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All Our Biggest Design Mistakes Posts In One Place

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You know when you’re scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, and you remember seeing something earlier on in the day that you want to show to someone during that 20-second countdown between episodes of Parks & Rec on Netflix and you start scrolling down your feed, absolutely POSITIVE it’s just a few more posts down, and then you scroll and scroll and SCROLLLLLLLLL and you still can’t find it. Then, 12 minutes later, you finally land on it way past where you thought it was (and even worse, it’s not even as funny as you remember, so now you’re embarrassed to show whoever was patiently waiting for you get to it because it’s been built up and will 100% garner only a lazy/polite chuckle). Okay, this analogy might have gone off the rails and I’m only now realizing it doesn’t EXACTLY apply to what I was about to say (kind of like our example, huh?). Basically, the point is, you might REMEMBER reading a post about…how to hang curtains and how you’re doing it ALL wrong, but at the time, you lived in an apartment with a militant landlord that didn’t let you so much as Command strip something to the walls and NOW you’ve been set free and can finally put up those draperies…and you can’t find the article. And because our site search leaves something to be desired (don’t worry, it’s on our “to do” list), THAT’S WHERE THIS POST COMES IN. It’s all of our design mistakes and room rules all together (all the way from back in 2015) in one big Don’t Do That, Do This Instead post party.

And because we all personally feel that fall is kind of like the “new year” for content (hello September issue of Vogue), what better time to dig in, spruce up and get your home together before people start invading it over the holidays and you’re stressed out that those too-short curtains are STILL up and you know that gallery wall could be so. much. better. 

SO, first up is…

Not Having a Plan

#1 vintage Birdie… #2 vintage Emily’s kitchen pre-renovation (here it is after, FYI). This post is all about the perils of buying for your home without a proper plan. Is it the end of the world if you buy that dresser you spotted in the wee hours of the morning during an insomnia-fueled Craigslist binge without measuring that it would even fit through the door or that it looked good with whatever else you might already have in mind for that room? Well…depends. Okay, no, it’s not THAT dramatic, but it’s just so much more of a headache that could have been avoided.

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Anything “Antiqued” or “Faux Old”

Look, if you have some faux Old World or antiqued stuff at home, there’s no need to panic. If you DO like things with character (but don’t necessarily have the $$$ to buy authentically antique pieces) study up on what to avoid so that you can still get that age you love that, yes adds so much warmth and texture to a room design.

Generic Art

Okay, we say this with SO MUCH LOVE (and definitely some experience): step away from the Marshalls or IKEA art aisle. Very few good things can come of it. Do you REALLY want that same black-and-white photo of Times Square with just the cabs in color as your college-aged nephew? I mean, we don’t think you do, right? There is SO MUCH amazing, original (or prints of originals) art out there for the taking. Art is supposed to infuse your home with your special, one-of-a-kind perspective on the world, and in this post, we walk you through what to just say “no” to and share some of our favorite sources to check out.

How to Hang Art Correctly

Okay, so now you’ve got your non-generic art. Don’t be a tragic person and then go and HANG IT WRONG. If you’ve ever stared at a piece of art, then at the wall, and back at the art again wondering…how high should this be, this post has all the info you’ll need forever and ever. ::strong muscle arm emoji::

The Generic Sofa

This post is NOT about buying that “investment” sofa. We are not here to tell you to just “go ahead and drop $10k on that imported Belgian sectional because it will be SO WORTH IT over time.” Is that true,? Yes, probably, but for those of us who are like “wait…what’s a savings account” out of just, frankly, living tiiiiiight paycheck to paycheck, but we want a beautiful house…THERE ARE OPTIONS. You might have no idea what a “generic” sofa is, but click over to read all about the silhouettes and fabrics to look away from and what to consider instead (no matter how small your budget).

The “Too Small” Rug

America has been suffering for too long from “too small rug” syndrome. That’s actually the exact first line of that post, but I mean, there really was no better way to start this recap blurb because nothing truer has ever been said (hyperbole much?). All the rules, examples of “do this” and “don’t do this please”, and room-sized rugs that don’t cost a ridiculous fortune.

