How to avoid home decorating disasters

How to avoid four common decorating disasters

March 31, 2012 

When the pros check out our do-it-yourself decor, what makes them wince?

We asked four experts on The N&O Design Team, a group of more than 100 local interior designers, to tell us where amateur decorators most often go wrong. Here are the four problems they see most often and how you can correct – or avoid – each one. Carole Tanzer Miller

Geri Johnson

The flaw: Not happy with their spaces, homeowners suffer design paralysis, because they think they need to start from scratch.

The fix: Start with what you have. First, decide what is bothering you. Is it a furniture arrangement that needs to be tweaked, a space that is not functional or a place that feels tired and unattractive? Then, set a budget. Can you afford to fix or replace something that is broken or outdated? Do you have the money to purchase a piece that is missing, to paint or bring in a few fresh decorative punches? Next, “shop” in your own home for what you can use to resolve the problems you have identified. Get creative. Look in other rooms and your attic, move stuff around, patch, organize, declutter. Finally, use your budget to fill in the gaps and pull your space together. Maybe you won’t need to buy anything at all! REmember: REdefine, REarrange, REdistribute, REconnect, REduce, REstyle, because it is economical, fun and REwarding!

Home Styles, Cary. 919-387-3844.

Elizabeth Samuels

The flaw: Counting on a single overhead light to take care of all of the lighting needs in a room. Overheads can be so harsh that they overwhelm a space or so dim that it feels dismal, ruining an otherwise beautiful room.

The fix: Think lamps. Most people overlook the value of lamp light and how task lighting improves a room’s look while providing direct illumination for tasks at hand. Homes need a certain warmth and ambience – and lamp lighting will help achieve it.

If you like balance and symmetry in a living/family room area, try a pair of lamps with three-way switches on each side of the sofa. I recommend at least a 30-inch lamp on each side of the sofa. Incorporate a lamp between a pair of chairs where you sit to read or knit. For added flair, consider placing a lamp on an accent table or an uplight on the floor to spotlight a plant. A pair of tall buffet lamps provide a welcoming addition in a foyer.

Be sure that lamp’s size and scale fit the space. A good rule of thumb: Large, upholstered furniture pieces call for large-scale lamps; smaller or midsize furniture requires smaller-scale lamps.

Just remember, height is important. Direct task lamps need to be 26 to 30 inches tall so you can see well enough to read or work on your task. One huge mistake people make is placing 16-inch lamps on each side of the bed. That’s one place you need taller lamps with three-way switches.

When you shop, take a tape measure along to ensure you choose the correct size of lamp and shade, Carry a photo of the space you are working on for color reference. There are so many wonderful inexpensive lamps available if you know what to look for.

Lamp light gives such a welcoming feel to a space – it really says “come on in and stay awhile”.

Elizabeth Samuels Interiors, Raleigh. 919-846-1307.

Mishi McCoy

The flaw: Thinking that only a full suite of appliances from the same brand work together in a “designed kitchen.”

The fix: Take the time to research functionality and quality so you can choose the appliances that will serve you best while giving you the beautifully designed look of a custom kitchen. If appliance handles are close in style, if the stainless is similar color – and, yes, tones differ – no one will notice the details.

I have a highly rated microwave, a quiet and efficient dishwasher, a refrigerator and stove that have similar handles, which give me the function I require (being an avid cook), and no one has ever noticed or commented that my brands are different from one another. A family member, meanwhile, has a set of well-known brand name appliances. The stove has plastic handles, where the “stainless” finish is peeling or bubbling. The water dispenser’s drain, also reputed to be “stainless,” is actually plastic, which has discolored

Ask questions or hire a professional who can walk you through the ins and outs of kitchen design. Decide for yourself what works for you; don’t be held hostage by an appliance suite.

Defining Design, LLC, Fuquay-Varina. 919-552-9930.

Kendra Tetrault

The flaw: Playing it safe with furniture and accessories that are too matchy-matchy.

The fix: Mixing it up is easy if you follow a few guidelines: Furniture frames should have similar proportions. (A delicate French chair won’t mix with an oversized leather sofa.) Traditional mixes with modern as long as the proportions and lines work together. (A tall chair with an upholstered back won’t work next to a low-back chrome chair.) To mix modern and traditional, find similarities in the sizes, lines and scale of your pieces. Scale is how the size of a piece compares to another and to the space where it is placed. The lines are seen in arm or leg design, the shape of a chair/sofa back and whether a piece is upholstered or wood frame. (Try a pair of high-back chairs near a fireplace and a smaller accent chair next to a sofa/side table grouping across the room.)

You can even mix dining chairs around a table. Here’s the key: Armchairs should not be considerably taller than contrasting side chairs. Aim for continuity in their heights.

I like to start with an upholstered piece and bring in a wood frame, iron or rattan/wicker accent. If you have taken into consideration scale, proportions and finish/color, mixing these different frame styles will give you a designer look.

The same guidelines work for accessories, too. Select lamps first according to the light you need where they will be placed, and next according to the scale and style of the table. (You wouldn’t pick a large iron-base lamp to sit on a narrow iron console table. Better choice: Try a slender, glass or wood/resin lamp, with a height that is appropriate for its use.)

Artwork offers opportunities to mix it up as well. If all the frames and subject matter are similar, the design won’t be as interesting. Mix wood frames with painted or gilded ones. For variety, choose different subjects, too.

The next time you see a space you like, look at all these elements and take note of how they are blended. A great interior results from a composition of all the design elements working together.

Design Details, Cary, 919-880-1899.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service