I was raised by an interior designer and even I have been guilty of making rookie decorating moves. Just last year — mind you, I have been writing about design for eight years — I made one of the most rookie moves: I hung my kitchen pendant so low that I bump my head on it. And no I have not gotten around to fixing it.
So let me just put this out there: It’s OK to be a beginner or to be oblivious to what decorators consider “the basics.” You live and you learn. That’s what you’re here for, right?
Today I’m giving you the CliffsNotes on Decorating 101. Follow these and you’ll have the framework for a truly beautiful space — and nothing to be too ashamed of when your most discerning friend comes over.
1. Hanging art too high
Art should always be hung at eye level. A rookie move would be to hang a painting close to your console table or up higher near the ceiling. If you’re super tall or vertically challenged, hanging art at your own eye level will probably look odd to most of your guests; consider having a friend come over to help you eyeball it and find a happy medium.
2. Hanging lights too low
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a major rookie move. I love a low-hanging chandelier or pendant; it feels a little sultry. That said, it’s only acceptable if it’s hanging over a table or a nightstand; otherwise you and your guests will bump into it — and that can hurt!
3. Painting without a plan
If you have the opportunity, paint before installing carpet, lighting and other tricky elements of a room. But if you plan to do real decorating, have a plan before choosing your paints. If you think you’ll be reupholstering seating, purchasing colored furniture, buying textiles, wallpapering, or doing remodeling of any kind, your paint color should be your last choice. It’s much easier to match a paint to a fabric or the marble on your new counters than to find a slab that complements a random paint swatch you’ve chosen on a whim.
4. Floating rugs
A rug that’s floating in the middle of a room on its own pretty much always looks like a bath mat — even if it’s gorgeous and you dropped major bucks on it at the bazaar in Marrakech. Designers generally advise to ground it by tucking it under furniture, or the front legs of your furniture. If it’s not big enough to do so, try layering it over another rug (a nondescript natural fiber, for instance), or placing it as close as possible to nearby furniture.
5. Not trying before buying
I laughed hard — and also nearly injured myself — when I sat down on a bachelor friend’s dining chair recently: I immediately sank inches down. Not only had he purchased cheesy faux-leather chairs that had “bachelor pad” written all over them, they had zero support; I couldn’t imagine trying to sit through a dinner party in them. Not trying out your furniture — be it dining chairs, a sofa or a mattress — before you buy is definitely a rookie move.
6. Not measuring
No one expects a home decorator to be as thorough with their planning as an interior designer who’s using AutoCAD, but at the very least you should take simple measurements. Hanging a few art pieces on one wall? Make sure they are evenly spaced. Having a new sofa delivered? Make sure your delivery men can get it in the door. Take special care when making online orders and test out the measurements before you fork over your credit card.
7. Buying curtains that are too short
Many designers advise to go as high as you possibly can when it comes to installing your curtain rod (to give the illusion your ceilings are taller). That choice is subjective. The length of your drapes, however, is one thing most designers agree on: They should “kiss” the floor.
A rookie move would be to have them hit the window ledge or fall somewhere between the bottom of the window and the base of the floor. If you want to get super romantic with silk curtains, you can go for a glamorous “puddling” of extra fabric, but otherwise they should just meet the floor.
8. Buying furniture sets
Buying sets might be the most rookie move of all. If anything about your home brings to mind Rooms to Go, you should start questioning everything.
It’s OK to have, say, matching nightstands or a pair of matching chairs, but don’t even think about buying a bed, dresser and nightstand set or a sofa and two matching armchairs. Introducing a little variety adds depth and keeps your home from looking like a showroom.
9. Using one design style
Just as you should have a mix of furniture pieces in your home, you should also have a mix of design eras and styles.
Pair a modernist ’50s French wall sconce with a “Downton Abbey”-era sofa and a Chinoiserie-inspired wallpaper. Mix it up. Using furniture and accessories from only one era will make your home feel like a TV set.
One of the greatest skills in design is editing. Even if you have the most beautiful pieces on the planet, putting them all out on display at once will make your space feel cluttered and kooky. Instead, be thoughtful about which accents complement each other and be selective; if you need a guide, try not to have more than three to five items in one vignette.
11. Not considering traffic flow
One way to instantly kill the mood of a space is to interrupt traffic flow. Make sure there’s a direct line to access every doorway and seating area in a space and don’t pack seating too closely together.
12. Omitting art
It makes me think you haven’t moved in yet if there’s no art in a room. If there’s nothing on your walls, put something there. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but hang a painting or a photograph — or get playful with wall art like a vintage sign.