The Worst, Most Expensive Decorating Mistakes Designers Won’t Make Again

Let’s face it: Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. Often, making a mistake is the best way to figure out what not to do in the future. When the stakes are high and the outcome is costly, you tend to remember an experience and grow from it, with the hope (in theory) that you’ll never repeat it again.

Well, this same sentiment applies to decorating your home. Seemingly trivial design decisions can turn into expensive issues fast—and often, these things could have been avoided with a little bit of planning, prep, or research. Curious about what rookie mistakes might cost you major moolah in the long run? Here, a handful of interior designers are sharing their insight on the pricey decorating mistakes they’ve made in the past. Hopefully, you can vicariously learn through them—I know I will!

1. Not checking out big-ticket furniture items in person

It might seem like a hassle or an extra step in the decorating process, but it’s always worth taking the time to visit a furniture showroom or a brick-and-mortar store (once they’re open) to see a piece in real life before buying it, if possible. “Products don’t always look like the pictures online,” says designer Anna Filippova of Hyphen & Co. “Seeing a product in person or requesting a [fabric or finish] sample can prevent this mistake from happening. Samples are specifically helpful in the situation of visualizing the product with the rest of the elements in the space before the purchase.”

Many companies often charge restock fees and won’t pay for return shipping either, so it’s always a good idea to know exactly what you are getting before it shows up on your doorstep. You could save yourself a substantial amount time and money in the long run this way, even if you have to shell out a little cash upfront for a sample or waste an hour window shopping.

2. Forgetting to test paint colors in different lighting situations

Whether it’s sunlight streaming into your windows or the color of your light bulbs, designer Rachel Cannon of Rachel Cannon Limited Interiors says lighting can alter the color of your paint. “On one of our projects, after painting the walls of a room a nice gray color, their contractor installed pink LED bulbs throughout,” says Cannon. “The bulbs completely changed the look of the gray paint and made the walls look pink, to which our client expressed great concern and even thought repainting the entire house was necessary!”

Ultimately, Cannon bought the right temperature bulbs, and all was well. For best results, however, you should test paint on all of the walls you plan on painting in a given room or rooms before committing to a color. Remember to look at swatches at different times of day, too, so you can see how the sun and artificial lighting will impact the look of the shade.

3. Using small-scale wallpaper designs in big rooms

Make no mistake about it: designers Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters of Forbes + Masters say that installing wallpaper with a small-scale texture or print in a large room can be a costly mistake. “Beautiful textures and prints wind up getting lost in the space and read as solid color from a distance,” Forbes says. “Small-scale wallpapers are better suited for powder rooms or small entryways,” adds Masters. 

4. Not measuring furniture before buying it

If you ask designer Linda Sullivan of Sullivan Design Studio, nothing is worse than falling in love with a furnishing only to discover that it’s the wrong size for your home. “Take out that measuring tape and blue painter’s tape and map out the exact dimensions of your desired new purchase to help you understand how it will work in your space,” she says. “Informed decisions save money (and the hassle of returns)!” 

Better yet, measure twice just to be sure you have the right dimensions. Consider recording those numbers in a note on your phone to reference later. If you don’t have a specific piece in mind, measure the spot on your floor and wall you’d ideally want to fill. That way, if you’re shopping for a piece at an outdoor tag sale or later at a store, you won’t have to guess at what a proper sized piece would be.

5. Leaving your design plan up in the air

Sure, you may be head-over-heels in love with an expensive sofa, but designer Justin Q. Williams of Trademark Design Co. believes blowing your entire decorating budget on a single piece of furniture isn’t a very smart idea—particularly if you haven’t taken the time to make a design plan before your start shopping. “There’s nothing worse than walking into an empty room with a stunning sofa and nothing else,” he says. “Make a plan and budget for your space before you start decorating.”

Your design plan doesn’t have to include a fancy drawing or mood board. It can be as simple as a Pinterest board, a list of items you need, and a figure that you need to stay under for the entire project that’s itemized out for particular furnishings, give or take a bit.

6. Cheaping out on window treatments

Although it might seem savvy to buy inexpensive window treatments up front,
Haley Weidenbaum, interior designer and founder of Everhem, says it could cost you in the long run. “As a designer, I’ve realized that every window has different dimensions, thus, you can’t buy one size to fit all your windows,” she says. “Investing money in custom window treatments, versus prefabricated panels, ensures you get the perfect look and fit so you won’t have to replace them later.” 

7. Buying white or pale upholstered furniture

If you’re thinking about ordering a sofa or armchair upholstered in very light colored fabric, designer Danielle Fennoy of Revamp Interior Design says you might want to reconsider. “My biggest design mistake to date has been ordering an egg chair in white wool fabric,” she says. “Within a very short period of time, it was a hot mess. Moving happened, then a baby, and eventually the chair was unrecognizable. Save yourself the headache and always go with something with a little color or pattern.” 

