10 Common Interior Design Mistakes



One of the best parts of my job is going into people’s homes and helping them create a beautiful and functional place to live. Every situation is different, but over the years, I’ve seen a lot of mistakes and/or hear some preconceived ideas that may not necessarily be true.

*(The “don’t photos” are not credited. )



10 common interior design mistakes

What is wrong this room Laurel? Hey, it was in House Beautiful, so what gives?

Actually, I think it’s a very lovely room– very well done, however, if you are entering the room from the back of this very large sectional, you have to walk all the way around to sit on it. (unless you want to jump over the back.) ;] That is a big no, no in space planning as there is no gracious sense of entrance  into the room (Thank you Maggie Cohen my wonderful space planning professor at the New York School of Interior Design, 25 years ago) and it is blocking off the energy into the room.  So, unless this is a very open concept kind of home, OR there are two entrances, on each side of the sectional, I would not recommend this layout.



10 common interior design mistakes

Pretty room but this chandelier is way too big for this very skinny table. (actually, the table is ridiculously skinny and in this case the bigger problem!) Good rule of thumb for dining chandeliers: The diameter should not exceed the width of the table by about 10″, so if your table is 42″ wide, I would not do a chandelier more than 32″ in diameter– tops. This chandelier is also hung a bit too low. Generally, it should be hung about 30″ above the table, but sometimes it can be a bit lower. This is too low, I think, especially because the inhabitants of this table will be black and blue from knocking into each others’ knees and feet and then they will conk themselves in the head on the chandelier. They will hate you. In addition, you should have at least one foot between the tallest point of the chandelier and the ceiling as an absolute minimum.. So, if you have an 8′ ceiling, the maximum height of your chandelier or pendant can only be about 24″ tall. Table height is  at 30″ + 30″ + 24″ + 12″ = 96″



10 common interior design mistakes

and waaaay too high, in this case. This is a crying shame, because otherwise, I think that this is a very pretty dining room. (and I love that they left the windows bare.) One other consideration is room size and ceiling height. This is a generous dining room with a large table; the table is probably about 42-45″ wide. The room height is about 9′ to the ceiling. This chandelier looks to be about 24″ in diameter. I think that a good size diameter chandelier for this table would be an absolute minimum of 28″ (and with more going on than this, like some crystals) but more like 30-34″.  It also needs to come down about 12-18″ +/-. Hard to see exactly from a photo.

Also, please be careful with table lamps. They keep getting bigger and BIGGER AND BIGGER!!!  

(this topic requires it’s very own post)



10 common interior design mistakes

okay… zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

but really. no. please. don’t. This look went out with the cold war. (if it was ever truly in.) Today’s rooms look like they evolved and actually, rooms done 200 years ago looked that way too. Nothing screams middle class mediocrity more than a matched set of furniture!

Here is a beautiful, but still traditional dining room that demonstrates my point.


by James Michael Howard. (aka: Jim Howard, husband of Phoebe Howard)

This is a perfectly executed dining room. The chandelier is in perfect proportion to the room and table and hung at the perfect height. The furniture is not a matched set but looks great together as the lines and colors are complimentary. The rug is contemporary, but elegant which gives the room a fresh note. Barbara Barry has said, “complexity is what makes rooms, rich.” And she’s right. And then, there’s the grisaille wall panels that actually makes me nuts. (in a good way)


Of course, I will never make you do anything you don’t like, but beige is not boring if you do it right! Really! It definitely is already on its way to being quite interesting if you call it mocha, cafe au lait or biscuit. :]

A beige by any other name would still be gorgeous! (if done right!)

This is how you do it right.


Gorgeous, elegant “beige room” by John Jacob.

So what makes beige work?

  1. varying the shades of beige
  2. adding in deep hues like brown and black
  3. adding in accents of white or cream or pale, pale grey
  4. adding in accents of color (everything goes with beige!)
  5. adding in touches of metal be it gold or silver
  6. use of varied textures, linens, velvets, damasks, natural fibers, etc.
  7. sophisticated furnishings



This is why you think that beige is boring and brown is depressing and why if you’re not careful, it will look like you smeared Crest Toothpaste all over your walls.