Painting a Small, Dark Room White

You’ve got yourself a small or dark room, so OF COURSE you’ll want to paint it white to make it feel more open and brighter, right? RIGHT?!? No. Full stop. There are times when a white room works really well, and other times when it feels quite sad. We walk you through all those examples, and offer solutions for what to do instead.

Hanging Curtains All Wrong

Welcome to our MOST POPULAR POST EVER. It’s one of our top posts every month, because evidently, tens of thousands of people are out there googling how to hang curtains. We get it, it’s tricky and poorly hung curtains can kind of cheapen a beautiful room. Run, don’t walk, to read this post if you even doubt for a second you’re doing it wrong.

Bad Wood Finishes

Wood is your friend, people. Don’t let it stab you in the back. Shiny maple, shiny “espresso brown”, shiny bright red cherry…the top three culprits in the “bed wood finishes” case. Non-shiny maple, natural cherry wood, dark-stained wood…those are all fine and wonderful; this is a crash course on all the wood furniture that will instantly date your home.

Who Pays for Design Mistakes?

Your tile worker installs the tiles slightly crooked, or worth a weird, wonky grout line because of the shape of the tile? Who pays for that? What about if your designer forces your hand on something that you end up HATING. Who eats that cost? We’ve got all the answers in this post.

My Biggest Design Regrets – And What You Can Learn From Them

Emily lives, you learn. Remember “The Master Bedroom Wallpaper Disaster of 2014” or the great “I Regret Selling THE Blue Sofa” fiasco? Four major regrets from the brain of Mrs. Henderson and how to avoid doing what she did.

The Living Room Rules You Should Know

Okay, we’ve gone through a lot of DO NOT DO THIS OR THE WORLD WILL END posts, but this one and the following three are geared toward all those rules that take a room to that next level. The space you have around furniture, how to layout said furniture to begin with, how tall your coffee table should be in comparison to your sofa…THIS POST IS GOLD. Read it, re-read it, Pin it, print it out, pin it to your forehead and #neverforget.

Bedroom Design Rules

For anyone who doesn’t know that the bench at the foot of your bed should be  6 to 8 inches narrower than the bed on either side, this post is for you. (And if you just noticed that this accompanying image doesn’t follow that rule, well…sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and to hell with rules. No but for real, if you’re someone who lives by the book, read this post).

Dining Room Rules

Here’s a sneak peek of what you’ll get in this post: Give about 24″ of space per person for maximum comfort and food enjoyment. I mean, this is the stuff that perfect, effortless homes are made of.

OKAY FOLKS, that’s ALOT of rules. Do you have to live by all of these? No! But, we thought it might be a great resource to have all of these together in one place to reference whenever you need. So now the question begs…what else? We hit a lot of major points here, but is there anything else you think is a huge offender worth blogging about? Or something you just struggle with again an again that you want some real rules and guides around? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll get to work!

  1. I would LOVE a post about choosing paint colors for large dark rooms as well and suggestions for non-neutral richer colors! (A white room is great, but I want something cozy!) We have been debating over what color to paint our large pretty dark den and I cannot seem to make up my mind!

    1. I was coming here to say the same thing! Except my room is medium sized. I want to go dark for the home office but I’m scared! Maybe a post about how the direction of the light and the amount of light affects color choices. Like, for an east facing room with some (but not lots) of natural light, heres a list of colors (from all around the color wheel) that would work. Hopefully. 😉

      1. I would also love tips on choosing paint for a large, dark room.

    2. She actually has lots of posts on this! When I was painting my house, I got samples of about 10 different grays that Emily reccs and tried them ALL in my house– then I found the one I liked best. I also took another tip of hers and adjusted the saturation for one of the brighter rooms by 50%.

