- Inspiration is everywhere, if you’re tuned in. One friend took layout tips from the kitchens in Desperate Housewives, while a bachelor colleague made manly shelves after seeing Steve McQueen’s bedroom in Bullitt.
- For cold, hard design tricks – from one-room living to how to arrange “things” on shelves and walls – Conran’s Seventies interiors bible The House Book (Mitchell Beazley; originals and reprints via Amazon) is invaluable and most comforting.
- Make a mood board of photos, fabric scraps and magazine pages. A bit sixth-form media project, maybe, but when you’re overwhelmed it can provide focus. Broad themes should gradually emerge (vintage, minimal, lavish, practical, bright, muted, classic?). If not, ask a friend to edit.
- Handy with the sticky-backed-plastic? Try the Design*Sponge blog. Even the DIY-shy can get ideas – the box file shelving is a personal favourite, and demonstrates innovative use for the results of a panicky Ikea binge.
- Take a favourite picture, object or cushion and build a room around its colours, period detail, or simply a feeling it evokes – it’s easier than starting with infinite choice. Similarly, follow at least a loose theme through all rooms (also helpful for reducing blank-canvas-panic). I got boxy window pelmets from postcards of 1960s American motels, while my mum designed my entire childhood home around a Swedish 19th century artist called Karl Larsson. And Tricia Guild’s book, A Certain Style (Quadrille), is full of clever ways to do this.
- Clever storage can free up whole new chunks of room – so don’t underestimate the creative boost of a flick through the Lakeland catalogue. This above-sink shelf, £22.99, is surely absolute genius, no?
- Kevin McCloud’s books on colour, divided into sections according to periods, styles and palettes, are immensely practical. Buy at Amazon
- Fear of making mistakes can be paralysing. It’s often easier to know what works when faced with something that doesn’t (and that’s what eBay’s for). That said…
- Don’t rush things – one stylish acquaintance swears by the picture-heavy Architectural Digest. Not as scary as it sounds, its ‘Inspired by You’ section, where designers answer questions, is fantastic. Soothing sample quote: “The best rooms evolve over time. It is better to have one fabulous chair or table or rug than a whole room of mediocre pieces.” Most comforting.
- Tune into your reactions to a space – and that goes for the smallest and least glamorous details: my sitting room used to make me feel strangely on edge. It took months to work out the door opened the wrong way and made one feel claustrophobic whenever it was opened.
- Go next door: if you’ve just moved – or even if you haven’t – knock on amenable neighbours’ doors, especially if you’re in a terrace or flat surrounded by similarly laid out homes. Someone will have done something you’d never thought of that may set off a whole room plan.
- For major reconfigurations, and pointers on them, big changes, Architect Your Home is a useful service – a four-hour no-strings consultation costs from £599. Cheaper, is to offer dinner in return for your most creative friends’ tips. Get them over, walk them round, and ask everyone ‘what would you do?’ I doubled the size of a bedroom after a friend suggested I have a mezzanine built in the high ceiling.
- Far more useful than the magazine, I think, is the LivingEtc.com gallery – libraries full of images, helpfully subdivided to death: the bathroom gallery has five themed mini galleries according to style/type of room.
- And if you do get sucked into Ikea, at least try to stick by the 1-for-3 rule (for every three things you like, buy only one – list all the things you wanted to get, and hunt for them elsewhere). If all else fails, try Ikeahacker.blogspot.com
How to find inspiration
After moving from a flat to a house, I panicked: I had little furniture, no budget and zero direction. Inspiration was clouded by the threat of expensive mistakes and “blank canvas” panic. It is around this vulnerable state-of-mind that Ikea’s entire marketing strategy is built. Equally, interiors magazines are great, but can exacerbate the panic with their unattainable chic. Where else can one turn?