7 Conventional Décor Rules That Were Made to Be Broken
Think outside the box.
Updated Aug 7, 2019 1:16 PM
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Décor rules exist for a reason—that’s why people go to design school. Many conventional design guidelines are useful for ensuring that your sofa will actually fit in your living room, that you’ll be able to slide your dining chair under the table without breaking your knees, or that you’ll be able to chop your vegetables at a comfortable height when standing at your kitchen counter.
Other design rules are a little more arbitrary—dictated by trends or status quos that haven’t been challenged in decades (if at all), these rules are not only begging to be broken, but straying away from them can produce incredible results. In fact, some of the most memorable modern designs defy of interior designs’ most tried and tested guidelines—that’s often what makes them stand out in our memories.
Should you really paint your ceiling white? What should you do about the original woodwork in your home? How big should your dining room chandelier really be? Ask yourself these questions as we challenge some of the oldest rules in the décor book. Don’t be afraid to let your creativity soar. Thinking outside of the box might just pay off in a big way.
Don’t Use More Than 3 Patterns in a Room
Traditional decorating rules often advise against using too many patterns in a single space. Just look to your grandmother’s bedroom for proof—if she was anything like mine, the room likely had Laura Ashley toile print on everything from the wallpaper to the curtains to the bedspread. That said, we’ve seen time and time again how bold pattern choices can create eye-catching spaces.
When to break the rule: If you’re fearless about mixing and matching different prints and patterns, go for it! A good secondary rule of thumb to remember is to use prints that vary widely in scale and style—but feel free to break this one too. Try pulling all the varying patterns together before making major installs, but at the end of the day, if you love each pattern individually, chances are you’ll like them together even more.
Ceilings Should Always Be White
Whoever came up with the rule that a ceiling should always be white? While it is true that white ceilings can make rooms feel loftier, it shouldn’t mean that you can’t defy conventional standards. White will always be a great backup option, but don’t be afraid to try something different.
When to break the rule: If you want a space to feel cozy or love a minimalist look, try painting the ceiling in the same color as the walls—this rings especially true in small spaces painted in dark colors. Conversely, if you want to make a statement, try painting your ceiling in a bold contrasting color—or flip your painting plan on its head by leaving the walls white and painting the ceiling only.
Never Paint Original Woodwork
If you’ve ever watched a real estate show on HGTV, you probably already know that painting original woodwork is considered by many to be a crime, but this is an easily contestable offense. While you should definitely refrain from painting historic moldings in a rental or try to find a way to work with your woodwork—not against it—before you cover your door frames in Pepto Bismol pink, this is a rule you can otherwise afford to break.
When to break the rule: If your home is extremely dark and you want to brighten it up, painting woodwork white is an easy way to achieve a more modern and airy look. Similarly, you can modernize a classic balustrade by painting it pitch black. If you’ve found your forever home, pursue your decorating goals with confidence. Just remember: removing paint from original moldings is a headache, so make sure you make a choice you won’t regret in a few years.
Only Use Light Colors in Small Rooms
Conventional wisdom dictates that small rooms should always be painted in light colors to make them appear bigger, but we respectfully disagree. Small rooms can benefit greatly from a bit of color personality—and this rings especially true in spaces with little to no architectural details.
When to break the rule: There are two major instances in which a dark or bold color would actually add to a small space, not take away from it. One instance is if the room has very little natural light. Low-light rooms can actually look worse when painted white because you never really get that bright airy feel. Instead, choose a dark hue to make your tiny room feel extra cozy. Another instance is when the room is devoid of any architectural detail—otherwise known in the interior design world as a “white box”. In this case, adding bright colors will give the room personality and life in a way that white paint could not.
Never Mix Wood Tones
One of the questions that comes up time and time again (in our personal experience) goes a little something like this: “Will this piece of furniture work with my wood floors?” Conventional wisdom would argue that similar wood tones work best together, but we actually believe the opposite. It all depends on the varying shades of wood you have in your space.
When to break the rule: When mixing and matching wood tones, it’s helpful to remember that high contrast is key. For instance, a dark walnut coffee table would work wonders against light white oak floors. Conversely, a medley of middle-ground maple and rosewood tones might have the opposite effect. Strike a balance by choosing woods that differ greatly from each other.
Living Room Furniture Arrangements Should Be Conversational
Many interior designers love to argue that living rooms should be conversational and laid out in a way that fosters discussion and engagement. While it’s true that this type of layout not only looks great but is also ideal for cocktail parties, it’s also helpful to remember how you actually use your space.
When to break the rule: Do you hate having people over but love to spend your weekend re-watching your favorite Netflix series? Make sure your sofa is in prime view of your TV. Are you always cold and love to cozy up with your s.o. and a glass of wine on cold winter nights? Bring your sofa a little closer to the fireplace. Love to lay around reading books in the afternoon? Position your sofa underneath a window to get optimal natural light and a lovely view. Your decorating decisions should always center around how you use your space, not how others think you should arrange your furniture.
Your Chandelier’s Diameter Should Be Determined By Your Room Size
The official rule for choosing a chandelier size goes a little something like this: add the width and length of your room in feet, and that number should become the diameter of your ceiling light in inches. For instance, a room that’s 12 x 16 feet should have a chandelier with a diameter of 28 inches—but this doesn’t have to be the case.
When to break the rule: While we would hardly recommend going any smaller than the suggested size, going bigger can be 100% worth it. This is especially true in double-height spaces or dining rooms with extra long tables. It’s much more important to follow rules about height—to prevent anyone from hitting their forehead on your entryway pendant or have people break their neck looking up at your new chandelier—than it is to stick to the advised diameter of your lighting.
More décor do’s and don’ts: