Contrary to popular belief, a cluttered room and one that’s just got too much going on are not the same. For starters, the former is a lot quicker to resolve (you’ve just got to find the will to organize). But remedying a space that’s been overdecorated isn’t so simple. In some cases, it’s a matter of removing a few tchotchkes. In others, it’s about honing in on your style, reassessing materials, and taking on a DIY or two. Not sure if you’ve completely outdone yourself? It’s tough to look inward and pinpoint exactly where you went wrong, so we asked designers to share the most common mistakes they notice—and how to fix them.
The Misstep: Going Too Traditional
The Fix: Edit Embellishments
Leaning on one aesthetic too heavily—especially if the style involves a lot of adornment—can result in a space that feels fussy. Nashville-based designer Lori Paranjape, who naturally gravitates toward conventional pieces, often has to remind herself to bring in contemporary details like shapely vessels and bright pastels to spice things up. “Only put back what adds to the polish,” says Paranjape.
The Misstep: Sacrificing Personality for Trends
The Fix: Embrace Old and New
Let your personal style dictate what you buy, not whether or not something is “trendy.” Taylor Clouse’s trick for avoiding this trap: Don’t get everything brand-new from one store. Your place should look like it could have been decorated yesterday or 10 years from now, so close your Pinterest tab and hit up a few vintage stores before your next Target run.
The Misstep: Matching Your Woods
The Fix: Mingle New Materials
A little contrast is a good thing, notes Jasmine Vaughan of Maxwell Gray Interiors. For a recent project, the designer paired oakwood dining chairs, which she had stripped and painted in a high-gloss black, with a concrete game table. “In the end, the ornate details of the chairs paired beautifully with the clean lines of the concrete,” she says.
The Misstep: Dramatic Window Treatments
The Fix: Streamline Your Fabric Choices
Vaughan’s other pet peeve: over-the-top window treatments. Too many trims and swags scream 1989, so the designer typically opts for a simple Euro pleat when choosing drapes and always steers clear of puddling fabric. “It looks dated and ends up collecting dust,” she says. The same sentiment rings true for hardware: Streamlined ball finials never go out of style.
The Misstep: Buying the Whole Furniture Set
The Fix: Take on a DIY
When you’re moving into your first real place, it’s tempting to walk into IKEA and buy the entire living room display, but your one-and-done approach will end up costing you more than you think. “The space ends up lacking visual interest,” says Brooklyn-based designer Silka Weiss. Save yourself the trouble of replacing everything five years down the road and snag a few key pieces (an armoire or vanity or folding screen) at an antiques shop. Then get creative. There’s a lot you can do with a paintbrush or a cool textile.
The Misstep: Crowding the Shelves
The Fix: Rotate Treasures
Our first instinct is usually to display sentimental objects, whether it’s a piece of art we were gifted by a friend or a little statue we sourced on a trip. But just because you lugged a heavy orb home from the Paris flea market doesn’t mean it has to force its way onto the mantel immediately. Allison Lind recommends stowing these types of items away until you’re ready for a refresh. “Keep it in an accessible place so it can be pulled out easily when you want to change things up,” says Lind. “Just be sure to knock the dust off.”
The Misstep: Piling on the Throw Pillows
The Fix: Narrow It Down to the Statement-Makers
You know the Coco Chanel quote that goes, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”? Lauren Svenstrup of Studio Sven applies the same logic to designing a room. 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 gone too far.
This story was originally published on March 20, 2019. It has been updated.
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