Grey living room with grey couch and off white lamps

How To Avoid The 10 Interior Design Mistakes Designers Loathe

Rachel Burris7-Minute Read
April 20, 2022

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Whether you’ve just moved in or you’re feeling the need for a change, figuring out how to decorate your home is no easy task. Beautifully designed homes have an effortless feel to them, but don’t be fooled; it takes a keen eye to figure out what to put in your rooms and where. That’s why many enlist the help of an interior designer.

Bringing in a professional is an excellent idea if your budget will allow for it, but most don’t. So, how do you design your ideal home? You begin by learning about the pitfalls that people run into. There are interior design mistakes that designers come across all the time, which make them cringe. After speaking to the professionals, we’ve gathered a list of the most common blunders and provided you with interior design tips for how to avoid them.

Design Mistake 1: Following Design Trends

Of course, you want your home to look picture-perfect, but trying to follow the latest design trends is not the way to go about it. These fads may be all the rage today, but what’s in vogue doesn’t usually stay for long. Once the industry has moved on, you’ll find your once trendy home has become conspicuously outdated.

If you find yourself struggling to decorate your rooms without falling into the trend trap, Halie Venema, interior designer and assistant general manager of Modernous, says, “Keeping things pretty classic (whether that is classically traditional or classically modern or something in between) is key. If there is a trend you just love, you can mix in some smaller element of it, like a pillow or accessory, to ensure that it’s easy to let go of when the trend inevitably passes.”

Design Mistake 2: Designing Your Home Without Considering Your Lifestyle

Designing your home should be just as much about practicality as it is about flair. Sure, you want your rooms to look nice, but you also want them to suit your lifestyle. Regardless of how lovely it looks, designing a formal living room with a loveseat and armchairs is going to be a mistake for someone who likes to snuggle on the couch after a long day. If you don’t pay attention to the utility of your home, you’ll find the small inconveniences of your space begin to grate on you over time.

To make sure that your decor is conducive to your daily routine, take a tip from Jenna Sheingold, creative director of Jenna Sheingold Studio: “Living in your space and learning how your family uses it before you remodel is a great way to learn about the details you’ll want to include in your design plans. There are so many opportunities for customization that you don’t want to miss by rushing through the design process.”

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Design Mistake 3: Adopting Someone Else’s Style

If you’ve never designed a home before – or, at least, never one that you liked – it can be intimidating to try to decorate your rooms to reflect your style. You may not even be sure what exactly your style is. While there’s nothing wrong with asking others for advice, you must be sure that you’re not furnishing your home with their style instead of yours. To make your home a place where you can truly be yourself, it must mirror who you are as a person. But how do you go about discovering and incorporating your style into your home?

“I suggest pulling pictures out of magazines or off the internet of spaces you like,” says Pamela Durkin, interior designer and owner of Pamela Durkin Designs. “You will see a pattern emerge, revealing your taste in style and color. Check out your closet, what colors/style do you like to wear. Are you a barefoot and softies person or a heels and party dress person? This will help you decide on the type of furniture and overall look you like. Spend a few hours on this and then sift through it, make a plan before heading out to shop.”

Design Mistake 4: Buying All Your Furniture In One Place

When you go to your favorite furniture store and find a display of what happens to be your ideal room, it can be tempting to buy all the pieces in the collection. As convenient as such a purchase would be, resist the urge. To make your home feel cozy, you need to give it character. Buying a matching bedroom set is not going to build that character; it’s merely going to make your bedroom feel like a showroom.

So, how do you furnish a room while also adding personality to the space? The answer is gradually. “A room or home should develop over time where meaningful pieces are added slowly,” says Laurie DiGiacomo, interior designer and owner of Laurie DiGiacomo Interiors. She adds that doing so will give your home “a more curated look.”

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Design Mistake 5: Pushing All Your Furniture Against The Wall

You may think that pushing all of your furniture against the wall will make the room feel more spacious – but think again. Having everything lining the perimeters actually causes the room to appear smaller and prevents it from feeling intimate. This habit, which is a huge pet peeve for many designers, has a tendency to make rooms feel unoriginal and lifeless.

But the fix is easy. As Justin Riordan, interior designer, architect and founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency, explains, “Don’t be afraid to float your furniture away from the walls. We never put a sofa closer than 6 inches from a wall. We use area rugs to provide a ‘boundary’ to tell us where the ‘edges’ of a room will fall. Provided the area rug is properly scaled, the room will turn out wonderfully using this strategy.”

