7 Designers on the Design "Rules" They Always Break

Colorful room with multiple patterns

Design: Bee's Knees Interior Design / Photography: Tamara Flanagan Photography

Whether unspoken or boldly encouraged, design rules are helpful in some respects but can also be limiting and intimidating. Will the two different styles of bedside tables you've fallen in love with ruin the flow of your room if you pair them together? Will you be shrinking your small living room even more by painting it a deep tone?

Although rules are made to guide designers and fans of design, they can snuff out creativity and out-of-the-box thinking—two vital components needed for turning your home into a unique collection of personal designs and rooms you adore.

But as a few designers comfortingly asserted: rules are meant to be broken. These seven experts divulged the rules they have no problem shattering and rethinking, and included plenty of exciting and creative ways for doing so with confidence.

Rule: Playing It Safe With Color Combinations

Jessica Shaw, The Turett Collaborative's interior design director encourages everyone to release the fear of breaking design rules. "While there are valuable tips stemming from color theory, rules are made to be broken—sometimes, anything goes, and unexpected color combinations work well," she explains.

Stylistically speaking, some colors look great together or a certain combination can lead to a room emitting a certain feeling or atmosphere, but that doesn't mean one color palette is "correct" compared to another. "Color is a personal preference, what works for you, might not work for others," says Shaw. "Gauge how comfortable you are with a particular color, does it bring you joy or does it deplete your energy? Let your reaction to the color influence your design palette. From there, just let your creativity flow!"

Fearful of wandering into clash territory? You're not alone, according to interior designer Daria Demin NCIDQ, ASID, of CIRCA 22 Design Studio. "I think the rule that everything has to match in our space is deeply rooted with most of us," she explains. "But that is one of the rules I love to break. The color or tone should be different for every piece I choose."

Dark tone small desk space

House Nine Design, Architecture + Management

Rule: Small Rooms Should Be Painted Light

Coating pint-sized spaces in any color other than a bright white or creamy ivory is a surefire way to make it feel smaller or more cramped, right? Not necessarily. Annie Elliott of Annie Elliott Design says that this idea is simply a myth—how big a room feels doesn't solely come down to color. "When you paint walls (and trim, and ceiling!) a medium or dark color, shadows are less visible and the space can look expansive," she explains. "Additionally, a small room with rich colors on the walls is so cozy...who says you have to try to make every room feel big and bright?"

Interior Designer Karen Rohr at Mackenzie Collier Interiors agrees, noting that a "one-size-fits-all solution" doesn't exist for making a compact room feel expansive. "While some people swear by the benefits of painting small rooms white to make them appear more spacious, this isn't always necessary or even the best option," she says. "There's more to consider than just the size: the room's natural light, ceiling heights, and most importantly, the personality you want to add to it." Her best advice is for people to get comfortable with experimentation. Try different palettes, play with dimensions, and don't be scared to rearrange furniture or rethink a paint choice.

Rule: Avoid Pattern Mixing

A variety of prints doesn't create the messy and obnoxious result some might assume it does. Mary Maloney of Bee's Knees Interior Design notes there's no need to shy away from mixing patterns. The key to doing it right and making sure things look complementary rather than clashing is sticking with the same hue throughout each of the patterns, she recommends.

Even remarkably dissimilar prints can shine when paired together, as Daria Demin of CIRCA 22 Design Studio explains. "I love matching plaid and flowers or dots and stripes," she says. "It gives it so much movement and life." Picking a starting point can be intimidating, but a wallpapered accent wall or playful curtains and throw pillows in different patterns is one way of easing into it.

Green buffet in dining room

Design: Annie Elliot Design / Photography: Jenn Verrier

Rule: Never Paint Antique Furniture

There's an unspoken rule that old antique items should be left as-is. Though some people might balk at the thought of altering an old table or vintage wardrobe, this can often be the unique touch a room is yearning for. Great craftsmanship should be admired, but so should a creative reimagining of a piece.

"If you hate a piece of furniture because it's big and brown and heavy, consider painting it," says Annie Elliott of Annie Elliott Design. "A high-gloss coat of colorful—or white—paint is a great way to give furniture new life. And if you want to keep a traditional feel, consider painting the piece black with gold metallic striping around the door and drawer panels."

Bedroom with mismatch bedside tables

Design: Annie Elliott Design / Photography: Kip Dawkins

Rule: Bedside Tables Have to Match

Time to breathe a sigh of relief: matching bedside tables aren't essential for a well-styled room. Plus, there are way too many fantastic models of nightstands out there to limit yourself to just one look. Elliott believes a unique selection for each side can still feel balanced.

"Even in a traditional bedroom, if you have a tier table on one side of the bed and a chest on the other, they'll look harmonious if they're both the same material (a dark stained wood, for example)," she says. "Placing matching lamps on unmatching tables is another way to bring unity to the room." The one caveat is height, according to Elliott. As long as they're equally sized height-wise (or close to it), you're golden.

Modern room with large leaning mirror

Vicente Wolf

Rule: Always Hang Up Mirrors

Designer Vicente Wolf is another expert who believes rules are made to be broken. Are they helpful? Sure, for things such as distance and understanding how colors work together, he explains, but ignoring other rules can lead to spaces that truly shine and stand out from the rest. One he frequently forgoes is the idea that mirrors must be hung up.

"Starting in the late '70s, I began propping mirrors against a wall," says Wolf. "I wanted a different effect than something staid and conventional that breaks the continuity of reflection. I adore using large-scale mirrors propped against a wall. It allows one to see the floor upwards, changing the dynamic of the space while still benefitting from its room-expanding and reflective qualities."

Rule: Matching Is Mandatory

Symmetry and cohesion are attractive to the eye, which explains the numerous design rules out there related to matching colors, textures, finishes, and shapes in a home. It's safe and can certainly be beautiful, but so can concocting an eclectic blend—and there are many a room in which this can happen.

Rohr says: "Matching is a perfect example of a rule that is just too boring to join the bandwagon [on] these days." It is ironic though, especially since she believes mixing is "one of the best ways to add character to your home," whether it's through switching up wood finishes or combining multiple aesthetics.

"Be sure to maintain a balance to avoid over-saturation and choose similar tones for large pieces like sofas and tables, and then use smaller accessories to add pops of contrast," she suggests. "With a little trial and error, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to create a unique space that reflects your style." Even better is that this method has a sustainability aspect. Rohr adds that sourcing furniture from secondhand stores or sites can lead to a lovely compilation of textures that look great and are less impactful on the environment.

How else can contrasting looks be worked into a home? Vicente Wolf makes this happen in the dining room. "Mixing chairs around the table creates a more interesting environment where people can even select the seating they wish to sit in," he says. "I rarely do dining chairs all the same. I much prefer creating a balance by blending banquette seating with various kinds of upholstered chairs."

Smaller details shouldn't be overlooked either. "I believe mixing metals gives the home layers and warmth," says Jessica Nicastro of the eponymously-named design studio. "I love the look of mixing bronze and brass and polished nickel and brass, it really allows for the warmth of the metals to show."

These are a small sampling of the design rules swirling around in the world and the many ways in which they can successfully be broken. What's essential to remember is that design is fluid and no rules should bar you from following the itch to paint the walls of a tiny office deep navy blue or blending patterns in throw pillows. As Rohr emphasizes: "There is always room for creativity."