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Five years ago, after several bouts of obsessively googling patterns, brands, and fabrics, I thought I had found the perfect rug for my home. Its blue and red palette brought some much-needed color set against my beige couch. Its wool material was perfect for everyday wear and tear. Its “vintage” status made it, and by extension, me, feel cool. So I pulled the trigger, typed in my credit card details, and clicked buy.
For the next three weeks, I waited patiently for it to be shipped from California. Then, I waited patiently again on the day of arrival, as the company gave me a comically large 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. delivery window. Finally, at 7:48 p.m, two different men lugged it into my apartment, carefully unwrapped it from its box, and arranged it in front of me. I sat, waiting for all the packing dust to settle. And when it did, a single word came out of my mouth: goddamnit.
It was too small. Like, noticeably too small. My couch took up half the surface area, and large swaths of my wooden floors sat bared and uncovered. I had committed a cardinal sin of interior design: not measuring my space before ordering. It was one I paid for quite literally—fees to ship a rug back are no joke—but also emotionally. May no one reading this ever have to repack a rug and lug it to your local UPS drop-off point all on your lonesome.
While there’s plenty of material out there giving interior design advice and tips, there’s not always as much on what not to do. And while making mistakes with smaller purchases can be an easy fix, decisions relating to your interiors can be a major hassle to change once you’ve already committed to something: once wallpaper is up, it takes a lot of effort to strip down. Once a contractor is working on a kitchen, it’s not so easy to ask him to switch a cabinet or two.
With that in mind, Vogue asked some of the world’s top interior designers about the most common interior design mistakes they encounter, and how to make sure they don’t happen to you. Read all of their dos—but more importantly, their don’ts—below.
“Putting all the furniture against the wall. You should have a few pieces that float in the room to create variety and interest in the floor plan. Sketch on paper how you might achieve this. One way is to have a chair or two floating in the middle of the plan into the seating arrangement.” –Young Huh, Young Huh Interior Design
“One thing many people tend to overlook is lighting. It plays a huge role in how people experience a space. For example, one paint color under an incandescent lightbulb might look very different from the same color in natural lighting. If your home feels dark, you can just change out some lightbulbs or install a pair of sconces to make a space feel brighter. It doesn’t always have to mean a complete renovation.” –Alfredo Paredes, Alfredo Paredes Studio
“Making sure a room is properly lit is challenging. Lighting can make or break a space. Using a professional lighting designer is recommended, but if doing yourself be sure to work on three levels of lighting: Ceiling lights to wash surfaces such as tables and artwork, floor lamps to provide ambient light throughout the room, and task lighting such as table lights or reading lights for specific tasks such as reading or working.” –Nicole Hollis, NicoleHollis
“Not measuring the room properly, so furniture doesn’t fit. How to avoid this pitfall? Measure twice, then measure again!” –Joy Moyler, Joy Moyler Interiors
"Not measuring first. . . eyeballing seems like an easy skill (one for which Sister Parish had a famed and uncanny ability). That is until you can’t fit a sofa through your front door! It has happened to the best of us. I also recommend going back to measure a second time; there is nothing like inverting a number or two to really hammer that point home." -Alexa Hampton, founder of Alexa Hampton and principal of Mark Hampton Inc.
“A common interior design mistake is that people don’t bring designers on early enough in the process. We should be there immediately after you say to yourselves, ‘We’re ready to make these changes,’ or, ‘We want to redesign or redecorate the house.’ Oftentimes, clients reach out after they’ve bought the house and launched the contractor to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms. A third of the way through construction, the new homeowners are overwhelmed with all the decisions they’re needing to make, plus the thought of furnishing it afterwards. Reach out when you’re in escrow or have closed escrow, and don’t launch a contractor until you’ve spoken to a designer first.” –Mandy Cheng, Mandy Cheng Design
“Understanding scale is always a challenge, even for seasoned designers. One thing I see people do frequently is put something really tiny or really massive into a room that inhibits its functionality and dooms its aesthetic. If you know you need an enormous sectional for your Super Bowl parties, don’t forget to think about the size of the coffee table and rug that will accompany it. An 8’ x 10’ rug will likely look like a postage stamp paired with most modern sectionals, even though it may seem like a reasonable size for the room. (My general rule with rugs and sofas, specifically, is that a sofa should sit fully on a rug, leaving at least a foot of space on all sides, and rugs should either be centered in a room with at least two-thirds of each upholstered piece sitting on top of it, or be a small accent that sits in front of the sofa, with a coffee table on top.)” –Martha Mulholland, Martha Mulholland Interior Design
"Not understanding 'the sit' of furniture before you buy it. Try to get yourself to a showroom and sit down / lie down on the upholstery. If you can’t do this, have someone sit in if for you to attest how it feels. These are expensive pieces that you want to enjoy comfortably. Try before you buy!" -Alexa Hampton
“Hanging art too high. This is a pet peeve of mine. For some reason, most homeowners think they should hang art high and it therefore looks more important. Really your art should hang at eye level so that you can really see the main portion of the art very well. Also, avoid placing one art piece per wall. This will look very static and uninteresting.” –Young Huh
“In my opinion, the biggest mistake people make is not taking risks. They’re afraid to try something new or go for something they haven’t seen done before. This is one thing that leads to everyone’s homes looking the same. My advice is to take some time before you start, collect images and scraps of things you love, test paint colors and look at them at different times of day in different lights, maybe even different seasons. And then go for it!” –Frances Merrill, Reath Design
“Too many patterns, florals, prints all over the place can disturb the eye. Coco Chanel famously said, ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.’ I think that can be applied to interior design also.” –Joy Moyler
“A common mistake when laying out a room is not considering symmetry. It creates balance and allows everything to align, from lighting to furnishings. To create symmetry, draw a line down the middle of the room and measure to be sure it’s the same on both sides. Then start laying out the furniture working from the centerline outwards.” –Nicole Hollis
“Ah, the accent wall. I detest them. (Generally—there are always exceptions!) Unless you are doing some artful color blocking like Le Corbusier or decorating an office or restaurant where they make more sense, stay away from accent walls. They feel non-committal, trepidatious, and often make the remaining, unadorned walls in the room look sad and forgotten. They can also make a room feel off balance.” –Martha Mulholland
“Not using carpet pads under rugs, and sliding into the furniture! Every carpet should have a carpet pad for safety. They are inexpensive and so worth it! ” –Joy Moyler