3 COMMON INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKES – AND HOW TO AVOID THEM!
Renovations can be great fun. A chance to put your ‘stamp’ on a space – to elevate its aesthetic and and establish a fresh approach. Unfortunately, alongside the fun comes dust, spiraling costs and stress. Oh, the stress. I often meet clients mid-build who are utterly exhausted by the process. The constant decision-making – from fixtures to finishes – can be overwhelming and even the breeziest of people can feel bamboozled by builders’ endless questions. Inevitably, wearied or rash decisions can result in unfortunate interior design mistakes. From sofas that don’t quite fit the space, impractical finishes (regretted mere moments after installation) to a paint colour that looks totally different on the wall to the sample card. They happen!
There can be a lot of pressure to ‘get it right’
With 2019 around the corner, carrying with it notes of ‘fresh start’, this is a good time to get ahead of the game. In this post – the first of two – I will be identifying 3 common interior design mistakes and discussing ways to avoid making them. Thinking ahead and knowing the best approach will save you considerable time, money and heartache.
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that we’re all human. Mistakes invariably do happen. If you find that you’re questioning or regretting past decisions, don’t berate yourself. Whilst experience is a wonderful teacher, even the most seasoned designer has endured that awful lump-in-the-throat moment at some point in their career. For the non-professional, errors are all-too-easy to make, especially when decisions are rushed (this is your ‘sale period’ warning) or ill-informed! Whilst some problems are easy to resolve – for example, non-bespoke items ordered online can be swiftly returned – others can be extremely expensive and time consuming to rectify.
INSTA-STORY INSIGHTS – COMMON INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKES
In preparation for this post, I conducted some preliminary research through the reliable, insightful forum that is Instagram Stories (follow me here). The barrage of direct messages I received recounted interior design disasters past and present. For many, it was as simple as choosing the wrong paint colour. Surely ‘Clay’ didn’t mean salmon-pink. For others, hiring dud-decorators was most regrettable.
‘I just didn’t measure the space properly’ said one lovely and honest contributor of her over-sized L-shaped sofa, which still resides in her front lounge today. Others talked of their issues with spatial planning – of creating monolithic kitchen islands or rooms that just weren’t fit-for-purpose. Other regrets were not planning a lighting scheme earlier in the project or overlooking the placement of plug-sockets.
INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKE #1 – BUYING FURNITURE THAT IS TOO BIG (OR SMALL) FOR THE SPACE
Consider carefully if the furniture you’re ordering is right for your space.
Potentially the most common and frustrating mistake of all. This is something I see all too regularly – either rooms crammed with extremely cumbersome furniture, eating into every faction of space or homes which feel desperately empty. Sometimes, furniture is just so enormous that the first issue is simply getting it into your house! And sometimes it’s just too tiny and insignificant to make any impact at all.
When selecting furniture, it’s really important to note that great big chunky pieces can look almost dainty in a cavernous showroom. The issue is that they can become a total eyesore in-situ, with lower ceilings and far less excess space so think about how they will translate. Sofas that overlap at the arms generally scream ‘too large for the room’. Equally, pieces pushed up against the wall to within an inch of their life call for breathing space.
I realise that very few people are lucky enough to live in large homes – I certainly don’t. It is important, however, to remember that proportion is (almost) everything. The scale of your furniture should be appropriate. And whilst I do love over-sized elements such as giant pendant lighting, for everyday pieces of furniture, measuring accurately is everything.
AVOIDING INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKE #1
When you get it right, the results can be incredibly rewarding. Image: Sarah Mailer Design
Measure twice, cut once.
Okay, you may not be actually ‘cutting’ in this scenario but the message translates. Befriend your tape measure. Better to check the measurements rigorously – obsessively – than make wild assumptions which could lead to disastrous consequences. Measuring thoroughly will not only help you ascertain if the furniture will fit through the door but will also give you an insight into how it will fill the space. You could even mock-up a floor plan (more on this below in #3).
