Pop Quiz: Do You Know…The Six Most Common Decorating Mistakes?

updated Jul 18, 2020
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(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

Over the years I’ve found there are mistakes, or habits if you’d like to call them that, that most people make (myself included) when it comes to setting up their home. Below I want to outline them, and provide tips for dealing with them, but I also want to ask you to rate yourself. This is more about compassion than guilt, as I suspect that we’ll discover we all share at least a few of the same bad habits.

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(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

1. Artwork Is Hung Too High

Most people tend (for some reason) to hang their artwork too high. Perhaps it’s because they sight it and hang it while standing, when artwork wants to be hung so its best seen when you’re sitting, or maybe they just feel that high on the wall is right. I often find artwork hung at different heights in different rooms or on different walls in the same room!

Either way the easy rule to remember is that ALL art wants to be hung at the same height so that it all lives on the same line, BUT that line is from the center, not the bottom or top. So, ALWAYS HANG YOUR ART AT 57″ ON CENTER. Here are full instructions and a video.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

2. Poor Light In Every Room

Most homes I visit are underlit. Even when people have enough lamps, they often don’t turn them all on. Some people think that the one bulb in the middle of the ceiling is enough. It isn’t!

Every room should have at least THREE POINTS OF LIGHT, and this does not include a light bulb in the middle of the ceiling. The best light sources are:

a. Indirect (no bare bulbs, use lamp shades or direct spot lights at the wall)
b. Below standing eye level

Table and floor lamps that direct light where you are living is best. It allows you to see things better, puts a nicer light on your face, and illuminates the colors and textures in your furnishings better.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

3. Collections Are All Over The Place

Most people are collectors of something, and I’ve seen so many different love affairs with books, hats, clothes, figurines over the years and most of them look awful. If you love your collection, the best thing you can do is to CONCENTRATE IT INTO ONE AREA of one room and really celebrate it. It’s far better to max out a wall in your living room with your books, than to keep them in piles around your home. It’s neater, looks better and makes it easier to find something when you want it.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

4. Fear of Bright or Dark Colors

Everyone says they love color, but most homes end up in a confusion of neutrals and beige or flat white. While color is a commitment and an emotional move, experimenting with some real bright and/or dark colors is a must. This doesn’t mean that you start off by painting all four walls of your living room deep purple. Start with some colorful pillows, bright bedding, or just one wall in an accent color. A little color goes a long way (I ALWAYS RECOMMEND 20% REAL COLOR IN EVERY ROOM) and it doesn’t take much to dip your toes in.

Once you start experimenting with real color, you will never go back and your home will come alive.

For more help, here’s a primer on how to choose and work with cool colors and warm colors. And here’s another short discourse on warm and cool people which relates to the colors we choose.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

5. Not Enough Rugs

Strangely, many decorating projects end with nothing to cover the floor. Perhaps people think that their newly refinished wood floors are really beautiful (I’m sure they are), but rugs are super important for adding color, softness and absorbing unwanted sound that reverberates around a non-rugged room (carpets are fine too, but usually less interesting and better in a bedroom).


a. Living Room
b. Hallways
c. Bedroom
d. Bathroom (bathmat)
e. Kitchen (try colorful vinyl sisal)
f. Home Office

And don’t skimp. Large rugs that cover the room and have all the furniture sitting on them are delicious.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

6. No Shades or Curtains

Beyond all of the above mistakes, nothing is a pet peeve of my own more than those people who don’t want to cover their windows with anything. Particularly in New York City, folks seem to think they’re going to starve for light if they put anything near their window. Phooey!

Windows are holes in the wall and extremely ugly and visually disruptive when not softened by curtains or shades. ALWAYS HAVE AT LEAST A CURTAIN OR A SHADE ON EVERY WINDOW (both if you’re really good).

Personally, I LOVE light, so I soften all my windows with cotton or linen curtains that let the light through, and fill the window with solar shades that also let the light through. The combination, however, softens the window frame, introduces a scrumptious textile and filters the light in a lovely way. Here’s a little more I wrote On Covering Your Windows.

– Re-edited from a post originally published 8.19.2014 – CM