Sample Board tips

Out of the immense range of products out there, how do you choose which finishes, which tiles, which colours to have in your home? How do you put together a sample board for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, a living room?

As Architects we tie together the internal and the external materials, the space and the light, enabling the whole house (both inside and out) to have a unified feeling to it. We don’t look at materials in isolation – we consider the volume of the room, its orientation, axis, function, feeling, sequence of the space in relation to the rest of the house,  in addition to the budget for the whole project. We consider how materials affect the way we experience a space and how the light catches them at different times of the day and changes the impression of a room.

Of course we love creating sample boards for our clients, but are equally happy if they want to source materials as well  – so if you are keen to DIY then this is a rough guide to help you create your own board before you head out shopping. It was interesting watching my daughter (5) play with my library of samples yesterday – these compositions are all hers and I haven’t changed them at all – it shows how fun it can be when you go by your instincts and enjoy the process!

sample board 1   sample board 3

Some rough rules of thumb for choosing finishes for your home:

1. You need to like it. Don’t push yourself into a style you ‘think’ you should have to ‘update’ your home, add value or a wow factor, equally its advisable not go for the ‘appease everyone/yet no one’ beige. It helps if you have found some Inspiration and researched images (eg. magazines or online Pinboards) of what you do like, really like, and then ask yourself why – what makes it special? For me there is always a concept that runs through the home, a feeling or a mood I am trying to convey in a space and I use this as part of my boards. Gathering images that evoke this is a starting point, whether of colours, landscape, gardens, other architecture or from samples I have collected over the years. (this is the ‘mood board’ part of the process).

sample board 4

2. The materials for the room you are fitting out need to be in your price range. I’ve experienced many a ‘designer’ who thinks that every room deserves $500.00 a roll wallpaper and top of the line fixtures and fittings to make it work. Unfortunately this approach just blows the budget for the rest of the house. Better to focus on where it is best spent (in a kitchen this is typically the bench top where the higher the price the better the longevity).

If you have fallen in love with an expensive item but it’s out of your price range there are a few options. Don’t try to match a very high end wall paper like a Florence Broadhurst, with a low-cost wall paper that looks ‘similar’,  just because its floral doesn’t make it the same as it’s the intricate detail that makes it magic. What is better is to use a small amount of an expensive product offset by a large amount of a cost-effective product (eg. in our house we paired a pricey stainless steel bench with simple laminate/melteca cabinetry). Or if it needs to be totally cost-effective – then choose a material   that is beautiful in its own right and stands on its own two feet as a nice material rather than trying to pretend its something else (I have yet to be fooled by laminate/formica “marble”).

sample board 5

3. To bring it all together establish an order of focal materials , neutral bases, and accessory colours. There are so many ‘styles’ out there  (minimal, eclectic, industrial, elegant) and we could do a whole seminar on the influences of materials and colours on spaces and how to design with them, but one very simple and easy approach in choosing materials for a room is to bear in mind the following (in what ever order inspires you first!):

  • Identify a key focal item/material in the room , it’s the ‘main thing’ that you want to draw attention to, what do you want your gaze to go to first when you enter the room. Is it the wall colour , fireplace, is it going to be the linen texture or pattern on the bed, is it an amazing timber floor/wall ( in a contemporary house it’s probably NOT the curtains….and it shouldn’t be the TV!). It could be a piece of art or furniture (and its material), will it be the ‘longed for’ bench top? Is it the view, the garden, the architecture, the light…. It’s something that’s beautiful, stunning, and has either a tactile texture, colour or light with enough presence to provide ‘weight’ to the room and can inspire the pieces you add to it.
  • You need neutral bases (it may be more than one) to complement this. Is it a simple floor finish,  white or neutral walls, whitewashed timber linings, simple furniture materials).  Blacks, Greys, charcoals or inky finishes can also be used instead of white, smooth plywood or timber can also provide a warmer background.
  • Add Accessory materials/colours with a bit of ‘bling’ or eye candy. Consider the effect of colours on emotions (cool, calm, warm and energizing), existing or new furniture, materials, books, linen, fixtures and fittings or accessories that contrast/compliment  these two main items. It can be either textural or tonal – white vs black, or Contrasting or complimentary colours to your focal point/neutral base, make sure to add a little bit of shimmer and reflection with mirrors, metallic, or glass to give it a bit of magic. Remember these are subservient but they compliment and accent  the ‘main thing’ you have identified. Mirrors also reflect the other surfaces in the room and then ADD this back into the space (very handy if you want MORE of an expensive wall lining without the expense!).

sample board 2

4. Gather samples (you can order chips online, or through hardware/tile/fabric stores)

  • Lay out ALL the samples (carpet, tile, timber, splashback, paint, a bit of metal and timber, perhaps a picture of the favoured fitting, – ideally in proportion to the size they will be in relation to each other) and give it time to gel in your head, also view them in different light at various times of day and in artificial light. Swop them around, exchange them, and experiment until it feels balanced and the colours work together. This will take time – and thats ok!
  • Photograph them together so you have a record if you have to return the carpet / curtain swatches.
  • There are online programmes where you can put together a virtual sample board – but the tactile approach of using real samples in true light is important. I then lay the collected swatches of each room adjacent to each other to ensure that the rooms flow together (as well as considering the external spaces/materials that they are looking out on). You do have an inbuilt memory of the spaces that you have been through in a house and when you come across one that is totally different it can either be a positive contrast  or have a negative disruptive effect on the whole sequence of spaces (try explaining that to a 5 yr old who wants her entire room fuchsia pink….)
  • When you are ready, if you can keep a bit of the sample,  stick them to a bit of card or foamboard and keep it handy for those accessory item shopping trips, and for heading out to make the big decisions like your kitchen/furniture choices.

sample board 7

5. Don’t stress about it!  It’s the backdrop to your lives, not your life itself.  If your belongings are (like ours) somewhat eclectic hand-me downs, then you can work with that and ensure the materials you choose provide a calm organised backdrop to the daily chaos!

Finishes need to be practical – they need to take the wear and tear that daily use throws at them. Test out the bench top material samples (cut on them, try to stain them with your favourite ingredients!) and if you have kids go for ‘easy to wipe down’ paint finishes rather than architects matt finishes (trust me on this one…).

Above all enjoy the process ….and then if you too have a little keen ‘helper’,  have a bit of a play making a really cool Barbie dancing stage ….


6 thoughts on “Sample Board tips

  1. So true! I have been thinking for a while now about writing this post, but didn’t have the time to collect the images, so when i turned around from my desk and she had already laid them all out so nicely to play with – well it was an opportune moment….!

  2. Your post appeared exactly when I needed it!! I’ve been in my house for 6 months and am now ready to put my stamp on it, but wasn’t sure where to start. Thanks for the great advice!

  3. Hi Jennifer, so lovely to hear from you! Happy New year and Congratulations on the new house! So pleased this helped a little, all the best with your ideas and have fun!!!!!


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