Consider that you may not want everything pushed up against the walls – this can actually make the room feel like a tighter squeeze. Furniture generally looks much better a little way from the edges – even if all you have is an inch. That shadow gap makes a difference. For small spaces, I always recommend choosing ‘lighter’ looking pieces. Sofas or beds that are more streamlined, not necessarily in terms of size, but in shape. Anything raised off the ground is a winner – even a subtle suggestion of floor extending underneath the furniture really heightens that feeling of space. If you’re choosing a pair of sofas to sit in an ‘L’ formation then try to avoid the arms overlapping or touching. Consider the depth of that sofa or chair – is it right for your room? You may choose to mark out the key pieces of furniture on the floor with newspaper or masking tape. This really gives a sense of scale in-situ.
Be realistic with your space. Sometimes two armchairs will work better than a heavy sofa. Image: Sarah Mailer Design
For really small living spaces, don’t be too ambitious with the amount of seating. Be realistic. It will probably be difficult to seat 10-12 guests so have one main sofa and complement with some armchairs. You can’t always tick every box and less often is more.
INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKE #2 – CHOOSING THE WRONG PAINT COLOUR
Paint colour selection is a minefield! Making the wrong decision is one of the most common interior design mistakes and has happened to most of us at some point.
A few years ago, a friend had had her entire house painted in what she thought was the perfect shade of grey. She arrived home to the second coat application, expecting to delight in the soothing shade, but knew instantly that she’d picked the wrong colour. After much panic, the whole house was repainted – a costly and stressful exercise but one she considered worthwhile given its extensive presence throughout her home. This is by no means an isolated incident in home renovation.
Consider choosing your paint colour last once you’ve confirmed all the other key elements and finishes within the space. Image source: Sarah Mailer Design
The vast range of paint brands, colours and finishes is both a blessing and a curse to the everyday consumer. To confuse matters further, names don’t necessarily mean what they say. Farrow and Ball’s ‘New White’, for example, feels decidedly yellow-based and creamy – not really white at all. For ease, it can be tempting to select a colour you’ve seen – and loved – via Pinterest or on a friend’s wall. This outcome can often disappoint as a colour can look vastly different in another setting. Equally, selecting from an on-screen image, the paint tin or a tiny sample card may seem clear-cut but the shades are often distorted. Nuances of colour can be missed on a tiny swatch or tin.
AVOIDING INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKE #2
Getting paint colour right is such a huge topic that I’ve actually written an entire blog post on it – ‘How to Choose the Perfect Paint Colour for Your Interior‘. Read it here.
I love a light and airy hue. Image source: Sarah Mailer Design
The key to avoiding this common interior design error is to know your space and the overarching objective. Paint colours alter significantly depending on the direction the room is facing, the colour of the light (consider if you are using warm or cool bulbs), other elements within the scheme and the time of day. I would always recommend clarifying your brief. Do you wish to create a cosy, ‘evening room’ or a light and airy family space? Then explore a number of paint options which align with this brief before committing.
It may seem an unnecessary expense but I always recommend investing in some sample pots of paint. Little printed swatches just don’t cut it. Buy some lining paper too and paint large samples of each colour directly onto the paper. Apply two to three thin coats, as you would to your wall, allowing the paint to dry fully between each. You want the finish to be as realistic as possible so you have total clarity around the hue. Label each sample and then tape the painted paper around the room, moving the samples from wall to wall and scrutinising at different times of day and in different lights. This will give you clear visibility and will help you make the right decision. If none meet the requirements then follow your gut and explore more options in much the same way.
Consider what was ‘wrong’ with the first batch. (e.g. too light, too creamy etc) and choose new colours to rectify these issues.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Image source: Girl About House – Dreaming of White Decor
INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKE #3 – GETTING THE LAYOUT WRONG
Layout is incredibly important and can significantly change the look and feel of a room. Get it wrong and the space can feel far too cluttered and busy – like you’re collecting furniture – or soulless and empty. A long, narrow room will look even longer with furniture installed either side – like a corridor or galley. And some new, open plan spaces, designed without usage or zoning in mind, can feel vacuous and wasteful.
