Back to Journal

11 lessons to become a creative interior designer

Become a innovative and creative interior designer with tips and tricks from creative teams.

interior design team in action
Photography by Mike Marchetti
11 lessons to become a creative interior designer
Clara Carlino de Paz
January 10, 2024

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
This article was originally posted on Making Space, a Substack penned by our Cofounder, Matteo Grand. Subscribe below to receive more content just like this.

How to be a creative interior designer: simple, fundamental question, right? Well, the answers are rarely easy. Creativity is one of those intangible states of being, the peak of which is not known by many. It is somewhere people reach with stress and pressure, and others with relaxation and serenity. Others search for it for their entire lives, sacrificing routine for adventure and that God-forsaken “spark”. 

However, it is not impossible to get yourself into a creative state on purpose. There are entire spaces, authors and mantras dedicated just to this particular feeling many designers and creatives search for.  

In this article, we’ll explore the meaning of true creativity, and how interior designers can get out of a rut with simple tips and tricks. Exercises, places, thought experiments… You got it here with us. And if you’re committed to elevating your interior design practice, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

How can interior designers be more creative?

01. Think of creativity as a state of play

We might use the word “creative” often, but rarely do we sit down and ponder on its exact meaning. Cambridge defines creativity as “the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas”. goes beyond, saying that creativity “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations”.  

These definitions reveal something important about creativity; it occurs best when we’re isolated from conventional rules of “act” and “consequence”, and we have a chance to experiment without punishment or reality biting us back.

To ignite different ways of thinking that break rules, you must suspend your disbelief and the constraints of time and money to create something different. Allow yourself to dream without telling yourself “But that couldn’t happen…” and amazing things will occur to you. Maybe not all of them will be perfectly usable, but they might ignite something within you.

02. Reduce tedious, administrative tasks

If we had to make an estimate, we’d say 80% of all creativity gets sucked out via uncreative, monotonous tasks that could be taken over by technology. They take hours and render little innovative results; they are housekeeping and not much else. 

There are dozens of programmes tailored for interior designers, and others that simply support you anyway. We actually have a list of 38 AI tools interior designers should use, and we ourselves develop technological solutions specifically made for interior designers.

On Portaire, you can source, specify and schedule interior design and architecture materials in a matter of clicks. Plus, you can chat directly to vetted, luxury suppliers to learn more about their pricing and samples. Joining is free, and we couldn’t be happier to create platforms that give you space to do what you love; design.

03. Switch up your inspiration sources

If you consume similar content and media all the time, chances are you won’t be exposed to new ways of thinking. You may think that you’ve seen all there is to see, but think deeper. What kind of creators do you consume from? Do they come from similar social backgrounds and geographies? Are you aware of new artistic and philosophical movements going on among younger generations, all across the globe? Have you ever felt a spark of inspiration from someone completely unrelated to your field?

To change your mindset, you must change your setting. This will mean talking to different sorts of people, attending different events, visiting new galleries and reading things that challenge you and what you believe is “normal”.

04. Go against current trends and rethink the meaning of “ugly”

In our article “Break The Mould, Ditch Current Trends: 10 Unique Interior Designs For 2023” we talk at length about the importance of ignoring current trends and revisiting “outdated” and “ugly” ones. Because of the way trend cycles work, what is currently considered outdated is only a small time away from being brought back (in a revisited, contemporary way). In order to create and reimagine interior design elements, you need to challenge what is “in” and “out”, and in doing so, reveal what you actually believe is beautiful and worth exploring. Trends can be great guiding principles, but they’re also surefire ways to stifle creativity, so you must indulge in them only sparingly.

05. Talk to creative people… And actually listen (to yourself and others)

Think of the last time you had a deep conversation. Not necessarily one where you attempted to discern the meaning of truth, but rather, one where you were vulnerable, and able to truly understand something new about yourself or your conversation partner. How did it make you feel, to be so seen? To have your voice heard by someone you’re inspired by?

If you find it hard to kick start conversations that get you really thinking, there are so many tools online to do so. One of our favourite ones is “36 Questions to Fall in Love”. First developed by the New York Times, the name is a bit of a red herring; they are questions that invite you to be open-hearted with someone, not necessarily fall in love with them.

