Common Interior Design Mistakes To Avoid

Not everyone has training in interior design but most people decorate their own homes — and everyone makes mistakes. It’s inevitable. You find things and think they’ll be great in the living room, and you bring them home without any plan or idea of what’s would be the right addition. On the surface, decorating your home is about what you like. Beyond that, however, there are elements of design like color, scale, lighting and placement that should be taken into consideration in any space. They all affect how the space will look. Given the considerations, almost everyone makes at least one of these most common decorating mistakes:

Tips to avoid before start designing

Not everyone has training in interior design but most people still decorate their own homes — and everyone makes mistakes. It’s inevitable. You find things and think they’ll be great in the living room, so you bring them home without any plan or idea of what would be the right addition. On the surface, decorating your home is about what you like. Beyond that, however, there are elements of design like color, scale, lighting and placement that should be taken into consideration in any space. They all affect how a room will look. Before we list them, here are the overarching reasons that most common interior design mistakes happen in the first place.

Lack of Planning

The desire for a new look hits and before you know it, your Pinterest board is bursting with ideas, your online cart is full, and your finger is hovering over the “buy now” button. This is actually the last thing you want to do. When redecorating – or even rearranging – a room, it’s important to step back and assess the space first. Think about how you use the space, what is wrong with the room, the challenges in updating it and what your goals are. Every room has its own issues and size constraints. Making sketches on paper, collecting samples and creating lists are good tactics for planning.

Before you invest in a single item, make sure it fits your plan. If you see something you love, the first step is to be honest with yourself: Does it work with the plan and add to what you’re trying to achieve? If you have trouble visualizing things, there are many apps that let you see a piece of furniture in your own space. Some retailers even have this option online. Use every planning tool at your disposal to make decorating easier!

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Fear of Measurement

Almost everyone has had this experience at some level: You love it, you’re sure it’ll fit, so you buy it. When you get it home, however, it’s not the right size or scale. A large part of creating a pleasing room is having all the elements be in the right scale and proportions compared to everything else. So, while the space between the walls might technically be wide enough for that super-long sectional, it may actually be too big and overwhelming in the room, making everything feel crowded.

Measurement is a critical step in preventing many design mistakes before they happen. Remember that it’s not just the size of the furniture you need to take into account: The space around the piece that allows for ease of movement and use is critical for appearance as well as function. Measuring everything is a big part of planning that will guide a lot of your purchases, especially of rugs and and larger furnishings.

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Adding Before Deleting

Most people want to jump to the fun part first:  Picking new things for a room, whether that is small décor items or new furniture. That said, a blank slate is best when it comes to redecorating. If you’re not starting from scratch, clear the room of everything but the pieces that you’ll be keeping, including any accessories that are a must for the space, such as a special sculpture or a tabletop family heirloom. This is the point from which you’ll start planning. When purchasing new things, start with the largest items first — they may lead you to tweak some of the smaller elements as you go, especially when it comes to décor accents.

Picking Form Over Function

You might love white chairs and a pale rug paired with a delicate glass coffee table, but it’s not the wisest choice if the living room sees a lot of use, especially by children. Actually, how you use the room should be the primary driver in redecorating. No matter how beautiful a space looks, if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle, it’s a waste of money and time. Creating a practical design that works for how you and your family function is first and foremost, so don’t lose sight of that goal as you shop for new furniture.

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Overlooking Details

That last thing that you want is a room that looks like it came straight out of the store, whether it’s Ikea or a high-end designer brand. As they say, the devil is in the details and these are exactly what will make a room your own. Small things like the knobs on drawers, the finials on your curtain rod, or the extra cushions on your sofa – these all make the room feel like your own home and not a showroom.

Creating a Room With No Personality

This goes hand in hand with the point above about details. No one wants to live in a showroom and you need to include elements that reflect your personality to make a house your home. You can do this easily with art or small décor items. Maybe these are things you collect or have acquired during travels. Or, you can express your personality through the prints and textures that you choose for upholstered pieces, rugs or other textiles. The bottom line is that a room should feel personal, no matter how large or small.