8. Overdoing designer goods

If you aren’t mixing both high and low budget furnishings into your decor scheme, designer Erin Hackett of Hackett Interiors says you’re missing out on an opportunity for true variety in your space. “People oftentimes make the mistake of thinking that in order to get a luxurious feel in their homes, they have to splurge on every item within each room,” she says. “The best way to create balance in your home—and your budget—is to purchase one or two statement pieces in each space such as a sofa, bed, or dining set, and then you can add in playful, personal accent details and accessories that won’t break the bank such as art, vases, greenery, and pillows.” 

9. Failing to pad a wallpaper order

When it comes time to dress up the walls of your home, designer Anne Carr says not ordering enough wallpaper can be a simple but expensive mistake. “Even if you order more of the exact same wallpaper, sometimes the colorways won’t match,” she says. “Always have the installer give you an estimate, as they typically do this for free.”

In addition, a good rule of thumb is to order about 10 to 20 percent more wallpaper than you actually need to complete your job. That way, your dye lots will definitely match should you have measured wrong, and you’ll have extra paper should a mistake be made in install. If all goes perfectly, having an extra roll or so means you’ll also have the ability to replace a panel or two, if need be, in the future.

10. Ignoring your room’s scale

When investing in quality furniture, designer Liles Dunnigan of The Warehouse Interiors says it’s essential to make sure the scale of a piece is proportionate to the size of the room. “A huge sectional in a small room will feel cramped, no matter how luxurious or beautiful the piece of furniture may be,” she explains. “On the other hand, if you have a spacious room, do not skimp out on a small sofa or loveseat. It will feel as if it’s floating in a sea of emptiness. Furniture pieces need to be proportional as they relate to one another.”

11. Not measuring the legs of your dining chairs

Nothing ruins a dinner party faster than a dining chair that won’t fit at the table. “Always measure to make sure the legs of your dining chairs fit between the legs of your table,” says designer Marika Meyer. “In my rookie days, I neglected to measure for the ‘extra’ chair that would be added when a client’s dining table was fully extended. We got a call on Christmas Eve from the client because the extra chairs wouldn’t fit—now I always remember to measure twice!”

While you’re at it, be sure that the chairs you are picking are also high enough for the table—and not too high either. Generally, chairs fall into a standard range, but sometimes there are outliers. Measure twice here, too, since it’s better to be safe than sorry.

12. Filling up a space quickly just to “finish” it

No matter how enticing the price tag on an inexpensive piece of furniture may be, Sullivan says investing in a bunch of poorly made furnishings just to complete your room almost always ends in regret. “We suggest pausing on the cheap chair or lamp if it is not absolutely necessary for your space and waiting to save up for the dream one you want to carry with you to all your future homes,” she says. “This will not only save you money, but you will start to curate a collection of items you adore.”

13. Using “postage stamp” sized rugs

If you thought buying a bunch of small rugs—instead of one large area rug—was a smart way to save money when decorating a room, designer Kendall Wilkinson says you’re mistaken. “Rugs serve to anchor the entire room’s design and unify the overall aesthetic,” she explains. “When the rug is too small, it feels like a postage stamp, and the scale as a whole and proportion of the space will suffer.”

According to Wilkinson, a cluster of too-small rug screams “mistake” and is often a costly fix. Typically, the only option is to purchase an entirely new rug in the proper size, since it’s also tough to layer similar smaller rugs without a larger anchor rug underneath them. You’d be better off buying a cheaper, less fancy large rug than trying to make something more decorative but smaller work in your space, even if you have multiples.

14. Not double-checking natural materials before installing them

If you plan on using any natural finishes in your home, such as stone tile or countertops, designer Ashley Moore of Moore House Interiors says to make sure to inspect everything prior to installation. That way, you are sure that materials you have received are what you actually had in mind. 

“For one project, we installed natural stone in the shower without checking the tile beforehand,” she explains. “Since natural stone varies, as opposed to man-made materials, there can be major differences in color and detail [of individual pieces]. It ended up having so much variation that it didn’t look cohesive and had to be completely redone. That’s a mistake we won’t be making again—it’s always better to send back or reorder before something is installed!”

15. Not measuring your elevator—or doorways

While you may have double checked the dimensions of the sofa you ordered to ensure it’s the right size for your living room, designer Megan Hopp advises you to measure your doorway and elevator (if applicable), too. “Early on in my career, I ordered not one but two oversized velvet sofas for a loft space I was working on in Manhattan—no question the sofas would fit the space perfectly—but did I think about the elevator ride up?” she says. “No, and it wasn’t even a close fit: There was no way I was getting those sofas in and up. They immediately needed to be loaded back on the truck and returned to the vendor with a steep restocking fee.”

That’s a mistake in the world of elevators that Hopp will never make again, but even if you don’t live in on a high floor of an apartment building, something like this could happen with your doorways. To cover all of your bases, it’s best to think about the process of physically getting items into your space as much as their fit in the spots that will ultimately be their final destinations.

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