15 Decorating Rules You Need to Break

No amazing interior was ever created by sticking to tired decorating rules. If you're ready to revamp your place, you need to toss out at least a few. They're more like guidelines than rules anyway -- misguided guidelines in many cases. Here are 15 decorating rules to break:

  • 01 of 15

    Break the Rule: Don't Mix Decorating Periods or Styles

    Classic room with a mix of antique and modern furnishings
    CC BY 2.0, "Living room" by Monika Clarke / cropped from original

    This architecturally blessed space would look great filled with period-appropriate furnishings, but it wouldn't be nearly as striking. The entire unusual mix -- antique sofa, retro lamp, and mid-century modern chairs -- works, but the big black sphere and ornate ceiling medallion steal the show.

  • 02 of 15

    Break the Rule: The Wood Finishes in a Room Have to Match

    It's not just okay to mix the wood finishes in a room; it's preferable. Few things look as boring as an umpteen-piece matching set. Same species, same finish, same hardware, same details... just blah.

    I don't even know how matching the wood became a "rule." No decorating pro I've known would try to sell you on the idea of a matching set -- well, not unless she actually was trying to sell you the set.

  • 03 of 15

    Break the Rule: Don't Use Dark Colors on the Walls

    Black walls in a Charleston farmhouse, Firle, East Sussex, England
    VisitBritain/Britain on View/Getty Images
    How many times have you heard that you shouldn't use dark colors on the walls, especially in a small space? Don't believe it. Dark can look divine. The black walls in the photo, for example, turn a typical English country dining area into a cozy, yet dramatic space.
  • 04 of 15

    Break the Rule: Don't Mix Metals

    Bah. Advising DIY decorators not to mix metal finishes is like telling people not to wear black with brown. Oh wait, they do tell people that. Well, they're wrong about both. Feel free to mix brass, bronze, silver, gold, nickel, and chrome in all of their brushed, polished, lacquered, and antiqued versions.

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  • 05 of 15

    Break the Rule: You Have to Coordinate the Furnishings

    Homestead Seattle frequently features the layered look.
    Homestead Seattle interior. medvjek/CC BY 2.0/Flickr

    Even those who agree that matching sets are the devil often get stuck on having everything coordinate.

    Yes, the mood or presentation board (I'm including decorating pros here, so don't feel offended DIY folks) looks prettier when everything is selected so it works with everything else, but the execution frequently falls flat. It's too perfect.

    To make it exciting, you have to mess things up a little. Add a few oddities for interest and mix in some pieces that just don't belong. If...MORE you buy into conventional rules on coordinating, the room in the photo shouldn't work. But it does.

    Image by Homestead Seattle brightened and color enhanced from original.

  • 06 of 15

    Break the Rule: You Have to Paint the Woodwork White

    Visit a model home in any suburb and you'll assume woodwork is supposed to be white.

    White is frequently a good choice for balancing a strong wall color or for making the molding stand out. But, you can also opt for dark woodwork painted black, charcoal, or espresso. To keep it light, pale gray and butter cream are good alternatives to white. Using a lighter or darker shade of your wall color looks striking, but use a glossy paint instead of flat. And, if the wood is good, staining it is a...MORE classic choice.

  • 07 of 15

    Break the Rule: Display Only Your Finest Things

    Vintage accessories and found objects mix on an antique desk.
    Vignette by Denise Carbonell of Metal and Thread. CC BY 2.0, flickr photo by denise carbonell

    Unless you're entertaining Hyacinth Bucket (that's pronounced "bouquet"), nobody cares how much your ornaments cost. They might notice if a piece is particularly fine, but they're more likely to be impressed by a skillful vignette -- even if it contains objects you gathered during a woodsy walk or while rummaging through the neighbor's trash.

  • 08 of 15

    Break the Rule: Don't Use Too Many Patterns

    They say too many patterns make a space look busy and you should limit their use. I say "they" don't know the right way to mix patterns.

    To keep things controlled, you can vary the pattern types and scales. For a free spirited look, go ahead and mix patterns with abandon. Get a bohemian look by layering large-scale florals. Or, give your rustic interior an eclectic vibe by mixing a lumberjack convention's worth of different plaids.

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  • 09 of 15

    Break the Rule: The Ceiling Should Be White

    Retro chairs in a formal room with decorative painted ceiling.
    Paul Viant /The Image Bank /Getty Images

    Who decided that ceilings are supposed to be white? Michelangelo would be quite disappointed to learn he'd made such a terrible mistake.

    Think of the ceiling as the fifth wall. Ignoring it makes no sense. If white works, no problem. But don't assume it's the only option, or even the best one. In the photo, the decorative ceiling is what makes the entire room work. 

    Paint the ceiling lighter than the walls to make it seem higher. Paint it darker to make the room look cozier. For a...MORE monochromatic look, choose ceiling paint that's a lighter or darker version of your wall paint. Or, go all out and paint the ceiling with a multi-colored decorative mural or design.

  • 10 of 15

    Break the Rule: The Living Room Has to Have a Sofa

    I remember suggesting an antique daybed for a client's living room. She was shocked -- not because she didn't like the idea, but because she assumed the living room had to have a sofa. It doesn't.

    A daybed isn't the only good alternative. You might substitute a settee, loveseat, or chaise. You could even use a salvaged section of old stadium seats. Or, skip the long piece entirely and opt for a trio or quartet of cushy upholstered chairs. 

  • 11 of 15

    Break the Rule: The Chairs Have to Match the Table

    A mix of colorful painted chairs gives this dining area a playful look.
    Mikael Dubois/Getty Images

    Your dining chairs don't have to match, and the chairs certainly don't have to match the table. Since dining rooms don't have many soft surfaces to break up that big expanse of wood, skipping the set actually adds vital visual interest. As long as the mix is complementary and physically fits, a mix-and-match dining look usually works.

  • 12 of 15

    Break the Rule: Don't Use More Than Three Colors in a Room

    For decades, decorators advised limiting the color scheme to one main color and two accents. That's fine if you like the look, but it's too restrictive to create a truly brilliant interior.

    Even if you start with just three colors, use as many lighter tints and darker shades of those colors as you like. Feel free to add neutrals and metallics to the mix; they usually don't count. And, if you get the urge to add a layer of a completely different color, go for it.

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  • 13 of 15

    Break the Rule: The Kitchen Appliances Have to Match

    It's fine if the kitchen appliances all match, but not a must -- especially if you want a special piece to stand out. 

    I used to have an old gas range, a big one with a griddle in the middle of the cooktop. It was black and the other appliances were a soft white.

    A friend swapped his swanky stainless fridge for the 1960-something model in his parents' garage, the kind with rounded corners and an interior freezer you have to defrost. On its way to its new home, the vintage fridge made a pit...MORE stop at an auto body shop, where it got a new fire engine red finish.

  • 14 of 15

    Break the Rule: Small Rooms Need Small Furniture

    A small room with small-scale furniture is still small. It doesn't look bigger because you squeezed more in -- and if any of the occupants are broad or tall, the furnishings may not even be functional.

    Instead, opt for fewer medium to largish pieces. And, since there's less to draw the eye, make sure each piece can stand up to the scrutiny.

  • 15 of 15

    Break the Rule: Start with a Neutral Base

    This is not bad advice, especially if you also prefer neutrals in your wardrobe, or if your color tastes tend to change. But it shouldn't be a rule. People with consistent color preferences may also prefer a bolder, more intense base. Others like to decorate around a colorful signature piece.