Creating a thoughtfully styled home takes time, and there's nothing more frustrating than buying the finishing touch for a room only to step back and feel like something is amiss. Is it the position of the sofa? Is the coffee table too low? When you're close to a project, these simple styling choices might not seem important, but interior design experts say that a few subtle decorating mistakes can instantly cheapen your room. Yes, even if you've splurged on a statement sofa or vintage artwork, something as seemingly insignificant as the size of a rug could undermine the space.
Curious to know if you're committing a faux pas? We turned to leading interior design experts to find out about the most common styling mistakes they notice when they first walk into a home. From generic hardware to dated bathroom accessories, it's clear that small details count. Here are the top 10 subtle styling mistakes that instantly cheapen your home—and how to fix them.
It's rare to furnish a house from scratch, and when you accumulate items over the years, it's easy to overlook one key element: scale. "When you get the scale wrong with furniture or even moldings, most of the time it can make you feel like something is seriously off. It can definitely cheapen a space," says designer Bobby Berk.
The Fix: Before adding a new piece of furniture to your room, pay close attention to the size and height of existing décor. "Make sure you consider the scale of all of the elements in a room and how they relate to each other, from rug size to art to the scale of furniture and the circulation around it," he says. The aim is to layer furniture of varying heights so the silhouette resembles a city skyline, with both high and low accents, to lead the eye around the room.
"Everyone can spot cheap art, and this immediately makes a room look cheaper," says Berk. The solution isn't necessarily to spend big, though. Instead, he recommends using online custom-art services or searching for unexpected pieces in flea markets or vintage stores. "There are lots of cool custom art services available now, such as Minted and Leftbank Art, which allow you to affordably commission original art or have their prints framed and shipped."
The Fix: If you can't bear to part with artwork you've already purchased, pay attention to the frame. "One thing that can make a space look cheaper is mismatched picture frames," says Lorna Aragon, home editor at Martha Stewart Living. "Using a uniform frame material like silver or wood and adding a few mattings looks much more 'done' and expensive."
Something as simple as the positioning of window treatments can make an otherwise spacious room look cramped. "It's a very common mistake," says Aragon. "People often hang them right above the window, which makes it look smaller."
The Fix: "Hang the curtain rod about half a foot above the window frame, and place the wall brackets about 6 to 8 inches out on either end," says Aragon. "That way, everything looks larger and more opened up, and your room is more elegant."
Personalizing a rental? One of the most overlooked aspects is swapping out existing light fixtures, which designer and creative director Suzanne Donegan says can instantly transform a room. "Updating lighting fixtures can be an inexpensive way to really help improve the overall aesthetic of any space, as well as giving a sense of sophisticated elegance and comfort," she tells MyDomaine.
The Fix: Berk describes lighting as "the jewelry of interior spaces," so it's worth investing in. "Consider an upgrade that you can take with you if you want whenever you move," he says, such as a plug-in sconce.
Interior design experts agree—choosing the wrong-size rug can instantly cheapen a room. Why? "Placing an area rug that is too small for a seating area instantly throws the room out of scale and gives the impression that you couldn't afford the larger, correctly sized rug," says interior designer Marlaina Teich. Berk recommends this simple test to check if your rug is the right size: "Make sure that the rugs touch every piece of furniture so they appear appropriately scaled and make all the furniture pieces in a room relate to one another."
The Fix: Thankfully, you don't have to toss a small rug. Teich says the solution is to layer. "If the client has a rug that they love but it is too small for the space, an easy fix … is to layer a larger rug under the smaller one. That will not only help highlight the smaller statement rug but also create the scale needed."
A quality sofa is one of the first things experts notice when they enter your home; it can instantly elevate the furniture around it. "Invest in a good sofa, especially if you have a family," says interior designer Christine Markatos Lowe. "An inexpensive sofa won't wear well and will look much older than its actual age in no time." Berk agrees and warns against generic, overstuffed sofas. "If you're holding on to old furniture that is the shape of marshmallow, it's time to consider revamping your living room."
The Fix: If you're yet to purchase a sofa, Markatos says to "choose a high-quality fabric that is luxurious and durable." If you're trying to elevate an existing piece, layer throw cushions in one color and multiple textures for an elegant look.
"This is one of my biggest faux pas," says Berk of dated accessories like lid covers and toilet rugs. "You don't see these products sold at high-end stores for a reason. They are highly unsanitary and unsightly—they look like bad shag rugs, which don't belong anywhere near the toilet!"
The Fix: Bathroom accessories can be magnets for bacteria, so make sure you launder and update them frequently. Thankfully, they're relatively inexpensive to swap out. Berk recommends ditching your toilet rug for "a nice rectangular rug, perhaps a flat weave. And be sure to put it in an appropriate spot in the bathroom, such as in front of the vanity at the sink or where you step out of the shower."
If we've learned anything from IKEA hacks, it's that updating hardware can instantly elevate an inexpensive cabinet or nightstand. Celebrity designer Lisa Adams of LA Closet Design says it's an easy way to get an A-lister look without spending big.
The Fix: If your cabinets and dressers still have their existing stock hardware, it's time for an upgrade. "Replace drawer and door knobs or pulls with something more decorative and of higher quality," says Adams.
Carefully styled accessories can give you home character, but too many can look chaotic. "A major pet peeve for me is when a room is just over-cluttered with accessories. It instantly signals 'cheap' to me even when the accessories are super expensive," says Teich. "Accessories should be grouped together to create a pleasing vignette, whether it's on the cocktail table, buffet, or bookcase." Takeaway: Less is more.
The Fix: The best approach is to start with an empty space. "Gather all the accessories together and take them out of the room," says Teich. Then, "look at the room with fresh eyes and select the spots that accessories will make the most impact and will set the tone for the finished space." Arrange accessories in sets of uneven numbers, clump small items on trays, and incorporate "metal or mirrored finished to create interest in your vignettes," she says.
Granted, Adams's best-known clients, like Tyra Banks and Brad Goreski, have luxe-looking homes thanks to their budget, but she says there is a way to elevate any closet: Change the hangers. Mismatched hangers or leftover wire pieces from the laundromat cheapen a bedroom.
The Fix: It's time to toss the jumble of plastic and wire hangers. "Replace all hangers so that you have a consistent style and color," she says. Adams also recommends choosing a different color or style of hangers for the top and bottom of the closet, to organize the space.
This story was originally published on October 7, 2016, and has since been updated.