How to build your perfect inspiration board

I love a good inspiration board. They’re a blast to put together, and of course, collecting items to feature is a huge part of the fun too! Boards like this are a great way to save mementos you love and that inspire you, and they also help you hone in on an aesthetic—whether it’s for a creative project, a home decor project, or even just your personal aesthetic (daily style included!).

My office features one long wall with a triptych of three linen pinboards (these are the ones I use). In the past, I’ve been very good about completely overhauling them at least once per year. But one thing led to another last year, and it had been way too long since I’d redone any of them. Lots of little items had been added over many months, but it was definitely time for a full edit and refresh. While I tinkered, I thought I’d take some pics and share how I approach this process to get an “organized collage” look on my boards, in case you want to try something similar.

Above is a little before and after peek. The board on the left was formerly in the center of the trio. While it still looks organized enough, it (and its sister boards!) had amassed way too much stuff, and staring at this in my office everyday had gotten stale. You gotta mix it up, you know? For this specific board, I ended up going with a similar color scheme and aesthetic feel, but on the right, you can see how cleaned up and fresh it is—and with plenty of room for new finds this year. Below, I’ll show you my methodology for how I structure my inspiration pinboards in this way!

Before you begin arranging:

Hunter, gatherer.  Step one: Ignore your Marie Kondo instincts for as long as you can. Seriously! When it comes to gathering inspiration, you’ll want to save some magazines, catalogs, photographs, ephemera—anything you can look through later and add to your board. If you really can’t stand the clutter, browse through the materials as you encounter them, and immediately tear out and trim any images that speak to you. Save them in a file somewhere out of the way until you’re ready to play.

Think big, think small.  When you’re flipping through a resource like a magazine, don’t just look at the spreads as a whole. Sometimes, small bits of pattern, or a color swatch, or even the way a model’s hands were photographed can speak to you. A mix of items small and large is going to give you the most cohesive look anyway (because it creates visual interest), so don’t stress if the items you’re clipping are teeny! Where possible, I also recommend trimming some items with padding around them, so you have white borders on some of the subjects you trim out.

On the flip side, one thing I don’t like to feature as frequently are clipped headlines or other titles. If I mix a bunch of different titles or words together, the font nerd in me thinks this looks messy and insane. So if I do feature items with words, I like the fonts to be from similar families, so the vibe they communicate is similar. But…I’m cray.

It’s the the little things. A small thank you card; a business card from a memorable meal with friends; a thank you note with your name written beautifully across the front; a fabric swatch from a craft project. Save all the little things that bring you joy or you believe to be beautiful. Bonus points for featuring items with different textures, which can make your board more interesting, too.

Ok, let’s get to arranging.

1. First, take down your current board or boards. Unpin everything, gathering the pins in a small bowl to make it easy later on. With the old and new items together, create three piles: items you definitely want to feature, items that are maybes, and things you’re ready to toss. Go off instinct here—anything that feels old, tired, or no longer resonates doesn’t need a spot in your inspiration!

As you sort, take note of patterns, colors, and the overall mood of the images you feel drawn to. Hopefully, you’ll begin to see a pattern, AND how particular items group well together. Begin setting these items aside in kind, like I did above. We’re doing this because (and this is BIG) creating a theme for your board based on color, mood, contrast, etc. will make the board visually cohesive. This approach will make your board look better than pinning up a random mishmash of items that don’t relate to one another, beyond the fact that you liked them at one point. It forces you to edit, which is a good thing!

2. If you have a clear vision for your board, dive right in! I like to grab a bunch of items that really speak to me as a “group” and then lay down the largest item first, to anchor a vignette around it. My style is to keep the lines clean—I don’t like arranging things on an angle, as I think this contributes to a haphazard feeling. Arrange, rinse, and repeat. In the #2 photo above, you can kind of see how I picked three larger pieces (the watercolor, the herringbone pattern, and the desert scene) and used them as visual anchors to other items laid on top.

As you begin laying the board’s items down, you may find it useful to re-sort all the materials by size—larger items, smaller, and then personal effects. In addition to color, composition, and contrast, size is a great starting point for what items will pair well together.

3. Have fun and play! Move the items around the board, and think about how different elements relate to one another. For this particular board, I was pursuing a theme which blended soft, water-inspired vibes with botanical elements, and really creamy, warm tones. I wanted the overall effect to feel a little more colorful, but airy and really fresh. You can see how between shots 3 and 4, I removed some elements and added others.

4. I never pin anything down until I’m happy with the overall composition. Save yourself the annoyance (and extra holes) of pinning and re-pinning things. Get the collage as you like it—or at least 95% of the way there—then attach everything.

Sometimes, once I’m “done” with a board and pull it up off the ground, I realize there’s a naked spot, or an element I don’t like, so then I’ll tweak a little. Usually this means adding in small items, like little polaroids or business cards. Often, it’s these tiny pieces that pull a vignette together anyway!

And hey, this isn’t brain surgery, so don’t be tough on yourself as you play. As you’re building and mixing and matching, don’t force it. If something ends up not working—even if it’s an item you really love—pull it aside and use it elsewhere. You can always take something down if you don’t like it in the long run.

So in addition to editorial inspiration, one of my favorite aspects of these boards is they become a place to store little keepsakes and mementos that would otherwise end up in a drawer…or the trash. Here are just a few of mine:

It’s cool for me to look at these boards now and compare to my “before” shots. It makes me realize how many fun things I’ve collected since I last did these, and more importantly, how much your own taste and eye can evolve (or stay the same!). There are items on some of these boards that I’ve had pinned up for over 8 years! And some, which I thought I’d relate to forever, got the boot this time around, only to make way for new snapshots or images I was surprised I liked.

So give it a try! Whether your inspiration board is big or small (or is simply your refrigerator!), I hope this gave you a couple ideas for how you can approach designing it.

Leave a Comment


  1. 1.31.19
    Jane said:

    So pretty and great tips! I like when you create digital ones for the blog, too.

  2. 10.13.19
    Alexandra said:

    I keep returning to his post and finally got my own. So excited to try my hand. Love your aesthetic!

  3. 6.20.20
    Larissa said:

    Where can I find a board like yours? I love how neutral it is!

  4. 11.16.20
    Suzie said:

    Can you share the brand of the white bookcases with the dividing cubes? Thank you.

  5. 1.24.22
    Kathryn said:

    Love your inspo photos! What kinds of magazines do you usually have on hand, to find these kinds of clippings?