Avoid These Common Design Mistakes

I can’t tell you how many times my husband, Steve Smith of Irish Realty hears this comment; “Steve, every one of your listings looks like it could be on HGTV or in Better Homes and Gardens”.   See, Stephen and I make a GREAT team.  We work together to make these houses look their best before going to market.  When Stephen meets with a homeowner who wants to sell their house, he advises them on how to get the MOST our of their home, which more often than not includes some updating and design.  That’s where I come in.  Sometimes I simply make some recommendations, but other times I actually help design a total remodel.  From new paint and carpet to new counters and light fixtures, we are helping Michiana homeowners update and then sell their homes, often with competing offers and within a few days of listing.  My favorite of all our projects is when I get to to come in and “STAGE” a house after the remodel.  Sometimes a house is vacant and I bring in my own furniture and accessories.  Sometimes though I use the homeowner’s existing furniture and rearrange it and/or bring in accessories.  A lot of times, homeowners have beautiful pieces but they just don’t know how to put all the puzzle pieces together to get the best look.  That’s where I can help.

But if you’re not ready to sell your home and you still want to get that curated design look….I do have some tips and tricks to share with you today.  Since I cannot make it in person to each and every one of your homes, I thought I would write a quick blog post on avoiding common design mistakes.  Fixing these common errors will ensure a much more elegant look in your home.

  1. MISTAKE: Pushing all the furniture against the walls.  So many times when I arrive at a home to advise someone I find that all their sofas and furniture pieces are anchored against walls.  So “free” the couch, so to speak!  Bring the couches together out in the center of the room in front of a fireplace, or bring a desk into the center of the room facing the doorway.


    Here the furniture “floats” out in the space, creating an intimate setting for conversations.

  2. MISTAKE: Over-crowding surfaces and counters.  Life happens but there ARE ways to keep clutter at a minimum.  For example, use things like drawer organizers to keep pens and pencils tucked away.  The place I see this happen the most is the kitchen.  Often kitchen counters will be laden with small appliances, cook books, cutting boards, knife blocks, canisters, fruit bowls and more.  Focus in on just a few accessories to create a more elegant space and find little tricks and systems to keep functional clutter at bay.


    Countertops should be mostly clear with just a few select items left out

  3. MISTAKE: Hanging Pictures too high and off center.  If these were ranked this error would be my #1.  Many times pictures are hung on the walls at standing height of the man hanging them.  The correct height for a picture on the wall in most instances is that the middle of the picture is at eye level from a sitting position.  Another good rule of thumb is that a picture hung above a console table or mantle should ALMOST look like it’s setting on top of it but in fact is floating above the surface below it by just a few inches (depending on scale).  And remember to center pictures on a wall or within it’s visual area.


    Note how the artwork behind the chair is hung low enough to eclipse the chair

  4. MISTAKE: Using only flat or one-dimensional artwork on walls.  Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper is the source for this tip.  But Jo is absolutely right.  Often times, artwork and wall decor is limited to flat canvases or framed pieces.  So, when it comes to adorning your walls, try thinking outside the box (literally).  Here are some 3-dimensional items to consider hanging on the wall to add texture, depth, and visual interest: a weaving, wall planters with plants or flowers, vintage plates, animal busts, or wood boxes or crates used as shelves.
  5. MISTAKE: Being too matchy-matchy.  At one time it was considered a stylish luxury to buy an entire matching set of living room or bedroom furniture.  However, that time has come and gone.  I often see whole houses where almost every piece of furniture (the legs of the living room sofa, the hallway console, the dining room table AND hutch, and an entire bedroom suite) are all the same wood tone and style (think 90’s cherry).  If you are in the market to buy new pieces, don’t be afraid to mix wood finishes and textures.  A raw wood farm table looks beautiful across from a painted buffet.  A tufted headboard looks elegant next to a mirrored nightstand and so on.  If you already have a house full of furniture and can’t afford to buy new, consider using a chalk paint or gel stain to change up the colors and finishes of your pieces.  Or consider just switching out the end chairs at your dining room table to taller, upholstered ones to create a new look.


