Designing your home — or anything, really — is a lot of work.
There are so many decisions to make and things to buy and Pinterest fails to live through. So we teamed up with style and interior design expert Emily Henderson to solve some of the most common design mistakes that can make your space look smaller, outdated, and generally ~blah~.
1. Get bigger art.
“Art hung the wrong way on a wall is like a character in a movie wearing a really bad wig,” Henderson said. “It’s just kinda hard NOT to see it, and you wish so bad you could just rip it off, knowing that everything would be so much better without it. It may not ruin your experience, but it’s terribly distracting.”
Ideally, art should take up one-half to two-thirds of the width of whatever it’s hanging above.
To have good balance, the piece of art, or pieces of art in a collection, should be in the same shape and orientation of the wall that it is trying to fill.
2. Hang your art lower.
In addition to size, the height of art is important for a room to feel balanced.
“The artwork and the piece of furniture should relate to each other and live near enough to each other that they collectively engage the whole wall together as a unit,” Henderson said. “Often, if there is a huge gap in between it will look disjointed.”
Henderson recommends art be hung at eye level, or around 6-8” above a piece of furniture.
“Remember, if your walls are really tall then you can go higher and if your piece of furniture is really low then consider going lower to help engage that whole space,” she said. “But generally try to fill as much space on the wall as you can.”
3. Avoid these unappealing wood colors.
The worst culprits in this category tend to look shiny and unnatural and are often named after foods: espresso, cherry, shiny maple. Often available in big box stores and cheap sets, these woods feel heavy and distracting, especially in a group.
“My rule of thumb, although I do stray from it sometimes, is that wood should look as natural as possible,” Henderson said. “Don’t buy something that is so off-colored that it doesn’t look real, as if it couldn’t exist in nature.”
Instead, look for lightly stained and natural wood tones: teak, oak, walnut, rosewood, or natural cherry.
And you don’t have to start completely over with a set to fix this mistake, just don’t KEEP buying matching woods.
“If you already have some don’t torch it, it can be totally fine,” Henderson said. “Gone are the days where every piece of furniture needs to match. But if you are in the market for new wood furniture or cabinetry, just stay away from these fake-looking finishes and go with a tone that looks more natural.”
4. Don’t pick a generic-looking sofa.
“Buying generic furniture with dated lines has been one of the biggest design mistakes that I constantly run into,” said Henderson.
In this case, “generic” doesn’t necessarily mean “inexpensive,” and “stylish” doesn’t mean it has to cost a fortune. There are plenty of reasonably priced sofa models (aka < $500) with a classic design and silhouette that will help upgrade the entire space.
Here’s what to look for in a sofa: simple and high-quality fabric, straight (not tapered) legs, minimal details, and cushions that are not overstuffed.
“There are some good options out there,” she said. “You just have to look, and be willing to part with that La-Z-Boy that your husband calls home because it really can ruin a room.”
5. Hang your curtains higher.
“A pretty room with poorly hung curtains is like a beautiful, pulled-together lady wearing way ‘too-small pants,’” Henderson said. “It cheapens everything else, stands out in a jarring way and just makes everyone feel uncomfortable.”
This mistake is one of the easiest to fix (and sometimes free, if your curtains and rod are big enough!) and also makes a huge visual difference in the size of your space.
To make your windows (and room) look bigger, hang curtains in between the ceiling and the top of the window, with a rod that extends 6-10” on either side.
This draws the eye higher, making the room look taller, and allows for maximum light, since the curtains don’t cover any of the window when they’re open.
6. Too Small Rugs
“America has been suffering for too long from ‘too small rug’ syndrome,” Henderson said. “I see it virtually every day and it pains me, especially when it’s so easily avoided. Your living room rug should really ground the whole seating area and tell people this is where the conversation (and the party) happens.”
Living room rugs should be big enough for at least two legs of each furniture piece to be on it, if not all four.
And if your sofa is 7 feet long, the rug should be at least 9’x12’ so there’s extra room on either side for balance.
But there is one is one notable exception: If your room is super small and your sofa is pushed up against the wall, a small rug floating in the middle of the room can totally work.
And while rugs are always an investment, there are actually a number of great large rugs out there for less than $500. Check out Henderson’s list here.