We all love the posts with tips and tricks, but sometimes we need a little help on what not to do. Today I address the top biggest mistakes people make when designing or decorating their homes. No doubt you will recognize most if not all of them...and hopefully you will gain some insight as to why they can be so destructive to the overall look, feel, and functionality of a space.
Keep in mind that I am addressing these issues from a design point of view...one may be completely happy with any of these points, and that is of course a personal decision. However that doesn't make for good design. If you're reading this then you have an interest in what makes or breaks "good design" and I am here to help with that.
One more thing...I will say that there are instances when a space works well in spite of these issues. If nothing's wrong, don't fix it. But if it doesn't work...start right here.
1. The absolute, by far most common mistake is with basic furniture placement. Yes, you guessed it...furniture against the perimeter walls of a room.
It is very seldom the best use of space, and furnishings. It is boring, and gives the impression one doesn't care enough to even try. In a room filled with beautiful things, it's a killer. (see photos)
It's also an easy fix...and you can play with it. Chances are you have family or friends who would gladly lend a hand in exchange for a toddie or two, a lunch out or some other trade in favors, and help you rearrange your living room one afternoon. If you are spatially minded, draw it out first...and then play with arrangements...however it's more fun and more effective if you actually DO IT for real. Plus you can do a little cleaning if needed at the same time.
Try floating the sofa 36" away from the wall and start there. Guide the pathway behind the piece instead of through the middle of the room. Place it perpendicular to the wall and see how that works. Small room? Place your layout on the diagonal...it will take up more space, but can give the room a larger visual impression. (see photos) This trick works with beds in bedrooms quite well too. Just don't be a wallflower!
2. Matching your furniture. A sofa and a love seat, pair of sofas, pair of chairs, a pair of end tables...all fine. Unless it's high end modern minimalist style a cocktail table, and matching end tables is no man's land...and a matching sofa and chair is "iffy". You have a personality, so should your room. Matching your casegoods is merchandising a store, and never buy a bedroom suite. That is unless you love one piece, and plan to sell off the rest on Craigslist or Ebay. If you match your bedroom nightstands, have different lamps, and the opposite is true.
3. All the accessories and art are the same size. Most often this is on the small size. Look around and take a mental (if not actual) measurement of your accessories. If they all are within three to eight inches of each other in size, you've lost all impact no matter the quality of the pieces. If there are too many, it will look junky and cluttered. Go big and make a statement. Even inexpensive jars, bottles, mirrors, statues can work well. Buy a tray to put your smaller items on to give some scale.
4. No negative space, or too much furniture- Make a picture frame box with your thumbs and index fingers and look through your fingers at your room. Pan around the space and tell me what you see. Can you stop on views that seem complete, or do you always feel like your missing a part of the picture? You eye needs to relax every now and then. Negative space creates rhythm, pattern and interest. After you've done your pan around the room, note the most interesting areas, and then start removing things that don't need to be there. Create vignettes within the whole of the room...pictures within a picture...
5. Drapery or window treatments hung too low. Common practice is to hang curtains about four inches above the window. One reason is because ready made drapes come in 84" long lengths. But usually you are making a huge mistake by hanging this low. By creating a strong horizontal at 84" high you are visually pulling the height of the room down. Raise them to ceiling height for a huge dramatic lift, (just be sure they reach the floor too!)
6. Naked windows. I know some of you hate draperies, and other "window treatments" but often a room looks unfinished with naked windows. Window treatments can strengthen your decor style, tie eclectic rooms together, soften lighting, offset overpowering vertical or horizontal elements, muffle sound, add color or texture or all of these at once. They can draw attention to a gorgeous view without obstructing it, soften the hard lines of trim and frame, and regulate heat and cold. There are way too many options to not at least consider them.
7. Improper sizing and use of rugs. Rugs are a fabulous way to bring pattern and color to a room as well. But equally important are sound absorption, and definition of space. For a full room rug, 12- 18" of exposed floor is optimal. In smaller spaces use a smaller rug under the seating areas to create intimacy, as opposed to larger rugs that fit under the entire arrangement as this can make the room seem smaller. Rugs on the diagonal can visually expand space as well, even if the room arrangement is not diagonal.
8. Large pieces in colors contrasting the floor or walls. If you are set on a dark brown sofa, unless your room is large, don't put it on light carpet or a light floor. You will end up with a big brown blob and visually breaking up your room. By blending your large pieces to the walls or flooring you camouflage their size. This is an issue most often seen with sofas and beds.
9. White ceilings with colored walls. I bet I catch flack for this! The old standard of white ceilings being the best choice is simply not true. If you paint your walls a color, a white ceiling will create a break at the top of the wall. A break that will show you exactly how high the ceiling is. Depending on your room size the effect can vary, but generally a ceiling under 10 feet will feel low. Yes the white makes the ceiling itself appear higher, but guess what...you have a high ceiling but short walls, or at least that's how it will feel, even when you aren't looking at the walls, as they will be visible in your peripheral vision, or your mind will remember what it already has seen...yes tricks of the mind...paint the ceiling the same color, unless its a dark color then lighten it a few shades.
Scroll through for some examples and please let me know your thoughts!
This is a gorgeous room no doubt. But it could be near perfect with some application of the aforementioned tips. Presumably there is a fireplace opposite the sofa. With that in mind floating the sofa so it faces the view, with the larger chairs adjacent would be a huge improvement. Placing the two smaller armchairs with an added table in the far corner in front of the window on the left would create a vignette seating area. The drapes should be at ceiling height as well. It's worth noting that the matching lamps and end tables do in fact work, as do the two matching pairs of chairs, though not as they are set up here.
This is a near perfect example of an effective diagonal arrangement, from amidesigns.com. This arrangement allows for use of the fireplace as a focal point, as well as secondary seating are for visiting and listening to music, thus opening up the space visual as well as functionally!
Wonderful selection of various sizes of accessories, and use of tray for books. Drapery well placed right below the ceiling crown.
Another beautiful room...near perfect but...Doesn't that bed look like it's meant for a giant? The drapery hung too low and that tiny art above it make the bed look massive. So much care taken, and such creativity in using the paired chandeliers as lighting, it's really a shame.
Here is another lovely space...with gorgeous expansive windows with a view. But it looks unfinished. With the raised center element and strong horizontal lines created by the windows the furniture looks dwarfed, and like its floating and unrelated to the room itself. Some simple drapery panels functional or stationary at each end and one in the middle to the ceiling, and some area rugs covering only the area in front of the sofa and chair and under the cocktail table it would look so much better and complete. Well... almost, it does need some art on the walls.
This brown sofa seems to work in this photo due to the lens used, but I have no doubt it overpowers the room in reality. It is a big brown rectangle, a box essentially. The white rug makes it worse due to the color, and it is completely wrong proportionally. A round or oval rug would be a much better solution to offset the angular sofa. Color wise something between the honey colored wood and the dark sofa would help as well.
Excellent example of blending a large sofa and cocktail table with the flooring to make the room seem larger