If you’re looking for something a bit more designer focused, we have a whole deck we gave out at Clerkenwell Design Week in our Making Space. Here is a bit of a teaser.

Ask yourself and your conversation pal the following questions:

  • Who are the people most likely to thank you in a speech if they ever won an award?
  • What do you think is stopping you from reaching the next level as a designer?
  • What’s one opinion or way of doing things in the industry that you don’t agree with?
  • What is an old trend you can’t seem to let go of?
  • Who or what are your top three sources of inspiration?

If you’d like a full deck of these questions, send us the request and we’ll be happy to chat!

06. Get bored. Often. We’re serious

My father always told me that artists get bored, and create things to pass the time. It may sound like a dig at their work ethic, but it was always quite the opposite. It was a reclamation of boredom, of understanding how valuable it is to be craving adventure and creation, and then to follow through.

Getting bored is a skill, one only children know all too well. Give yourself an afternoon with nothing planned, and go somewhere that isn’t packed with stimuli. Sit, or walk, and think without any stops. Get to the point of thinking: “Why on earth am I doing this?!”... And then continue past that point.

When you allow yourself to roam, you free yourself of stress, allowing the brain to disrupt its own patterns in different ways. Learn how to enjoy your own company, and your ideas will be better too.

07. Go outside and touch some grass

That sentence may be used on TikTok to tell the “chronically online” to log off, but it still serves as a powerful reminder that nature loves to put us in our place. The vastness of the earth will put your ideas into perspective, and perhaps allow you to think of things differently. Because creativity is all about breaking norms, you must return to our primordial home, away from the urban constraints of traffic, cement and work.

Now, we know nature is more or less accessible depending on where you live, but a bus or a train isn’t a torture, and it will be a worthwhile investment. Let your fingers edge the borders of leaves, and stop to smell the flowers.

08. Mood-board and sketch for fun again

Most designers get into the business because they’re passionate about creating spaces for the sake of it. However, once it becomes your source of income, things change a little, especially for the creative mind. 

Mark Applegate from Chron describes it as follows: “When transitioning from doing what you love for fun to doing it for profit, some will experience a form of writer's block. It is a drain on creativity for some to be forced to perform or create a product to the specifications of another party. Add to this the everyday stress of owning a business, the potential drama of human resources problems and rigid deadlines and you may find that your fun hobby is now merely work.”. 

To reacquaint yourself with the creativity that propelled you to this place, you must rediscover the hobbies that led you there in the first place. Buy a magazine and create a moodboard of your dream space. Read a book and imagine and sketch the place it's set in. To be creative like you might have been at first, you’ll need to shake things up and do things for no profit. We know this is difficult and not feasible for some, but it might help you rediscover the joy in daily designing.

09. Engage in creative activities that have nothing to do with interior design

Creativity is a muscle you can engage in many ways. Think about professional (or dedicated) runners. To increase their pace and distance, they don’t just run every day. They go on easy runs where their heart rate is in the “green zone”, interval runs to push themselves into the “yellow and red zone”, and then they cross- or strength-train to make sure their body is primed for all that impact. Different runs and training styles help them become better-rounded athletes.

Engaging in a creative activity that is not your primary money-maker will help you expand your creative wings without burning out. You can learn how to do oil-painting, knitting, crocheting, or simply go out to bars to dance and sing your heart out. Whatever it is that gets you playing and creating, will help you reach a higher level of creative thoughts.

10. Work with younger or less-experienced people. They know things you don’t. And vice versa

When you hire people younger than you, it may seem like you’re giving them all; a livelihood, experience, an opportunity to shine and develop. However, the true benefit that comes to you is their fresh perspective. 

For years, you may have built a “how to” manual on how to design a space and work with a client. This can be tiresome and boring, making you feel uninspired and even bored. With a new person to bounce ideas off of, you will be challenged and forced to grow in way that you might not expect.

11. Lastly, forgive yourself a little. You don’t have to be at your best all the time

Punishing yourself for low performance will not yield better results. In fact, it might put so much pressure on you that it will curtail you. Accept where you are, without judgement. There are seasons in our lives that impact us and how we feel. It is ok to let yourself feel uncreative and uninspired for a bit. And then to come back stronger when you feel better.

Thank you for reading this article. If you enjoyed this, make sure to get into our productivity deep dive.