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May 11, 2012 > Tips for Avoiding Common Decorating Mistakes

Tips for Avoiding Common Decorating Mistakes

Dear Anna,
We've just moved into a new home and are decorating our living room from scratch. What are some things we should keep in mind so we don't make any costly mistakes?

Let me describe some common decorating mistakes and explain how you can avoid them. As a designer, I see these mistakes all the time. With some planning, your home can look like a showplace.

1. Furniture that is too large or too small. Make sure to measure, measure and measure again before you go shopping! It is very easy to buy furniture that is too large for the space. Consider not only physical size, but also scale. For example, a modern, low-back sofa with narrow arms and tapered legs will be smaller in scale than an overstuffed, reclining sofa. Whatever you choose, make sure your room can handle it.

2. The furniture is hugging the walls. People often arrange the furniture around the perimeter of the room, leaving a large space in the middle. They think it makes their room look larger, but often the room just looks awkward. Try moving the furniture away from the walls. My re-design partner and I describe it as letting the furniture "breathe". Bringing the furniture into the room also creates a more intimate conversation area.

3. The room's architectural features are ignored or mistreated. Often I see tall chests and bookcases on short walls, and low chests and bookcases on high walls. To create a more harmonious room, match tall with tall, short with short. If you have a pitched ceiling, for example, place the tallest piece of furniture at the tallest point of the wall and use other furnishings to create a diagonal line that follows the line of the ceiling. Along the same lines, just because you have soaring ceilings and 12 foot walls, please do not hang artwork way up there. Artwork always has to relate to the furniture. Hang your art close to the furniture, but keep scale in mind-larger walls need larger pieces of artwork.

4. The room is lacking lighting. One overhead light is not enough to be decorative or functional. Add layers of light to create that designer look and also to enhance functionality. For example, consider task lighting in the form of reading lamps, ambient lighting in the form of wall sconces, and accent lighting to highlight artwork, accessories, wallpaper or drapes.

5. You've picked your paint color before buying furniture. I know it is tempting to want to paint while the house is empty, but believe me; it is much easier to select paint colors after you've selected the main furniture pieces such as the sofa or area rug. There are thousands of paint colors, but limited upholstery choices.

6. The windows are left uncovered. Window treatments do so much to finish off the room (not to mention protect your furniture and floors from sun damage, provide insulation and also privacy), but unfortunately many people either run out of money or just don't know what to choose. Drapery panels can frame a window beautifully and add texture and softness to the room; Wood blinds can provide privacy and light control and can enhance both modern and traditional decor. There are lots of options, some more costly than others. Be sure to allocate some of your budget to the windows.

A final tip: don't get too many opinions from your friends and family! Everyone has an opinion and is more than willing to share, which can add to your confusion and indecision. Enlist the help of a designer, or just one trusted friend to help you with your selections. You'll be glad you did.

Anna Jacoby of Anna Jacoby Interiors is a local interior designer. Send your design questions to her at Call or fax her at 510-490-0379 or visit

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