Functional Decor Is the Smartest Way to Decorate Right Now

Finally, we’re prioritizing function in our spaces—but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice appearance.

The past few years have shown us lots of new and trending interior design fads, from maximalism to modern farmhouse to midcentury modern, cottagecore, and more. But if there’s one thing we can take away from almost all of these up-and-coming decorating styles, it’s that people are increasingly prioritizing functional decor in all areas of the home. Gone are the days when a perfectly put-together home is the only goal. With people spending more and more time at home, a home that is just as functional as it is beautiful is now the priority.

Here’s what you need to know about functional decor, and how to embrace it in your home.

grey kitchen cabinets, yellow chairs
David A. Land

What Is Functional Decor?

As you might expect, embracing functional decor will look different in every home.

“Functional decor is about making your space work for you, your family, and your lifestyle … it’s about creating a balance between beauty and practicality,” says Keely Smith, lead interior design specialist at JD Elite Interiors.

Whether that means ditching the formal dining room in place of a work-from-home and dinette combo or adding a couch with a pullout bed in your living room so you can repurpose your guest bedroom, as long as the space is functional for you, there’s no wrong way to approach functional decor.

royal blue fainting couch in entryway
David A. Land

How to Make Your Space More Functional

With endless examples of beautifully designed interiors available online and at our fingertips, it can be tempting to jump into designing your space armed only with your Pinterest board and a cut-and-paste mentality. Following these tips can help you create a home that isn’t just beautiful, but is functional, too.

toy storage for board games

Jay Wilde

Design Rooms with Your Family’s Needs in Mind

The key to making your home feel more functional is to design it with your family’s needs in mind. What’s functional for one household may not be functional for another, so it’s important to identify how each space will be used.

“So often we think stunning interior design is at odds with our daily lifestyle, but the best spaces function for how you live,” says Heather Goerzen, managing editor of design content at Havenly.

For example, do you use your living room for hosting people on a regular basis, or is it more of a kid’s playroom or space to kick back and relax with your family? If hosting friends and family is a priority for you, then ensuring you have adequate seating may be the best way to make your living room functional, whereas prioritizing hidden storage may be the best choice if the space mainly functions as a family room.

white living room with patterned chairs
David Tsay

Don’t be afraid to throw the expectations of what a typical home layout should look like out the window. If you currently have a formal dining room that never gets used, turn it into a multifunctional space that will serve you better. Perhaps this means choosing a smaller dining table to make room for a desk or workspace, or maybe you can repurpose the room altogether.

“Your activities should inform everything about your space: from the layout to the individual pieces,” Goerzen says.

small-space hideaway desk bench mood board shelves cabinets
Nicole LaMotte

Prioritize Storage Space

If there’s one thing that can make any space feel less functional, it’s clutter. Most experts agreed that a lack of storage space and too much clutter around the home is one of the most common issues they run into when they sit down with a new client. Admittedly, a certain amount of clutter can be difficult to avoid; after all, our homes are meant to be lived in. However, creating a functional space that is designed to accommodate the everyday hustle and bustle of your household means having adequate storage for all your belongings so everyday clutter can be easily tidied up.

When it comes to adding functional storage to your home, start by taking stock of your space and your storage needs. Then, think about how you want the finished space to look.

“Closed cabinets, nightstands with drawers, baskets, and storage ottomans are a designer secret to functional interior design,” Goerzen says. “They allow you to indulge in all of your necessities (chargers, eye masks, dog toys, etc.) but stash it out of sight for visual calm.”

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and get creative with your storage solutions!

kitchen banquette seating built-in shelves
Dave Greer

Don’t Over-Decorate

“The best tip for functional living is not to over-furnish or over-decorate,” says Arielle Mizrahi of Arielle Mizrahi Design.

Throw pillows, candles, coffee table books, plants, accent tables, accent chairs, and vases are all pieces of decor that can help to make a space feel beautiful and put-together. However, it’s also easy to overdo it and unwittingly create a space that is less than functional

“Consider spacious walking clearance between furniture pieces, and a small table surface adjacent to every seat to place a glass,” Mizrahi says. “No need to over-style your coffee table with books you won’t even read if it means you can't use it as, well, a coffee table!”

white secretary desk with blue painted interior
Karla Conrad

Add Multifunctional Furniture

Multifunctional furniture is a great way to optimize both the form and function of a room, particularly if you are working with a small space.

“It is perfect for serving multiple purposes—reducing clutter, providing additional storage and seating, and keeping things minimal,” says Alice Chiu, principal designer at Miss Alice Designs. For example, “A round ottoman can function as both a coffee table, footrest, additional seating, and bench in the entryway, all while providing additional storage,” she adds.

Living room with area rug and shelves
Paul Costello

Let There Be Light

Lighting plays a huge role in the design of any room and can make or break the functionality of a space.

“The key is to layer your lights, from floor lamps to table lamps and wall sconces to overhead lights,” Chiu says. “Layering your lights is not only functional—providing ambient, task, and accent lighting—but also helps to draw your eye around the room, making it more visually pleasing, warm, and inviting.”

Try adding dimmers to your artificial lights to control the mood and ambiance for any occasion or time of day.

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