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 with trial and error (and yes, some lessons learned along the way).
The good news is that you don’t have to go back to school to pick up a new skill or two. To help you fine-tune your design eye, we asked a handful of experts for the best decorating lessons they ever discovered. 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.
Keep scrolling to browse the pros' best decorating tips, and learn everything about interior design that you've been dying to find out.
Embrace the Mess
“One of the best lessons I’ve learned in design is to stop striving for perfection," says interior designer Breegan Jane. "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.”
Create Cozy Corners
"An awesome design lesson I learned was about softening the corners," says Baylee Floyd, Decorist elite designer. "You know how most things and pieces of furniture have 90-degree angles? For example, square or 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!"
For even more depth and dimension, try mixing various textures of materials in your space: Pair a leather sofa with woven throw pillows, or use rattan décor and plants to top a sleek metal-and-glass coffee table.
Measuring Is a Must
“Constantly measure and re-measure," says Jade Joyner, co-founder and principal designer of Metal + Petal. "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."
It's helpful to start with the size of your room. If you're working with a small living room, for example, you'll have better luck creating a balanced flow with a loveseat than an L-shaped sofa (which might take up too much space). When you start adding décor, be sure to measure your furniture before choosing wall art and area rugs to ensure everything is sized properly.
Be Strategic With Scale
“The most basic, 101 tenant of interior design is scale," says interior designer Gail Davis. "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.”
We aren't all blessed with beautiful cathedral ceilings in our homes, but it's still possible to choose light fixtures and décor that work with the size of your room. If you're interested in displaying pendant lighting in a space with average ceiling height, opt for pieces with shorter hardware that don't hang too low (your taller friends and family members will thank you when they come to visit).
Don’t Skimp on Wallpaper
"I've learned that you never, ever wallpaper just one wall," says Suzanne Ascher, co-founder of Waterleaf Interiors. "Don't do it. It looks like you walked in with short pants. If you're going to [use] wallpaper, go all the way. You'll love it."
For those who are interested in decorating with wallpaper but don't want to commit to maximalist styles, browse options with neutral colors and light patterns. With a soft statement wallpaper, your room will feel vibrant and dynamic without overwhelming the rest of your design.
If you're renting an apartment and can't work with permanent wallpaper, try removable options—they're easy to install, and quick to remove when you're ready to find a new home one day.
“Layering is the key to a well-balanced, comfortable, and inviting room," says Erika Dale, Decorist classic designer and founder of Platte Interiors. "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."
Take Your Time
“The best lesson I have learned as an interior designer is to allow a room and yourself to evolve over time," says interior designer John McClain. "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? Build on that emotion.”