12 of the most common decorating mistakes most people make when choosing paint colors, furniture layouts, and styling, and tips on how to avoid them.
Good griefous, y’all. There are times I think about ALL of the doofus decorating mistakes I made when I first started attempting to beautify our house, and part of me wishes someone had warned me!
Like yes, the colors on the little paint chips in the paint store DO look totally different than they will painted onto the walls in your dark bedroom.
No, do not decorate around the piece of furniture you know you really hate.
Girl, listen, stop trying to make a postage stamp rug work in a giant living room. It’s not gonna happen.
But apparently, sometimes you have to learn things the hard way. Or at least, I did!
This is a post I’ve been meaning to share for so long, and since some of them came up in the Bless’er House Budget Decorating Community recently (which you can sign up to join here), I thought now was a great time to spill ’em all. Friend to friend.
12 Common Decorating Mistakes and How to Avoid Them:
1. Not testing paint colors before buying.
We made this mistake in our last house all because I chose a paint color from a fan deck while sitting on my parents’ living room sofa at night by lamplight (just so you know, picking paint colors in bad lighting that isn’t even in your own house is a bad idea). And after Robert and my father-in-law painted our entire downstairs in that dark, yellowy beigey shade, I knew I’d made a huge mistake. But there was no turning back.
Lesson learned: Pick out a few favorite paint colors from paper swatches; get some sample pots of those colors; paint them on a piece of white foam board; tape them to your walls; and take a day or two to look at those paint colors throughout the day in all kinds of light to make your final decision. You’ll thank yourself later. If you need a leg up, here are some of my favorite go-to neutral shades.
2. Decorating with too many small accessories
I used to cram 20 different little decor accents on a dresser or end table or shelf because I liked all of them individually. And I figured, well, hey it’ll all look cute together. But it ended up being a cluttery looking mess.
Lesson learned: Less is more. Vary heights and sizes of accents you use on tabletops. And follow these tips that might help.
Feast your eyes on one of my very first posts… Mmmhm. Yeah. Good stuff.
3. Not having plants
Before I figured this one out, I’d look at a room and think, “Something is… missing.” And I could never put my finger on it until that “ah ha” moment. Oh yeah! Life… living things.
See those shelves below? Put your fingers over those 3 little plants and what does it look like? Blah. That’s what.
Lesson learned: Even if you have a black thumb and have to use the artificial kind instead, plants brighten a room and make the space feel alive.
4. Having too many picture frames on tabletops
Any time I see “decorating tips” articles telling me to hang art and stay away from displaying family photos, I think, “You have lost your dang mind. People live here, not robots.”
But back when I filled up entire console tables with picture frames of family, I realized it was crazy overwhelming, sort of like the knick-knacky problem in decorating mistake #2.
Lesson learned: Display family photos in a gallery wall, and if you’re extra particular about wanting it to look clean, simple, and modern, opt for simple black and white prints in black frames. Instant streamlined decor but still sentimental (and timeless).
5. Having exposed cables and cords
When we first put up our TV in our old house, it was a tangled mess, but I didn’t really know how to resolve it, so we just lived with it for a while.
Lesson learned: Pick up some cord covers, wrap them around your cords, stick them to the wall, paint them the same color as your wall, and ta da! Cords are disguised.
Do you see our cords on the left side of our window seat? Cord covers, baby. They’re just barely noticeable.
6. Decorating around something you hate
If I had a dollar for every time I tried to decorate around a piece of furniture I hated instead of just selling it and using the money to buy something I actually liked, I’d have quite a few bucks. Decorating around something you hate to make it work = an entire room you’ll hate along with it.
See this corner? I absolutely despised this leather chair. (Also, that’s the infamous dreaded paint color from mistake #1.) I tried adding a million things to the wall behind that chair in hopes of distracting from it… and made the situation worse…
Lesson learned: You don’t have to have the money to buy a new replacement piece of furniture to swap out the piece you don’t like. Thrift stores, Facebook buy/sell/trade groups, consignment shops, yard sales, and Craigslist are packed full of potential (here are some of my best Craigslisting tips).
But sometimes, you’ll even get lucky with new. This IKEA Stocksund chair cost the same amount that we sold that old leather chair for on Craigslist.
7. Not decluttering before redecorating
You know those “Love It or List It” shows on HGTV? Half the time, when the homeowners are walking around talking about how much they dislike their house and how “dysfunctional” it is, most of their problems would be solved just by decluttering.
Lesson learned: Before I can fully wrap my brain around how to decorate a space, I remove everything. EVERYTHING! Sort, donate, and come up with a way to organize what you do keep, and then the pretty decor can follow. (Here is a decluttering checklist that can help.)
8. Having too much furniture
In our dining room in our old house, I tried to put way too many pieces of furniture in the space because I thought there was some kind of rule that a dining room just had to have a big table, 6 bulky dining chairs, a large buffet, wall decor, accent table… I mean jeez! There was no room to move in there.
Lesson learned: Rooms crammed with furniture feel smaller. Figure out what pieces you use the most and try to scale back on the rest.
9. Using rugs that are too small
One time, I stuck a 4×6 rug underneath our dining room table because hey… it fit. But the chairs didn’t and it got in the way and looked awkward. And seriously… if it just creates an obstacle every day, why have it?
Lesson learned: I discovered this handy little infographic one day and hello! Light bulb moment! Generally, I use a minimum of 8×10 rugs under beds and in living rooms (9×12 for larger spaces) and at least a 6×9 under a dining table (as long as all four chair legs fit on it too).
10. Too many patterns
I think I used to have a phobia of solid fabrics. Because at one point, every single rug, curtain, and pillow had some sort of print or pattern on it. And it was the busiest mess ever.
Lesson learned: Stick to about three fabric patterns at a time. I like to use a vintage style rug because the print is fluid and very forgiving and combine it with a nature-inspired print, a geometric print, and a solid fabric or two that still have some sort of interesting texture.
11. Picture frames hung too high
I used to hang photos way up high and level with door frames until I started flipping through magazines and realized I was doing it totally wrong.
Lesson learned: Hang wall decor and art at eye-level. (And not like Shaquille O’Neal eye-level.)
12. Not using any color
When I first started decorating our last house, the basic premise was beige on brown on gray on greige, and it was a total snooze-fest! (Adding in tip #3 by incorporating a couple of plants helped at first though, until I figured that out.)
Lesson learned: I still love neutrals. Our current living room is totally white at the moment. BUT the fun part about neutral walls is you can have fun with color in the accents, if you’re scared to go too permanent.
I love incorporating blue and green for my color-timid self because both are widely found in nature and they don’t feel quite as shocking to the eye, if you’re shy about going too bold. Maybe eventually, your color phobic self will even find the courage to paint your kitchen cabinets a deep green. 😉
If only I figured out all of these things before I started on this decorating journey…
But then again, that’s the fun part of the adventure. We all have to start somewhere. Make mistakes, figure out what speaks to you, and keep going with what you love. The rest will follow.
If you have any others you’d add, leave them in the comments! Maybe it’ll save me from other mistakes I might look back at and cringe. 😉