Design Mistakes to Avoid

Design Mistakes to Avoid
Design Mistakes to Avoid

Monday, May 18, 2015

Design Mistakes to Avoid - Part 1

Who among us hasn’t had the experience of seeing something in a shop or while shopping online and thought it was such a perfect piece that they bought it right then and there?  When you’re shopping for clothes, you can try them on before buying, looking in a mirror to determine whether or not it works for you.  The style, color, and fit all make us buy one piece and walk away from another.  You can also bring it home and check with trusted family or friends who’ll tell you if it’s just not right for you.  If it’s not, then you can usually just return it and get your money back.  

With pieces for your home, it’s a different matter.  When you see a room where everything looks perfect at a Street of Dreams, a model home, or in a furniture showroom, it’s hard to envision what those fixtures, furniture and equipment will look like in your home. Often, you’ve purchased pieces with a custom fabric and you can’t take it back, not to mention paying double for delivery charges BOTH ways if it’s a stock piece.  Interior Design is a profession for a reason, and it takes a good eye, understanding of value and very careful planning to make a space work beautifully and efficiently.  

Here are some suggestions for you to consider when you’re remodeling, or just giving a new face to a space in your home.

  1. Avoid impulse purchases at all costs- doesn't matter if that sofa is half off today only or that the dealer will give you a great deal on last year's model because it's the last one made on the planet.
  2. Start by collecting photos from magazines or online on sites like or of styles you like, and color schemes that appeal to you.  Take photos of a model home that you love so you can recreate the look in your home.
  3. Measure the space(s) so that you can draw the floor plan out- either on the computer or on graph paper.  
  4. Go out shopping at retail furniture stores to get a better idea of pricing before you set a budget. Do not buy right away- just sit on that couch/chair, take pictures (with permission) and get dimensions.  Ask the salesperson for information on the products in which you're interested.
  5. Take the free* help from interior decorators who work for stores such as Ethan Allen, Pottery Barn, and the like.  They can often steer you away from making a mistake.  Remember, you don’t have to buy their product if it isn’t just exactly what you want. 
  6. Using the dimensions you've acquired, draw the furniture and place it on the floor plan.  How does it look?  Too big, too small, or "just right"?
  7. Using swatches & samples, put together the combination of flooring, fabrics, surfaces, and paint/wallcoverings you're considering to see what looks good together. 

  8. Keep in mind that it often takes 6-8 weeks (sometimes longer) to get a custom piece of furniture, so this isn’t going to be done in 3 months or less (like those TV shows that change rooms in days.) You want a good quality job that will last for years to come.
  9. Set your budget with a solid idea of what you are going to be able to afford and set your priorities based on hierarchal scale of what must be purchased and what can be purchased.

*Just remember that you’ll pay more for their furniture because somebody has to pay them for their work, and they can only sell pieces from the store that they work for, which can be limiting.

Ignoring the Function of a Space
Form follows function.  If you concede the function because you saw something online that’s awesome but doesn’t really fit your needs, then that’s a problem.  Here’s an example if you’re redecorating a media room
  1. Think about the size of the room in relationship to the flat screen you’re purchasing. (Bigger isn't always better.) Do you ever choose to sit in a movie theatre in the front row? Probably not, so a smaller space may mean a smaller screen, even when it is the focal point. 
  2. Think about the number of people you’d like to seat comfortably, and leave enough space for people to move around comfortably when they get up to get a drink or snack if that’s part of the room’s function. 
  3. Find a practical place for everyone seated to place that drink and/or snack. 
  4. If light from a window is going to reflect on the flat screen and affect your view of the picture, then you might consider black-out window coverings you can use when you're having movie night or watching the big game.

