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8 styling mistakes interior designers always notice

Pretty safe to say we’ve all made them.

By Vogue US | March 16, 2021 | Category

Picture: Unsplash

As Einstein famously said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”—and it’s surely a sentiment that could be applied to styling your home. Because unless you’ve got an interior designer living under the stairs, we’ve all likely made a few poor styling mistakes when hanging a new piece of art or arranging furniture in a new space.

While trends come and go, and design obsessions quietly fade, when it comes to the key pillars of styling an interior, there are several tricks designers have picked up from years of experience. They’re experts at considering space and scale, for one; but also understand the importance of looking outside the box, especially in regard to accessories and lighting. To prove this, we asked six designers to outline some of the most common styling mistakes they regularly spot. Short of telling you what to do or presenting an archaic set of design rules, we guarantee a quick read of these eight errors will be a handy tool next time you’re shopping for homewares, moving house or simply re-styling a space.

1. Ignoring scale

“One very big mistake I see is when people don't know the right use of scale of furniture in a space,” says Cara Woodhouse of Cara Woodhouse Interiors. “I recently came across an interior space that was a beautiful oversized living room and everything was pushed up to one side of the room with furniture that was way too small and left too much space on the other side of the room.” The interior designer says to consider the space of a room before buying furniture. “I like taking advantage of large spaces by using appropriate-sized furniture to fill the room properly and make it functional, while still creating a nice flow within the space,” she adds.

The same principle applies to your ceilings. Pay attention to the height of your walls and use the space accordingly. Interior designer Marguerite Rodgers is wary of “rooms with tall ceilings that do not include anything to give it a human scale when you’re in the room”. She suggests using lighting, such as hanging pendants, to give a room a sense of scale.

2. The wrong rug size

While many view rugs as forever pieces, be mindful of where you place one in your home—the wrong size can make or break a room. “Another thing that people don't realise is small rugs in spaces creates a smaller, less pulled together look,” shares Woodhouse. “I always recommend covering the entire room with an area rug, leaving a border between 8-12 inches wide of the revealed floor. It really creates a more cohesive, finished look, and makes everything feel so much larger.”

Elizabeth Sesser from interiors and architecture firm Ike Kligerman Barkley agrees. “Furniture looks best when sitting on top of a more generous-sized rug. When you have a small rug sitting in front of, or only under part of your furniture layout, it tends to make the space feel smaller and disconnected.” Got a rug that’s too small for your space? Try placing it in a different room. You’ll be surprised by how much a rug can liven up a tiny space like a study.

3. Over-accessorising

Sure, knick-knacks and decorative items give a home personality (like in this loud Parisian home above), but too much can often read as messy. “A major mistake is over-styling with so many trinkets—we've always found that less is often more,” agrees Gillian Segal, founder of Gillian Segal Design. Indeed, it’s so common interior designer Stefani Stein lists it as her number one peeve. “The most common styling mistake I see is too many accessories,” she says. “Thoughtful and balanced curation of the finishing touches is what sets a room apart.”

4. Badly hung art

Another common mistake that designers see all too often? Art that’s not hung at the right height. “This can ultimately influence the entire scale of a space and can make or break a room,” says Segal. “People often hang art too high,” cautions Rodgers. “Especially in a room where people will be seated. The viewing angle should be comfortable when you walk in the room as well as when you’re seated.”

Like a crooked artwork, badly positioned art can be just as detrimental. While you don’t have to hang your art dead centre (like in the above example)—a scattering of smaller artworks across a wall can be just as effective as a large-scale piece that takes up an entire wall—be aware that art draws the eye, so visitors will notice its placement.

5. Store-bought everything

Just like high-low dressing, interior designers can’t stress enough the power of the old-new mix, as seen in the home above. “I highly suggest going vintage when it comes to accessories,” says Joyce Pickens of JDP Interiors, who steers clear of “big-box, store-bought accessories” when styling a space. .“There's just a very needed level of patina and sophistication to collected accessories that you can't get with newer pieces. [Vintage] ups the ante!” she says.

Plus, throwing in something classic or antique means you have an infinitely more interesting story to tell than, ‘I just picked this up at Ikea…’ Pickens suggests collecting old books, vintage paintings and worn ceramics and layering them within a space for instant depth.

6. Too many downlights

“Your ceiling should not be littered with downlights,” declares Rodgers, who believes lighting can bring a space to life. “Lighting should have a purpose and downlights are best when lighting a surface, art or an object.” She suggests using a mixture of downlights, moveable downlights and ambient lighting— which includes decorative pendants and sconces, lamps and candles—to enhance a room, like in the kitchen above. “A room that is under-lit, over-lit, filled with downlights or lacking the nuances of ambient lighting is a missed opportunity for a successful design,” she says. Point taken.

7. Everything is the same height

Just like the scale of a room, using the same height furniture is a trap many fall prey to, and it’s a hallmark of a dull interior. “A styling mistake is a room where there is no variety of scale and everything is one height,” says Rodgers. “Study the height of your end tables and side tables against the arm of your seating, so that it’s the right scale.” She recommends angling for tables to sit a little higher or lower than your lounge or armchair, and playing around with seating, like in the living room above.

8. Shiny surfaces that reflect too much

Shiny, matte or polished? While finishes are often a personal preference, keep in mind that some are harder to work with than others. “Shiny surfaces often reflect light bulbs or things that you don’t want to see,” says Rodgers. “Including a variety of finishes is great, however when choosing lighting, avoid high gloss finishes where you will see the reflection of the bulbs, like on a backsplash that is lit.” She suggests opting for more of a matte finish in this case, like the owners of this home have.

Written by Yeong Sassall.

This article originally appeared on Vogue Living Australia.