The first thing you need to do is try, try, try again. Creating realistic interior designs is a skill, as you know since you are in the design business. It takes a lot of work and learning to understand the differences between how metal shines compared to polished wood. To know which subtle features to tweak and which to leave alone. Blanket tips like “Dull sharp edges” doesn’t always work because each interior design is different, each has its own character, setting and purpose. You need to keep trying over and over again. You need to work your design, render it here, check it, change it, and repeat until your design is as realistic as you can make it. It is okay to be hard on yourself and to keep reworking your designs because it will make you better at creating realistic-looking designs.
Work on the Lighting Last
Great lighting hides most sins, but it highlights them too. Do yourself a favor and leave the lighting to the very end. Stick with the flat light as you are modeling your interior. Then, when you have completed your designs, create lights using the in-house light sources and windows as light sources, but remember that light bends in real life and not in computer simulations. Ergo, you will need to slightly illuminate shadowy areas.
Try a variety of different light levels and configurations. Leave your designs for a little while, or get a few second opinions, and pick the version that looks the best. Painting your location with light is a learned skill, and it is easy to get it wrong, so dedicate yourself to getting better.
Forget Added Tints and Filters
For those of you using specialized software for interior design, stay clear of tints and filters. You may think they look good, and they may even look good in the promotional material put out by the design software, but they are crap!
The regular lay person may think it looks good. They may think your warm colors in the fire-lit den are nice, and the cold icy steel look in the minimalist house is inspired, but people in the design business will see through your filters and tints.
It is hard to explain, but have you seen those Instagram and TikTok women who always use filters. Once you notice them, once you understand how they operate, it becomes frustrating and annoying when you see it. You start to see dating website adverts and notice how the women on there are using filters turned up to 7, so their skin looks like a poorly rendered puddle of walnut cream. The same is true of people who see interior designs. If you want to create atmosphere, then use real colors within the real setting, on the walls and on the furniture. Don’t slap on a colored tint or filter because it is all people will see.
It is Okay to Look Slightly Unrealistic
This one is tricky to describe outside of the architectural world but think of this. When people are selling building ideas or plans, they are given advice on how to make their designs look more real. They are told to put their designs into real-life photographed settings, and they are told to add clouds in the sky, imperfections in the buildings, a little bit of dirt, a person walking a dog, and so forth.
Oddly, for interior design, you should probably do the opposite. When interior designers try to use these pieces of advice, it almost always looks bad. For example, the kid who has been superimposed onto the floor looks fake, the imperfections in the objects are too obvious, and adding dirt almost always looks like poorly-draw shadows. Even people who take a photo of the real room and then add elements over the room, they still look pretty bad.
In the case of interior design, perhaps avoid traditional realistic-design advice, and instead, try to cultivate your own style. When people look at your designs, they recognize your design style and your composition style. It may not look as photo-realistic, but your overall chances of success are probably improved when compared to trying to “Make” it look realistic.