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7 Decorating Rules to Never Break

Essential tips for perfecting your home’s interiors

February 16, 2021

Home is a haven: that little corner of the world where you get to be yourself in a space made just for you. Decorating is a lot like fashion. The choice of carpet or curtains or colours, the furniture and fittings…they’re all an expression of who you are.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that there were no bad choices. That decorating was a lawless business: free from rules.

You’d be wrong.

As in fashion, some might love zany colours and pungent patterns, while others opt for refined Parisian chic. But there’s a method to the madness. Rules that dictate the dos and don’ts of beautiful spaces.

Socks and sandals are forever a crime against humanity.

But then, there’s no accounting for taste.

Decorating your home can at times feel overwhelming. Some people are born with an eye for design while others may struggle. The way you decorate your home is entirely up to you, but if you don’t know the basics, there are no guarantees that it will not be design suicide.

To prevent you from making any interior design faux pas, we’ve distilled the wild world of design down to seven decorating rules to help you do things right the first time around. Follow these, and you won’t go far wrong.

Rule #1. Don’t Forget to Measure

Impulse buys can be awesome and they definitely feel good in the moment. But there can be one major drawback: dimensions.

There are few things more annoying than buying a piece of furniture or an accessory for your home, eagerly unpacking and positioning it, only to find… it doesn’t fit. Damn it! Then, you’ve got to head back to the shop – tail between your legs – and exchange it.

Ordering furniture without measuring your space can lead to expensive mistakes. Items that are too big or too small for a space can throw your space off balance, making it look too crammed or too empty. Before you buy that new sofa or dining table, save yourself the hassle:

Measure. Measure. Measure.

TIP: Sketch out a floor plan, marking the key measurements of your space, to take with you on your shopping spree. Pay close attention to the size of furniture pieces in relation to your room and try to feel whether they will be a good fit. The safest way to purchase a larger more expensive item is to get its dimensions beforehand, grab some masking tape and mark it out in your space before making the purchase.

Rule #2. Let There Be… Layered Lighting

When buying lamps and light fixtures, too often do we fixate on design. Yet, lighting is a pivotal part of a room’s ambience. The type of fixture, the kind of bulb and where light is positioned in a space can make or break the mood of a room. Consider how a simple table lamp with warm lighting can transform plush cushions and a comfy sofa into the ultimate cosy corner.

No one wants to live in an interrogation room, and sticking to one source of light, such as recessed lights, can really make the ambience of a room fall flat. Think about pendant lighting, chandeliers, floor lamps, table lamps and wall sconces. Look for creative places to incorporate them to create welcoming spots throughout your home, all while complementing your home’s design with fun and stylish fixtures.

So, don’t stick with one light source. Soften your lighting by layering.

TIP: Consider the lighting requirements of the various rooms in your home. Do you need an area with a soft glow to relax in but also a bright light to work in? Start by choosing the right location for each lighting function and then move on to the type of fixture which is most suitable to serve that function. And don’t forget to select the right type of bulb to get the brightness and colour of your space right. When in doubt, talk to the experts at the lighting shop.

Rule #3. Don’t Hang Curtains That Are Too Short

The short weekends of the decorating world. We’ve all seen it. That little slither of light sneaking through the ankles of the curtains, like an ill-fitting pair of pants. It’s embarrassing and unnecessary. Going back to rule #1, always measure up. If you’ve been given the curtains, but they don’t fit: don’t use them!

It’s that simple.

But what’s the perfect length?

Unless you are going for a café-style curtain, your fabric should hit the floor.

If you are going for a romantic look (and don’t mind your curtains dragging and getting dirty) you can try the “puddle effect” by leaving your curtains 3-8 cm longer. You can always go for a more dramatic opulent look by allowing even more fabric to pool onto the floor. Keep in mind though that puddling is not really practical for curtains that are drawn open and shut frequently or are in high traffic areas.

TIP: Make sure your fabric has been pre-washed before sewing drapes to avoid future shrinkage. There is nothing worse than rehanging curtains after a wash, only to find that they now leave an uncomfortable gap from the floor. Remember also to use enough fabric in length. You want your curtains to feel full. So curtains should be roughly 2 to 2.5 times the width of the actual window.