  2. Where are the bathroom rules??!! I need them in my life!

  3. Hi Em,

    The thought struck when you talked about a beautiful 10K sofa but the collective “you” live pay check to pay check and can’t make it happen. I wonder, because most everyone seems to love your authentic self and it’s what makes this blog not just another design blog, if you stepped to the side of design context and put a “financial series” together talking about first steps of financing a huge project or what the options ARE in financing a large renovation. I realize this might be too wide of a topic with specific options for everyone to piece together into bit size bits of information for the masses to consume…. but… I cant help but feel like there is a gap between what you can do in design (with sponsored content to get you there) versus what we “the people” go through in trying to make those beautiful spaces happen. I know that’s where Target comes in or your budget design series can also help fill that void.

    Additionally, what I’m really trying to get to is, it does rub me the wrong way a bit that the blog is still all about consumerism on some level. I know, it’s a blog, you need to make $$, showing us pretty things to buy helps get you (and your well deserving staff) a pay check. Further, design is very much a privileged thing to be able to consider. I guess I just want us to have it all. A well designed space but also a path to “get us there responsibly.” How to save? How to finance? What NOT to buy in order to have less “stuff” and more room for life to happen. Ultimately, how can a design blog somehow be about a great lifestyle that doesn’t require me to live pay check to pay check to get there? And then still, never really be there, because well, money is then tight and I’m too stressed to enjoy my beautiful space? I hope I don’t offend a reader in how this next bit sounds (everyone is in a different place)… Yes, I realize some people have no choice but to live paycheck to paycheck. It speaks to larger socioeconomic issues that I personally think need to be worked on (A LOT) but, the majority of us also, as Americans, have a giant leg up in being able to get our finances on track. I can’t help but ponder, if we all could tap the breaks, down shift, and switch lanes, we would all be able to put ourselves in a better place financially. I mean, isn’t a blog where it can ultimately be boiled down to consumerism (because design is, you CAN live in a shitty apartment that has a terrible layout filled with poorly designed possessions and still be happy, or at least live, right?) the best place to start in trying to balance out that side of the conversation and provide tips on how to instill financial responsibility? Design is a PRIVILEGE, so the question is, how do we give more people access to it without “shoving more product down our pie holes” ? I almost deleted this post and said nothing…but I ultimately felt like there might be a nugget of something in here that I’m trying to get across and hope your readers don’t think I’m being a jerk (or you, I absolutely love the space you’ve created here). I realize that I’m not offering a solution and just raising questions which is a crummy thing to do; hopefully one of your fabulous readers can better articulate what I’m trying to say and expand upon it? Maybe even answer my questions?

    1. I get it, and often think about this myself. Especially in these times where middle class people are getting squeezed so hard financially and it seems as though we have big problems to tackle with regards to corruption in government, climate change, education and healthcare. (Get out there and vote, people!)

      Interior design is a luxury, especially if you hire an actual design team to make your design dreams come true. And I don’t think it’s ever been a reality for people just starting out to have designer stuff. I lived with hand-me-down furniture and street finds until I was 35. When I see design blogs about first time apartments and dorm rooms, I have to roll my eyes. To me that’s pretty unrealistic.

      That said, having a beautiful and orderly space really does make life better. Understanding the principles of good design can allow people to make the best of what they have and when they do buy something, to make the right decision. Emily’s blog provides so many ideas and ways to fix your space, it’s educational and fun even when I can’t afford to do what she has done. Just my .02, and I don’t think you are being crummy to think about these issues and bring them up here.

      1. Totally agree that a lovely, orderly space makes life better. But there is a difference between investing in beautiful furniture over the years as you can afford it, versus chasing trends and having it all right now, and buying cheaply made (Target, anyone?) junk to get the look without the quality.

    2. I also have the same feelings. I will never have the budget to gut a house and replace everything with new so I have skipped over some of the newer blog content.

      The post about replacing everything in your cabinets with prettier things did not sit well with me. I do LOVE the result of the Portland house makeover, but perhaps you could mix in some content for those of us that will never achieve a similar budget. IMHO, it would be helpful to have more content similar to Brady’s posts where he was constrained by small rooms in an older building but with creativity he turned his rooms into something stunning and gave us ideas to use in our own spaces.