Design Mistake 6: Using Rugs That Are Too Small For The Space

Since rugs are essential for creating boundaries for your furniture, you must make sure yours is the appropriate size. Rugs may not come cheap, but that doesn’t mean you should buy a smaller one in order to cut costs. Your rug must set the stage for your living room. If it’s too small, the rug will throw off the scale of your room and make the design seem haphazard.

To find the right size rug, you must consider the size and spacing of the furniture in the room.“It is important to make sure that all of the furniture fits on the rug, or at least the front legs of all of the seating in the space,” says DiGiacomo. You should pull out your measuring tape before heading to the store, but, generally speaking, a living room rug should be at least 8 by 10 feet.

Design Mistake 7: Failing To Consider Scale

You certainly want to vary the heights and sizes of your furniture to make the space more visually appealing, but oftentimes people forget to think about scale. When designing a room, it’s crucial to consider the size of each piece of furniture relative to the room and other pieces around it. An eight-person dining table will overwhelm a small room, just as a four-seater will be dwarfed by an oversized space. You don’t want your rooms to feel claustrophobic, nor do you want them to seem empty – balance is key.

Finding furniture that is the appropriate scale for the room requires a good eye, but there are tricks - and home design apps - to make it easier. “If you are having a hard time visualizing how big a piece should be, try taping it out on the floor or making a paper template. Main walkways in your home should be about 36 inches or a little bigger, but space getting around furniture can be more like 18-24 inches,” says Durkin.

Design Mistake 8: Overstuffing Your Rooms

Putting too much furniture in your rooms is another surefire way to make them feel cramped. Often, this design mistake is the result of trying to maximize your space and make your home conducive to your lifestyle. For instance, if you frequently work out of your home but don’t have enough space for a home office, you may find that you have to squeeze a desk into your bedroom or living room. Regardless of your needs, your home should feel balanced, and that means less is more.

Making your furniture more versatile will help you design your home to your advantage without overstuffing your rooms. “I like pieces that perform multiple purposes. A small desk in your bedroom also serves as a nightstand. A swivel chair in the living room can turn to watch TV or a beautiful view out the window. Less pieces but better ones will serve you for many years,” says Durkin.

Get a professional opinion.

Find local interior decorators to help on HomeAdvisor.

Design Mistake 9: Hanging Artwork Too High

Homes look incomplete with bare walls, and it can be challenging to find artwork that ties rooms together. In the excitement of finally finding the right pieces to display, people forget to consider the appropriate way to hang them. Art is commonly hung too high, and this habit grates on designers because it leads rooms to feel disjointed and awkward. There is an art to hanging, but we have some interior design tips to help you avoid making this prevalent mistake.

“I like art to be visually connected to a piece of furniture or fill up a wall space,” says Durkin. “If placing art above a sofa, I like it to start about 8 – 10 inches above the back so that it is close enough to feel like it is part of the scheme but far enough so you won't bump it when sitting on the sofa. I like to hang bigger pieces on a wall in the middle, so there is an even amount of space from top to bottom. Smaller pieces need to be grouped closer together (so they read as one element), about 2 inches apart, and I like the middle of the piece to be at about 5 ½ – 6 inches off the floor.”

Design Mistake 10: Relying On Just One Light Source

Having a single light source in each room may allow you to see in the dark, but it’s not doing your decor any favors. People commonly use only one overhead light fixture in each room, but this tendency results in spaces that feel dark and drab. Lighting should lead the eye to travel around the room and pull it all together, but to achieve that effect, you can’t rely on just one source.

Brighten your room and make it more visually appealing by layering your lighting. “People spend a lot of time on choosing the perfect chandelier or overhead lighting and not enough on making sure there is lighting at every level in the room,” DiGiacomo explains. “Lamps are the best way to ensure there is lighting at every level. Lamps lend a warmth and coziness to any room.”

Designing your perfect home is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. However, knowing how to avoid prevalent interior design mistakes is half the battle. Using the interior design tips included in this article will allow you to go forth and design your ideal home with confidence.

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Rachel Burris

Rachel Burris is a writer covering topics of interest to present and future homeowners, as well as industry insiders. Prior to joining Rocket Companies, she worked as an English teacher for the New York City Department of Education and a licensed real estate agent for Brown Harris Stevens. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Bucknell University, a postbaccalaureate certificate in psychology from Columbia University and a master's degree in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University.