You may have inherited a space with a particular layout and – almost subconsciously – created a carbon-copy when redecorating. This is common as we don’t always have the time or inclination to think creatively or originally. It can be hard to push beyond what we see as a perfectly reasonable solution. However, before you invest in new pieces of furniture along these lines, it is always worth asking ‘could the layout be better’? Is it actually fit for purpose?
The wrong layout can often be resolved via an evening of furniture-shuffling. Even subtle changes can make a big difference. However, for spaces which have more permanent fixtures, poor layout choices are potentially far more damaging. In some instances, no amendments can be made without a complete rework and this can be incredibly frustrating. Making alterations to plumbing may seem unnecessary, for example, but know that you may always anguish over installing that toilet directly opposite the bathroom door. Equally, boxing in your bedroom’s entryway with extended fitted wardrobes is also something you may live to regret. These are the type of layout mistakes that could have potentially been avoided at the planning stage.
AVOIDING INTERIOR DESIGN MISTAKE #3
Use a spatial planning programme to ensure the most effective layout. Image source: Sarah Mailer Design
Planning is everything!
I cannot stress the importance of creating a floorplan in the early stages of formulating your space. This does not need to be a detailed AutoCAD or Revit drawing – there are lots of excellent, free spatial planning apps and online tools. Sites such as Floorplanner, Sweet Home 3D or Homestyler offer excellent basic tools and there are even apps that will take measurements on your phone. You may even wish to draw out a quick floorplan to scale and then cut out pieces of paper to represent the main pieces of furniture.
To avoid making big interior design mistakes, when you’re at the planning stage, consider the function of the space in depth. Will the layout allow it to be fully fit for purpose? Once this has been established, consider the initial focal point and wider vistas of the room. What you wish to see from each key angle? What would you like the main focal point to be when you enter? For kitchen or bathroom design, these questions are particularly important as it is difficult to make changes after installation.
This kitchen island was installed to balance the space and offers additional storage. Image source: Sarah Mailer Design
If you live in a period property, the natural focal point for a relaxing living room may be a fireplace, so explore how you will make this the ‘star attraction’. Consider how it is painted or clad, styled or finished or what you will install to flank it on either side. If you don’t have a fireplace, consider installing one for this purpose or think about alternatives such as a striking media unit with integrated lighting or an over-sized piece of art.
Fireplace goals with bespoke in-built joinery either side. Image source: Sarah Mailer Design
As I mentioned above, functionality should be a key consideration when planning the layout. If you’re looking to create a sociable space – somewhere for entertaining – then consider grouping furniture in a formation that is conducive to this purpose. Sofas opposite each other will allow guests to comfortably engage in conversation, with chairs or ottomans completing the ‘square’. Ideally a central coffee table for snacks and drinks (45-50cm away from the sofa edge is ideal). Perhaps a bar area for quick and easy access to a light tipple?
Take measurements of the space and of the key pieces of furniture and mock them up. Also, consider the access areas – is there enough space to circulate? Ideally, there should always be at least 80cm of clearance for people to walk past. If the space in question is a modest-sized children’s bedroom where you wish to encourage play, then maximum floor-space is beneficial. Work through the problems in advance so as not to become stuck once it’s too late.
There is almost always enough space for a coffee table which is a useful addition to a living room. Image source: Sarah Mailer Design
If you’ve read this post and are now questioning your every design decision then please don’t panic! Regardless of the situation, there are always simple ways and means to improve a space so hope is never lost! For me, a scented candle, flickering early evening and a good coffee table book goes a long way to relax the mood. Great lighting can also do wonders for any environment – sometimes the best investment is a trusted lamp or dimmer switch!
In the second part of this post, coming early 2019, I will be exploring more interior design mistakes and how to avoid them. I would love to hear your thoughts on the above and feel free to share below any design disasters that you’ve encountered along the way! Hopefully you’re still smiling!
Girl signing off,
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If you’re interested in interior design services: www.sarahmailerdesign.co.uk