Between selecting furniture, experimenting with paint swatches, and positioning art, there are hundreds of small decisions that go into styling the perfect space. Even the slightest misjudgment, like hanging artwork too high or choosing paint in a gloss rather than matte finish, can have a surprising effect on a room.
Few know this better than interior designers, who have seen their fair share of fabulous (and, yes, mediocre) homes. We called on 11 leading tastemakers to learn about the most common home décor mistakes and how to fix them.
Buying Décor That's the Same Height
The Mistake: London-based interior designer Abigail Ahearn says one simple styling mistake can prevent a room from reaching its full potential. “Without sounding like a drama queen, scale and proportion are the holy grail of design,” says Ahearn. “If everything is the same size or if everything is either too big or too small, your room will read like a hot mess.”
The Fix: Ahearn uses this handy analogy to perfect proportions. “The easiest trick is to think of your space as a city and fill it with a combination of heights and proportions. Look at any cityscape and you’ll find this intriguing mix of scale and a unique blend of fascinating shapes—that’s what you want to nail!”
Styling Dark Furniture in a Small Space
The Mistake: Finding the perfect décor for a small apartment space can be a serious design challenge. Homepolish’s Tali Roth says she often notices one key mistake in small rooms: dark furniture. “Many people tend to lean toward heavy, bulky, and dark furniture pieces,” says Roth. While it might seem like a harmless choice, she says dark décor instantly makes a room feel cramped and cumbersome.
The Fix: “When it comes to small-apartment living, we need to go for lighter fabrics and finishes that will lift the space,” she says. Opt for sofas or curtains in linen or lightweight fabric, and choose a light-reflecting color palette.
Choosing the Wrong Rug Size
The Mistake: Rugs can completely transform a room and create a point of interest, but home style expert Emily Henderson says it can be hard to judge the right size for your home. Her pet peeve? Small rugs. “I see it virtually every day, and it pains me, especially when it’s so easily avoided,” she says. “A living room rug should really ground the whole seating around it. It tells everyone that this is where the conversation is. A small rug makes it feel disjointed and really cheapens everything.”
The Fix: “Living rooms almost always need [a rug that’s] at least 8 by 10 feet, if not 9 by 12 feet. You heard it. Considering a 4 by 6? Don’t. That’s fine next to a bed, in a kitchen, or for an entranceway, but a 4-by-6-foot rug will assuredly not work in your living room,” says Henderson. As a rule of thumb, she says a rug should be big enough to fit at least two chairs or sofa legs on it.
Hanging Art Too High
The Mistake: Finding the perfect piece of art for your home is only half the battle, says interior designer Max Humphrey. A key mistake Humphrey notices is when art is hung too high or positioned in an obvious way. “I think it’s a mistake to be too precious about highlighting the placement of your art. Just because you spent some money on artwork doesn’t mean it won’t still look awesome over a sideboard in the hallway with a lamp and a pile of books right in front of it,” he says.
The Fix: Position artwork in an unexpected, subtle location and follow Humphrey’s hanging tip: “Eye-level or so is a good starting point, and I always err on the lower side of that.” Use a removable hook to test the placement, and wait a few weeks before affixing it permanently.
Following Design Trends
The Mistake: Nate Berkus might be a leading industry voice when it comes to the hottest trends, but his number one tip for styling a truly unique space is to stop following fads. “The mistake people make is that they’re often insecure. They look over their shoulder and listen to what everyone else is talking about instead of sitting down and asking, What do I really love?” Berkus tells MyDomaine. “I think the best interiors historically from over years 300 ago to now have always been spaces where people let their personal style rise to the surface and ignore the societal norms and trends.”
The Fix: Make it personal. Ask yourself, What does the space mean to me? What are the colors and textures I love, and what is the feeling that I want to have when I get home? Push trends aside, and make design choices based on your personal aesthetic to create a space that you’ll love for years to come.
Having One Light Source
The Mistake: Lighting decisions might seem like a practical part of the design process, but according to Athena Calderone, founder of EyeSwoon, it’s an aspect people often misjudge. “Lighting is incredibly important to any space. When lighting is washed over you from above, it can be unflattering and harsh,” she says. While overhead lighting often seems like the most obvious choice, Calderone says the best spaces have a plethora of light sources to create various ambiances.
