When it comes to our own areas of expertise, we all have pet peeves. Think about it: Chefs are known to be picky about how to cook an egg, writers are sticklers for good grammar, and professional organizers can't stand clutter. It's only natural, then, that interior designers—who spend their days analyzing interiors everywhere, from high-end magazine ads to their own clients' pre-decorated homes—all have their own set of design "mistakes" that make them cringe without fail.
Of course, we had to find out what they are, so we asked four interior designers to share the worst decorating offenders that make their skin crawl every single time. Some answers were to be expected—no one likes curtains that fall short—but others genuinely surprised us. Can you guess the one thing that interior designers can't stand about your countertops? Find out straight from the mouths of some of the most talented folks in the industry—thankfully, they've also pointed out how to fix the worst apartment decorating mistakes.
"Ceiling fans are one of my biggest pet peeves," admits Christine Stucker of Brooklyn firm Stewart-Schafer. "They're the result of a poorly planned space that lacks airflow or proper cooling. Whenever I remodel a room with a ceiling fan, I always take it down. I personally can't stand them, even the well-designed options. I find them to be very outdated, and considering how much space they occupy, they don't add much visual interest to a room. I've found that if you do need to cool a room, the best option is a split-system air conditioner or a free-standing fan."
"I'm a firm believer that the rug is a unifying element that pulls a room together and should anchor the furniture pieces," says interior designer Stefani Stein. "Sometimes finding the perfect rug in the perfect size can be tricky, and going custom isn't always an option. So if the rug of your dreams isn't quite the right scale, try layering. Just be careful to avoid textural overload."
"I strongly dislike an ill-placed countertop seam," says Stein. "There's nothing worse than having the seam, where two pieces of stone are joined, be too thick or fall in a location that is front and center. Not only is it an eyesore that can distract from the overall composition of a kitchen, but it feels a little cruel to mistreat beautiful materials in that way. I always make sure I review the seam locations with the fabricator and have them chalk the template out for my approval before the stone gets cut."
Lack of Layers
"While one piece can certainly transform a space, we often forget how important the sum of multiple parts can be when designing a room," says interior designer Katie Hodges. "If you have one great piece of furniture without the appropriate supporting cast, the space tends to feel like it's lacking. Instead, look at your design as consisting of multiple layers—base furniture pieces, floor coverings, window treatments, art, and accessories. The balance of these elements yields an aesthetic that's warm and comfortable. My favorite rooms make the eye bounce throughout the room—up, down, side to side—taking it all in without focusing on one standout item in particular."
"Our design philosophy is less is more," says Stucker. "Many of our clients want an oversize, cozy sofa in their living room paired with large, bulky chairs for extra seating when entertaining. By being smart about the pieces you buy, you can actually add more seating space without all of the bulk. Daybeds and benches are perfect solutions for expanding seating space while still achieving a refined look. We also prefer sleek, streamlined sofas rather than bulky, oversize seating that adds heaviness to a room and takes away from the actual design."
Art Hung Too High
For NYC-based interior designer Tali Roth, it all boils down to hanging art at the right height: "I hate it when you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on artwork, and it's hung above eye level and looks completely odd," she says. "The general rule of thumb is to hang art at eye level for the average adult height in the space or, more specifically, to have the center of the painting hit at 57 to 60 inches from the floor."
"My number one issue when going into a new client's home is when they have all matching furniture," admits Stucker. "It's not necessary to have a matching set to make a room come together. Instead, we have found that mixing styles and genres is a much more creative way to create an attractive, well-textured room. One way to achieve this is with pops of color and interesting layers. Another way is to add unusual and striking pieces, which we've sourced from our travels to create a clear focal point in a space."
Most designers would agree that buying a furniture set is not the way to go, but Stein goes a step further to also include unexpected elements: "Matchy-matchy décor is not my thing," she says. "For me, it always feels like those spaces are trying too hard. Don't be afraid to push the boundaries a bit and incorporate something unexpected, whether it is with textiles, furniture lines, material finishes, or even new versus old. Avoid being too rigid with the rules, and the finished result will be more interesting."
Another thing that makes Roth cringe: meaningless décor. "Make sure that your styling pieces or home accents are pieces that make you smile," she says. "Ensure that they all vary in shape color and texture and that you have indeed collected most of it over time. For some reason, items that you really love just look awesome together as opposed to faux art or pieces you purchased in a hurry to fill wall space."
Lack of Contrast
"A tone-on-tone room can be stunning and timeless, but one of the common design mistakes is not considering contrast between furnishings," says Hodges. "When you take away the element of color, you must focus on getting the necessary contrast and interest in other ways for the room to feel right. Using varying wood tones and shades of color, you can make a tonal room feel multi-dimensional and interesting without using multiple colors. For example, if you're using a dark table in a dining room, keep the rug several shades lighter than the table to achieve contrast. Or conversely, a light table should get a darker rug underneath. Opt for chairs that are at least three shades lighter (or darker) than the table. By mixing wood and color tones, you allow each item to be distinguished and keep the space feeling light."
The ultimate culprit: "Nothing looks odder than a long curtain that misses the floor by five inches," says Roth. "These mistakes commonly occur when the client installs the curtains without you present or before you were engaged in the project. It throws off the scale of the whole space."
Hodges, who also agrees that hanging curtains is a fine art, has a few words of wisdom: "The higher the rod, the taller the window will appear, so mount your curtain rod closer to the ceiling than the top of your window. Depending on your ceiling height, I recommend going six inches below the ceiling. If your ceilings are very high compared to the height of the window, I would not exceed 30 inches between the top of the window and bottom of the rod. When it comes to the length of your drapes, anything that's more than an inch off the ground (literally) falls short. If you're purchasing ready-made drapes, make sure that they touch the floor, even if you have to buy the next size up and have them hemmed. Rod size is another important element to consider. Depending on the width of your window, extend the rod to be longer than your actual window. This allows the drapes to stack on the sides and not block the window. Using a longer rod is a well-known trade secret that gives the illusion of a larger window. Make sure that the drapes don't extend past the trim of the window, or else the secret will be revealed!"
Next up: the design ground rules you need to know (before breaking them).
This story was originally published on May 15, 2017 and has since been updated.