Published on March 20, 2019

Interior designers know the ins and outs of a perfectly styled room so well they could decorate in their sleep. But what about the anatomy of an overstyled space? That’s where the decorating waters get a little murky.

An overdecorated room stands out like a sore thumb. Like any injury, just because you can feel the pain doesn’t always mean you know how to fix it. While clutter and overdecorating often go hand in hand, the two tendencies aren’t necessarily one and the same. Die-hard maximalists, self-professed neat freaks, and everyone in between are susceptible to designing a space that’s visually stimulating in all the wrong ways. The only real way to know whether or not you’ve outdone yourself is to understand the most common mistakes through the eyes of a designer.

So we asked our go-to experts: What are the overdecorating mishaps you see the most, and how can the rest of us avoid them? Keep reading for their seven simple remedies. 

The Mix-Up: Going too traditional

The Fix: Edit embellishments

Take it from a designer whose personal style skews toward a blend of modern and traditional: It’s possible to be too much of one thing, especially traditional. “True traditional decor can feel fussy to me,” says Nashville-based designer Lori Paranjape. “My style lends itself to a cleaner look, so it’s easy for me to feel when a room is overdone.”

You’ve heard it before: Edit, edit edit. Sometimes, according to Paranjape, the only real way to right our wrongs is by taking a room apart and starting anew. As is true for organizing, all good projects start with a purge. “Only put back what adds to the polish, but isn’t overembellished,” says Paranjape. “I like to look for the magic in each space, and sometimes an edited space reveals magic where you didn’t know it was hiding.”

The Mix-Up: Sacrificing personality for trends

The Fix: Embrace old and new

If you’re someone who just loves a lot of stuff, don’t let the Marie Kondos of the world tear you away from your prized collectibles. In the case of styling a room, quality trumps quantity. “It’s definitely not bad to want or display things,” says Taylor Clouse of Love County Design. “But if it’s not curated, collections don’t feel important.”

For Clouse, overdecorated spaces, more often than not, come down to unfinished thoughts. Instead of exuding the personalities of the people that utilize them, they double as a summary of the latest trends. “The items you choose to decorate with have to resonate with you. If it doesn’t feel authentic, it’s not going to read as a well-decorated space,” explains Clouse.

Her hack? Introduce objects and accessories that span the decades. “Don’t get everything new or from one store,” she says. “You want your place to look like it could have been decorated yesterday or 10 years from now.” A sentimental vintage coffee table topped with a cool vase you found at Target will come off as authentic if you simply love what you buy and put the trend rulebook down.

The Mix-Up: Matching your woods

The Fix: Mingle new materials

In the same way that sticking to one time period is a dead overdecorating giveaway, committing to a single genre of material—be concrete, wood, or marble—can feel old fast. For spaces that suffer from “overdecorated showroom syndrome,” Jasmine Vaughan of Maxwell Gray Interiors can usually narrow the problem down to a sense of sameness.

“In a recent project for a client’s family room, we wanted to include some existing oak vintage dining chairs to mix in with a more modern concrete game table,” says Vaughan. “They were looking a little worse for wear, so we had them stripped down to their natural oak and then painted high gloss black. In the end, the ornate details of the vintage chairs paired beautifully with the clean lines of the concrete.”

The Mix-Up: Picking dramatic window treatments

The Fix: Streamline your fabric choices

Vaughan’s other major takeaway? The design feels best when it’s simple. For that coveted timeless feel, the Portland-based pro says the secret to longevity is steering clear of elaborate finishes—particularly when it comes to window treatments.

“Too many trims, swags, and puddles scream 1989,” says Vaughan. “We like to keep our drapery panels to a simple Euro pleat, and avoid puddling the fabric, as it can look dated and ends up collecting dust.” The same goes for finials. Streamlined ball finials or end caps never go out of style.

The Mix-Up: Buying the furniture set

The Fix: Take on a DIY

File this mishap under “first apartment syndrome.” We get it, one-stop-shops exist for a reason. And while it’s tempting to walk into IKEA and buy the entire living room display because it makes it look so easy and your home will be ready in no time, your speedy approach will end up costing you more than you think.

“The space ends up lacking visual interest,” says Brooklyn-based designer Silka Weiss. Her easy fix? Pick up a paintbrush, reupholster, or simply switch up your accessories.

“Try bringing in other finishes to add appeal. Adding accessories, like pillows and throws can fix a color issue,” adds Weiss. “[Also], bringing plants into any space always adds life.”

The Mix-Up: Crowding the shelves

The Fix: Rotate treasures

You all know it’s wrong to play favorites when it comes to your pets or your children, but when it comes to your decor, not all objects are created equal. It’s a problem Allison Lind has encountered one too many times: Clients hold on to objects they acquired on a trip or as a gift and they struggle to weed out weak ones. As a result, their shelves become cluttered and nonsensical.

“Just because you lugged that heavy orb home from the Paris flea market doesn’t mean it has to force its way onto the mantel,” says Lind. “My rule? If it doesn’t make your mind smile when you look at it, it’s a nonessential. Donate it or tuck it away to rotate in when you’re feeling inspired to mix up your decor a bit.”

No space should ever be stagnant, and shelves are one of the easiest places to refresh on repeat. You don’t have to display the wedding vase you got from your favorite great-aunt year round. “Keep it in an accessible place so it can be pulled out and proudly displayed when she visits,” says Lind. “Just be sure to knock the dust off.”

The Mix-Up: Piling on the throw pillows

The Fix: Narrow it down to the statement-makers

Lauren Svenstrup’s source of fashion inspiration is also her source of interior wisdom. “Coco Chanel’s quote of taking one thing off before you leave the house is great advice for a room too,” says the owner and design director of Studio Sven.

So how do you know if it’s time for a clean slate? It all comes down to function. If you can’t talk to your dinner guests because the centerpiece is blocking the view or there’s no room for anyone else to sit on the sofa because there are too many pillows, you’ve probably outdone yourself.

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