8 Interior Designers on the One Decor Piece that Got Away

published Feb 25, 2020
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Every now and then, we sit back and think about the one or ones that got away—and no, we’re not referring to romantic flings. We’re talking about those oh-so-perfect pieces of furniture or decor that just didn’t make sense to purchase at the time, but in retrospect, they weren’t worth passing over. If only there was a way to turn back the clock.

We were curious to hear others’ stories—particularly interior designers—about what items they didn’t buy and forever regret, so we can learn from their experiences and not make these same decor mistakes twice. Because if an interior designer thinks something is gold, then you can probably use it your space in one way or another, today or tomorrow. What are the items still haunting a few pro designers today? Read on to find out.

Credit: Julia Steele

A Stunning Living Room Rug

By now, we all know a good rug can really tie a room together by establishing a color scheme, defining a seating area, and grounding furniture. So if you find a stunner that’s in your budget, you should probably go for it.

“I had been looking everywhere for the perfect rug for my living room,” says Angela Todd, an interior designer based in Portland, Oregon. “While at High Point Market, I found an amazing, one-of-a-kind contemporary wool and silk rug that measured 9-feet by 12-feet. It was the perfect multi-colored palette and had an amazing abstract composition, but I needed an 8′ by 11′ for my living room. The sales representative suggested I buy the rug and modify the size. Though I had provided many clients hand-knotted rugs over the years, this was a large purchase for me, and I couldn’t get my head around buying the high-end rug and then additionally investing money modify it.”

So Todd asked the sales rep for a quote on cutting the rug to size. While he crunched the numbers, the one-of-a-kind rug was sold, and the original weavers who made the carpet were no longer accessible. “I tried to have it recreated via a rendering and then a strike off, but it wasn’t the same,” says Todd. “I ended up purchasing a rug for my living room that doesn’t have the same magic. I still think about that rug, and sincerely hope whoever got it enjoys it every day.”

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Antique Pottery

“As a designer, I travel all over the world to find cool and unique pieces to put in clients home—and my own,” says Tiffany Hanken of Tiffany Hanken Interior Design in Minnesota. To that end, the piece she still thinks about is a set of one-of-a kind vintage Asian vases at a flea market in Lisbon, Portugal, that she initially passed on. To make matters worse, that flea market happened to only be open one day a week.

“I went as far as to take a tuk tuk to the location an hour and a half prior to my departing flight to try to get the shop info,” says Hanken. “Being as I don’t speak Portuguese, this proved to be a difficult feat. I did find the information on the antique shop but was never able to get in contact with them. Lesson learned: If you find something that calls to you, always buy it!”

A Pair of Side Chairs

“While living in Milwaukee for a year, I found this amazing pair of wingback chairs for a song—literally around $150,” reflects Elizabeth Stamos, a now Chicago-based interior designer. “They were in great shape, the perfect proportions, and extremely comfortable.”

Stamos had always planned on reupholstering them, but shortly after buying them, she and her husband unexpectedly moved back to Chicago. “Our new place was small and didn’t have room for the chairs, so I sold them,” she says. “I regret it all of the time! I could have used them three times over: At our dining table, in our living room, or in my office. I should have put them in storage. Hindsight is 20/20.”

Credit: 1st Dibs

A Vintage Daybed

“Years ago I had an opportunity to buy a vintage PK80 daybed by Poul Kjaerholm at a relatively good price,” notes NYC designer Brad Ford. “At the time, I just didn’t have the space for it, and it was still pretty pricey.”

Even though the leather cushion was aged to perfection and the base was in great condition, Ford passed on this hero Bauhaus-inspired piece. “I love using daybeds to bridge two seating groups together, so I eventually ended up buying a new one from Fritz Hansen, but obviously, the leather didn’t have the beautiful patina as the one I passed on,” says Ford. “I still think about that daybed, but unfortunately, the timing just wasn’t right.”

A Bold Rattan Headboard

“As a designer, I am often surrounded by beautiful pieces, and sometimes it can be hard to utilize my self control, but I often try not to buy things unless they have a place to go,” explains North Carolina-based designer Lauren Clement. “A few years back, I came across this gorgeous kelly green rattan headboard. I stood in front of it, walked around it, and salivated for a while and then walked away.” Clement knew she didn’t have an immediate home for it, so she passed on the piece.

“As I look back today, rattan is back, kelly green is my very fave, and I know now that it would have been a showstopper in front of some fabulous wallpaper and brass wall sconces,” she says. “Sometimes logic must be tossed aside for the potential of future design greatness.” Well said!

Conversation-Starting Artwork

“The above is a fragment of an original billboard advertisement for Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’ staring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck,” explains San Francisco interior designer Ian Stallings. “The film featured a dream sequence collaboration between Hitchcock and Salvador Dali.”

Stallings couldn’t afford to purchase this piece at the time but took a snap for reference. “it still haunts me, appropriately,” he says. “What a cool conversation piece to have in an entryway, at the end of a corridor leading to bedrooms, or a media room. These one-of-a-kind things can’t be replaced.” Not saying you should take out a loan to finance a piece you can’t afford. But when it comes to artwork, the occasional splurge might be worth it, since art often does appreciate.

A Quirky Statement Piece

“I was in Seattle with my family celebrating my birthday a few years back, and I of course wanted to spend the day vintage shopping,” says California-based Hailey Weidenbaum, founder of Everhem. “We stopped into one of my favorite stores called Homestead Seattle, and they had a one-of-a-kind, vintage, mid-century modern telephone table with an attached bench—mahogany wood, and the seat was upholstered with a palm frond patterned fabric.”

Her husband was instantly obsessed and thought it would make a perfect statement piece for a little nook in their house. “At the time I was into it but not enough to pull the trigger,” says Weidenbaum. “We’ve since moved to a new house, and I pass a spot where it would have looked amazing daily. I’ve never found anything quite like it again. But now West Elm and similar stores are selling modern takes on telephone tables with benches! I kick myself every day.”

Credit: Farfetch

Contemporary Ceramics

You never know who is going to be the next big thing, so if you have an inkling about a maker or artisan’s work—and an opportunity to get in on the ground level, take it. “The Haas Brothers are incredibly talented brothers, who are currently having a big impact on the design and art world,” says New York-based designer Sara Story. “I seriously contemplated buying their ceramics and furry beasts. I kept thinking, ‘I missed the boat and that prices were too high.’ Unfortunately, that was a long time ago, and their work and prestige has only quadrupled from there. It was a missed opportunity, definitely.”

Story has also long-admired iconic designers such as Gio Ponti, Jean Royere, and Charlotte Perriand. “I have missed a few keys pieces of theirs, which I wish I had purchased 15 years ago,” she says. Glad we can all learn from her—and the rest of these designers—mistakes!