First of all, let me preface this by admitting that despite being raised by an interior designer, even I have been guilty of making these rookie decorating moves. In fact, just last year—mind you, I’ve been writing about design for eight years—I made one of the most rookie moves ever: I hung my kitchen pendant so low that I bump my head on it occasionally. And I have not gotten around to fixing it.
So let me just put this out there: It’s okay to be a beginner or to be oblivious to what decorators consider “the basics.” You live and you learn. That’s what you’re here for, right? Today I’m giving you the CliffsNotes on Decorating 101. Follow these tips and you’ll have the framework for a truly beautiful space—and nothing to be too ashamed of when your most discerning friend comes over.
Art should always be hung at eye level. A rookie move would be to hang a painting close to your console table or up higher near the ceiling. If you’re super tall or vertically challenged, hanging art at your own eye level will probably look odd to most of your guests; consider having a friend come over to help you eyeball it and find a happy medium. But, of course, keep your own taste in mind too. Just like this fun dining room pictured above, a varied mix of artworks positioned in a thoughtful format can also be stylish.
As I mentioned earlier, hanging a light fixture too low is a major rookie move (one that I’m guilty of). I love a low-hanging chandelier or pendant; it feels a little sultry. That said, it only works if it’s hanging over a table (e.g., a dining table or a nightstand); otherwise you and your guests will bump into it—and that can hurt. I’m speaking from experience, of course.
If you have the opportunity, you should definitely paint first—before you install carpet and lighting and other tricky elements of a room. That said, you should always have a plan before you choose your paints. If you think you’ll be reupholstering seating, purchasing colored furniture, buying textiles, wallpapering, or remodeling in any way, your paint color should be your last choice. It’s so much easier to match a paint to a fabric or the marble on your new counters than to find a slab that complements a random paint swatch you’ve chosen on a whim.
A rug that’s floating in the middle of a room on its own pretty much always looks like a bath mat—even if it’s gorgeous and you dropped major bucks on it at the bazaar in Marrakech. Designers generally advise to ground it by tucking it under furniture, or the front legs of your furniture. If it’s not big enough to do so, try layering it over another rug (a nondescript natural fiber, for instance) or placing it as close as possible to nearby furniture.
I laughed hard—and also nearly injured myself—when I sat down on a bachelor friend’s dining chair recently: I immediately sank inches down. He had purchased chairs online with zero support, and they were super uncomfortable. I couldn’t imagine trying to sit through a dinner party in them. Not trying out your furniture—be it dining chairs, a sofa, or a mattress—before you buy isn't always easy with the advent of online shopping; just make sure you read all the reviews, do your research around the brand, and ensure that the store has a good return policy.
No one expects a home decorator to be as thorough with planning as an interior designer who’s using AutoCAD, but at the very least, you should take some simple measurements. Hanging a few art pieces on one wall? Make sure they’re evenly spaced. Having a new sofa delivered? Make sure your delivery men can get it in the door. Take special care when making online orders, and test out the measurements before you fork over your credit card.
Many designers advise to go as high as you possibly can when it comes to installing your curtain rod (to give the illusion your ceilings are taller), but that choice is subjective. The length of your drapes, however, is one thing most designers agree on: They should “kiss” the floor. A rookie move would be to have them hit the window ledge, or fall somewhere between the bottom of the window and the base of the floor. If you want to get super romantic with silk curtains, you can go for a glamorous “puddling” of extra fabric, but otherwise they should just meet the floor.
Buying furniture in sets might be the most rookie move of all. If anything about your home brings to mind Rooms to Go, you should start questioning everything. It’s okay to have, say, matching nightstands or a pair of matching chairs, but buying a bed, dresser, and nightstand set or a sofa and two matching armchairs can be considered a little over-the-top. Introducing a little variety adds depth and keeps your home from looking like a showroom.
Just like it’s preferable to have a mix of furniture pieces in your home, you should also try to have a mix of design eras. Pair a midcentury credenza with eclectic contemporary artwork and details. Mix it up: Using furniture and accessories from only one era will make your home feel lived-in.
We love accessories, but one of the greatest skills in design is editing. Even if you have the most beautiful pieces on the planet, putting them all out on display at once will instantly make your space feel cluttered. Instead, be thoughtful about which accents of yours complement each other, and be selective: If you need a guide, try not to have more than three to five items in one vignette.
One way to instantly kill the mood of a space is to interrupt traffic flow. Make sure there’s a direct line to access every doorway and the seating area in a space—and don’t pack seating too closely together.
What décor rules have you learned the hard way?
This post was originally published on July 1, 2016, and has since been updated.