Want to decorate a room, but don’t know where to start? In the first of a two-part series Jamie Hempsall inspires. 

The question I get asked most often is “how do you come up with inspiration for your schemes?”. The simplest answer is you can find it everywhere.  However, you need a bit of mental readjustment to get your creative juices working.

I am going to assume you are working with a blank canvas, usually there are some limiting factors, but we will deal with those in due course.

Start by clearing your mind of preconceived ideas and open yourself to suggestion. Make time for this process and enjoy looking at things around you with no specific end in mind. Consider this your “Blue Sky Time” – a period to dream with no limit to your imagination or where it may lead you.

The first things to consider are locations where you can seek inspiration, which I will break down into four main categories.


This may sound trite, but inspiration really is all around you. Never rule out anything as a source of inspiration – be it a television programme, a shop display, visiting a friend’s home or simply walking down the street.

A shop display can give colour references

Here you may come across ideas that are familiar and comfortable, but may move you away from your usual choices or environment.

Don’t rule out anything as a source of inspiration and clear your mind of any preconceived ideas. Be open to suggestion.


Specifically treat occasions, when you are being more indulgent and immersing yourself in another environment, away from the norm (maybe a luxury restaurant or hotel).

It might just be one element of a room that attracts you and sparks a creative process

Visits to these areas are an opportunity to experience interiors that have been specifically designed to heighten emotions and make the viewer feel special.


Experience interiors that have been specially designed to heighten emotions and make the viewer feel special

Special event locations might be your “what could be” (if you had infinite funds) option. However, you are not seeking to adopt everything verbatim, just to open up to alternative ways of doing things.



As you begin to take on a project make a special effort to arrange reference trips to museums, theatres and exhibitions.

They may have no specific bearing on your room design, but they can be great places to broaden your horizons. Design trends are often cyclical and you may be surprised to see how relevant some historical pieces are to the modern world.


Most people these days have access to the internet with its incredible capacity –type a relevant phrase into your search engine (such as “Great Gatsby Interior”), click images and search beyond the first page where you may find relevant, but not specific ideas.

“Old school” research methods of books and magazines are still tops in my book. Avoid merely limiting yourself to house features, but consider any magazine that you are looking at a potential source. It is the way the image affects you, not the actual items within it that are important. With a change of mind-set, you can often find things right under your nose.

Libraries may be declining in use, but they are brilliant and cheap: consider them your local ally. Libraries have all kinds of publications to browse. They usually have a photocopier so you can save your finds without having to lug heavy volumes about.

All this can cost very little apart from your time.

At this point, we have identified the many and various sources of inspiration that you can use, but somehow you’re still stuck. How come?

The most important thing at this stage is looking with a fresh pair of eyes. Take a step back and analyse the details – consider and decide what attracts you to an item or image, it probably will only be a small element of it.

In my next column, I will guide you through this process in more detail and how to take the important steps forward to forming your final scheme. 

Building Up A Library Of Ideas

When researching a room become a hoarder and collector of scraps of paper, fabrics and photos, keep them where you can see them at home and take some references with you when on your travels. Enjoy holding and looking at these scraps. Over time they will become imprinted and form subconscious reference points throughout your day. This helps in your mental design process and lets your creativity flow when you are least expecting it.

 Jamie Hempsall, BIID, SBID heads a multi-award winning interior design consultancy.