The Decor Secrets Designers Wish They Knew Sooner

Eccentric decor in a home interior

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Procrastinating a design project can come down to many things, but one of the biggest is the fear of messing up. Just remember this: one of the best ways of learning is through doing and mistakes are simply part of the process. This advice is admittedly easier to dish out than it is to practice, but getting comfortable with mishaps and learning from them will make you a stronger designer.

Whether you're a new interior designer or an avid fan who's learning the ropes for your own home, don't go it alone. Several experts shared their biggest mistakes and tips so you can avoid trouble from the get-go.

More Is More with Lighting

Mark Cutler of culterschulze has 30 years of experience under his belt and a fair share of lessons he's learned—one of which has to do with lighting. "It is always better to have too much light, that can then be dimmed," he explains. "If you do not have enough, then there is not a lot you can do about it. Also have a combination of light types if at all possible, mixing recessed, decorative, and lamps, it will give you a lot more options in the room to create a variety of moods."

Blue couch in room

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Know Your Fabrics and Materials

Cutler also stresses the importance of understanding your fabrics and materials. Want a white bouclé chair? Make sure the fabric is stain-resistant. Tempted by a velvet couch? Check the material isn't too high maintenance. For Cutler, viscose is a no-go. "Viscose-based fabrics feel really great on the hand, but they do not stand up to everyday wear—the slightest moisture (like a sweaty teenager) and the pile will flatten out, never to return again!"

Research Your Appliance Brands

Beth Strongwater of Studio Strongwater explains that not all appliance brands or equal when it comes to installation, quality, or usability—something she aims to teach clients. Brands vary wildly: "Some have easy installation and are plug-and-play, while others end up costing more because of complicated mechanisms or adjustments to walls/cabinetry etc.," she says, adding that "it's best to invest in pieces that are going to last or that have changeable panel-ready doors (refrigerators and dishwashers) that make it easier to change cabinetry down the road."

Don't Simplify Sofa Shopping

Online shopping is the norm for many people these days, even for big-ticket items like sofas. While it's doable, it should be done carefully. Do you have to physically test out a couch these days? Definitely not, but Strongwater says you need to pin down how you define comfortable. "How high the back of a sofa is, how deep, and how low to the ground it is are all crucial dimensions to be able to fit the piece not only in the room layout, but to fit it to the lifestyle and expectations of comfort which may be unique to each client," she says.

Less Is More With Mood Boards

Mood boards—whether physical, created digitally, or crafted on Pinterest—can be a huge asset or a huge source of stress. Nina Grauer of Dekay & Tate notes that offering endless options to clients can backfire. "You can always go back and add more if they don’t care for any of the selections you choose, but most of the time less is more," she says. "Many options can be incredibly overwhelming, especially when you are doing an entire house and have a lot of rooms ahead of you." 

White living room

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Swatch White Paint—Always

All designers and design fans know that shades of white are vastly different. Even so, many people are a little too comfortable with purchasing gallons of paint and going to town without swatching. Jessica Nicastro of Jessica Nicastro Designs warns against this. "You absolutely cannot pick a white paint without seeing it in the space first," she says. "White paint is super tricky and looks different in every single home depending on natural light, flooring, etc."

Know Your Furniture Dimensions

Mark Lavender, the principal designer of M. Lavender Interiors, says his biggest piece of advice is "to measure twice and cut once." The extra minute it takes can save you a lot of money and a world of hurt. "Most of the mistakes any designer seems to make is to measure something incorrectly or not measure and assume you know something will fit. When it arrives, guess what, it doesn’t."

Understand Dimensions in General

Numerous designers agree: dimensions are everything and without accurate measurements, it's hard to properly furnish and decorate. Eilyn Jimenez, founder and creative director of Sire Design says this was a mistake she made once and never made again with a 10-foot-long custom sofa. "After waiting months for it to arrive, on delivery day, we realized that we failed to take the dimensions of the elevator, requiring us to take it up via a crane, or up the elevator shaft." $5,000 and a nerve-wracking ride up an old shaft later, the couch was unscathed and a lesson was learned.

Large chair in a room

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Scale Matters

Like dimensions, understanding scale is essential for decorating an aesthetically-pleasing room—something Rachel Burger, an interior designer at JL Design, learned the hard way. "Oftentimes as a designer you think about having a large piece of furniture to create a statement in a room, but it is important to create a balance," she says. "Whether the room be big or small, you always want one piece of furniture that will draw the eye in." Her key to finding harmony in a room is by layering pieces of various scales and sizes.