The Best Decorating Tips Designers Learned From Their Moms

Listen to your mothers!

Two designers with their moms.

Photos: Courtesy of Anne Hepfer and Paige Gray / Illustration: The Spruce

When it comes to developing an eye for design, most of us have our introductory decor lessons at an extremely early age: in our childhood homes. Just by watching our own moms and mother figures nest, we walk away with more than we realize. Eventually, these little tips, tricks, and style hacks become a way of life. 

In honor of Mother’s Day, we turned to our favorite designers to ask them for the top tips they learn from their beloved mothers and or mother-like people in their lives.

  • 01 of 14

    Celebrate Classics and Quality

    Fireplace heart in living room next to white built ins.

    Aspen & Ivy

    “My tip from my mother is to pick classic and timeless pieces to fill your space with, focusing on neutral colors for the larger furniture items and then having fun with smaller décor pieces that can be easily changed out.” —Madison Staples, Aspen & Ivy

    “My parents always bought quality furniture that would stand the test of time, and my mother emphasized taking the best care of our furniture. There was no setting a sweating water glass on a wood side table to make a mark in our home. She also regularly had our sofas spot cleaned and treated in order to get the longest life out of our upholstery, as well as wood properly cleaned and dusted. These are tips I convey to my clients today." —Amy Youngblood, Owner & Principal Designer, Amy Youngblood Interiors

    “White furnishings never goes out of style and navy blue will always be classic.” —Anne Mahoney, Anne Lydia Design

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  • 02 of 14

    Take Bold Risks

    Bedroom with vaulted ceilings and settee at end of bed.

    Interior Impressions

    "My mother is a big fan of having a consistent color scheme. She taught me not to be afraid of color, but to embrace it in a bold way. Multiple uses throughout a space are impactful and leave a lasting impression." —Nicole Fisher, BNR Interiors  

    "My mom encouraged aesthetic risks—she never shied from color or contrast. Though she had grown up in a home adorned with collectibles, she never hesitated to include her children's art in her own home decor. Her space planning was always subject to our family's evolving lifestyle and interests. Because she was a Zoology Major and author of children's books, her interiors usually included terrariums complete with reptiles and or amphibians." —James Copeland, Founder, Hudson Design

    “Growing up, I remember my mom was not afraid to experiment with color on the walls or fabric on our furniture. She liked to be creative in her space. I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid at one point, and she painted an ‘Under the Sea’ mural in the entire bathroom, with painted fish, sea creatures, and real seashells on the walls to create this realistic experience. I learned to experiment and enjoy the creative process while designing a space, to not be shy when mixing colors, and not to be defined by what is ‘in style’ now. She gave me the tools to go with my heart at the moment.” —Sam Tannehill, Sam Tannehill Designs

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  • 03 of 14

    Never Overdo It

    Simplistic dining nook with statement white chandelier.

    Think Chic Interiors

    “I think the best piece of advice I was given from my mom is a Coco Chanel quote, 'Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.'  The same goes with decorating—always edit.  You can't have every fabric you ever wanted in one space.” —Jennifer Hunter

    "My mother read to us quite often when we were young, and my all-time favorite insight from her comes directly from her very favorite children's book, called Simple Pictures Are Best by Nancy Willard with illustrations by Tomie dePaola. It taught me that the simplest of designs can require better and more complex details. They can be harder to execute, but I find they really are always the best. Editing, streamlining, and making strategic design choices set the work up to succeed, allow for more beauty to be noticed, and give everything space to breathe. I believe that little book is out of print, but I can't recommend it enough. Thanks, mom!" —Mindy O'Connor, Melinda Kelson O'Connor Architecture & Interiors

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  • 04 of 14

    Trust Your Instincts

    Clean and warm dining room with flowers on table.

    Georgia Zikas Design

    "A design tip my mother taught me that continues to stay with me in my professional career today is to always design something that feels really good to you. If it feels good, then you know you did a great job." —Brittany Farinas, House of One

    “My mother, and especially my grandmother, taught me that if you’re creative enough, there’s almost always a way to find a solution.” —Lauren Sullivan, Well x Design

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  • 05 of 14

    Ignore the ‘Rules’

    Brown and cream kitchen with silver hanging pendant lights.