      I do find the posts about designing with Target products useful, and perhaps that concept could be expanded. How taking a generic small living room, dining room, bedroom, etc, and using IKEA products to update the design? You could use the same basic room and furnish it only with Good Will products. For example, an ugly chair could be refreshed with paint and DYI upholstery. You could come up with several themes for a nursery by just using hand-me-downs and Good Will type pieces that have been painted or otherwise hacked.

      Perhaps you can expand on “don’t use generic art” and give us some ideas that we could use with a very tiny budget. There was mention in the past of printing your own art and using IKEA frames in a post about picture framing. For a post about what to use instead of generic art, you could bring the “print your own” idea back in and add other ideas. Use objects with texture like flat baskets or cool fragments of things. Use white or black spray paint to simplify dated or busy colors.

      Maybe you could start up the CraigsList content again, but this time, buy and refinish a piece and show it displayed in a scenario. This could be done against a single wall instead of an entire room. Perhaps you could give each staff member a fixed amount of money and let them buy from CraigsList, ebay, Good Will, garage sales, etc. Have them get creative with their purchases, style the finished pieces, and then turn the results into a post. EHD has a lot of talent and perhaps some of it could be utilized in brainstorming ideas for re-use and recycle.

      1. I love that Craigslist idea so much. It would be moving in a very different direction, but I’d love to see it. What if you had a contest among your readers!! We redo the craigslist stuff and you choose some to highlight. There’s another website that I frequent, and at certain times of the year, they’ll say, “Upload your patio furniture. Upload pics of your Christmas decorations!” I don’t think that will ever happen on EH, but I just love scrolling through the good, the bad, and the ugly. See, that too is focusing on and enjoying what you have as opposed to going out and buying more. It’s a little crazy but I love it. Also, last week I bought a Japanese home mag, and my favorite space belonged a young guy who lives in Tokyo in a freakin’ CAMPER with an outdoor area consisting of 2 couches, a (smallish) above-ground pool, a gas grill, and a big coffee table made of pallets. I just pored over those photos, so excited and intrigued.

      2. The Craiglist idea is an awesome one! Many design blogs aim high in their executions, which for me is okay. I know what I can realistically afford to spend. Like many of the folks here, I operate on a painfully tight budget. Looking at and reading about such enviable spaces doesn’t make that any easier to accept. But rooms created by great designers like Emily help me to look at my own place with a new “lens”. It also forces me to get creative while working within my own boundaries.

        As far as non-generic artwork. I find Etsy and Society 6 to be outstanding resources.

    3. The dirty secret is that almost everything that appears in a home decorating blog is optional. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then this blog is for dreaming not for doing. That’s fine by me.

      Regarding access, there are far more important things to worry about — housing, healthcare, education, legal services, etc. I’m not worried that people don’t have access to updated sofa styles.

      1. Sounds like what a lot of you want is to read DIY blogs. There are tons out there, some really good ones. Google is your friend. Emily and her team are stylist/designers. They are creating content that fits into that arena. I personally think they do an amazing job of doing the high/low dance. Most people come here to see the designs, hear Emily’s voice, and get inspiration. Sure, some of what they create is high end but this is their job. To tell a landscape architect they should only show images of DIY yards and never show images of their work they do everyday with teams of people is disingenuous. I love to see images of French homes. Imagine what it is like to live there. Am I ever going to move to a chic Paris apartment? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to see it and feel the lifestyle. Rock on Emily and team! You guys are doing amazing.

    4. There are lots of blogs and podcasts about money management and about minimalism. For example Dave Ramsay also The Minimalists. No need for Emily to re- invent the wheel.

  4. Emily never seems to answer this question, but I think it’s one that will help a lot of readers – I assume her “never hang generic art” is a somewhat nuanced opinion, since she has recommended Target art time and time and time again. It feels so disingenuous to say things like “never buy generic art” and then wax poetic about the generic Target painting that used to be in her living room and encourage everyone to buy it. It frankly feels as though she thinks her readers are idiots.

