Common Design Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Homeowners can often tell something isn’t quite right with their interiors, but it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is

Vancouver designers weigh in on home decorating fails and how to correct them

When home decorating goes awry, the missteps can be imperceptible to the untrained eye, but scream out obnoxiously to a design professional.

Homeowners can often tell something isn’t right with their space, but it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what that something is.

Enter our panel of local designers: Jamie Banfield, Christine Friend and Karin Bohne, here to edify the masses about what common design mistakes people are making and – most importantly – how to fix them.

Stingy Lighting

Karin Bohne, Moeski Design Agency: “Lighting is such a key element to creating a beautiful ambience in any space. Not only is high quality task lighting important for a great working area like a study or a kitchen, but a mix of overhead (recessed) lighting and ambient lighting (lamps or pendants) can really create a well-lit space without dark spots or shadows.

“Don’t be afraid to add lighting. It can always be dimmed and controlled to suit the appropriate purpose or time of day. And don’t be afraid to experiment with lighting and do something unique. Add some floor lights in a kitchen for example, or instead of using tradition table lamps, try hanging pendants over your side tables in a bedroom. I promise, other than too little lighting, there are few mistakes you can make with lighting, and you’ll love the result.”

Pictures Hung Too High, Too Low or Too Far Apart

Christine Friend, Friendly Decorator: “One common design mistake I often see is pictures hung diagonally from each other. When this occurs, your eye naturally goes to the blank middle space rather than the pictures themselves, thus losing the visual impact.

“Pictures should be hung either horizontally or vertically in line with each other. Your eye will naturally go from image to image, rather than the space around them. Depending on their size, pictures should be hung 60 to 66 inches from the floor to the centre of the picture. If you’re going for a gallery look, hang them a little lower at 57 inches from the floor to the centre of the picture. A good measurement to place pictures beside or above each other is to take the measurement of the matte in the frame. If you have a two-inch matte, you can have two inches in between each frame. Keep in mind, there’s always variation to a rule – when hanging art gallery-style there is a lot more flexibility!”

Jamie Banfield: “I always get asked about hanging art on the wall and what is the right way to do this. My recommendation is to look at the proportion of your room and the purpose of the art within the space. If it is to be appreciated while standing, the general rule is the top third of the art should be eye level. If you are hanging your art while in your living or dining room, it will need to be lower and at eye level while you are sitting.

“With all of this said, the size of the art needs to be proportionate with the scale of the room. My best tip is to take parchment paper and cut it to the size of your art, tape it to the wall, then stand back and see if it will work in the space.” 

Area Rugs That are Too Small

Jamie Banfield: “Before purchasing an area rug, make sure to have your furniture in place first. Time and again, I have seen rugs that are not proportionate with the floor area and furniture. This can make the room look smaller than it is. A useful tip to keep in mind is to always make sure the front legs of your furniture sits on top of the rug, and as a general rule, ensure there is approximately a two-foot border of bare floor around the room to help keeps things balanced.”

Christine Friend: “Area rugs provide a good foundation for a space and help differentiate one area from an adjacent space, especially in a open-concept home. If you choose to use a rug in the dining room, make sure it has a large surface area, usually around 36 feet. You should be able to push your chair back from the table and have all legs still remain on the fabric to avoid any awkward spills caused by tripped-up legs.”

Thinking Sofas Should Always Be Up Against the Wall

Karin Bohne: “One of the most common design mistakes that I see when decorating is placing furniture against a wall when it’s unnecessary to do so. Don’t assume that the back of your sofa shouldn’t be visible or that it must be aligned with a wall. Sometimes the bones of a room won’t allow for a comfortable or functional seating arrangement if furniture is flush with the wall.

“By positioning furniture deliberately away from the walls, you can often create a distinct seating arrangement, and in an open-concept living space, the back of a sofa can actually serve to define and separate the seating area from another room in the home.”

Not Testing Your Paint Selection

Christine Friend: “Paint is the least expensive decorating tool, but having to repaint over and over again because you’ve made a bad selection is not a good use of time. Either purchase a pre-painted sample to hold against a wall (Benjamin Moore sells 2’x2’ pre-painted colours from their heritage collection) or pick up a small sample jar and paint a spare piece of drywall or large piece of cardstock.

“Pre-painting a portable piece allows you to move the sample throughout the room to view the colour in various lighting. Look at the colour choice in at least three areas of the room and at the time of day you most spend your time there to get the most accurate idea of the finished product. Lighting has a huge bearing on your paint colours, having the ability to make it look completely different than what you originally thought.”

Gutting Everything for a Modern Renovation

Karin Bohne: “Some of the most beautiful renovations I’ve seen strike a balance between new and polished elements and the original or historical character of a home. If you’re going to take on a renovation project, don’t underestimate how much impact or value the original aspects of the home can add to the end result. When taking on a renovation, although the instinct might be to absolutely gut everything, try to take a step back and be strategic about what to remove or replace. You could end up saving some money and achieving a truly unique look in the end by keeping and refurbishing elements you might otherwise get rid of. Anyone can put together a cookie-cutter look, but maintaining these original elements all contribute to creating a truly unique, authentic and personalized end result.”

Above: This Gastown penthouse was completely gutted and renovated, but the original bones were simply spruced up — the wood beams were sanded and finished, the rough concrete walls were cleaned up and left original, and the existing concrete floors were given a diamond buff polish for sheen and livability.