Professional interior designers notice things that most novices might not pick up on. This is especially true when it comes to the small décor details that can make a home look cheap, even if they aren't. No matter your budget or lack thereof, certain details can make a space look instantly more luxe.
To help you create a space that looks it's very best, we turned to three interior designers to find out the seemingly small décor details that secretly make them cringe every time and what they'd do instead. Ahead, Becky Shea of Becky Shea Design, Jennifer Vaquero of September Workshop, and Tina Rich of Tina Rich Design spill all of the little things that they think bring down the design value of a space. Here's what they always notice and how to avoid common mistakes.
Meet the Expert
Becky Shea is an interior designer with Becky Shea Design. Jennifer Vaquero is an interior designer with September Workshop. Tina Rich is an interior designer with Tina Rich Design.
According to Shea, scale is one aspect that you'll want to consider carefully when planning the layout of a space. "If furniture isn't to scale with the room, you run into a space feeling sparse or cluttered," the designer points out. "It's not a good look." However, when you nail the perfect scale, it can make pieces look more expensive than they might actually be.
In order to avoid this common mistake, you'll want to meticulously measure any space you're planning on decorating before making any major purchases. Shea recommends leaving three feet between each piece of furniture for easy mobility. "It also gives each piece enough room to breathe and shine on its own," the designer adds.
Then, once you've picked out pieces that you think will work well, try mapping out the furniture on the floor to get an idea of how it would all look in real life. This is a simple way to get a visual sense of your potential décor if you're not familiar with space planning tools, Shea explains.
Bad Paint Job
While choosing the right paint color may be your main focus when it comes time to refresh your walls, Vaquero notes that a poorly painted wall can make any space look cheap and not well put together. "Wobbly lines and splotchy walls make a room feel unfinished, no matter how much thought was put into it," Vaquero explains.
If you're aiming to stick to a tight budget, you can still paint the walls on your own, just be sure to do a bit of research about best practices before you get started. You'll also want to have all the necessary tools on hand, like painter's tape, in order to create a luxe finish. You also might consider leaving this project to the professionals to ensure you'll be left with a proper paint job, Vaquero points out.
Rich names faux finishes as one of the décor details that instantly makes a room look less expensive. "Fake spray-painted metallics are instantly recognizable and cheapen any room," the designer says. The fix here is to simply source pieces that are the real thing, like brass or nickel items.
Additionally, Rich isn't a fan of faux finishes when it comes to sponge-painted walls or furniture. "There are some amazing companies out there that can concrete or plaster your walls and it’s totally worth the extra money to source finishes that are authentic, well crafted, and will stand the test of time," Rich adds.
Animal Print Overload
Although the 2010s brought with them a surge of animal print trends, Shea is wary of going all-in on this style. "Yes, [animal print] can be executed tastefully if used in moderation, but there's a very fine line and my recommendation is to always steer away from this," the designer says. "When I start seeing leopard and zebra print in funky colors and weird textures, it just reads cheap," Shea continues.
So, unless the trend feels like something that truly fits with your personal style, you might consider going for pieces that are more timeless or using animal print in small doses. "Adding a coffee table book about leopards and zebras in their natural habitat is a more tasteful route and it can be inspirational at the same time," Shea suggests.
Another décor detail that makes Vaquero cringe is vertical blinds, which the designer notes are often the go-to window covering for apartment buildings. Instead, Vaquero suggests going for custom drapes or blinds if you have the budget for it. "Even a simple upgrade to pre-made panels and adjustable rods are a massive improvement," the designer points out.
According to Rich, one of the designer's biggest design pet peeves is rugs that are too small for the space they're in. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that most of the furniture in a room fits on top of the area rug. This will make your space look much more expensive as opposed to letting furniture only partially cover a smaller rug. "A sofa should either completely fit on the rug or the back legs can hang slightly off the rug," Rich says.
The wrong lighting can completely change the mood and atmosphere of a room. According to Shea, fluorescents, white LED lights, and simply not having enough light are the décor details that stand out in a bad way.
To fix a bad lighting situation, Shea recommends using 2700k color for LED lighting. "It provides a bit of a soft yellow, white light mix that feels natural and inviting," Shea says. Aside from picking the right bulbs, you can also be sure to include additional light sources in spaces that could be brighter and more inviting. "Purchase table lamps or floor lamps, even plug-in sconces if you can't open up the walls to add more lighting," the designer suggests.
Too Short Drapes
Just as the size of your furniture and rugs can affect how expensive a space looks, so can the length of your drapes. Shea points out drapes that are too short, in particular, as a major design issue. According to Shea, short drapes signal that you either went for a shorter option because it was less expensive or simply because you didn't properly measure the distance above your window casing to account for the full vertical rise.
"This is one of those things I really push for custom-made, even if it means ordering drapes that are too long and taking them to the dry cleaner to be seamed," Shea says, pointing out that this is one design element that you'll want to really get right the first time around. Get it right from the start by measuring how much space you have above your window so you can mount a rod as close to the ceiling as possible, Shea explains. This should ensure the perfect length for your drapes.
Just as pilling sweaters hanging in your closet can make your wardrobe look less expensive, pilling furniture fabric can make an interior space look and feel cheap. "Those little knots of fibers that seem to also suck every lint and hair in their vicinity into their vortex make even the most beautiful sofas and chairs look poorly made," Vaquero points out.
According to Vaquero, fabrics that tend to be most afflicted by this particular design faux pas are blends of natural and synthetic fibers, like combinations of cotton and polyester. The designer recommends solving the issue with a special shaver that can remove most of the pills. Otherwise, you may consider being proactive when furniture shopping and avoid purchasing pieces made with the fabric blends mentioned above.