Big Decorating Don'ts

How to Avoid Expensive Decorating Mistakes

Decorating mistake with furniture pushed against the walls.
Pushing the furniture against the walls is a waste of this lovely, light-filled space. Compassionate Eye Foundation/Rob Daly/OJO Images Ltd / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Some of the biggest decorating don'ts happen during the planning stages of a space, which is bad. If you buy the wrong lamp, that's a pretty easy fix. A conceptual mistake may force you to go back and start from scratch. Before you shop for furnishings or make permanent changes, review this list of five big decorating don'ts:

Don't Buy Matching Sets

You will never see homes with umpteen-piece sets of new, matching furniture featured in the pages of Elle Decor, House Beautiful, or Architectural Digest.

You may see pairs, trios, and even an antique dining table with the original chairs. But, magazine-worthy homes are not furnished during one stop at a furniture showroom or one call to a catalog store.

Well-appointed homes usually have a collected-over-time feel. The furnishings reflect the owners' histories and tastes -- not their abilities to buy entire sets all at once. Though the pieces look good together, they do not match. Style, shape, hardware and finish differences are some of the details that make a space look rich and layered.

You have an instant advantage by shopping for furnishings at flea markets, yard sales, antique malls, and estate sales. Single pieces are easier to find than sets. 

Don't Take Themes Too Far

Theme rooms can be lovely or terrible.

Terrible happens when you take the theme too far. Well-executed theme rooms are inspired by the theme, but not ruled by it.

If the room doesn't contain anything not related to the theme, you've taken the theme too far.

If you feel unnerved when you cross the threshold into your themed room, you've taken the theme too far.

If you require your guests to don wizard robes or speak with a Cajun accent, you've taken your Harry Potter or New Orleans theme much too far.

Fantasy is good. Fantasy that hinders real life isn't.

Don't Line the Walls with Furniture

Don't buy furniture without drawing a floor plan and trying different furniture arrangements.

If the furniture on your floor plan lines the walls, you haven't explored all the options -- or even the best ones.

Even if the best place for your sofa turns out to be flush with the living room wall, the rest of the seating area shouldn't be. That's not a good use of your space --  and it's not the way to encourage conversation.

Living rooms, gathering rooms, and dens should all have at least one primary seating area (aka conversation grouping). That means folks seated can converse while speaking in fairly hushed voices. 

Don't Limit Yourself to a Single Style or Period

You don't live in a museum. You probably don't even live on a historic estate. Therefore, there's no reason to restrict yourself to a single furniture style or period.

Even those fortunate few who do live in historic estates probably have furniture from the numerous period's previous occupants lived through.

If you love furnishings of a certain style or period, use them by all means. But, accent with complementary pieces from a range of different periods to avoid a stale, stuck-in-time look.

For example, if you love the cleaned-lined, sturdy look of Arts & Crafts and Mission furniture, use it -- but not exclusively. Instead, enhance the look with curvier (but equally weighty) Jacobean, William & Mary, and Gothic Revival wood furniture. Then, add a contemporary piece or two made of metal to contrast with the warm woods.

Don't Follow Trends You Don't Like

Never follow a trend you don't like.

For example, if you hated flame-stitch fabric in the seventies and eighties, don't buy a chevron-printed rug or chair just because Pinterest and your catalogs tell you it's in style.

For one, you'll hate it. For another, today's trend is tomorrow's avocado-green refrigerator. A trend is only a viable decorating option if you'll still love it when the trend ends.

Stick with classics (which never go out of style) and trends from any season that you've always adored.