House & Home

Decorating mistakes you can fix in 15 minutes or less

Try using lighting from different angles to make a room stand out.
Try using lighting from different angles to make a room stand out. Dreamstime

Decorating mistakes are so easily made: You buy a sofa without measuring your door clearance, you hang a light too low and bump your head on it or you paint an entire room in the wrong color without testing it first.

Yes, decorating faux pas are a dime a dozen, and most often they’re not so easily fixed. If you have to return a large piece of furniture, call in a plumber or an electrician or spend an entire weekend repainting a room, it can be tempting to put these decorating fixes way down on the to-do list.

But other mistakes are easier to fix than one would think, so we asked a handful of interior designers to share the most common design mistakes that can be fixed in 15 minutes or less. Whether it’s hanging a second hook behind your frames, switching a lightbulb or even rotating a rug 90 degrees, we guarantee you can fix each of these gaffes in a pinch.

Don’t delay any longer — your weekend to-do list for a better home is right here.

▪ Art: “A common misconception is that a small space only warrants small pieces,” says interior designer Abbe Fenimore of Studio Ten 25 in Dallas. “Larger pieces actually bring in visual interest, texture and color, completing the look of the space. And when hanging pieces, don’t go too high or too low. Aim for the center of the piece to hit 60 inches, directly at eye level for most.”

Most designers would agree that people tend to hang art too high. “Art hung too high is always a pet peeve of mine,” says Nancy Mayerfield, of NM Design House in Chicago. “But more than art being hung too high is art that is crooked.

“To fix a crooked piece of art, there are two options. The easiest is to add a second art hook. To make sure that the addition of the hook does not cause the art to be hung higher or off-center, you may need to start the hanging process from scratch.”

For designer Carter Kay of Carter Kay Interiors in Atlanta, the problem is not only how high the art is hung but also the size of the artwork: “Most people have a hard time with hanging their art — it’s either too high, too low, too small, but rarely too large. In several cases, we have found that hanging a client’s own art in a gallery style has a tremendous and immediate impact.”

▪ Lighting: “A room oftentimes has overhead lighting and that is it. To make a room really stand out, I recommend using light from all different heights and angles: overhead lighting, a floor lamp, a table lamp and the often forgotten up-lighting,” says Kazuko Hoshino, principal at Studio William Hefner in Los Angeles.

“In my very first home, our budget was limited, but we purchased very inexpensive lights to up-light in our living room, and guests always commented on how warm and inviting our home was.”

Beyond placing lighting below chin level, which casts a flattering light on just about anyone, Caitlin Murray, of Black Lacquer Design in Los Angeles, recommends swapping lightbulbs: “Switch out lightbulbs to softer ones that create a pretty, warm glow, and put any overhead lighting on dimmers for more control over ambiance.”

▪ Layout: “Simply rethinking how a room’s furniture can be arranged can change the entire look and function of the room,” Kay says. “In fact, we usually start with a client by simply rearranging the furniture.”

Mayerfield concurs: “Sometimes people take a large room and place all the furniture against the walls,” she says. “Move the furniture around to make the furniture part of the room and part of the conversation. It’s OK to walk around a piece of furniture. It’s OK not to have a walkway in the middle of the room but to create a slight obstacle in the space.”

Jaclyn Joslin, a designer at Coveted Home in Kansas City, thinks you should not only pull furniture away from the walls, you should also pull pieces away from each other: “Pull furniture out from the wall and give it room to breathe. I see furniture crammed together so much, and it’s such an easy fix. Plus, it will create flow in the room.”

▪ Curtains: “We find that way too many people seem to be ordering drapery from catalogs or premade sources,” Kay says. “Most times, these solutions result in poor-fitting and cheap-looking drapery. A quick fix could be buying extra panels for each side of a window to double the volume. … Or you can call on a professional drapery workroom for a true measurement and estimate. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.”

Cecily Mendell of Cecy J Interiors in San Francisco has an entirely different approach: “Remove it,” she says. “I’m constantly breaking the rules on window treatments. If privacy or the blazing sun are not an issue, I often talk clients out of drapery. It is often the first thing I suggest removing to let the outdoors in.”

▪ Clutter: “Entryways in homes always seem to become catchalls, attracting clutter easily and leaving a not-so-welcoming impression on guests,” Fenimore says. “That’s why it’s important to decorate with intent.

“Choose functional pieces like consoles or ottomans to store keys, shoes and handbags, while keeping them at arm’s reach. Then add interest with a small patterned rug or mirrored pieces, which open up the space.

“In the bathroom, baskets, pretty containers and trays are a godsend,” she adds. “They work wonders on top of the vanity and the toilet (if you’re short on space) and under counters. They contain the clutter in an instant while still allowing for easy access to the things you use the most.”

For Murray, the true clutter crime is in open shelving: “Instead of viewing your open storage as a glorified catchall, use your shelves as a decorative opportunity. Curate a well-balanced collection of books, sculptures, vases, artwork and more to create visual interest.”

Joslin adds a clever trick to make accessorizing easy: “Position accessories together in groups of like items or varying heights instead of spacing them out or lining them up.”

▪ Sofa: “A typical 84-inch sofa doesn’t need copious amounts of pillows to have a tremendous visual impact in a room,” Kay says. “In fact, we find that three to five is plenty. A 20-inch pillow is too small by itself, but add a 22-inch behind it, and its proportion is much more appropriate. We like two or three pillows on one side and one or two on the other — or an odd rectangle in the middle to keep the symmetry off balance.”

Joslin adds that worn-out cushions are the easiest way to cheapen the look of a room: “Fluff your cushions, and rotate them on a regular basis. Most don’t think sofa or chair cushions need maintenance, but they do. Simply rotate, flip and fluff to maintain shape and extend life span while making the room look neater in a snap.”

▪ Rugs: The last mistake you might not have known you were making is placing your rugs in the wrong direction. “Rugs should be wider than the area of the furniture they’re framing so they extend past the right, left and front of the sofa or bed (or whatever furniture is resting on it),” Murray says.

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