Few first-time homeowners have the luxury of furnishing an entire home, down to the last detail, before moving in. More typical are those who furnish each room with the basic pieces, then little by little fill in with what they need. However, there are those who prefer to furnish one room completely before tackling another.

However you decide to do it, you’ll still purchase one piece at a time, and looking at furniture can be overwhelming. You have to work at staying focused. You may start out looking for a sofa, suddenly see end tables that look interesting, then go off looking at complete room setups. Before you know it, you’ve used up your sofa energy and you’re no further along. Given the fact that most of us don’t have unlimited time, you must try to stick with your original intent.

Starting with Your Favorite Room
When my daughter and her husband moved into their first home, they couldn’t imagine planning the furniture for the entire house at once and thought it would be logical to start with/the living room. “Where do you spend the most time?” I asked her. And “What room do you want to be the most comfortable?”

It turned out that the bedroom was the room she really wanted to complete down to the last detail. She owned a sofa from her old apartment, and although it wasn’t right for their new house, she felt she could live with it until the bedroom was finished. They splurged on a cherry sleigh bed, top-of-the-line mattress set, down pillows and comforter, wall-to-wall carpeting and custom-made valances and blinds for the windows. Since the closets had built-in drawers, they could forgo a dresser for the time being and bought night tables and lamps instead. The room needs more to make it comfortable, but she started with quality pieces and the monochromatic colors make it feel warm and cozy. It looks elegant. She achieved her goal, and they love spending time in that room.

Since the initial go-around, she’s added an antique framed mirror and a few original paintings, as well as an interesting handcrafted glass-and-wrought-iron dressing table. This piece wouldn’t normally seem right for a room with a cherry-wood bed and tapestry valances, but it works. It’s not an item that was in the original plan, but again, it’s important to stay flexible.

If you like the idea of one room at a time, the bonus is that once that room is complete, it becomes a comfort zone while everything else is in a state of becoming.

Want Versus Need
When I was working on an article about hooked rugs, we photographed a wonderful collection in a New York City brownstone. The couple who owned the house had two small children and were quite knowledgeable about American folk art collectibles. They had recently moved in and had all the rooms painted white. They wanted the things they collected to be the dominant features of the house with no distractions from color or textures. Their rugs were hung as art on the walls, but there was very little in the way of furnishings.

In the course of looking for a sofa and chairs they had stumbled upon an exquisite Shaker desk in perfect condition. It was love at first sight for both of them. They couldn’t imagine living without it and knew how rare a find it was. Now they were faced with the prospect of continuing their search for a sofa or spending the allocated money on the desk. They chose the desk, reasoning that they would somehow save the money for a sofa, or forfeit the purchase of other less important items, but they might never have the opportunity to buy this desk again. The desk represented their style and they knew they would have it forever. It would bring them enormous aesthetic and emotional pleasure each time they looked at it, and there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation about the importance of that decision. In this case practicality played no part in their decorating plan, even though they vowed to practice restraint should they find another such piece before they had a sofa to sit on.

Sometimes it’s important to throw caution to the winds and follow your heart. However, if this happens to you, and you live with another person, it helps if both your hearts are in the same place.

A Little at a Time
A young couple bought their first house five years ago. Their approach to furnishing is to do it very slowly. They want to acquire good pieces and would rather live with spare, and in some cases empty, rooms rather than buy “in-between” furniture. Somehow the “not so good,” “practical,” “cast-offs” and “family donations” are dragged with us for a lifetime. They are trying to avoid this. The other day she called to say she’d found the perfect dining room table but said it may be a long time before she finds the chairs. Another couple I know said they’ve been working on their living room for three years. It’s almost the way they want it.