What makes a well-designed room? Is it the décor or the color on the wall? Perhaps it’s the collections the homeowner has gathered over the years.  Maybe it’s the creative use of paint or wallpaper that does the trick.

The reality is all those things play a role in the design process—but only when you add them to a space using solid design principles. I often have the pleasure of teaching aspiring and established decorators and designers around the country. More than once, we have walked into a home for a class project and my students felt there was no room for improvement. The reality is the room was filled with beautiful “stuff” but had missed the mark on many design principles. Once we emptied the room and started over, they recognized the original mistakes.

Let’s talk about how to avoid some of the most common decorating mistakes. Thanks to some of my design peers for sharing photos to help demonstrate my points.

Mistake #1: Ignoring the Room’s Anchors

​​Building a room from the floor up or what I call the Function Zone, adds cohesion and balance. Establishing the anchor pieces of furniture allows you to  start adding the layers that give a room personality and style.


The line or plane of the anchor piece will dictate what goes above it. A horizontal plane such as a mantel demands art with width. Strive for filling two-thirds to three-quarters of the horizontal space above the anchor.

In this beautiful room by Meg Hosler of Meggie H. Interiors, the horizontal plane of the chest was mimicked by a horizontal picture. The width of the picture adds cohesion to the anchor furniture.

Following the anchor principle makes selecting a chandelier easy. Simply follow the shape of the anchor as Sara Brennan did in this dining room. The round dining table (the anchor) works best with a round chandelier. Once you determine the chandelier shape, use a simple formula to determine chandelier size: one-half to two-thirds the width of the table.

Mistake #2: Choosing Style Over Comfort

Don’t get me wrong—I love a good-looking piece of furniture. But how many times have you perched on a chair to find it feels like a rock? Or perhaps the reverse has happened—it had such a lack of support that you could hardly stand back up. At the end of a busy day, you and your client deserve furniture that caresses your tired body instead of fighting it. Sometimes you need to spend a bit more money to get the comfort you deserve.

Mistake #3: Focusing on One Design Line

Furniture, décor and architecture create a series of lines in a space. We are each drawn to a specific line. I call this your Decorating DNA (your Darn Near Always preference in line, shape, form, color and style). Vertical lines add formality and strength to a room, but too many may add stiffness. Horizontal lines add movement and the illusion of size but can also begin to feel uninteresting. Diagonal or dynamic lines add a sense of energy and movement but can be distracting. Mixing and blending lines creates interest and helps direct the eye.

In this beautiful dining area, Jessica of Jessica Hasten Designs added a circular mirror over the sideboard to add relief to many horizontal lines, which are a natural part of dining sets. By changing the line, she created interest and added softness to the linear styling of the dining room.

Your Decorating DNA will also lead to you toward either symmetry or asymmetry. The best rooms blend both. Too much symmetry makes a room feel stiff and too much asymmetry can feel messy. Find the perfect balance and the heavens open and the angels sing.

Mistake #4: Creating a “Room in a Box”

The best rooms appear to have evolved over time. Nothing looks too new or perfect. Nothing matches perfectly, but everything coordinates beautifully. Don’t buy all of your stuff from the same source or store. Add personality by mixing in the unexpected and creating a room filled with interesting touches. Now add in creativity and you have a room no one will forget.

Let’s look at a room from the fabulous Veronica Solomon. From the faux windows made from mirrors to the tiger sofa, this is a room you won’t forget. Nothing matches but everything works due to a color palette that completes, not competes, and a fabulous sense of style. This is definitely not a room in a box. The time, love and attention to detail is obvious.

Mistake #5: Not Directing the Eye 

Each time your eye encounters a visual interruption, it shrinks a room. Use strong visual cues to lead the eye around the room. In this beautiful office by Lena Kroupnik Interiors, the tilt of the head in the art, the curve of the lamp and even the round line of the chair directs your eye to the right, adding the illusion of size to the space. Here’s a quick tip: Lead the eye by using high objects on the left and low ones on the right on mantels, tablescapes and shelves. This keeps the eye moving.

JoAnne Lenart-Weary is an interior design, color and staging expert who has been creating beautiful rooms for over 40 years. JoAnne founded The Decorating and Staging Academy in 1999 and has taught thousands how to create beautiful rooms through decorating and staging. Join JoAnne at the International Window Coverings Expo on March 8 to 10 for the workshops “How to Make Money with Immediate Gratification Decorating,” “Ten Most Common Decorating Mistakes” and “Ten Things You Need to Know About Staging.”

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