How to Avoid Making Common Interior Design Mistakes

While there are no rules
when it comes to decorating your own space, preconceived notions and misguided reflexes can lead to rookie mistakes that can be costly and counterproductive. Here’s a short list of tips to help you avoid the kinds of common design missteps that can frustrate the best-laid plans.

Don’t Buy All Your Stuff at the Same Store

It’s tempting to pick up a catalog or visit a favorite retailer and want to take the whole thing home. But just because that home office with the matching desk, bookcase, and filing cabinet looks good in the store doesn’t mean it will translate effectively to the proportions of your home. Remember, whatever style is on trend today and is catching your eye might not be something you want to live with for years to come.

There’s nothing wrong with taking hints from a store display or a catalog shot, but avoid an overly homogenous look at home by picking your favorite anchor piece from a trusted source and moving on.

Don’t Push Everything Up Against the Wall

When in doubt, novice decorators tend to push furniture up against the wall, which some people believe helps make a room seem larger. There’s nothing wrong with using a wall to anchor a few pieces, but before you find yourself lining up your furnishings like wallflowers waiting for a spin on the dance floor, try letting some of them hang out in the middle of the room.

You should seek to create flow in a room, meaning that you’re not tripping over furniture and that it’s easy to form comfortable paths around tables, couches, chairs, and other furnishings. But if you have a small bedroom, why not make the bed the true centerpiece and install a dramatic four-poster frame and float it in the middle of the room? Or, if your home office occupies a corner in the living room, buy a beautiful desk that looks good from every angle and float it to show it off instead of facing it toward the wall. You'll benefit from the expansive view of the room while you’re working (plus, with this setup you can de-emphasize a utilitarian-looking office chair).

If you are working with a tiny space and don’t have much room, simply floating a pouf or a sculptural floor light can do wonders for creating a sense of flow.

Don’t Hang Your Curtain Rods Too Low

Most of us would not likely turn our noses up at the chance to have higher ceilings. To give your room the illusion of height and make it seem more gracious, consider hanging curtain rods at ceiling height rather than directly above the window frames. In particular, dark curtains that are hung too low can dwarf windows and make the room seem cramped. If you have oddly shaped or poorly placed windows, you can help camouflage it by hanging rods at ceiling height to restore a sense of proportion and symmetry to the room.

Don’t Hang Your Art Too High

Another common mistake is hanging art too high above eye level. Nobody should have to crane his or her neck to get a look at your favorite photographs, drawings, or paintings. Think like a gallery curator when you hang your own art, keeping it around eye level.

Don’t Skimp on Lighting

(All photos: Lonny)The single most important thing you can do for a room is to light it well. Even a space that is flooded with natural light by day needs a little help once the sun goes down.

Remember not to rely solely on overhead lighting, which can be unflattering, harsh, and unimaginative. Light all four corners of a room to avoid an unsettling shadowy effect, and layer your sources of light so that you can use the room for different purposes (reading, relaxing, socializing, working) and create different moods (cheerful, relaxing, romantic). Dimmers are always a good idea, and if your fixtures don’t come with them, you can buy plug-in adapters to dim your lights.
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