    Think Chic Interiors

    “My mother instilled in me not to always abide by design rules. White and cream do go together!” —Malka Helft, Think Chic Interiors

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  • 06 of 14

    Create the Perfect Kitchen

    Country cottage kitchen with large farmhouse sink.

    Liza Reyes Design

    “My grandmother, Rosalia, had an influence on my entire sense of home. As a truly talented cook, her kitchens were an inspiration to me—especially the importance of designing a functional space so the cook can move with efficiency between stations like chopping, rinsing, and cooking. Whenever possible, I like to incorporate slatted wood shelves into the cabinetry, plan for storing items like onions and potatoes, and a ledge or special spot for growing herbs and hanging chiles. My grandmother designed her home with the intention of family life, which included big family meals, unexpected visits, and a true sense of peace. She was a master of creating a sense of home.” —Liza Reyes, Liza Reyes Design

    My grandmother designed her home with the intention of family life, which included big family meals, unexpected visits, and a true sense of peace. She was a master of creating a sense of home.

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  • 07 of 14

    Surround Yourself With Reminders of Love

    Living room with cozy vibes and trinkets.

    Interior Impressions

    “Implement family heirlooms. Implementing sentimental value into your home design is so special and timeless. And put up your favorite photos—you'll never regret having your favorite captured moments displayed.” —Amy Leferink, Interior Impressions

    "Growing up, the pieces I loved were the pieces that were passed down through generations. Family heirlooms were curated throughout the home, expertly mixed with contemporary additions, but the heirlooms are what capture my attention when I enter a room. They are the pieces that tell a story. From those additions, I have learned to curate pieces such as those within my own design and that of my clients. Adding a personal and timeless design element that never goes out of style." —Christina Manzo, Decorist

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  • 08 of 14

    Have an Eye for Finding Treasures

    Bright bedroom with teal bed frame and white linens.

    Bee's Knees Interior Design

    “My mom came to this country at 16 with no money and very little education, but boy did she have an eye! She could spot a piece with good bones from a mile away. ‘Curbside treasures’ had to be carried home, as she did not drive until later in life. I was mortified at the time, but I learned that those finds were priceless. She kept an impeccable nest, inside and out and taught me how to hunt for quality pieces at bargain prices, even if they needed a little love and reinventing. I learned the most important lessons about creating a home from my sweet mom!” —Mary Maloney, Bee's Knees Interior Design

    “I grew up with an appreciation for antiques from my mother who loved design as well as the process of antiquing itself. We lived in Thailand during my childhood, and our home was full of rugs, antiques, and objects my parents collected during their years living and traveling in Southeast Asia. Our home had a layered and collected feel to it that felt very special and personal to me, and has inspired my own style today.” —Davina Ogilvie, Wovn Home

    “From my mother-in-law, I received the gift of a tapestry woven in the Aubusson technique by the Mambush Galleries in Ein Hod, Israel. My mother-in-law’s gift inspired us to collect artwork that we love, that brings us joy. She taught us that artwork was not about decorating or matching—it was about filling your home with objects that inspire and awe you, that bring magic to your life. It is not about fitting artwork into your space—it’s about making a space that is fitting for your art.” —Nancy Epstein, Artistic Tile

    “My mother taught me to reimagine items rather than disposing of them and starting with a new piece. If she was tired of our sofa, she would reupholster it. If she wanted a color or pattern change in an area, she would make new window treatments. If she felt the living room needed a refresh, she would rearrange all the furniture. My mother can see potential in pieces and is extremely creative. I definitely benefited from seeing her vision and ability to make something new out of something old.” —Stephanie Lindsey, Etch Design Group

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  • 09 of 14

    Be an Excellent Host

    Dining room with large table and wine racks.