    Could you please simply take five minutes and explain what you mean by “generic art”, and why Target art does not seem to fit into that category but Ikea and Marshalls art do?

    1. I second this! I am also very confused by this distinction.

    2. I noticed this too. Also, respectfully, who gives a flying fig? If you love a “generic” picture from IKEA and it makes you happy to look at it everyday then why not go for it? It’s only an issue when you select generic are to “fill a space” and you have no opinion about it one way or the other. I have some Target art purchased because of Emily’s recommendation and I love it. It seems like a little bit of elitism is creeping in there, the design equivalent of saying “I only listen to indie bands.”

      1. I’m totally fine with designers being elitist about design, to be honest – there’s a reason rooms designed by designers generally look better than rooms designed by the public, and a big part of that is higher quality materials and I’m fine with that. I don’t need designers to pretend they’re ‘just like us’.

        But I’m just so confused by the inconsistency here – if you want to advocate for using only unique, original art, then do so! But if you do so and then constantly recommend generic Target art, well, that comes across as so, so disingenuous.

        1. All people have ideas or opinions that sometimes conflict with other ideas they live by – that’s part of what makes us human. Emily and her team have always shared why they like certain art, including generic at (they often show that something is graphic or the color way or balance is just right), and her posts go into a lot of detail. Take what you can and leave the rest, right?

          Thank you Emily and team for providing your opinions to the world and for creating content real people can have real discussions about.

    3. I think you’re missing the heart of it. Avoid buying generic art. There’s some generic art that is better than others. If it offends you, you’re probably guilty.

      1. Unless Emily would clarify, it feels like the actual heart of it is, ‘avoid buying generic art, unless it’s the completely generic art from the company for which I am the spokesperson’. If that’s the case, well, all the ‘just don’t go to Ikea!’ admonitions sounds really hypocritical.

    4. I re- read the original post on generic art and it goes into great detail on what “genetic art” is and they give options on how to avoid. Echoing some of the other comments, I think if art speaks to you in some personal way, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

    5. I have a piece of generic art over my fireplace and I love it. If Emily came to my house I could defend it and convince her why it needed to stay. I have a strong positive association with that piece of art. That being said, I still understand what she is saying about generic art. When you are walking through the aisle of any big box store most of the art will make you feel meh or blah. It is nothing special. After reading her post on generic art I pay more attention to how I feel when I see a piece of art. Now I am more likely to use a vacation photo or something meaningful on the walls than something from a big box store.

    6. Initially came here to say this, then thought I should click through to the original Art post. Although it still is a little wonky feeling, I do get what she’s saying about buying generic abstract art. Frankly, I just like the Target art she’s promoted, and therefore purchased it, and therefore am happy, which I think Emily would be happy about for me – lol.

  5. This post is amazing! The two issues we are trying to tackle right now is figuring out paint colors for our rooms (not a lot of natural light) and finding the right size rug in our living room. We have a smaller living room and a chaise couch and it’s really hard to figure out what size rug to use without it dwarfing our entire living room.

    Also – in the post about the paint colors, the image you reference with some examples of paint colors you’ve used in darker rooms it isn’t loading. I want to see what colors you recommend! 🙂

    1. Me, too! Having the same problem.

      1. Me, three! Show us the colors, pretty please.

  6. It’s because of these posts I originally started following your blogs. When I went to redecorate my last house, I had no idea where to start, and I used so many of these tips! I’ve definitely been a victim of so many of these faux pas. Thx for reposting, good to reread!

  7. I’m laughing at the hanging curtains WRONG. I bought curtains for my family room, and bedroom, about 2 months before your curtain post. Guessing that post was about a year ago? But I was paralyzed about hanging them. Was thrilled to read your post on how to properly hang them. Finally felt empowered enough to hang them. But….my new, expensive, Restoration Hardware( https://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod6450312&categoryId=cat9000211) rods are still in the boxes, in the closet. My curtains are are also in the closet. But they have been washed and dried. I know they are will work, and not have to be altered. But something is still freaking me out. This post may be the kick in the butt I need to get them up. I hope!