Even following these guidelines, almost everyone makes at least one of the most common decorating mistakes. Have you fallen victim to one of these errors?

A Lack of Color

Neutral palettes have been a trend for quite some time, and that has led to quite a bite of boring decor. By playing safe and sticking with neutral furnishings, walls and accessories, homeowners have created a wide range of uninteresting spaces. This doesn’t mean that you have to paint all the walls a vivid color and upholster everything in bright prints. Adding a single wall of an accent color can add a real punch to room, even when the rest of the decor is neutral. Don’t be afraid of adding color to a room — it adds punch. Incorporating color can take many forms: a colorful rug, a vibrant array of accessories, bold artwork or saturated textiles. Pick your favorite color and let it brighten a space in your home. This credenza grouping from Jonathan Adler has extra impact because it sits in front of an enchanting wall of color.

Common interior design mistakes you should be aware

Adding an accent wall of color elevates a neutral space.View in gallery
Adding an accent wall of color elevates a neutral space.

Bad Lighting

It might be one of the last things people think about in a home, lighting, however, is critical to a pleasant environment. Generally, bad lighting equals bad design. Relying on one source of lighting — like a ceiling fixture — is never a good idea. Different types of lighting need to have different purposes: task lighting, ambient lighting and general lighting.

Evaluating a space and deciding on what type of lighting it needs is an important design decision. In addition to a ceiling fixture, a room needs mid-level lighting for warmth and tasks like reading. Some spaces way benefit from ambient lighting that helps create a mood. 

Accent lights are important for highlighting special accessories or art. and, regardless of how many different types you incorporate, placement is also important. Making sure that lighting casts the proper shadows is vital to effective illumination and remember — dimmer switches are your best friend.

Every space needs different levels of lighting.View in gallery
Every space needs different levels of lighting.

Too Much Furniture

With interior design, it’s entirely possible to have too much of a good thing, especially where furniture is concerned. Just as important as the pieces you put into a space is the sense of space itself. A room overcrowded with furniture will never feel spacious. All your pieces should be in an appealing arrangement and fulfill your needs with regard to function and comfort.

Don’t let furniture impede traffic flow through space or restrict movement. If a room ever feels cramped, remove a piece or two of furniture and see if it eases the feeling in the space. Rearranging the pieces in the space might also solve the problem. This Bamax dining room has enough furniture yet it feels open and airy.

Choose furnishings wisely and don't overcrowd the space, no matter how large it is.View in gallery
Choose furnishings wisely and don’t overcrowd the space, no matter how large it is.

Unbalanced Furnishings

Balance in your furnishings is approached in two ways. The first is the pieces themselves. No matter what the style of the decor, you want a balance among the pieces to keep if from feeling too heavy or crowded. This living room is a good example because the sofa has a very hefty feel because the thick frame sits directly on the ground. The occasional tables on both sides are leggy, which balances out the heavier sofa.

The style of the table lamp and the multi-light floor lamp also contribute a lighter feeling. The second way to consider balance in a space concerns the placement of furnishings and accessories as well as the size of the room. Big, heavy furnishings will never feel right in a small space and vice-versa. How your furniture feels in the space in relation to the doorways, windows and any other architectural elements that are present is also key, and this comes down to placement. To remedy this, it usually takes just a little re-arrangement.

Balance the weight of your furniture as well as its placement.View in gallery
Balance the weight of your furniture as well as its placement.


When it comes to decor less is definitely more. The nicest rooms with the most pleasant feeling always have accessories…just not too many. Unfortunately, conquering clutter is about more than just organization. Yes, you need to have enough storage space to stash your belongings out of sight, but there are many other ways that a home can feel cluttered.

Too many accessories, a huge number of pillows, too many things on the shelves, artwork hung without a plan — these are some of the examples. This can be a particular problem for people who collect things. In all cases the cure is simple: editing. Clearing clutter doesn’t mean you can’t display your favorite things, it just means you shouldn’t display them all at once. A carefully edited collection of accessories or collectibles makes more of an impact than a large jumble. From time to time, you can swap out what’s on display so that you can enjoy all your items.

