7 of the Best Decorating Lessons That Design Pros Ever Learned

Updated 08/26/19

Design by Emily Henderson Design and Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp

They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day and, if we’re being totally honest, neither was anyone’s decorating skillset. While some people are blessed with a natural eye for design, creating a well-appointed place requires plenty of experience, trial and error, and, yes, some lessons learned along the way. 

The good news is you don’t have to be going back to school this fall to pick up a new skill or two. To help you fine tune your design eye even more, we asked a handful of experts for the best decorating lessons they ever learned. While their responses run the gamut from measuring your room to embracing your space’s flaws, one thing’s for sure: When it comes to great design, we’ll never stop learning. 

Tip 1: Embrace the Mess

“One of the best lessons I’ve learned in design is to stop striving for perfection. Interior design is more of an art form than a mathematical equation. We’re all constantly creating and measuring based on to-do lists or a specific rubric. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that everything must be perfect. That thinking might be a bit flawed, because what makes art truly stunning are the strokes that appear to be out of place. In design, second revisions are inevitable. What’s more, those revisions often turn out to be the beautiful stand-out features in a room that I never expected. Those moments push me artistically. There is beauty in imperfection.” —Breegan Jane, interior designer

Tip 2: Create Cozy Corners

"I think another awesome design lesson I learned was about softening the corners. You know how most things and pieces of furniture have 90-degree angles? For example, square/rectangular coffee tables, picture frames, sofas, even pillows. Well, adding round items here and there to accent the space can really soften the entire look of the space and make it feel so much more inviting. Add some round side tables or pillows to accent all the sharper edges in your room and you would be surprised how much dimension it adds!" —Baylee Floyd, Decorist elite designer

Tip 3: Measuring is a Must

“Constantly measure and re-measure. It’s so important to get the proper scale of things so when you go to design you are aware of appropriate proportions and sizes. “ —Jade Joyner, co-founder and principal designer of Metal + Petal

Tip 4: Be Strategic With Scale

“The most basic, 101 tenant of interior design is SCALE. I've seen what could be a delightful room be disappointing because of poorly scaled furniture, fixtures, and lighting. I love the use of an oversized light fixture, but it has to work within the scale of a room, and if you'll hit your head on it merely by walking into the room, then this is a design fail.”—Gail Davis, interior designer 

Tip 5: Don’t Skimp on Wallpaper

"I've learned that you never, ever wallpaper just one wall. Don't do it. It looks like you walked in with short pants. If you're going to wallpaper, go all the way. You'll love it." —Suzanne Ascher, co-founder of Waterleaf Interiors

Tip 6: Layer Up

“Layering is the key to a well-balanced, comfortable, and inviting room. By layering various colors, textures, materials, textiles, and even furniture pieces, you create a depth, warmth, and sophistication in the space. For example, if you have a chair in front of a window, layer the space with a linen curtain, mohair throw, velvet pillow, rattan side table, brass floor lamp, and vintage rug to instantly elevate this little area. By adding a few layers of texture, color, and materials, this space suddenly feels like a well-composed, intentional oasis in an otherwise underused corner." —Erika Dale, Decorist classic designer and founder of Platte Interiors

Tip 7: Take Your Time

“The best lesson I have learned as an interior designer is to allow a room and yourself to evolve over time. So many times, we instantly want a finished room in an amount of time that is only feasible on a 30 minute television show. My suggestion is to find that one piece that you are in love with. This can be a sofa, bed, or just a piece of art. From there let your mind wander and develop the rest of the space around that same feeling evoked when you found that piece. Ask yourself how did it make me feel? Why did it cause me to have those feelings... and build on that emotion.” —John McClain, interior designer

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