For the last couple of years, I’ve been working in-house at interior design consultancy JSJ Design. Previously a PR client, I was lucky enough to be invited to pursue my passion and transition from promoting their completed projects to working on them from concept stage. I’ve been involved in an exciting mix of hospitality, commercial and residential projects and have learnt plenty of new skills which I’ve applied when designing our new home.
Something I previously took for granted – one of the most important interior design tools you can create is your sample board. This is a physical board where you collate each fabric and finish you’re using in a room scheme, arranged proportionally as they’d be seen in the space, so you can see how they all work together. It can make all the difference between making a spot on (or very wrong) choice.
While modern technology is great, you never get a true depiction of a colour, finish or fabric through a screen, so there really is no substitute for the real deal. But it’s definitely useful to have your inspiration imagery printed out from your digital mood board for reference as it helps visualise the overall look.
Firstly, what’s the difference between a mood board (or concept board) and a sample board?
Generally, you’ll start off creating a mood or concept board – this is where you gather together images you love that relate to the room you’re designing. It can include structural elements, ideas for wall coverings, colour palettes, layout ideas and key pieces of furniture, lighting or focal points you want to create. A mood board can be physical or digital depending on your preference.
A sample board, as outlined above, is a physical board with actual samples of the fabrics and finishes you will use in your scheme. It comes after you have a clear idea of the look and feel you want to achieve in the space and you should already have an idea of the key pieces of furniture and accessories you’ll include.
Where can you find inspiration imagery?
Pinterest is great for discovering and collating imagery as you can create folders with sub folders and there are millions of searchable images at your fingertips. You can easily download images from Pinterest too – by clicking on the three dots top right of the post and selecting download image from the drop-down menu.
I also find a huge amount of inspiration from Instagram and whenever I see a post I really love, I always save it for future reference. While you can easily share an image from Instagram, if you want to download and print an image you have to take a screen shot which unfortunately means slightly reduced quality. But if you’re creating a mood board or sample board for your own reference (rather than for a client) this is less of an issue.
In the office we also have shelves of books and magazines for reference, there’s something about images in print that just makes them more alluring! Design Anthology is a particular favourite.
The chosen few
Once you’ve done your research you should be able to spot recurred themes or similar types of images. From here you should whittle down to a few key images – they should be the ones most relevant to the space you’re designing, whether selected for a furniture style, material combination, room layout or something else.
These three or four key images are the ones I like to carry forward onto my sample board. If working with a client – it’s the images and elements they love the most.
For my master bedroom sample board pictured below, I chose to print out my inspiration images using my Canon SELPHY Square QX10 printer. It’s a handy piece of kit as it prints out excellent quality images with a border – ideal for adding notes or references. Here I’ve just hand-written references on my inspiration imagery but for a client we’d print out numbered captions with a brief explanation of the application for which they are chosen.
The Canon SELPY Square QX10 prints are also sticky backed so they can be directly stuck down, but I’ve chosen to fix mine with washy tape so they can be unstuck and used again.
If you’re creating a sample board for your own use, I often think it’s better not permanently fixing down the elements as you may want to pick up a paint colour or fabric in another room scheme to create a cohesive look throughout your home. Or you may need to take a sample to a DIY store for a colour match where it just wouldn’t be practical taking the whole board. Of course, if you do want to stick them down permanently, you can just order multiples of the same sample or reprint images.
Tip: if sticking down samples permanently remember to make a note of the fabric name, colour and code – often found on the back of the sample. I find it useful to take photos of both sides of a sample for reference.
Where to start when pulling together an interior scheme?
Often this will happen naturally as you gravitate towards the focal point of the room, whether a wall covering, a key piece of furniture or the greatest expanse (wall / ceiling colour).
For our master bedroom it began with the wall and ceiling colour. I knew I wanted the whole room to be painted in the same shade to help disguise the lowered ceiling by blurring the lines where the walls end and the ceiling begins. The aim was to create a relaxing comfortable space that was soft and inviting. I had a handful of paint swatches and Sunday Soul by COAT Paints was the shade me and Liam both loved most. It’s a gorgeous greige which feels warm and cocooning, calm and not too light or dark.
I then discovered the stunning wall murals by artist Alexandra Gallagher and the opportunity came up to work with her. The only wall a mural could possibly go on was the wall with the door to the en-suite. This led me to the idea of a secret door – similar to that seen in Pauline De Rothschild’s Paris apartment. Not only would this be a great quirk to add into the design, it would mean we didn’t have to lose a section of the mural for the door as it could simply be papered over.
As the artwork is so eye-catching with such vivid jewel colours, it determined the colour palette for the rest of the room. I picked out the navy as seen in the irises in our headboard fabric – Luigi Canard by Pierre Frey. The pinks are picked out in our bedspread and in the bedside tables, which have been painted in Ciao Sofia by COAT Paints. We also have yellow accents in the mural which are picked out in the brass fittings and also in the gorgeous Niki Jones Concentric cushions on the bed which I’ve had my eye on for a very, very long time!
Aim to lay out your sample board proportionally
When you lay out your sample board you should aim to arrange your items proportionally in relation to how they will appear in the room. So for example if your wall colour covers three of four walls, it should cover 75% more of your board than the area for the fourth wall. Of course, this isn’t always possible but is a good rule of thumb.
If you have a punchy accent colour (in this case the yellowy gold), the fabric can be positioned behind the other fabrics, folded or cut.
I also like to layer the fabric to indicate how they’ll be seen in situ, so headboard in front of wall covering, bed linen in front of headboard and throws / accent cushions on top.
Try to account for every element
Whether you have the exact finish or not, to really bring your sample board to life you should try to account for each of the main pieces in the room.
On my master bed sample board, the sisal carpet is representative of the stripped wooden floorboards and the grey printed linen of the ottoman we have in the bay in window. They are positioned next to the shutter louvre as these elements will be viewed together.
If you want to include elements on your sample board but don’t have samples, you could use a piece of jewellery, clothing or even a flower with a similar finish or colour. Alternatively, you can find an image to print out and use.
Incorporate a range of textures
Texture is also important and when you see all your fabrics together it becomes obvious if you have too much of one thing. On my board I have a lot of velvet – purely because I only had velvet samples in the colours I wanted to use. In reality I’ve opted for a wider range of fabrics to bring in more texture – the yellow is a metallic cotton and the pink bedspread is wool on white bed linen. We also have brass fittings and glass accessories to reflect light and add a sense of luxury to the space.
When we put together sample boards for clients, we often mount fabrics on foam board with padding to indicate upholstered items such sofas or cushions. The 3D view this creates allows the client to see the fabric as it would be seen in situ. But if you’re doing this for yourself, you already know how and where you want to use the fabric and can play around with the sample yourself if it’s not permanently fixed to the board.
Digitalise your sample board
Once you have all your chosen samples laid out and arranged in a way that makes sense and looks great, I always photograph for future reference. This is especially useful if you’re not permanently fixing your samples, need them for other schemes or if you need to share them with anyone else.
I created my master bedroom sample board on a sheet of ply (painted) so it’s easy to lift down on to the floor, but foam board works just as well and is more lightweight. I put my boards on the floor to photograph as it’s easier to get directly above them to create straight-on flat lay shots.
Tip: Remember to shoot in natural light and position yourself in a way that doesn’t create a shadow.
Take a look at the gallery below for a variety of sample boards I’ve created for different projects.