Conquer clutter with good organization and the judicious use of accessories.View in gallery
Conquer clutter with good organization and the judicious use of accessories.

Matching Everything

Yes, there was a day when matching furniture sets were all the rage, but that is definitely not the case now. There’s nothing that screams “I don’t know what to do,” than a match bedroom or living room set.  Mixing and matching is the way to get a comfortable and stylish room. Of course, this does not mean that the room should be a random jumble of mismatched pieces. There should be one dominant style that account from 75 to 80 percent of a room and the remainder can be anything else.

The other way to think about this is decorating in layers. Take a look at the room below. Yes, it has a formal air, but it is certainly not stuffy. The sofa on the right has a wooden frame and is very formal. The armchair across the room also has wood, but it is white, and the second sofa is more casual with no visible wood at all. The coffee table and side tables are all different and not formal, yet they work well with the grand chandelier and gold-framed portraits on the walls.

A cohesive look of mixed, not matched pieces is best.View in gallery
A cohesive look of mixed, not matched pieces is best.

The Wrong Lampshade

A lampshade does more than just soften the light emanating from the bulb: It balances the height of the lamp and gives it enough visual heft to make it an important design element. Nothing looks worse than a lamp with a shade that is far too small for its base. According to Architectural Digest, there’s a simple formula to make sure you have the right size lampshade for a table lamp: Measure the base of your lamp as well as the height.

Whatever shape of shade you choose, it should be twice as wide as the base, and about one-third of the lamp’s total height. The shade should also reflect the style of the base. When it comes to floor lamps, the shade should be at least 18 inches and Pooky notes that the larger and more open your room, the larger the floor lampshade can be. This living room from Jonathan Adler uses the same shade on both the table lamp and floor lamp, which lend the appropriate sets of balance and help freak the sofa.

The size of lampshades is critical to the look of a room.View in gallery
The size of lampshades is critical to the look of a room.

A Boring Entryway

When meeting people, first impressions count and the same holds true for your home. When people walk through the door, the feeling they get from your entryway will set the tone for what they expect from the rest of the house. If your entryway is boring, they aren’t going to expect much when they walk around the corner. Depending on how much space you have, the entryway is the perfect place for a killer light fixture and some art. If you have room for a console or small table and a chair, make sure that you choose dramatic upholstery or statement accessories. No matter what your decor style, this is where you want to elicit a “wow” from your family and friends. This attractive entryway by Shawn Henderson show how you can turn a tight entry hall into a design statement.

A small entryway can still have a dramatic look.View in gallery
A small entryway can still have a dramatic look.

Outdated Accessories

If anything in the home is trendy, it is accessories and decor pieces. It’s fortunate that this is also the easiest part of your decor to switch out in order to get a fresh look. If you’re still displaying that lava lamp or have too many mason jars on the counter, it’s time to change it up and get rid of the old trends that are on their way out — or are already history.

Peruse design and decor accessories on line, see what current trends fit in with your style of home and incorporate some of them, retiring the old pieces. This doesn’t mean you have to change everything, just the outdated ones. It’s an inexpensive way to move into the current era without breaking the bank.

Changing outdated accessories is the speediest way to more current decor.View in gallery
Changing outdated accessories is the speediest way to more current decor.

Floating Rugs

When it comes to area rugs, bigger is indeed better. Choosing one that is too small is among the most common mistakes homeowners make. If you’re using a rug in a living space, it has to be big enough to reach at least the front legs of every item of furniture in the grouping.

In a dining room, it has to extend far ought past the edges of the table so that when guests are seated, all four legs of the chair are on the rug. This means that before you order up a rug on sale, measure the area you need to cover so that you don’t buy the wrong size. The correct rug anchors the space and visually pulls all the elements together into a cohesive grouping. A small area rug in front of the sofa or under the coffee table definitely won’t cut it and your room will always look like something is off, even if you can’t immediately identify why it feels that way.

Rugs have to be large enough to anchor the room properly.View in gallery
Rugs have to be large enough to anchor the room properly.

