help you look deeper into photographs, showing you the elements of each room.
As you page through a decorating magazine (or book), look only for one focus item. It might be color one day, and window treatments another. Every time you see that element in a photograph, take a few minutes to study the picture. Do you like this version? Is it "you"? How is it used within the room, what does it coordinate with, and how might you adapt it to your space? Tear out photos you like, as well as photos you dislike. Mark each page with arrows and notes ("love valances, but hate the green") and keep your "likes" and "dislikes" in separate folders. Purpose? To give you a range of creative options and help build a "Style File" of things you love. (we'll talk about a style file later on)
Read with an eye for color palettes. Study a photograph and if you can, glue or tape it to a piece of plain white paper. Decide on the primary, secondary and accent colors. Write them down. Then look on a color wheel to determine the type of color scheme (monochromatic, complimentary, etc.). Look through your collection of paint chips, finding the colors that match and gluing them to the paper as well. Doing this exercise will help you focus on color and become more adept at matching color.
Test yourself on style. For each picture, decide if it is casual or formal, country or eclectic. If you know a little about period style you might pick out a Chippendale chair, a Neo-Classic detail, or an Asian style table. For any style you are particularly drawn to, read the text to learn more about it. For a true style overview you'll probably need to take a class or read books, but there is much you can do to begin seeing the elements of style.
Art and accessories can also be studied in photographs. Watch for arranging tips, grouping ideas, height, spacing, and placement. Behind a sofa, how have the pictures been arranged? Does the arrangement extend to the outer edges of the sofa? How high have pictures been hung? Look too for the overall shapes of groups of objects. For example, a lamp, plant, and dish placed on a table may form a large triangle. Also look at how the designer has used objects of different sizes in arrangements. Use this exercise to see the bigger picture as well as the details in art and accessories. Note how and why each piece has been chosen and placed, and you'll begin to understand accessorizing in a new way.