Interior Designers Always Spot These Surprising Design No-Nos

Expert tips to turn your design “oops” into “ahhs”

Living room with a rug that is too small

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

In interior design, as in many areas of life, trends come and go. Sure, some styles fall into the classic camp, but most looks take their turn in the spotlight, then fade away to be reinvented and resurrected for another run down the line. Avocado green everything, anyone?

No matter what you fancy in terms of home decor and design, there are some universal “don’ts” that will prevent your space from being a standout—in a good way, at least. And some of the nation’s top interior designers say they keep seeing them over and over again. Take a look at this list and see if you are making mistakes that turn your design into a disaster.

Disproportional Accents

Audrey Kuether, a Kansas City designer who also created the popular Oh So Lovely blog, says using the wrong size rug is a sure way to throw your room off balance.

“Sometimes I see people use rugs that are way too small for the space, and it makes the whole room feel off,“ she says. “It’s important to ensure that your rug is big enough to fit under the feet of your furniture.”

Rugs are generally used as an accent and a way to warm up a space, tying together different design elements. Make sure that such a statement piece is big enough to make an impact instead of looking like an afterthought.

Going Overboard With Furniture

It is tempting to keep adding to a room, especially if you come across a bargain or a piece that you think would look just perfect in your living room. Don’t give in every time.

“Putting too much furniture in a space is something I see a lot of,” says Emily Henderson, a Los Angeles-based stylist. And she knows what she is talking about: Henderson is a winner of “Design Star,” host of HGTV’s “Secrets From a Stylist” and has become one of Target’s favorite home experts. 

“It’s incredibly easy to want to fill a space, using every square inch, but leaving some negative space will not only make your room look better but will make your mind feel less cluttered.”

Buying Matching Furniture

It isn’t just how much furniture you pack into a room: The kind of pieces you push together might be sending a message you didn’t intend.

“Many people will purchase a matching furniture set because they think it looks put together and coordinated,” says Bobby Berk, a successful designer based in Los Angeles who is also the design guru on Netflix’s wildly popular series Queer Eye. “It can actually do the opposite, as it looks like you added a furniture showroom to your house and voids your space of any character.”

If you fall in love with a particular piece of furniture, go for it. And then use that item, whether it be a sofa, dining room table or a chair, to build the perfect room. 

“The better option is to choose pieces that connect to each other visually, whether it's through color or design style, but have their own unique feel,” Berk says. “This will create a room with a lot more interest, and one that will feel like a reflection of your unique taste (not a store).”

Too Many Canned Lights

Canned lights can help you have even lighting in a room, especially in one that doesn’t get a lot of natural light. But you can definitely go too far. 

"The overuse of canned lighting is a serious issue for me,” says Amhad Freeman, owner of Amhad Freeman Interiors. “Clients often mistake ‘good lighting’ to mean as many lights as possible, without a clear understanding of lighting and its impact. Clients fail to realize that fewer canned lights doesn't mean less light — and I'm over the Swiss cheese ceiling look!”

That doesn’t mean you have to give up canned lights altogether. “An easy solution here is moving from a traditional 6-inch downlight to a 3 or 4-inch option, which allows for the same illumination with a more discreet opening,” says Freeman. “To shed my own light on the topic, I opt for up-lighting, lamps, and accent lighting to create a customized, layered environment that offers dimension and comfort to any space."

Hanging Window Treatments Incorrectly

Window coverings add interest, texture and warmth to a room. Putting them up incorrectly can draw attention for the wrong reasons.

“Hanging curtains at the wrong height. I see this one all the time,” says Berk. “Everyone thinks they should hang their curtains at the same height as the window. But you actually want to hang them from ceiling height to make a room look taller. And curtains should just graze the floor - if they're too short it will just look like you bought the wrong length or ran out of fabric. These details really do make a huge difference when it comes to the overall look of a room and that final "polish" on a space.”

Bad Placement of Wall Art

Curtains aren’t the only things hanging low in many homes. Pictures and paintings with less-than-perfect placement are a real issue.

Cynthia Stafford and Lindi Bolinger, owners of TruDesign Colorado, often see artwork in some off-the-wall spots. “Either it's too low or too high, which can make it appear as though it has been randomly placed," the duo says. “It should always feel intentional. This is accomplished by ensuring the middle of your artwork is at eye level. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as a gallery wall. Luckily, this is something that can easily be corrected in your home.”

See some of the things on this list in your home? Don’t fret. Ultimately, your space should be a reflection of your style and how you live. Take tips from these experts and you can turn your “oops” into “ahhs” that make your spaces even more fabulous.