Furniture Against the Walls

Unless you’re stuck with a small living room, don’t automatically push your sofa  — and all the rest of the furniture — against the wall. This arrangement immediate creates a giant empty space in the middle and usually leaves the seating too far apart to be comfortable for conversation. Especially in a larger space, the sofa can help define the main area by moving toward the center of the space or to one side, depending on the configuration.

Most designers feel running the furniture around the edges is a major no-no that lacks style and practicality. Even if the space isn’t big, adding a console between the wall and the sofa can add just enough space to change the feeling of the room. Rather than sitting along a wall, this sofa from Erba delineates the grouping and directed traffic flow between the sofa and the display units. This arrangement also helps highlight a spectacular sofa.

Don't automatically think the sofa has to back up to the wall.View in gallery
Don’t automatically think the sofa has to back up to the wall.

A Plethora of Pillows

Pillows can be transformative decor piece, adding a jolt of color or print, along with an extra dose of comfort. But just the same, you can have too much of a good thing.  For a while, the trend was for piles of decorative pillows on the sofa, the bed and in armchairs.

Now we know better because to many pillows can make an otherwise streamlined space feel cluttered. Instead, give more power to your accent pillows by using a carefully edited collection of colors, sizes and motifs to elevate your space. This chair features just one small but dramatic accent pillow. More of them would not make the chair any more special. Both are from Jonathan Adler.

With pillows it's possible to have too much of a good thing.View in gallery
With pillows it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

Faking the Flowers

The votes are in on fake flowers, and the world is split down the middle. Most designers say that obviously fake flowers and plants are a “design don’t,” but many people love silk flowers for lots of reasons. If you have to have silk flowers, make sure they are new and as real-looking as possible. Otherwise, try adding potted plants that flower, using real flowers whenever possible, or cutting branches and greenery from your yard to display. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, low maintenance plants like cacti and succulents can be a good choice instead of faux flora.

Real plants and flowers are preferable over faux flora.View in gallery
Real plants and flowers are preferable over faux flora.

The Wrong Window Treatment

Unfortunately, there are many ways window treatments can go wrong. In most cases, they’re more than just decorative. Window treatments also control privacy in your space as well as regulate the amount of light entering the space. Taking into consideration what you want from your window treatments will help you choose the right type.

Too long, too short and hung incorrectly are also big boo-boos that can happen with window treatments. The dining room below is a good example. Pleated panels can be drawn shut for privacy in the evening if desired, but because this is a dining room, privacy’s not a must. To make the room look taller, the drapes and cornice boxes are mounted near the ceiling to add height.

The Wrong Window TreatmentView in gallery
The Wrong Window Treatment

Art Hung Too High

Art is the easiest way to add style, personality and color to a space, and, if hung incorrectly, the easiest way to make things look off. Hanging a piece too high is probably the most common mistake, say designers. It should be hung at eye level. According Martha Stewart, art should be hung so that the middle of the piece is 57 to 60 inches above the floor. If ceilings are tall, you can go a little higher for balance. If you’re trying to hang a grouping or gallery, consider the middle of your grouping as the center.

Also, make sure you pit the right-sized piece in the appropriate place. One or two small pieces above a sofa isn’t going feel right compared to a larger piece. Speaking of larger pieces, big art can be hung so that the frame’s bottom is 8 to 10 inches above the sofa back.

Hanging art at the correct height is key to a space looking as it should.View in gallery
Hanging art at the correct height is key to a space looking as it should.

Too Many Knick Knacks

Whether your decor is a design driven collection of items or a set of pieces you’ve acquired in while traveling. When it comes to decor and knickknacks, less is definitely more. It’s perfectly fine — and very desirable —   to display some decor and mementos to add personality to keep your space from feeling like staged space. That said, you want to be judicious because too many knick knacks  equals a cluttered feeling. Don’t feel like you have to throw some out, just change up the display as you would with any collection.

Less is more when it comes to knick knacks.View in gallery
Less is more when it comes to knick knacks.

Almost everyone is guilty of at least one common design error. The best course of action is to educate yourself and then take a look around your home for anything that you might need to correct. That way you can be comfortable and stylish in your home.