Avoiding Decorating Mistakes: A Design Pro Shares Her Do's and Don'ts

Professional Project

Project by: Diana Kennedy of Diana Kennedy Interiors
Location: Wakefield, Massachusetts

Chances are good you might make a design mistake (or two or 20) in your life. While the lessons you might learn from these mistakes will certainly benefit your future decorating, if you can get away with learning the lesson without making the mistake, why not take the opportunity? Diana Kennedy submitted these before and after photos of her own home plus shared some of her decorating dos and don'ts to potentially save you trouble.

From Diana: Yes, I am an interior designer. Yes, interior designers make mistakes. But the risks I take in decorating my own home help to prevent me from making the same mistakes with a client. (And luckily the mistakes I made in the "before" pictures were *very* early in my career.) The living room design in the before picture had some forethought, but ultimately left the room feeling dark and cramped. I was able to dissect what went wrong during that process to create the lovely and much more functional living room seen in the after, and I am happy to pass that knowledge along to you since no room should feel like a mistake when you're living in it.

Here is a list of dos and don'ts to help you avoid the decorating errors I made the first time around:

DO give yourself permission to splurge on custom window treatments if your window is an unusual shape. My initial off-the-rack curtain solution only helped to make my small-ish space feel even smaller. The new roman shades in the bow window now allow light and privacy, and I love them.

DON'T let the salespeople at the paint store bully you into a color just because they happen to like it. They haven't even been to your house. What do they know about what would look good in it?

DO, however, spend time with your potential colors by creating sample poster boards so that you can see what the color looks like in various parts of the room at different times of day.

DON'T get married to a design idea that you saw somewhere that might not be suitable for your space. That brown feature wall was inspired by something I saw in a Ralph Lauren showroom and it looked soooo gorgeous there. But that room had much higher ceilings than mine, and it was a floating display wall surrounded by lots of light that the north facing windows did not provide in my house.

DO test your fabrics for potential pilling or staining issues and get fabric samples whenever possible. That brown sectional was covered in a fabric with a loop pile. Items were constantly getting stuck in it, and no amount of fabric shaving (yes, that is a thing) could get the crumbs and fluff bunnies out. The new gray flannel is much more user-friendly.


DON'T feel that you have to use something in the room just because you got it for free. I thought I scored big time with those brown and blue carpet tiles. However, they were commercial grade, and they felt like it. I then tried to replace them with a rug from a designer line that pilled like crazy. (See DO #3) Now I have a rug with the perfect balance of feel, style, and durability.

DO remember that the arms of your furniture can potentially (and unnecessarily) take up crucial circulation space. The seating width of my old sofa and new sofa is about the same, but the original piece was almost six inches wider on each side largely due to the overstuffed arms. If you want to put a big piece of furniture in a small space, search for one with a track arm for a clean and modern look.

DON'T feel that you have to get the matching set. The before picture features brown lamps, a brown TV cabinet, and a brown coffee table (can you see where I'm going with this?) that made the room feel heavy. Now all of my casegoods are a different color: a blue TV stand, walnut coffee table, and a white end table keep the room more visually interesting.

I hope that these guidelines give you the confidence to take on any design challenge in your home. And remember, in all decorating situations, practice makes perfect!

Thanks, Diana Kennedy of Diana Kennedy Interiors !

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(Image credits: Diana Kennedy ; Submitted by Diana Kennedy ; Robertson Design & Photography ; Robertson Design & Photography )