The saying goes that you must first know the rules before you can break them. And though we love the irreverence of tossing the design rule book out the window, there are some guidelines that make the task of decorating a space a little easier and more foolproof. Few know this better than America's leading interior designers, who are well-versed in using decorating tricks to transform an empty space into an inspiring and unique home.
We spoke to 10 top interior designers to find out which rules are worth following for a statement interior. Whether you're starting a renovation from scratch or are looking to make a couple of small but high-impact changes to your existing home, these expert-approved tips will guide you to get it right every time. Commit these 10 rules to memory for a flawless home inspired by advice from the best in the business.
If you can't understand why your space feels lacking, Charleston, South Carolina–based interior designer Angie Hranowsky recommends adding different textures, via accents like rugs, throws, or accent cushions. "Always mix materials and add texture—metal mixed with wood, or rattan or natural woven fabrics with lacquered furniture or walls, for example," she says.
Rooms with one type of lighting, such as a single overhead pendant, can feel two-dimensional. "Lighting will elevate the mood of any room," says Consort Design's Mat Sanders. "Be sure to have light coming from multiple sources, not just overhead. Find creative places for an extra floor lamp, sconce, or empty corner where a small table lamp could reside for added glow."
Take Risks With Accessories
Adverse to taking risks? Start small, with accessories like a quirky bowl or statement vase, says interior designer Grant K. Gibson. "Don't be afraid to take some chances to make bold statements, updating classic, timeless elements to make them current and your own," he tells MyDomaine.
Start With a Simple Base
"Anytime you've got brick walls and they're keeping you from using the color scheme you really want, kick that brackish brownish-red to the curb by painting the brick white," says Brian Patrick Flynn of Flynnside Out Productions. "A lot of people are against this, and there are some rules to follow. If the surfaces are super historic and the brick has tons of character, maybe keep it as is, but if the brick is just contractor-grade hogwash, and it's forcing you to live in a marsala-toned nightmare, buh-bye, brown brick."
Always Measure Your Space
Before you add that dreamy daybed to your cart, be sure to measure your space. "Measure twice, buy once" is the mantra Jennifer Jones of Niche Interiors adheres to. "Scale can make or break your space. Pay close attention to the size of furniture pieces in relation to the room. Always map out the larger items, such as sofas and rugs, before purchasing."
Don't Forgo Function
We're all for buying a beautiful, sculptural piece of furniture that has instant visual impact, but Los Angeles–based interior designer Jeff Andrews says those with small spaces should always opt for items that offer form and function. "Use every square inch of space in creative ways—especially in a small home where you can’t have a lot of clutter. Include pieces that are as functional as they are sculptural and interesting," he tells MyDomaine.
Kelly Wearstler's creations might challenge traditional design rules, but there's one thing she always adheres to: symmetry. "There should always be a hierarchy of elements within the space," she says. "Even the most maximalist rooms should possess a cohesive dialogue with well-balanced, thoughtful dimensions."
Invest in Pieces You Love
If you only follow one rule, Lilly Bunn says it should be this: "The only real rule in decorating is to buy things that you love." Before you make a purchase, ask yourself if the item really resonates with your sense of style. If the answer is yes, you'll always have a place for it, regardless of trends.
Be Bold With Paint Colors
Looking for a surefire way to give a room instant wow factor? "When in doubt, make a dark room darker," says San Francisco interior designer Scot Meacham Wood. "One should always enhance a space's natural atmosphere."
Defy the Rules
Now that you've mastered the basics, design powerhouse Nate Berkus wants you to take risks and follow your gut to create a truly unique home. "For me, the best interiors are always the ones where people have not followed any rules. Reach for what you love, not what your best friend or the latest design trend is telling you," he tells MyDomaine. "That being said, there are rules about scale that will always apply. Once you get that right, though, you can then go ahead and break as many rules as you want." Copy that.
This story was published in October 2016 and updated in May 2018.