10 common interior design mistakes

Why doesn’t this room work?

  1. dated, tired, cheap, fabric
  2. boring orange-y prefab floor
  3. mint green walls (go grayer and darker than you think the hue should be)
  4. the rug is way too small
  5. insufficient and horrible lighting
  6. a ceiling fan with a light. just no.
  7. popcorn ceiling (in FL, you can get killed for throwing popcorn!)
  8. nothing on the walls
  9. dated, dowdy, flabby furniture which is overwhelming the sickly, bare hospital green walls.
  10. and yeah... the cheap, shiny, polyester drapes are getting ready for the flood. 
  11. (and they're hung too low from the ceiling.)

But Laurel… We don’t have big mega budgets like your other clients and we only have 5,000 dollars–tops.

First of all… all of my clients are very budget-conscious and a lot of them don’t have as much as you might think to spend on furnishings. Yes, they have a bit more than 5k to spend, but here’s what you can do with 5k to take this room into the here and now and with great style! Here’s what I would do if I had 5k to spend to update this room.

  1. Purchase some custom slip covers made with cream cotton duck for the two sofas.
  2. Buy some 96" ready-made drapes hung much higher. (West Elm is having
     a sale and has many beautiful things-- cheap!)
  3. Buy a new sea grass rug in a 9x12. These are sold everywhere are not expensive
  4. Buy some new updated end tables, lamps coffee tables. Try places 
    like West Elm or look on Ebay or Craig's List for some great deals
  5. Paint the walls a deep rich gray like Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray or
     Gray Mountain. These sophisticated colors will make  the sideboard look
     more like an antique
  6. The walls need art. You can find a lot of great ideas here and here
  7. I would add a comfortable club chair which could be in the cotton duck or a coordinating print.


That is what you could do with this room for 5k and will be beautiful! If you have a bit more, you can hire a contractor to put up 1/4″ sheet rock and cover up the popcorn ceiling.



10 common interior design mistakes

The person who decided to manufacture these should be shot at dawn and then all of his descendents who decided to sell their souls and continue to manufacture these atrocities should be taken away, locked up and made to listen to Tiny Tim singing Tip Toe through the Tulips and be forced to stare up at one of these— all day long!

(note: To be clear, I love fans–particularly in sunrooms and for people who live in warm-weather climates. However, a simple classic white fan for most rooms with a light or white ceiling and no headlights please!)




10 common interior design mistakes

no. Even the old cougar on the TV screen is horrified.



When I was having my second child, a good friend asked me what was the “theme” of the baby’s room? She was horrifed to hear that I had no “theme.” You don’t have to have one either. And if you do, please keep it subtle. (very subtle)


Anchors Away!!! LOL



Actually, if you want your ceiling to look higher, you must paint it  a darker color. This topic requires its own post too. But in the meantime, please take a look at this room and tell me if you still think that a ceiling must always be white.



and sometimes… we just have to throw the rules away…


sometimes. :]

decorating mistakes



  • Cassandra - April 25, 2017 - 10:15 AM

    We are remodeling a 30×25 open Living Room and Kitchen, with a small dining area. Ceilings are 9ft.
    The dining table is 60″ L. The chandelier I am interested in is 47″L x 16″ x 18H. Do you think this would be too big?
    I kind of thought it would create a separation from the living room to the dining space/Kitchen but I am not sure if it would be way to overpowering being it is so large.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - April 25, 2017 - 8:00 PM

      Well, I can’t see it, but it sounds too big or the table is too small.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Bezanson - March 29, 2017 - 8:41 AM

    “Anchors away!” – dying here!! I stumbled upon this post when I started reading about your opinion on ceiling fans. We have one of those gems similar to the photo above. It’s hideous, brassy, orange wood-look blades, and waaay undersized for our 24’x24′ great room!
    That is the only ceiling light in the room. I’m undecided if we really need a fan because we live in New Hampshire where it snows until April. However, for the one month of the year when it gets “hot” here, the fan is nice. I’m also not sure if I can convince my husband that a fan is not needed.
    Do you have any photos you could point me to of great rooms with proportionately sized ceiling light fixtures? Fans or no fans 😉ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 29, 2017 - 9:38 PM

