Common design mistakes and how to correct them!



Hearts sank and minds buzzed at the news: After ten years and three kids, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck were throwing in the marital towel.




They lived in an 8,800 s/f estate, nay compound, where I’d assume the furniture transcended stylish, the sheets had thread counts in the high hundreds, and everything was perfectly in its place. Surely dust did not reside in that house. But, apparently, neither did enough happiness to keep the house a home.



Ben Affleck Jennifer Garner houseSource: NY Daily News



It reminded me of a quote I have taped to my computer, “You can only do what you can do.” When I catch myself striving for perfection, or thinking someone’s grass is truly greener than my drought-devoured lawn, it becomes my mantra. Which brings us to houses. Yours, mine, even that really bad one down the street. What do we all have in common? We’re doing what we can do. Perfection is not the goal, or perhaps even a possibility, but doing our best is. In that spirit, here are some interior design mistakes and their very easy corrections.




The magic carpet effect: A living room rug should not only define the space, but unite the furnishings; however, all too often, I see homes with rugs that appear to float like magic carpets because they are just too tiny. I’ve pondered the explanation–smaller rugs cost less and/or tend to be readily available whereas larger ones can require a special order–but whatever the reason, there’s an epidemic of dinky rugs.





Living room small rugSource: unknown. Okay, this one is like a trick question. Clearly the neutral rug is large enough (and could even be made slightly narrower) yet upon first viewing, the bright fuchsia rug reads as THE rug and it is clearly on the wee side.






Rug too small living roomSource: Besidesign. No brainer, right? This rug is postage stamp small and not grounding anything. The whole tennis-shoes-under-the-coffee-table, packing tape and bills scattered about, and crooked picture over the sofa makes me feel like we’re seeing this room at an unfair advantage, like it’s still in its bathrobe and we just barged in.






Brook Shields Living room natural fiber rugSource: Architectural Digest, Brooke Shields’ living room. Notice how the front legs of both the sofa and two chairs rest on the natural fiber rug. If it bothers your eye that the back legs don’t, you could increase the size of the rug but risk engulfing the room. Generally you want to see at least 18″ to 24″ of exposed floor around the perimeter of the room. In this case, even more works.





When sizing a rug for your living room: a good rule to follow is that the rug should begin under the front legs of your sofa. It should extend under your coffee table and continue until it fits beneath at least the front legs, if not all four, of any chairs placed opposite your sofa. Finally, the rug should measure, at the minimum, one foot beyond both sides of your sofa. While I highly encourage you to get out your tape measure and plot this out, generally speaking, an 8′ x 10′ rug works for most living rooms; a 9′ x 12′ is best for larger living rooms with massive furniture. If you have a rug you know is too small, but you can’t bear parting with it, consider layering it atop a larger rug that has a minimal pattern such as a natural fiber rug.






Architectural Digest living room large rugSource: Architectural Digest. Design by Daniel Romualdez. Drag your eyes away from that instantly entertaining graphic art (yuy, yuk) and notice the fine execution of rug sizing.





Sitting pretty: Dining room rugs should be large enough to accommodate a guest sitting in a chair without feeling like that chair will teeter off the rug. To determine the correct rug size, measure the length and width of your table and add 36″ to 48″ to both the length and the width. For a round table, add 36″ to 48″ to the diameter and decide whether a round or square rug suits you style. Select the closest standard rug size or visit your local flooring store where they can fabricate a custom rug from the myriad choices of pattern, colors and materials.





Clean dining table pendant lights right sized rugSource: Designmobler. Witness: the well-measured dining room rug.







black cowhide modern dining tableSource: Nwlug. Just when we were getting rather rule-centric, enter the exception to all that rigidity: animal hides. Go as big as you can, then call it good enough.






Help me, I’m a feature wall: Feature walls became A Thing around the same era when design shows began featuring fixing up your neighbor’s house while they were unsuspectingly on vacation and painting not only their heirloom armoire but also one of their walls a shocking shade of orange, a throw-out-the-rules bear hug towards embracing color, the bolder the better! Except they weren’t better, they visually shrunk spaces and made everyone who had to sit near that orange wall appear to have a sudden case of jaundice. In the interest of allowing your space to return to light and airy, I’d suggest painting any feature walls back to the same neutral color as their surrounding walls.





orange feature wall modern houseSource: If everyone suddenly has a strange pallor, it might be the tangerine colored wall.




How do you determine the right neutral for the rest of the walls? Settle on your top three paint colors, paint them on sample boards (available at paint stores) and attach them to the walls in question with painter’s tape to observe how they are affected by the light of morning, noon, and incandescent light, at night. This may seem like a lot of effort, but so is repainting your walls so you want to get it right the first time. If you must have a feature wall, how about a subtle one? To achieve this, locate the color of your surrounding walls on a paint sample strip and select a feature wall color that is in the same row, but one or two shades below. This new color will still give you some drama, without diverging from the color family.





Neutral modern living roomSource: Design by Kraszweska The drama of the back walls is heightened by the deeper saturation of grey, but everything still feels calm and light. That is, until you take a closer look at the giant painting behind the sofa and ask yourself, “Who lives here and what are their hobbies?”






Set it aside: If your bed, nightstands and dresser all match, I’m calling a design intervention. Sure it was one-stop shopping, but it’s also dead-end design. Yes, the styles should relate to one another, but having them all be exactly the same is lazy decorating. If you can replace at least one of these pieces (note: mismatched nightstands can be whimsical!) to break up the set, please do it. Other options include repainting or staining, say the nightstands or dresser, in a new, fresh shade that plays off the color(s) in your existing bedding, rug, or window coverings. Or simply give your dresser or nightstands a new, individual identity with new hardware!






Matching bedroom set pine furnitureSource: Wholesale Furniture Brokers. If you wanted to, you could click on the link and this set could be yours for $2,249.96, but don’t do it, I beg of you!








Mismatched bedside tables white bedroomSource: Decorpad.  See how the nightstands and lamps don’t match but they are similar in finish being white tables and mercury glass lamps so the whole design still appears cohesive without feeling stilted. Now this designer obviously still had a hankering for a little more matching and, hence, the bench was upholstered in the same fabric as the headboard. Personally, I could see a clear acrylic bench with a light and fluffy Mongolian seat so the whole effect stays light and airy, not clashy, yet without a repeat of pattern.







Like this…






Mongolian lamb acrylic benchSource: Ebay where this bench is a mere $3,695. At this top ticket price, don’t you think staging it somewhere other than in front of their vegetable garden would’ve been more appropriate? Then again, they are offering free shipping so one mustn’t be too picky.







Happy Monday and happy decorating! 🙂




This post has been adapted from my column, Design Intervention, which runs every other Saturday in the Santa Barbara News-Press.




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