3 Design Mistakes I'll Never Make Again (and Hopefully You Won't, Either)

3 Design Mistakes I'll Never Make Again (and Hopefully You Won't, Either)

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Nancy Mitchell
Mar 15, 2015
This is the living room of my most recent home, at the point where I started to get things right. Sort of.
(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

I was an architect in a former life, and as a result I probably care more than is emotionally healthy about how my home looks, and also, because I am used to being a Designer, I feel tremendous pressure to not mess anything up, design-wise, ever. But even though I know lots about color theory and I can provide a decent explanation of Brutalism and Mannerism and many other isms, I mess things up all the time. I've decided to share three of my biggest goofs, as an exercise in humility, and, hopefully as a way of ensuring that you, the reader, will never have to make the same mistakes.

Here are some dumb things I've done:

1. Painting an entire room before testing a color out on the wall.
When I was a young designer, I fell, hopelessly, stupidly, in love. With a color. This color was called 'Pirate Coast' (not making this up) and I saw it in a room in someone else's home, and in this room it was the perfect subtle aqua blue of my dreams. So I went to the store and bought a gallon, even though, in the store lighting, the swatch looked a bit like toothpaste. Then, after my long-suffering roommate and I had painted my entire bedroom with this stuff, we realized that, with the particular lighting in my room, it was not aqua blue at all. If you squinted really hard you could imagine that it was blue (or maybe green?) but mostly it was so light as to be no color at all.

Chagrined, I painted my room a different color a few days later. But this time, I got swatches, and taped them to the wall, to see what the paint would actually look like in my room. Lesson learned.

2. Not planning ahead when you make purchases.
I used to have this really great/terrible plaid sofa, which had been in my family for about 500 years. (You can read all about it here. That thing was legendary.) Underneath said plaid sofa was a beige-ish IKEA carpet, which I had bought when I was in dire financial straits, and which was definitely in poor condition. It was starting to get a little embarrassing, so when I got my hands on a little money, I decided to replace my gross old beige rug with some very nice beige FLOR tiles. They looked great with the plaid couch — except that when, six months later, I decided to replace the plaid couch with another couch that wasn't 500 years old (which really, was inevitable), the FLOR tiles no longer looked great with the new couch. They just looked kind of... eh. I held onto them for another year or so, out of pure shame, and then I finally gave them away and got a new rug that looked better with my new couch.

I should've seen this one coming. The takeaway? If you're planning on making any big changes to a room, factor that into any purchases you make for that room. Or better yet, just wait.

3. Buying something from the internet without measuring.
At some point in the past few years, I decided that I really, really needed a pair of Milo Baughman lounge chairs. At this point I already had one, which I got from eBay for a steal, because I guess I was a little bit ahead of the curve, so I started stalking eBay and 1stDibs and pretty much everywhere I could find for another one. And I found one, at some antique store somewhere in the Midwest, for a great price, so I bought it and had it shipped to me and even roped a friend into helping me pick it up from the Greyhound station.

Except that when I got my new chair into my home, eager to create this long-awaited pair, it was... small. Not exactly child-sized, but really small. Who knew that there were two different sizes of Milo Baughman lounge chairs? Not me. But those chairs were not a pair at all, and for the next three years they drifted sort of uncomfortably around my house, like a divorced couple politely avoiding each other at their child's wedding. Later, when I moved to New York, I sold them both for a tiny profit, but I still felt a bit silly. I should've measured.

I should've known. But now, you will. Don't be like me.

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