The Art of the Mood Board

The first thing Kristen Dee sees in her head when she’s brought onto the design team for The Cavalier Hotel’s vacation bungalows is the color blue. Then, waves crashing on a beach. From there, ideas keep rolling in. Some are concrete and easy to pin to down, like driftwood. Others are harder to define. (What exactly is an unpretentious chair?)

That’s where mood boards come in. They’re a lot like Pinterest, only grounded in true strategy—there’s a purpose behind this calculated curation of ideas and images. It communicates nebulous concepts in a clear-cut, visual manner that everyone can understand.

Straight from our pro, here are four simple steps to creating an awesome mood board.

Step One: Start with the design directive.

For The Cavalier Hotel, our designers were given two distinct identities from which to design the historic property’s vacation bungalows: coastal cottage and cozy cabin.

“Creating a coastal cottage space for the bungalows made sense. The Cavalier Hotel is chic, but relaxed,” says Kristen. “It’s simultaneously nostalgic while also being effortlessly timeless. When I think of a coastal beach resort, this is it.”

Sometimes, though, a design directive isn’t as easy to grasp—cozy cabin has many definitions, and it all depends on the person thinking about it. “My mind immediately went to an Adirondack lake house,” says Kristen. “But for some, cozy cabin means mountain retreat.”

The mood board, then, becomes an essential piece of the puzzle. It defines the design and creates a plan.

Step Two: Collect images.

Kristen started with coastal cottage, pulling images that conveyed intangible ideas: vibrant blue color swatches, smooth pebbles, whitewashed flooring. From there, she was on the lookout for photos that conveyed solid ideas—a chair, a light fixture, a rug.

“The vibrant shades of blue kept popping up in my head, so I scouted for pieces I knew could be in the bungalow that reflected the tone of those more basic images,” she says.


For cozy cabin, she started with the real then moved her way to more abstract. “Cozy can be hard to verbalize, but really easy to visualize, so I found images of a fur throw and a wood slab table. Then I rounded those out with textural images—bird feathers, driftwood, flannel.”


Step Three: Build the mood board.

The key to a successful mood board is piecing together the right images and creating the right balance between abstract images and concrete images. Animals, textures, colors, people, spaces, landscapes—they’re all fair game.

“The idea is that these images, when put together, will evoke a very specific feeling within the person looking at the mood board. And those feelings are different between design concepts,” Kristen says. “There’s an art to it.”



Step Four: Share the mood board and start designing.

“Clients know what they want, but it can be a hard thing to verbalize sometimes,” Kristen says. “The design concept will never be clearer than at this point, when a mood board has crystallized a vague idea and the client responds with, ‘Yes! How did you know?'”

Once that eureka moment hits, you start finding real pieces that will bring the mood board to life, and from there the design is shaped and molded into a finished space, perfect for a relaxing summer vacation on the beach.

“Every hospitality project we do starts with this process,” Kristen says. “It’s how we know we’re giving the client exactly what they had in mind.”




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