    Olga Hanono

    “I learned to be a great host from my grandmother and mother—to place a beautiful table with antiques and flowers for every season. They are also great cooks and we enjoy hosting family reunions several times a year. I learned to pay attention to every detail for a luxury table setting and how to create a welcoming atmosphere from them.” —Olga Hanono, Olga Hanono

    "My mother taught me how to properly set a table. It’s a great skill to learn at a young age because then it is ingrained into your memory forever. My daughter is 8 years old now and I am teaching her the same process. Knowing the rules for a properly set table has been useful in not only my personal life but in my professional design work as well." —Mary Patton, Mary Patton Design

    “My mom always makes her guests feel special. She creates the most beautiful dinner tables with fine linens and china, silver candlesticks, crystal votives and stemware, decorative accessories, and always spectacular centerpieces fresh cut from her lush garden. She takes pride in creating, it is a meditation for her. Over the years, I’ve watched her immerse herself with such focus and joy. I love my Mom and she has inspired me with all of her magical touches.” —Anne Hepfer, Anne Hepfer Designs

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  • 10 of 14

    Never Underestimate the Small Details

    Living room with lots of personality and decor.

    Georgia Zikas Design

    “Always buy flowers for yourself every week. It's something that I continue to do in my own home and office. I buy flowers every week for my kitchen, and in my office space, we place fresh flowers or greens on each designer's desk and in our studio space to host our clients. Fresh flowers and greens don't have to be expensive, they can be a bunch from the grocery store or your garden, but fresh flowers enhance any room and always bring joy.” —Georgia Zikas, Georgia Zikas Design

    “We always had fresh flowers growing up! We would come home from school with little lavender bundles and add a nice scent to the space. It’s a perfect reminder to stop and smell the flowers.” —Tanya Willock, Hidden Gem

    "As a military child, we spent a lot of our life abroad in government housing. My mom inspired me to be unique growing up and to make those sterile white walls beautiful and homey. As I grow older, my taste has evolved but her advice always reigns true. ‘A pop of color and some new curtains can make any house feel like a home.’” —Tanya Smith-Shiflett, Unique Kitchens and Baths

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  • 11 of 14

    Splurge on Comfort

    Comfortable living room with big gray sectional and fur blanket.

    Think Chic Interiors

    “Our mom always stressed that people spend plenty of hours in bed, so it should be comfortable and a place where you are excited to rest your head at night. We learned everything about styling your entire bed with pillows, duvets, throw blankets, and sheets. We also learned about laundering and how best to keep your bedding fresh and clean. There is nothing better than having fresh-ironed sheets on your bed.” —Temidra Willock-Morsch, Hidden Gem

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  • 12 of 14

    Decorate for the Little Ones, Too

    playroom ideas

    JK Interior Living

    "We are so lucky to work alongside many mothers and mother figures. They've taught us so much, but one of the most important things is that a home isn't really a home unless it is comfortable and functional for the whole family—including children. We love creating unique, chic, playful spaces where imaginations can grow." —Lina Galvao, Curated Nest Interiors

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  • 13 of 14

    Keep Calm and Carry On

    Calming living room with hydrangeas.

    Georgia Zikas Design

    "My mother Jeanette always had a smile on her face that displayed her inner happiness. She consistently remained calm and even, was not overly emotional, and did not overreact. She never appeared rushed or frazzled. She achieved what she wanted to achieve. I strive daily to be like my mother, but I only sometimes achieve it. I am lucky to have had such a strong role model." —Karen Harautuneian, Hub of the House Studio

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  • 14 of 14

    Become an Interior Designer

    Formal vintage dining room with ornate chandelier and wallpapered walls.

    Julian Design

    “Working alongside my own mother and business partner has given me invaluable insight into the design industry. The resourcefulness and intuitive dexterity my mother has in leading our team have been an incredible inspiration to me, our business model, and our clients.” —Paige Gray, Parker & Harlow

    "I grew up in Kansas in a very close-knit family, immediate and extended. My family moved a couple of times, each time giving my mom an opportunity to add style to our new home. I remember tagging along as she sourced flooring, wallpaper, bathroom tile, and more. My parents did much of the work themselves, which allowed me to have more insight into the process." —Mel Bean, Mel Bean Interiors

    “Following my mom's footsteps, I always knew I'd be an interior designer. As a kid, my sick days were spent at her showroom resting on the most comfortable piece of inventory or playing in the sample room. I watched her pull samples and listened to her present to clients. She would always start out by saying, ‘Design is a process and not an event, we want your home to still feel like it belongs in 10 years.’ It was amazing to watch their faces change as they began to see her vision.” —Billie Marie Tharaldson, Julian Design

Cheers to all the moms who paved the well-styled way!