  8. This post was perfect timing since we’re buying a new couch and decorating a new home soon!
    Can’t wait to see your thoughts so we can no what mistakes to avoid.

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  9. For the living room rules: which piece of furniture should I buy first? All the proportions seem to be linked to one another, but which is the most important to anchor the entire room (and all proportions) to?

  10. Great post! Thanks for consolidating it all into one. On the topic of not using generic art, could you do a post on how to buy reasonably priced original art at second hand stores, flea markets etc.? Like, what to look for and what to avoid. Maybe before I hit the Brimfield next week? 😜

    1. If you click the title for “Generic Art” it’s a link to a whole blog post she did a while back.

  11. Love this round up of posts! It’s so helpful I had to bookmark it for future reference. I really appreciate the post about buying from artists being included here. As an artist who supports other artists, I think it’s so important to let people know how accessible original artwork is (& how much it means to the artist when their work sells).

  12. I’m sitting right next to my most recent design mistake. I recently added room darkening curtains to my bedroom (yes from Target) and they work perfectly and look great. Decided to add a set to my guest room/office and ordered the same rod and a set in a different color. As we were putting up the rod, it became obvious that the windows in the two bedrooms were not the same size. So the rod is too short and Target didn’t have the extremely long rod for my apparently gigantic window. And my husband asked if the curtain panels would be wide enough … um, no?
    Wound up ordering an oversize rod (delivered today) and buying narrow blue and white curtain panels to flank my white panels. Now the window will be lavishly covered and will look fabulous.

    I hope.

  13. I whole-heartedly disagree with the notion mentioned in comments that design is a privilege. You don’t have to buy new things, or expensive things, to design a room or a home or to have a design sense. I have very little money and live paycheck to paycheck, and I have a very keen sense of design and have designed my home using hand-me-downs, thrift store purchases, up-cycled items and IKEA-type furnishings. The ideas that Emily & Co. have on this blog can be used with your own spin and your own budget. They are jumping-off points. If you don’t like an idea – don’t use it. No site or blog is going to satisfy everyone. My favorite blogs are a mix of aspirational and obtainable. This blog does both for me. If it doesn’t for you – then I’m sure there are approximately a thousand other blogs that will.

  14. Oh my gosh, I love that picture of you, Ginny and Elliot. You must treasure it.

  15. I’d love to see a post on choosing a paint color from a more in depth level. I lived and learned on this one. Trying to find that subtle grey or just off-white, only to discover after painting the whole house, that it has a blue undertone you’re not wanting. I learned to find the RGB value of the paint and enter the code into photoshop. This way I could see exactly where it fell on the color spectrum and what its undertones would be. I do feel a post on this topic could help a lot of people understand color and choose the right one.

    I’m dying for the pretty accessories post mentioned to be coming soon with the gorgeous Food52 olive oil holder from your kitchen. I’m also in love with beautiful ceramics, from vases to plates and would love a round-up of those. Perhaps with different price brackets too if people are wanting more high-end, or are on a budget.

    I mean have you seen these Jono Pandolfi plates?!
    https://www.jonopandolfi.com/square-sided/3-piece-place-setting

  16. If if you can, buy art from artist. It comes in all price ranges and is available on Etsy, fairs, studios and Instagram. Go to the source and get to know a bit about the spirit and creative behind the piece you might enjoy. I think this what Emily is talking about.

  17. Super helpful! Thanks, Emily!

  18. Love this post, this blog, this team, etc. This may not be the best post to ask about this, but I have questions about rug pads! You mentioned having some tempurpedic rug pad under an older antique rug in your living room, that sounds so comfy! Can you share the source? Would you consider doing a post about how to choose the right rug pad? You can make it sound more exciting, I’m sure 😉 Thanks!

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