      Hi Sarah,

      I would try doing a search on pinterest or houzz. ReplyCancel

  • joanne - August 29, 2016 - 11:31 PM

    I love you for this. That is all.ReplyCancel

  • Mary Jane - August 18, 2016 - 7:18 PM

    Laurel, did you ever get around to writing the “table lamps are getting crazy big” post? I’m having trouble picking the right size table lamps for my living and bedroom so please…..ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - August 19, 2016 - 12:14 AM

      Hi Mary Jane,

      No, I haven’t written that post. I find that for the average sized living room that once the lamps go over 30″ they usually seem to large. But that’s not an absolute rule because there are exceptions.

  • T - July 18, 2016 - 2:12 AM

    please write a post about ceiling paint color
    size of room
    loft ceilings, low ceilings, moulding with or with outReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 18, 2016 - 9:55 AM

      Hi T,

      I have written about ceiling paint colors but not so much specific situations. I’ll add it to the list.ReplyCancel

  • Gail - June 3, 2016 - 12:37 PM

    Here I am with a million tabs open with article from your blog!

    I am a new stressed out homeowner! Following up with Lisa’s comment, I live in the tropics, so we need a ceiling fan in the bedroom (and yes I barf at those horrid faux wood and glass ones) but I have no scones in that room…What do you recommend?

    I am using a fan only in the living room as I have scones to help create some dimension to the lighting with table/floor lamps.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - June 3, 2016 - 5:16 PM

      Hi Gail,

      I recommend that if you need help with your home that you seek out some professional interior design advice.ReplyCancel

  • Teresa Clark - May 31, 2016 - 9:35 AM

    Stumbled on this through Pinterest…best decorating tips I have read in a long time and with picture examples…such a plus!!
    Thank youReplyCancel

  • Janine Kaiser - April 28, 2016 - 5:34 PM

    Thanks for sharing the gaudy ceiling fan. We have bought the home of our dreams on a lie in SC .BUT it needs a lot of TLC .Good bones but dated.
    My husband thinks a similar fan in the Family room is ok. I point out the fan in our bedroom blends in with the ceiling and I don’t even notice it! I’m going to show him theses pictures! ThanksReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - April 28, 2016 - 6:38 PM

      White fan with a white ceiling is fine. If the room is brown all over (including the ceiling), then a brown fan. Makes sense, right? But no search lights please. lolReplyCancel

      • Laura - June 2, 2016 - 10:22 PM

        Hi Laurel,

        Thank you for your very helpful articles! I found the lighting information particularly informative. I am rehabbing a bit an old house that I also just bought in SC and am taking down all their old lighting fans. In most of the rooms I am replacing them with chandeliers, but I thought I would just buy an updated ceiling fan for the living room. If I buy one without a light, the room would feel too dark. I can’t afford recessed lighting. A fan would be nice to have for some breeze. Any suggestions? Thank you!ReplyCancel

        • Laurel Bern - June 2, 2016 - 10:42 PM

          Hi Laura,

          Well, I’m not a big fan of recessed lighting either. Here’s the thing with a ceiling fan with a light in the middle of the room. It will cast a lot of unflattering shadows. If it was in a hall, say 5 feet wide, there would be a chance for the light to bounce from wall to wall, but not in a living room.

          The most beautiful lighting for a living room comes from table lamps. But you can also do floor lamps and sconces are wonderful.

          If you can light up the four corners or fairly close to them, that might be all you need unless it’s a larger LR.

          For a job I just did. We put in four double arm sconces. And then there are three wall washers to hi-light an artwall. The client had already purchased a magnificent crystal chandelier. The lighting is warm and magical.

          Another trick if lamps are near a wall is to put the lamp on a table and a mirror behind the lamp. The mirror will double the light!

