The 8 Decorating Mistakes You May Not Even Realize You’re Making

updated Jul 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Andrea Sparacio)

When you’re a designer blogger and you look at pictures of interiors all day, every day, you start to get a feel for what works — and what doesn’t. You also start to get a feel for common mistakes that well-intentioned decorators make, the sort of thing that can throw off the whole feel of a room without you really knowing why. Are you committing one of these classic blunders? Read on for our list of 8 common problems — and what to do about them.

1. Art that’s hung too high.
The problem: If all your art is hung within a couple feet of the ceiling, you might be a high hanger. The trouble with this is that no one can see your art without craning their neck. Also, it just looks weird.

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The solution: With a few exceptions (like pictures leaned on top of a console, or art hung directly over a piece of furniture, which should relate to the height of the furniture), all art should be hung with the center of the piece at exactly 57″ off the floor. The idea is that you want your pieces to be at eye level — this will make your place feel comfortable and human scaled. (Adjust a little if you are really really tall.)

2. Art that’s too small.
The problem: Lots of people think about color when they’re buying art, but not scale. That 24″ wide print is going to look pretty silly swimming in the wide expanse of wall above your eight foot long sofa.

How can you tell if your art is too small? Compare the scale of the art to the scale of things around it. A smaller piece that would look just fine hanging over a toilet or bar cart may look strange positioned behind a dining table or hanging by itself on a long wall.

The solution: Bigger art, naturally. Of course, buying large art pieces can be pretty expensive. If you’re not willing to invest a lot, you could try some of our tips for making large scale art on the cheap, or consider a gallery wall.

3. A rug that’s too small for the space.
The problem: We know — large rugs can get really expensive. But a rug that’s too small can leave a room feeling bizarre, disjointed, and unfinished.

The solution: How do you know if your rug is too small? You can check out these tips from Emily Henderson. And if you decide your room needs something a little bigger, check out our roundup of giant, affordable rugs.

4. Furniture that’s the wrong scale for your space.
The problem: The oversized pieces that you find in modern furniture stores may look great in a newer home with 12 foot ceilings, but in an older house or apartment with a more modest scale, newer furniture can look strangely Dali-esque, as if the whole room is slowly shrinking. Conversely, smaller, more delicate pieces may be swallowed by cavernous spaces.

The solution: Pay attention to the scale of your space. And before you bring in any new furniture, measure, measure, measure! It may be helpful to make an outline (with paper, or tape on the floor) of a piece you’re thinking about buying, to get an idea of how it will fit into your space. What if you already have furniture that’s a little off scaled for the space? A bigger piece can work in a smaller space if it’s the center of attention: try balancing it out with more delicate items. And the old wisdom holds that light colors make things look smaller — so consider, for example, a light-colored slipcover for a larger sofa.

5. Thinking of lighting as an afterthought.
The problem: Lamps and overhead lights aren’t just accessories, little things to layer on after you’re done designing a space. Lighting, in fact, is everything, and poor lighting can make a space unattractive or even uncomfortable to be in.

The solution: Every room needs a few different light sources: at the very least, an overhead light, and a few smaller lamps for cozier occasions. If you suspect your current lighting scheme may be less than ideal, then check out our guide to evaluating the lighting in your home and these 10 easy tips for improving your lighting.

6. Considering color but not texture.
The problem: When many people decorate, they put lots of thought into the colors in a particular room, and don’t think about texture at all. This can result in a room where the colors seem over the top, but the space as a whole is a bit dull and flat.

The solution: Every room needs a little bit of texture to make it interesting. Check out our handy guide to 5 different ways you can add texture to a space.

7. Trying to make everything match.
The problem: Thinking everything in your home has to come from a matched set, or that all your furniture has to be the exact same shade of walnut, or designed in the same decade, may lead to your home looking a little blah (or a little like the set for a period film).

The solution: Mix it up! A few vintage pieces can add texture and personality to a modern interior, and vice versa. Focus less on what ‘matches’ and instead think about what ‘goes’. Put two pieces next to each other and think: do I like the way this looks? If so, go for it.

8. Forgetting that furniture is for people.
The problem: Has this happened to you? You go to a friend’s house, and the host suggests that you retire to the living room for cocktails. You sit down, only to realize that you can’t possibly have a conversation with the other people in the room, who are marooned on a sofa that’s anchored to the opposite wall, fifteen feet away.

The solution: Try not to let the shape of a room dictate how you arrange your furniture. Instead, think about how you plan to use the space. If you’re trying to create a conversational grouping, none of the seating in the group should be farther than eight feet away than any of the other seats. Don’t be afraid to float sofas or chairs away from walls. Another helpful hint: arranging your living room with conversation in mind, and not just TV watching, will help it feel cozier and less like a movie theater.

Of course these suggestions are just guidelines — the most important thing about your home is that YOU love it. But hopefully this list will help you work out the kinks, and make your space the beautiful space you’ve always wanted.