Congratulations! You’ve just signed your first lease or bought your first home. Your head’s probably filled with decorating ideas and shopping lists. But before you start pulling swatches and paint chips and purchasing big ticket items like sofas and tables, you need a plan. Coming up with a carefully thought out design strategy can help you avoid common decorating mistakes like the ones below.

Just Hanging Around

There’s an art to hanging things…whether it’s light fixtures, drapes, or wall art. Here are a few tips that will have your friends asking for the name of your professional designer.

Light fixtures

Hanging a light fixture too low or too high is a sure sign there’s a newbie decorator in town. When hanging a pendant or chandelier above a counter or table, start 30” above the surface and adjust from there. If the fixture is not over a table but positioned in, say, an entryway, hang it no lower than seven feet over the floor.

Tip: It’s extra nice when lightbulbs match the style of your light fixture. For example, Edison bulbs look great in urban industrial fixtures.

Wall Art

When it comes to art you may have heard the rule of thumb about hanging art at eye level. We say – meh. After all, what’s eye level to you won’t be to someone who is significantly taller or shorter. Instead, look at where you plan to hang your art. Galleries can span the entire wall from floor to ceiling, while groupings over a fireplace look good when they are about the same size as the opening.


While the jury is out on where to hang the top of your drapery set – whether it’s just above the window frame or closer to the ceiling – everyone agrees on where your drapes should land. You want enough fabric to “kiss” the floor. That means no puddles with tons of fabric on the floor, and no high-waters with drapes ending on the bottom of the window sill, either.

Tip: If possible, extend draperies to cover the walls on either side of your window in order to make the window look bigger and to allow as much natural light in your room as possible when the draperies are open.

Mix and Match

Too much of a good thing vs…

Somethings naturally go together. Socks and shoes. Chips and dip. Nuts and bolts. But when it comes to home decor, too many matching items can take your look from elevated to, well, elementary. To avoid having a space that looks like you purchased it all in one day, make sure your budget and your vision allow for accents like a chair, bench, console table and so on. These additional items will complement your room and save it from looking like a matched set.  

…not enough of a good thing

On the other hand, it’s not just color that determines if your room looks fabulously put together or sadly piecemeal. Start with your basic design style and stick with it when purchasing your big-ticket items. That should account for about 80% of your room. For the other 20%, choose accessories and smaller items in another design style.

Tip: Find something that ties room elements together, like color, texture or size. Making sure that your room is tied together in one or more of these ways ensures a cohesive and exciting look.

Trouble Down Under

Wrong size rug

A beautiful, carefully chosen area rug can tie a room together, making it more visually appealing as well as comfortable. The caveat here is choosing the correct size rug. Too small and it will feel like it’s floating in your room without an anchor, while a rug that’s too big can make the room appear smaller and cramped.  Here is more information on how to choose the perfect size area size rug for your space.

Furniture placement

Now that you have the right size rug in your room, consider how you place your furniture. If your living room rug is on the small side, consider positioning furniture around the rug to show it off.  If it’s large, you may want to position all legs of furniture on the rug. The rule here is that rules are meant to be broken – with the exception of one: in the dining room, it is imperative to allow 24” behind each chair to avoid turning the rug into a potential tripping hazard for diners.

Tip: When choosing your area rug, keep in mind the amount of floor traffic in your area and purchase a rug that will withstand the wear and tear.

Size Matters

Ever walk into a room and feel claustrophobic, unable to move around comfortably? Or how about a room that feels cavernous, with furniture that seems small in comparison to the space around it? Both are examples of problems with scale, and it’s one of the most common design mistakes. A good rule of thumb is to purchase big ticket items that are proportional to the room – large pieces in a large room, smaller pieces in a smaller room – and choose accessories that echo your choices. For example, if you place a large sectional in a roomy living room, choose a larger sized coffee table rather than a petite one.

Tip: Mixing larger pieces with many smaller ones can also result in an appealing look.

A Room Without a (focal point) View

The focal point of a room sets the tone and helps establish that all-important first impression. It’s the first thing you notice when you walk into a room, whether it’s a fabulous view, an impressive fireplace or a work of art. Unfortunately, it can also be a boring wall, a sad light fixture or…worse yet…no point of interest at all.

Many beginning designers don’t understand the importance of creating a starting point in a room – a place that attracts the eye and generates excitement. To create a pleasing focal point, think about the most obvious design feature in your room. Maybe it’s an architectural feature like a fireplace or dramatic windows. You can also create one with a large piece of art, a dramatic grouping of wall decor, or a large armoire.

Tip: Anything that stands out from the rest of the furniture in the room will instantly draw the eye and create interest.