Pro Designers On the Most Common Decorating Mistakes (and How To Fix Them)

published May 30, 2017
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(Image credit: Tamara Eaton Design)

Navigating the waters of home decorating can sometimes be a little choppy. You may find yourself often asking “am I doing this right?” with every decision you embark on. And though most of the time, you’re doing just fine, other times, well…someone with a trained eye (and tons of experience) could easily call out some potential pitfalls. Here, we asked six top designers to divulge some of the most common mistakes they see again and again, and to offer up some much-needed solutions to help you fix these no-nos.

Expert: Krista Nye Nicholas and Tami Ramsay of Cloth & Kind
Mistake: Picking the wrong paint colors out of impatience.

This is so cliché, but SO TRUE! Color and light and the relationship between the two is a funny thing and they need to be carefully considered. Don’t let this be a rash decision. We’ve come up with a simple formula.

The Fix: First things first, don’t choose a paint color from the teeny tiny chip under the fluorescent lights of the paint store. Do this instead:

  1. Choose three shades of the color you’re interested in—one you’re 99% sure is going to be just right, one you think is a bit too light and one you think is a bit too bold.
  2. Put all three swatches up in big old swaths on all four of your walls.
  3. Walk away.
  4. Walk back and absorb.
  5. Check them out in various lights.
  6. Walk away again.
  7. Walk back. Absorb some more.
  8. Check them out at different times of day.
  9. After a day or two of this method you will know which shade is right, and chances are it probably won’t be the one you were 99% sure about. Even we, as experienced professionals, insist on following these steps because color and light, and how they interact, are a funny thing.
(Image credit: Stone Textile Studio)

Expert: Elizabeth Mollen of Stone Textile
Mistake: Hanging art too high.

I can’t tell you how often I walk into a home and the existing artwork is just all off. And it’s almost always hung way too high!

The Fix: It is best to view art at eye level. If there are multiple pieces of art in the same room I like to try and hang them all at the same level if possible (unless furniture—like a sofa— or an architectural element, such as a fireplace, gets in the way). A good rule of thumb is to hang art at an average woman’s eye level, which is typically averaged around 5’4- 5’5.

(Image credit: Summer Thornton Design)

Expert: Summer Thornton
Mistake: Playing it too safe.

The most common mistake I see is clients selecting things because they “go with everything” and making decisions on individual pieces instead of as a part of a whole design plan. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “I already bought a sofa, but don’t worry it’s neutral and will go with everything.” My theory is if it goes with everything it goes with nothing!

The Fix: I believe one needs to step back and think about the goal of a room: How should it look? How should it function? And most importantly, how should it feel? I like to collect inspiration images, even make a moodboard or have some lose guiding principles. Then you can mark everything against this instead of just picking one piece at a time. This creates a cohesive, purposeful space. I’m in the beginning stages of remodeling my own house right now and my guiding principal is romance. If it isn’t romantic it’s out!

(Image credit: Lauren Liess)

Expert: Lauren Liess
Mistake: Not lighting a room correctly.

It drives me crazy when there is too much ceiling lighting and not enough ambient lamp lighting in living spaces and bedrooms. Light coming from above, peering down upon your head doesn’t feel as good as lamp lighting. It creates odd shadows on faces and can feel a bit harsh.

The Fix: Try not to rely on ceiling lighting as a primary source of mood in a living room or bedroom. Use lamp lighting (both at eye level on a table, via sconces, or from floor lamps) as a primary source and think of ceiling lights as an extra alternative you can turn on if for some reason you need to really brighten things up. A good rule of thumb is to at least light up the four corners of a space, but don’t neglect the center of a room either.

Expert: Eileen Kathryn Boyd
Mistake: Getting rug proportions wrong.

Rugs that are too small in scale and proportion within a space give me that cringing feeling. There’s just nothing worse than an oversized sofa on top of an itty-bitty rug (in a spacious room). It just feels wrong.

The Fix: I strongly encourage you to take good measurements and then tape everything out precisely with painter’s tape so that you can walk the room and point out any red flags or hiccups before making a big purchase. Furniture should always touch a rug (or better yet, flat completely atop the floorcovering).

(Image credit: Tamara Eaton Design)

Expert: Tamara Eaton
Mistake: Questioning your gut instinct.

“I think we can all relate to this one. The long-term effects of an iffy-client or homeowner almost always leads to wishy-washy design decisions that can end in regret later on. Clients always make the mistake of not going with their gut. And, when you hire a designer there is always a reason why we push you in certain directions. If this weren’t the case, people would go back and forth on a particular subject until the original message was almost diluted into non-existence. Have conviction when making decisions!

The Fix: This one is all about training yourself. I had some indecision about my own apartment and what I started to do was either defer to someone else or come back to it at a later time. The best thing to do is to move on in the moment, before you know it, you’ll have the right answer without arduously overthinking it.