    I changed out the end chairs of this dining set to provide a little variation in wood tones and to avoid being too “matchy-matchy”

  6. MISTAKE: Letting fabrics become overly worn.  One fairly affordable way to update your home’s style is to freshen up the fabric pieces.  An attractive duvet or coverlet can instantly change the look of your master bedroom for a reasonable price.  Why have a bedspread that is older than this year’s graduating class if a coverlet can be purchased for less than $100?  In fact, many times people spend large sums over and over dry cleaning the same tired bed spread when they could have afforded to buy a new duvet several times over.  Other considerations to freshen up your look would be purchasing new towels or floor mats, new dish towels or even new pillows for the existing couch.

    This chair in our nursery is older and in fact if you look closely you can see a stain on the seat.  We couldn’t afford to get a whole new chair so I added a new pillow though to distract and update the look.  


  7. MISTAKE: Poor lighting.  Lighting has a way of making spaces come alive and look more luxurious.  If you don’t have built in lighting that really does the work, then you can still make your room shine with floor and table lamps.  Add a floor lamp next to a chair, add an art light above your favorite painting, add a lamp even on your bathroom counter, and so on.  It’s hard to get too much lighting.


    In this room, I added both a table and a floor lamp to add more light even though the space already had natural light and overhead lighting

  8. MISTAKE: Painting rooms all different colors.   There’s nothing wrong with creating a color palette for your home with varied, complimentary colors for different spaces.  However, painting one room dark burgundy, another lilac, and then one aqua can create a split personality disorder for your home.  Colors should compliment one another.  Personally I also like to stick to the one hand rule: that’s no more than five colors on the walls in a home.  An example of this might be main living spaces done in grey, the master suite in a sea foam, a little girls room done in a peachy pink, a little boys room done in a darker grey, and a sunroom done in white on white.  I also recommend that your trim color and ceiling color be white in most cases and stay consistent through the entire home.


    This home design had grey walls throughout but we added a soft and complimentary sea foam color (Oyster Bay by Sherwin Williams) in the master bedroom to add interest but not detract from the cohesiveness of the design. 

  9. MISTAKE: Mixed Color Appliances.  I understand that budgets can make this mistake unavoidable so bear with me.  However, the goal should be to end up with a cohesive look for your appliances.   Since finishes can vary from brand to brand, you might want to consider keeping most of your appliances in the same brand family too.  It can be distracting when an oven is black but the fridge is stainless steel.  So when completing your design and/or especially before going to market, take care to make your appliances one finish.


    Aim to make appliances match in finish and brand when updating your kitchen

  10. MISTAKE: Old electrical faceplates.  At one time most faceplates for light switches and electrical plugs were bisque or black.  However, today the style is predominantly white.  It is not that hard or expensive to trade out these dated faceplates for new white ones and it makes a BIG impact.


    The current style is white faceplates for outlet and switch covers as seen here.  With an older home, just switching these out will really freshen things up.

  11. MISTAKE: Old, dirty fireplaces.  A lot of homes that we go into have brass framing around them.  And, often the inside of the fireplaces is a natural stone which shows the scorches and debris of the fires that have transpired.  One of our favorite things to do is to clear out the fireplace, paint the inside BLACK (make sure and buy a special high temp, flame retardant paint available at most paint or hardware stores) and then set back in the logs only (no little bits of charred items, fluffy stuff, etc).  We also unscrew the faceplate or framing, take it in the garage or outside and spray paint (again use a special paint here!) black and then simply reinstall.  You wouldn’t believe the difference this makes!


    When we started with this home the fireplace was natural stone with burn marks AND fluffy insulation style embers below the logs.  We cleaned it all out and painted the inside black for this much clearer and more modern look.  Again this is a VERY affordable fix for most homes.

Well, there you have it.  I hope this gives you some ideas on how to update your home no matter what your budget is.  It can be very rewarding to see your home take on a new and fresh look.  And the best part about spending on your home’s design is that it is an investment!  Even purchasing new furniture or decor will update your home’s look and would help support a higher home value should you ever put it on the market.  Happy decorating and should you need a team to help you update and list your home for sale, then feel free to call or message us!  Steve Smith, Irish Realty 574-360-2569 and Vanessa Smith, Designed to Flourish, 574-210-8866



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