Small Living

How to mood board with NTS’s Colin Chee

If you’re embarking on a complete redesign of your space or simply looking to give it a little facelift, a mood board is an ideal place to start. A mood board has a range of benefits from anchoring and guiding your design decisions to helping to avoid making regrettable furniture decisions. To help you with some tips and tricks in your mood boarding journey, we spoke to Colin of NTS about the tools and process he used for designing his own 40 sqm (430 sq ft) studio apartment.

When it came to renovating and designing his studio apartment in Melbourne, Colin had some clear ideas in mind including what he wanted to change, remove and replace and how he wanted to organise the space. The first source of inspiration was a room-dividing modular shelving system from one of his favourite designs featured on NTS  — El Camarin. From there, Colin set about gathering all of his inspiration in one place in order to guide his design decisions and purchases. Below is our guide to creating an interiors mood board based on Colin’s experience and tips.

A ‘Before’ picture of Colin’s studio apartment.
The ‘After’ — Colin’s completed DIY design and renovation.

Start with the right tools

Colin built his mood board in Milanote but there are many online tools to choose from. Pinterest and Canva are also popular options. Colin liked the existing Milanote interior design template on offer and how easy it was to drag and drop images, links and videos from websites or platforms like YouTube. And he especially loved its ‘web clipper’ extension that brings in items from websites with one-click. Do some research and have a play with some different options to ensure you select the tool that best suits how you personally like to build and interact with your mood board. If you like, you can try Milanote free here.  

It’s all in the detail

Use your mood board to collect textures, colours or specific living room furniture pieces. The more specific and detailed you can be, the better. Colin knew he wanted to incorporate some bamboo texture (as seen in Colin’s apartment below) and a rice paper light shade for instance, so these were early additions. 

The bamboo mat Colin selected for his apartment adds textural contrast against his white concrete floor.

Importantly, try to avoid collecting lots of images of rooms or complete designs that you like the look of. Focusing instead on the details within these designs or rooms such as colours, patterns, textures, finishings, furniture and furnishings, and perhaps even, how these are working together. This approach will help you build towards your desired outcome more naturally. Try to find images of items on a plain white or transparent background to avoid visual clutter on your mood board. This will help you curate different pieces and see how they interact with one another within your space.  

Don’t overthink it

In the early stages, don’t worry about any preconceived concepts or ideas you may have had or notions of ‘what goes with what’ or even constraints such as budget (we’ll come to this!) or dimensions. Instead, collect anything and everything that you would love to see in your home or space. You may well be surprised by how well all the things you love actually go together. 

Old and new

It’s also a great idea to include images of existing items or features in your home or space that you intend to be part of your new design, so old and new can coexist in harmony. This is also a great way to remind yourself that it doesn’t all need to be new and that making a few small changes might be all that’s needed to give things the lift you’re looking for.   

Colin’s Milanote mood board.

Organise, edit and annotate

Once Colin had gathered all his inspiration and imagery of what would be staying in his space, he started to organise his mood board and edit as needed – removing any duplicative content or anything that wasn’t quite working. Don’t go discounting anything based on budget or dimensions. Remember: this is a mood board, which means it’s a guide rather than a prescription. While the image of the sofa you love might be a three-seater that you don’t have space or the budget for, you’ll know you’re on the look out for one just like it but smaller or something similar that’s secondhand.

At this stage, you might choose to add some annotations with text and arrows like Colin did (see above) and even create some colour swatches from your mood board additions (another great functionality within Milanote!).

The treasured mid century dining table and blue dining chair that Colin acquired via Facebook Marketplace after many months of searching.    

A living document

The beauty of a digital mood board is that it can remain a living document that might be edited and evolve for months or years to come. For Colin, it was 14 months between when he started planning his living room renovation and design and when he completed it. Part of this was down to the fact that he took on a lot of the work himself as he was interested in building his DIY skills and taking ownership over the redesign, but it was also down to the duration of some second hand furniture hunting. Colin was keen to purchase second hand furniture wherever possible and so it was several months before he found his ideal dining table and blue dining chair (both pictured above and acquired via Facebook Marketplace).    

A visual shopping list

For Colin, his mood board acted as a visual shopping list and reminder for things he’s looking for. He felt it kept him from making mistakes too because it kept any purchase decisions very targeted. Importantly (having redesigned his previous small apartment), he knew it would be an exercise in patience and that the mood board didn’t need to be realised instantaneously, but instead could be brought together over the period of a year or more. For Colin this resulted in a number of second hand purchases that he’s extremely happy with — his dining table, his beloved blue dining chair (in just the right hue!), and a lovely leather footstool (pictured below) that he will use and treasure for years to come. 

Colin’s dog, Shiro relaxing in his light, bright and highly functional updated home.

We hope this has been helpful for your mood boarding process! If you are interested in more tips and tricks from NTS, check out our Essential Guide series.

Note: Milanote is a brand partner of NTS but Colin’s love for their product is genuine.