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How to Make Big Furniture Decisions in Your Home

Pictured: sofa in Dedar Milano Regimen striped fabric

If you ask me, I will always prefer buying fewer, bigger, Bang for Your Buck pieces for your home over buying lots of small pieces, which can lead to visual clutter. On a recent Instagram Live I got this question on how to actually do that, with confidence.


"How do you gain confidence with knowing that you’ll like the bigger pieces in your space? I think I would worry taking something home and not liking it" - Vivian


Fair question, Vivian. One we can ALL relate to.

We’ve all made purchases that felt like a good idea at the time. And then we learn with time and experience that we don’t like or use them as much as we thought we would.

It’s a natural step in the process of developing your personal style over time. No shame in it.

Think of it as practice and experimentation. These are unavoidable, especially in our younger years when we’re still learning who we are and what environments make us feel our best.

As we grow older or more experienced, we naturally start to refine our style, and our environment. The editing phase.

This is where you gain confidence.

You can’t get here without a bit of experimentation, but I get that you don’t want to waste a boat load of money doing it. So here’s my approach to stress-testing your big purchases and decisions before you make them.

Step 1: Know Your Measurements

This is a critical first step in any design or purchase decision (even applies to clothes, too!).

When you work with me, the first step in EVERY design project is to measure your space. Measure the doors. Measure the windows and the walls between them. Even the awkward nooks and corners. Measure the height and width of the Big Blank Wall you want to hang art on. All of it.

Then measure your current furniture.

Keep it all in the notes app on your phone, so that before you buy any new piece you can reference your measurements and know with certainty that it will fit. (And if you’re still not sure, I can help you by showing you different furniture layouts in your space).

Always check the dimensions of a piece before you buy it. Always! It may be bigger or smaller than it looks in the product photos, and you wouldn’t want to find that out after you get it home.

Always check the dimensions of a piece before you buy it. Always!

Step 2: Try Before You Buy

When you know your measurements, you know what physically fits your space. But how do you know what will work functionally and stylistically?

I recommend running small, low-risk experiments.

If you’re familiar with design thinking, then you may recognize this as prototyping. Running low-cost, low-risk tests, seeing what you learn, and then testing again. It’s used to develop new products, but I like to apply this approach to home design.

Here’s an example.

If you’re considering buying a new L-shaped sectional in your living room, or trying a new seating arrangement, but you’re not sure if it will feel too big or work in your space, try moving things you already own into the size and space to test it out. Put your sofa or even your dining chairs into position. Sit in them for a week. Watch TV. See how it feels. Do you like it? No? No sweat. Just move it back.

If you don’t have furniture in the space yet, do this with your moving boxes.

If you’re starting with a totally blank slate, tape out the layout using blue painter’s tape. Tape out the size of your art on your Big Blank Wall, is it big enough? Very low-cost, very low risk. And all possible because you know your measurements.

My Low-Risk Experiments

This method can be applied to decisions big and small, making purchases and even renovations too.

When I was considering open shelving for my kitchen, I ran a low-risk experiment first of taking the doors off of my kitchen cabinets. (I just removed the screws, and put the doors under my bed for a while). That way I could test: Do my plates get dusty? Does open storage feel cluttered to me? Can I realistically keep it tidy? It’s free, it’s informative, and it’s no big deal if it doesn’t work out.

Another low-risk experiment I’m running right now: I’m having a custom vintage sofa re-upholstered for my home. A real statement piece. The biggest furniture investment I’ve ever made.

I don’t wanna mess this up!

Right now I’m choosing the upholstery, and rather than picking a fabric that just looks good, I want to test if it feels good too. I’m working with Laura at HiLo Brooklyn who recommended I purchase a 5-yard sample of the fabric. It’s laid over my sofa in my living room as we speak.

I’ve been sitting on it, laying on it, letting my dog walk all over it, and visually seeing it in my space. Testing it. Seeing what I learn.

And if I don’t like it?

All I bought was some sample fabric. Not the whole banana (sofa).

So if you’re considering making a change, big or small, in your home - consider what small, low-risk experiment you can run this week.

It can be tiny. Just for you. Just to see what you learn about yourself.


Meet Cristina Cleveland

Interior Designer

I created the Interior Style Quiz to give you the tools and language to express your style more cohesively in your home. 

Book a call if you need help closing the gap between your home right now and the personal style you want to be expressing.

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