Everyone makes mistakes when designing their homes. From taking the rug out of the moving truck last to not measuring your door clearance before buying bulky furniture, we've all had an "oh no" moment that makes us question our capabilities as design enthusiasts. The good news is we're not alone; even top designers have purchased items on the wrong scale or forgotten to consider small but important electrical details.
To make us feel a little better about our own décor blunders—and to preemptively avoid future errors—we reached out to a handful of insanely talented interior designers, including Athena Calderone and Emily Henderson. We asked them to share their biggest decorating faux pas, along with what they learned from their mistakes.
The good news: There is a solution to everything. So don't beat yourself up for your own interior design mistakes and learn how to avoid future ones.
Not Considering Fire Hazards
"This was a near-miss mistake," recalls interior designer Gillian Segal. "We were about to order custom drapery for this project off our floor plans and measurements. Thank goodness we conducted a site visit at our clients to double-check everything before ordering because we realized an electric baseboard heater had been installed under the set of sliding doors, which could have been a major fire hazard!”
The Lesson: Safety first. "We always make sure to double-check measures and items before we order, particularly on custom goods, which are not returnable. When it comes to installing drapery, make sure to check that there are no heaters close by that could be a serious hazard."
Not Seeing Fabric in Person
The Studio at One Kings Lane designer Sally Gotfredson urged us to always see a fabric sample before ordering a big piece of furniture. "In a pinch during a last-minute move, we took a gamble on a sofa without seeing a fabric swatch," she explains. "It wasn't the color I expected, and we scrambled to make it work."
The Lesson: If returning the item is not an option, consider layering in patterns and other complementary colors in the rug, accent chairs, and pillows to take the focus away from the sofa, advises the designer.
Wallpapering Just One Wall
Interior designer Emily Henderson learned the hard way that you shouldn't wallpaper just one wall, in what she called the Primary Bedroom Wallpaper Disaster of 2014. “If you are going to do an ‘accent’ wall, it needs to have more impact than this,” she tells her readers. “Basically, it looked like I just couldn’t afford to paper the whole room—which was kinda the case. We figured just one wall would be fine, but it wasn’t.”
The term “Primary Bedroom” is now widely used to describe the largest bedroom in the home, as it better reflects the space’s purpose. Many realtors, architects, interior designers, and the Real Estate Standards Association have recognized the potentially discriminatory connotations in the term “Master.” Read more about our Diversity and Inclusion Pledge.
Lesson: “Accent walls are tricky in the first place, and if you are going to do one, make sure that it’s dramatic enough,” says Henderson.
Not Checking for Outlets
Gotfredson recalls an event when simple styling turned a little more complicated. "One time, I created a whole living room layout that revolved around these amazing lamps on a sofa table, only to find out the nearest outlet was across the room," she says.
The Lesson: If you're not planning on bringing in an electrician or renovating, plan your electronics and lighting wisely. "Always account for the placement and number of power outlets in a room," says the designer. The last thing you want is a maze of extension cords.
Not Measuring for Scale
Henderson also admits to having ignored the principles of scale when it came time to choosing a chandelier for her old dining room. "The original chandelier was absolutely too big once you got into the room. It looked good from the front door and was scaled nicely in height, but it was too wide. When you were in the room, it felt claustrophobic."
The Lesson: Always choose your ceiling lighting proportionately to the size of the room. "This was a very good lesson to learn for me because I tend to err on the side of too big rather than too small."
Using Too Much of a Good Thing
“Even for a designer, mistakes are made,” recalls interior designer and blogger Athena Calderone. “This has never been more apparent than when I look back to how I styled the shelving in my Amagansett beach house six years ago. Yes, the reclaimed movement was in full force, and I did find a multitude of salvaged oddities everywhere from the Brooklyn Flea to Brimfield. But while many of these items were indeed treasures, it is true that too much of one thing is never a good idea. I did not follow two cardinal rules of design: Less is more, and contrast is far more interesting.”
I did not follow two cardinal rules of design: Less is more, and contrast is far more interesting.
The Lesson: “There are a couple of lessons here. One is to continue to collect objects over time but to play around and rotate them in your home. Your story changes over time, so let your home be a reflection of that,” says Calderone. “And that brings us to the second lesson—the look is all in the edit. Coco Chanel said it best: Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off. The same can be said for your home—and clearly, my shelving!”
Overlooking Architectural Details
"This wasn't a mistake I made, but one I had to come in and fix," explains Segal. "In this particular job, the clients had worked with an architect before we were brought on board. Partway through framing, the clients learned that due to some structural issues, they were unable to have the double-height ceilings in their living and dining room they had planned on. They had their heart set on a dramatic ceiling and traditional coffered details and were so disappointed with the change. We were faced with coming up with a solution that was dramatic, with a nod to the traditional design that did not lower the ceiling heights further. The solution: my own take on a modern coffered ceiling. Using built-up layers of flat-stock MDF, this affordable solution created depth and interest without taking away more than a few inches from the ceiling height."
The Lesson: "In new construction and renovations, I think the lesson is that sometimes things are just out of your control," says Segal. "No matter how much planning you do, unforeseen issues always arise. Learn to roll with the punches, and sometimes you come out with an outcome even more spectacular and unique than you could have planned."
Not Doing Your Prep Work
"This one was a boo-boo that I still haven't lived down with my husband," says Segal. "When my husband and I purchased our first home, I decided to get handy (which I am not) and paint some tester samples on our bedroom walls. I put a few garbage bags down on the floor and got out my supplies. I suppose I didn't correctly put on the roller portion onto the handle, because as I was vigorously painting my test patch, the roller portion flew off! In seemingly slow motion, the paint-soaked brush bounced onto my foot, onto the garbage bags a few times, then all across our newly installed cream wool carpets, leaving an aqua blue-green trail in its wake. Our new carpets were ruined (the paint did not come out), so lesson learned!"
The Lesson: "If you are painting, take the time and do all the necessary prep," says Segal. "If, like me, painting isn't for you, Benjamin Moore will actually do full sample boards for you in any color of your choice for about $15—we now pin these up at all of our sites to help clients choose the correct color."