          So, it’s fine to do a fan for circulation. If the ceiling is white, I would do a simple white fan, so it’s not so obtrusive.ReplyCancel

          • Kelly - June 6, 2017 - 11:01 AM

            Laurel, do you have a post that discusses why you do not like recessed lighting? Very interesting as I feel you always hear people pushing can lights.

          • Laurel Bern - June 6, 2017 - 1:42 PM

            Hi Kelly,

            Yes, it’s on here. I’ve done a few posts about lighting. Maybe a few months ago. You can access them here.


  • Catherine - February 7, 2016 - 2:43 PM

    Just stumbled onto this post via pintrest–L U V IT!
    It felt like a back-to-basics reminder course of all the things I’ve learned and know and try to explain to others.
    But trying to explain why the proportions of a chandelier is “wrong,” an area rug is too small, the pictures are wAy too high, and you shouldn’t line the furniture up against the wall like it’s under arrest –ugh!

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2016 - 1:07 AM

      Hi Catherine,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a lovely comment! I think a lot of it is logic and some of it is a matter of not doing what your mother did. lol ReplyCancel

  • Reba - January 20, 2016 - 8:27 AM

    We have Geo-thermal and ceiling fans are an intricate part of the overall flow of air thru our home. They help keep heating prices low and I wouldn’t get rid of them for anything!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - January 20, 2016 - 9:23 AM

      Sorry, Reba, if I didn’t make myself clear. It’s not the fan. It’s the fugly faux wood, the shiny brass and the worst part, those search lights! lol Otherwise, I love fans, especially in a room with a high ceiling in the south.ReplyCancel

      • Shirley - December 18, 2016 - 11:53 AM

        Found this post…thanks as always good info. On ceiling fans…I remodeled lower level and installed a ceiling fan WITH A LIGHT on purpose to (1) circulate either cool/warm air depending on season and (2) bright LED light for when I clean or am looking for something ;). I did not have recessed “cans” installed I think they are hideous. Ceiling fans have come a long way and are not offensive. I chose this fan for a modern room with ceiling, soffits, walls in Revere Pewter. The light easily blends into fan when turned off and provides a welcome movement of air.

        • Laurel Bern - December 18, 2016 - 12:26 PM

          Hi Shirley,

          That’s not bad at all and I always say as others have before me… “form follows function.” I think I need to do a post about ceiling fans. Some are quite beautiful, actually and some are too gross for words.ReplyCancel

          • Shirley - December 18, 2016 - 12:41 PM

            Best part of this fan is if I don’t want the light feature, an included metal cap replaces the frosted GLASS cover. A little spendy but not $hundreds/thousands – not the typical big box store look. Aire Minka has come along in moderate priced loads of features. This is the Concept II 52″ comes in satin or polished nickel, rubbed bronze and white in multiple sizes and operates ONLY by remote for on/off, light, reverse direction – no need to pay to wire to a switch. One of the few fans suited for 7-1/2′ ceilings and is the most “hugging” fan I could find. The fan alone measures 7″ from ceiling and w/fan/light cover only 9-1/2″ from ceiling. Perfect for lower level remodels.

          • Laurel Bern - December 18, 2016 - 1:17 PM

            Hi Shirley,

            Thanks for all of that info!

  • Betsy - January 20, 2016 - 8:12 AM

    Great article about design mistakes. A fantastic vendor for ceiling fans is called Big Ass Fans. Both commercial and residential.

  • Cindy Hudson - January 19, 2016 - 9:40 PM

    You must not be from the south, where yes, we do actually have to have our ceiling fans! Try sleeping without one in 103 degree humid weather. The trick is not to use those cheap light kits, use a plain fan or one that matches the ceiling color and just do recessed cans for your ceiling lighting. And…. If you come across a good looking light kit for a ceiling fan (which doesn’t exist) PLEASE share with your southern friends, you could make a fortune by inventing one!ReplyCancel

  • Dianne Percy Warner - February 10, 2014 - 9:04 AM

    Hilarious! Very true and written with searing humor.ReplyCancel