4 Common Decorating Mistakes to Avoid, According to Interior Designers

Get the expert-recommended fixes for a flawlessly finished space.

While it's true that interior design is never really complete, it can also feel impossible to get started amidst our busy lives. Between school drop-offs, long hours at the office, or simply the fear of getting it wrong, there are so many reasons why decorating our homes isn't at the top of the priority list.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. "Decorating a home is hard!" says Stephanie Purzycki, CEO and cofounder of The Finish. "And if you don't have a ton of time to dedicate to it, or you get stuck with your decision-making, you'll end up with a space that looks unfinished."

piano living room black white
Courtesy of Brian Wetzel // Designer: Brittany Hakimfar of Far/Studio

Purzycki, whose Connecticut-based firm helps clients—by the hour—to complete small design projects, says that unfinished homes take many shapes. "There are the obvious things, like bare walls, floors, and windows, but an unfinished space can also be a room you don't love, whether it's not your style, or it's too many styles, or the furniture isn't quite right." ⁠

Stephanie Purzycki

If the room doesn't make you happy, it isn't done.

— Stephanie Purzycki

But decorating your home can have a positive impact on day-to-day living. For Erin McCarthy and Mindy Turitz, founders of Chicago's Merinda Studio, there's nothing like coming home to a well-designed space at the end of the day. "We all need a place to rest and decompress, gather with friends and family, and make memories. Finishing our homes is, in some ways, the ultimate form of self-care."

style living room pillow woman blue white
Courtesy of The Finish

If corners of your home have remained unfinished for months, or even years, read on. We've asked top design experts how to fix some of the most common decorating mistakes. With their sage advice, you'll be pulling it all together in no time.

simple coastal blue cream bedroom
Courtesy of Spacecrafting // Designer: Bria Hammel of Bria Hammel Interiors

Top Decorating Mistakes Designers Notice

1. The Furniture Doesn't Fit

Minnesota-based designer Bria Hammel of Bria Hammel Interiors says she can tell when clients haven't taken the time to measure furniture. "Measuring is important so that you don't have under-scaled pieces in your space," she says. "If an item is too small, then you tend to continue to fill the space, making it feel cluttered. Having the right proportions of items in your space make it feel intentional from the very beginning."

2. The Rooms Aren't Cohesive

Once inside a home, designers often notice visual inconsistencies between spaces. For Purzycki, it can be clear if someone has worked on the home one room at a time. "Homeowners tend to focus on one space at a time, rather than see their home as a whole," she says. "Homes are usually organic spaces, filled with the homeowner's treasures and memories—and sometimes dated and disposable furniture from college."

3. It Feels Impersonal

"Many homes that I enter feel extremely sterile, with minimal character. There is no personalized story about the people who dwell there," says Washington, D.C., designer Lorna Gross of Lorna Gross Interior Design. "Homeowners have shopped stores and catalogs for standard furnishings, but haven't considered the smaller details that are necessary to make a space special." Her best advice? Add in two to three unique, difficult to duplicate, elements per room.

4. It's Missing Finishing Touches

For Pennsylvania-based designer Brittany Hakimfar of Far/Studio, a home's finishes stand out first. But it's what's missing from these finishes that makes a room feel incomplete. "The floor finish, the wall color, any accents or details—to me, these elements set the groundwork for a good home," she says. "The bones are so important. [So I notice if] they are missing art, accessories, window treatments, and those last pieces that pull it all together." Dressing the walls doesn't have to cost a fortune. Hang a collection of framed photos in a gallery wall or grab attention with a large art piece (try this Better Homes & Gardens Abstract Unframed Wall Canvas, $30, Walmart).

décor books black living room color pop artwork
Courtesy of The Finish

Tips for Planning Your Home's Interior Design

1. Visualize Your Entire Home

"When a whole home seems off, we recommend starting with setting a vision for the entire home, room by room," Hammel says. "This way, we can ensure that the same style is cohesive throughout your home. Even if you decide to complete your home project in phases long-term, by setting that initial vision, it'll help you easily pick up where you left off and stay on track."

2. Get Inspired with a 'Goal Room'

Purzycki suggests starting with the end in mind and avoiding impulse purchases that do not align with your image. "Get on Pinterest or Instagram and find a room that's your goal," she says. "Then, when you make purchasing decisions, ask yourself if what you're buying fits with that ultimate vision you have for your space."

3. Create a Mood Board

"If you want to take it a step further, create a mood board with everything you want to buy for your room," Purzycki says. "Then, as your budget allows, purchase each thing on the board." Mood boards are a great way to see how things look together before you buy them. Her top tools to make a mood board include Photoshop, Google Drawings, or a dedicated tool like Design Files.