The Fix: Layer lighting. “Be sure to have lighting on dimmers and also coming from multiple sources at different heights, [such as] floor lamps and table lamps. And always choose soft white bulbs,” she says. Harsh fluorescent or white lights can make a space feel stark and uninviting. “Warm lighting not only sets the mood but also makes a room feel intimate and aglow.”
Buying a Large Dining Table
The Mistake: Designing your dream space often encourages you to make decisions based on an ideal lifestyle rather than reality. While the thought of constantly throwing long-table dinner parties and extravagant events might sound appealing, the reality is often quite different. If you live in a small apartment, Chicago-based interior designer Brooke Lang says to avoid buying a large dinner table unless you’re sure you’ll use it. “It’s a huge mistake to buy a large dining table with six to eight chairs.
Every inch counts in a small space, so flexibility is key,” she says.
The Fix: Opt for a round dinner table, which has the ability to accommodate more guests. “Purchase a 36- to 42-inch round dining table, preferably with a leaf extension. It can seat two people for everyday use and expand to up to six for larger parties!"
Use interior design website Floor Planner to plan a dining area before committing to large furniture.
Not Measuring a Room
The Mistake: If you’re prone to making décor decisions on a whim, interior designer Mikel Welch says you might be making a vital error. Before making a purchase, Welch says, it’s important to gather the dimensions of each piece to form a plan: “One of the most common interior design mistakes people make is relying on the eye to measure a space. Instead of purchasing furniture pieces because it’s your favorite, consider the overall volume of the space. Measure every nook and cranny.”
The Fix: Always map out your space before committing to décor. “To avoid overcrowding or under-furnishing the space, keep gathering dimensions. Mark the height, width, and even the depth of furniture pieces using blue painter’s tape directly on the wall. This way you can visually see how much space you actually have to work with, instead of making guestimates,” he says.
Treating Greenery as an Afterthought
The Mistake: “When people ask me what my biggest Stop doing that! peeve is, it’s adding elements of life with a bunch of sticks shoved into a tall vase and then stuck into a corner,” says Brian Patrick Flynn of Flynnside Out Productions. “I think this happens because homeowners run out of steam (and cash) at the end of a redesign, and they want to add some element of height and organic texture, but it really doesn’t add anything at all to the room.”
The Fix: “Instead, add three to five low-maintenance indoor plants or trees,” he recommends. Among Flynn’s favorites are fiddle-leaf figs, maidenhair ferns, and lemon button ferns. If you find watering plants a hassle, try his handy hack: “I usually just stick the lightweight plants in the shower and let it run for two to three minutes and drain before bringing back into the room.”
Shying Away From Investment Pieces
The Mistake: When it comes to getting more bang for your buck, Homepolish interior designer Ashlie Mastony says people often make the mistake of buying lots of inexpensive, small accents. It might seem counterintuitive, but she says it’s far more financially savvy to invest in one statement (and, yes, possibly expensive) accent instead. “The most common interior design mistake I see is when people buy lots of small furniture pieces, or piles of accessories, to avoid investing in a big high-impact item like a great sofa, an awesome headboard, or an amazing piece of art,” she tells us.
“In the end, the little things cost just as much and the space feels cluttered rather than cohesive.”
The Fix: “Find a piece you love, save up, take the plunge, and then build the whole room around it,” she says. On a budget? “Hunt around on Craigslist to see if someone local is selling your dream sofa, or check out sites like Viyet or Chairish,” she recommends.
Arranging Furniture Flush Against a Wall
The Mistake: When planning a room, interior designer Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design says people often fall into this simple styling trap: “For some reason, people love to push their furniture pieces up to the walls of their rooms. This makes designers crazy, and it really doesn’t save or create more space!” she says.
The Fix: Try “conversational furniture placement,” which focuses on grouping accents. “Pull pieces toward one another and off the walls to create more intimate, useful seating,” she says. If you’re unsure, she recommends using a sketch pad. “I always encourage people to draw even the most basic plan and play with the placement of their furniture, just as we do.”
This story was originally published on November 8, 2016, and has since been updated.