Rule #4. Choose a Properly Sized Rug

Here, there are two big no-nos.

The first:

Never pick a rug that’s too big for the room. Few things are worse than rugs that ruffle as they squeeze awkwardly between furniture and walls. That’s to say nothing of the trip hazard they present when spilling into high-traffic routes and doorways.

The second:

Never pick a rug that’s too small – no rug is better than a miniature rug. High quality rugs aren’t cheap, and the bigger they get, the more expensive they become. You may be tempted to buy that simply gorgeous rug you’ve fallen in love with even though you know in the back of your mind it’s going to be too small. You may also be tempted to go for a smaller rug as it’s the more affordable option. Don’t do it! A lonely little rug swimming in a sea of floor is a sad sight indeed.

Then there are the rugs that are just right. The ‘Goldilocks rug’. Neither too big nor too small. Think: a rug is like a picture; the floor the frame. Get the ratio right, and you’ve got yourself a masterpiece.

TIP: If you really can’t find a big enough rug, get one that at least sits under the front legs of your furniture pieces. Oversized rugs are not always easy to find, but there is always the option of bespoke rugs which can be made-to-measure just for your space.

Rule #5. Hang Artwork at Eye Level

You might have found yourself walking into a room with lots of artwork and felt it was a bit of a bizarre experience. You knew something was off, that the room didn’t feel right. But you couldn’t quite put your finger on it.

Then it dawned on you: the pictures were hung at the wrong level.

You’re either uncomfortably staring up or looking down at a picture seemingly positioned for children. The surrounding wall space also doesn’t look balanced. Too much wall between the sofa and the frame… too little space between the painting and the sideboard.

Decorating is all about finding the sweet spots. Most artwork looks best hung at eye level i.e. when the centre of the art is about 145 to 155 cm (57 to 60 inches) above the floor. In some cases, it may be better to let the frames rest directly on furniture.

TIP: While hanging height is key, the space between artwork and how they relate to one another is equally important. Before making holes in your walls you might want to mark out your frames on the wall with masking tape to check if it looks right.  

Rule #6. Honour a Variety of Sources

Buying all your furniture and decorations from the same shop leaves your home looking like a showroom. It gives it a cookie-cutter feel. If your home is an expression of your personality, this is a giveaway sign you don’t have one.

Decorating is about contrasts and collaborations: mixed styles, quirky expressions and personal touches.

TIP: Explore the high-street and online shops. Find that one piece that no one else owns. Play around with different materials and textures. Mix vintage with new. If you’re on holiday, buy an ornament or two. Build the “story” of your home.

Rule #7. Remember to Balance Form and Function

Form does not follow function. But then, function doesn’t follow form. A stunning chair that breaks your back every time you sit down is a waste of materials— a beautiful folly.

The greatest designs embrace both form and function, producing an iconic object for the ages. Think: lever lamps or Bauhaus nesting tables, polaroid cameras or the emblematic iPhone.

In your home, choose only that which you love, but ensure that these pieces work for your lifestyle. Let each piece tell a story. But never forget, these pieces should also serve a purpose. Otherwise, you risk a cluttered ensemble of empty items.

Just before you buy that beautiful and aesthetically impactful piece for your home, ask yourself “Is it comfortable? Am I maximising the use of my space? Am I solving my storage problems? Does it add value to the way I use my home?” If your answers are predominantly “no,” you may need to reconsider your choice.

TIP: Clutter and lack of storage are the enemies of good design and beautiful homes. If you are choosing a console for your entryway, think of whether that is the place you keep your keys, mail and loose change. If so, maybe it should have drawers. Consider a coffee table which can store remote controls and other bits and bobs to keep your living area clutter-free. If you are not a tidy person or your tableware doesn’t match, opt for concealed cupboards and sideboards rather than displaying your mess in beautiful glass cabinets.

The Takeaway

You don’t need to follow every rule to the letter. Rules are meant to be broken, or at the very least bent. However, if you’re new to interior design, these rules should help form the backbone of your home design. If you’re still unsure, there are plenty of interior designers to get you started.

There’s only one cardinal rule you should never break: express yourself!

February 16, 2021