15 common interior design and decorating mistakes

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Designers see many of the same decorating “don’ts” over and over in people’s homes. The mistakes often stem from a fear of making a design mistake in the first place.


We consulted with designers in the American Society of Interior Designers Missouri East chapter to find out how to prevent decorating mistakes that can be costly and unsightly. Here are some common mistakes, and their tips for how to avoid making them:


Painting the walls before choosing furnishings: People tend to fall in love with a paint color they want to design a room around, said Catherine Geyer of Catherine Geyer Designs in St. Louis. But, while you can mix infinite paint colors, you can’t mix a fabric color. It can be more difficult to find upholstery, fabrics and accessories in a very specific shade than to have a paint color customized to what you’ve purchased, Geyer said.


Buying pieces out of proportion: The size of furniture should be in scale in comparison with the rest of the room, Geyer said. Furniture in retail stores, with very high ceilings and wide open spaces, looks very different in a home. Buyers can end up with an oversized or overstuffed sofa that looked good in the store. “This is what I did,” a client has said, while showing Geyer a sofa entirely too large for the room. “We can’t take it back,” is usually the follow-up.


It requires a little bit of planning, but map out the size of the room and existing furniture you have. Write down the height, width and depth, along with the room dimensions. It can prevent a costly mistake.


Choosing a rug that is too small for a room: This an another common error in scale and proportion that can be avoided by taking measurements into a store with you. You need to know the room dimensions and the size of the largest pieces in it that the rug will lie in relation to.


Inadequately lighting a room: Many rooms and entire houses are poorly lighted.


“It’s hard for people to know where to put the lighting,” she said.


There’s a difference between overhead lighting and accent lighting. The light in a room should be layered and from different sources.


Hanging window treatments too low: This makes the room look short and stubby, said Cindy Kistner of G.M. Doveikis and Associates of St. Louis. People think they should use brackets on the top trim or just above it. In reality, it looks better to hang window treatments up to a foot above the trim. It makes the window look taller and gives the illusion of height to a room. A valance above the window exposes more of the glass to allow more light.


Scattering collections all over the house: Kistner collects boxes. “If they were all over the house, people would wonder if that’s all I had to decorate the house.” Grouping similar items together gives them more impact and allows them to complement one another.


Decorating each room in a bubble: A home that feels comfortable flows from room to room with some continuity. This is especially important for rooms that are open to one another, Kistner said, such as the entertaining areas — living, dining, kitchen and hearth.


If the colors are completely different or the tones are completely different, such as having one room done in pastels and another in bold colors, it is disharmonious to the eye. The same goes for having different flooring in every room, such as a different colored carpet, or different types flooring. It chops up the space.


Not using family photos in the living spaces: People think they are not supposed to do that, Kistner said.


“Isn’t there someone who’s face makes you smile to look at it?” A few well-placed pieces are much more appreciated than a score of photos on every surface. “My boss always said she didn’t trust people who didn’t have photos in their home. You live in your home. Don’t you want to look around and see things that make you smile?”


Thinking every wall needs a piece of art: Your eye needs a place to rest. Visual stimulation everywhere you look feels like clutter. It’s difficult to relax in a space like that, Kistner said.


Hanging art too high: An average eye level is 5 foot, 6 inches. The eye should rest in the center of the piece of art. If it is hung over a piece of furniture, it is best hung closer to the piece of furniture, so it reads as a cohesive vignette, rather than having the art float above it.


Using all matching furniture: “Often people can’t visualize what a room might look like, and so they play it safe,” said Teresa Drury of Textures Interior Design, St. Louis and southeast Missouri. The same sofa is purchased as a love seat, as well as a club chair. Sometimes she sees the same fabric used on all three pieces, with a second fabric used for the throw pillows. It is better to mix styles and fabrics. It adds interest to a room, so long as the fabrics all work together. Use each one in different amounts, thereby varying their importance. A room should look like it evolved over time. All the furniture in the room should coordinate but not match exactly. Even the end tables and coffee table don’t need to match.


Keeping too much clutter on furniture, such as too many pillows on couches and too many picture frames on shelves: Overdoing anything is not a plus. There are times there are so many pillows that people can’t sit comfortably on a sofa, said Linda K. Kusmer of Total Interior Designs Inc. in Chesterfield, Mo. “Overdoing something really destroys the design.”


Being swayed solely by looks without giving as much consideration to how a piece of furniture will function or feel: It’s a mistake to purchase an item without knowing if it’s comfortable or functional or if it fits, said Kusmer.


“You can look at something, but it doesn’t mean you can live with it, “ she said. She had one client who went to a discount store and saw a really long couch she thought was a bargain, so she bought it. A little more than a year later, the client called her crying. They had company over and one of their larger friends sat down in the middle, and it split the sofa. It was supported by a single board running the length of the piece.


“I tried to explain that just because it was big sofa and she liked the fabric that it was not a bargain. Buy the sofa you should have bought in the first place. It’s a hugely costly mistake,” she said.

Pushing the furniture against the walls: People do this because they don’t know any different options, Kusmer said. It makes the room look more like a hallway instead of a congenial conversation area. It’s better to float furniture in the right space.


Discarding existing pieces too quickly: Some people have trouble imagining the ways in which a piece they’ve owned for a long time can be reused, Kusmer said. Not appreciating some of the treasures you already have is a mistake. An older piece can be turned into something fresh, she said.


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