4. Pick a Style and Stick to It

This can be hard for homeowners, but it pays off. "Figuring out your style and sticking to it will help you finish your room, and it's worth doing because then, whenever you walk into a space, you'll feel relaxed and happy, not like you're trying to solve the problem of why your room doesn't look complete," Purzycki says. "You can move on and enjoy your home."

living room guitar colorful patterns
Courtesy of Merinda Studio // Designers: Erin McCarthy and Mindy Turitz of Merinda Studio

How to Fix Mismatched Style

colorful decorated living room with green sofa and pink chairs

BHG / Marisa Kikis

1. Remove the Clutter

What you take out is as important as what you bring in. "We tell clients that in some ways, less is more," Hakimfar says. "We like to get rid of all the unnecessary pieces before bringing in the important, impactful pieces that will make it special."

Caitlin Murray, founder and creative director of Black Lacquer Design, suggests starting by purging anything that no longer serves you. "Then, you have to zoom out and take an honest look at what you're working with," she says.

Murray also suggests being picky about what you allow back into your home. "I think most people accumulate things over time and become somewhat unaware of the state of their space," she says. "The most beneficial way to design is to treat a space as a blank canvas—everything needs to be removed, then put back intentionally, with both the big picture and individual pieces in mind." Furniture that includes storage (like this Better Homes & Gardens Hinged Storage Ottoman, $55, Walmart) can help conceal clutter such as throw blankets or reading materials.

accent chair black fireplace
Courtesy of Brian Wetzel // Designer: Brittany Hakimfar of Far/Studio

2. Create Consistency

Hakimfar recommends using one general paint color throughout your home to help it feel cohesive. "The initial changes we make to a house are painting and floors. I also think it is important to have a cohesive floor throughout the house. The wood stains should match, as well as the kinds of wood. If there are too many finishes, it's clear that the home has been added onto piecemeal, and it creates a broken-up feeling in the home."

Another trick she loves? If she designs a dark room, she paints the entire room. "Walls, ceiling, trim, etc.," she says. "This makes it dramatic and feel truly designed." She also suggests investing in quality window treatments, where you can, for a layer of visual interest.

3. Bring the Outside In

"The first thing we think about when starting a new project is how a home's exterior relates to the interior," Hammel says. "The exterior serves as an introduction to what we can expect to see inside. Suppose a client has a different style than what the exterior portrays. In that case, we either find a way to merge the two styles into one cohesive style, or embrace the home's foundational style and incorporate it throughout the home."

décor desk artwork frame painting
Courtesy of Mary Costa // Designer: Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design

3. Streamline Your Entryway

For Murray, a well-designed entry is a must. "Your entry sets the tone of what to expect throughout the rest of the home, so it's crucial to be intentional about what it says. Hide anything functional yet unsightly in baskets, boxes, etc., and place the pretty utilitarian things in view," she says. "Great-looking closed storage is so important, because we all have plenty of stuff that's useful but not beautiful."

4. Coordinate Colors on Accessories and Fabric

"We love using wallpaper to bring in some fun pattern and color, and help tie a design scheme together," say McCarthy and Turitz. "Most of our wallpapers feature designs with several colors. We have used our paper in powder rooms, entryways, or other small spaces with colors that are repeated in adjacent rooms through paint, pillows, and window treatments."

Select what they call a 'hero print' (such as the Daisy Chain wallpaper from Merinda Studio) with at least three colors for a central space in the home. "From there, you can pick up those colors in other parts of your home, starting at the entry and moving to the back of the house."

cream white bedroom light lamp bench
Courtesy of Brian Bieder // Designer: Maggie Griffin of Maggie Griffin Design

6. Determine the Right Size for Furnishings

Custom doesn't always have to mean expensive. "Rather, custom can be translated into the correct size and scale for the room," says interior designer Maggie Griffin of Maggie Griffin Design. "For instance, it's difficult to purchase ready-made rugs for most large living rooms. The sizes often don't quite fit the needs of a large space. Instead, we will have a rug custom cut and bound to ensure that it's the correct scale."

When shopping for furniture, purchase the largest pieces first. "A correctly-sized rug, drapery panels, or a well-scaled pair of sofas are great places to start," she says.

bright orange wood dining room
Courtesy of Nick Mele // Designer: Lorna Gross of Lorna Gross Interior Design

7. Take It Slow

"Take your time and invest in quality pieces, not just quick fixes that will be replaced in a few years," Griffin says. "Our environment has a direct influence on how we live. A peaceful, more organized, well-balanced space will always contribute to your well-being."

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