Overwhelming a Space With Too Many Furnishings
A cluttered look is often the result of over-furnishing a room.  Avoid this mistake by taking your time when ordering & buying pieces of furniture.  Start with the main piece, like the sofa or sectional in a family room.  Before ordering, use painter’s tape on the floor to draw out how much real estate it’s going to cover. Do the same for other pieces, but try placing just a few key pieces for a room.  (If you’re buying a tall bookshelf, then measure up the wall where you intend to place it.)  Furniture should be comfortable for everyone in the household.  Avoid getting a couch that the largest person feels like he/she is sitting on a child’s seat, or the smallest adult feels like he/she is sitting in a giant’s chair. Buying pieces with a proper scale means, in part that they should accommodate everyone in the home.
Years ago I had a friend who shared, “The moment the movers arrived with our new sectional, I knew it was too big for our TV room.  But it was too late.  They brought it in and filled up almost every inch of space. If we hadn’t split it up, you would have had to climb over its back to get into the room. What a nightmare… and a waste of money.”
This room is too crowded.

Lack of a Color Scheme
A color scheme can pull a room together like nothing else.  It can help the eye target the focal point of the room, and “connect the dots” with splashes of color throughout a room.  Remember that you can get paint in virtually any color, so match paint to your other selections, rather than starting with a paint color you may never be able to match.  Using too many colors can often be a problem, so consider 3 main colors: one main, one secondary and one accent that’s used sparingly.
Complimentary bedding colors would improve this space.

Although fairly neutral, this space lacks a clearly defined color scheme.

Great color scheme with red to give a pop otherwise neutral hues.

The grey accent wall helps draw the eye to the focal point.
Fuchsia is effectively used in this more feminine scheme.

Hanging Art
Everyone should display art in their home, whether it’s a valuable oil painting or your kindergartener’s drawing. The problem often comes when you’re going to hang the art beautifully.  Arrangements can be done as a vignette, such as the following:

Here are some other great basics on how you might hang your art.

In Conclusion

I have too many suggestions for one blog, so I’m going to add more to this entry next week in Part Two.  In two weeks, I’ll give you suggestions as to what to do in your space, rather than what to avoid.  If you have questions, write them down and ask- I'd love to help!  If you need more help, contact me at and we’ll set up an appointment to help you best design your new space.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Arranging Your Collections Without Clutter

There’s a reason why photos of rooms in interior design magazines, on TV shows like The Good Wife, and on look gorgeous: each photo has a professional photographer and a stylist or interior designer to make the room look perfect.  I can recall when I was going to design school that a fellow student thought it was such a phony representation that she decided to change majors!  While those photos aren’t necessarily a depiction of every day life for a typical American family, they are published to inspire us, and are based on important design principles that make them look “just right.”
Candice Olson HGTV Magazine

General Thoughts about Collections to Display
Here's my list that I hope will help you decide what might impress and interest your guests when they come to your home:
Yes:                                                 No:
sterling silver tea service                    Pokemon collection
exotic shells                                      Precious Moments figurines
collectible hard cover books                Locks (hair) of famous movie stars
old black & white family photos           McDonald's Happy Meal Boxes
your grandparent's dishes                   101 Dalmatians collectibles

Look back to last week's entry for more ideas.

Do Some Research
Start collecting some pictures from magazines that you think represent the style & look you’d like your space to reflect.  Rather than just glancing at the objects in the room, pay attention to how the room is arranged, and what pieces are used.  Ask yourself what would work in your space, considering the architectural details like molding, door style, window style and such.
Another option is to start a Pinterest board, or go on and start collecting your favorite rooms.  There’s an opportunity to write what you like about these rooms, so use this to identify what drew you to its style.
Casual Traditional Style

Transitional Style

Rustic Traditional Style

Use Emphasis in Your Space
Another word for Emphasis is Focal Point. The focal point should draw and hold the attention of those who enter a space.  A beautiful fireplace, a wall of dramatic art, an amazing sculpture or vase on a table top, an important piece or grouping of furniture, or a view from a window are examples of emphasis.  If you have a fireplace in your living room then it already is the main focal point (98% of the time), so you’re going to need to utilize that to your advantage. 

Multiple focal points are sometimes placed in a room intentionally, but need to progress from most to least influential in order to avoid conflict.  As a general rule of thumb, smaller areas can handle fewer focal points.  This is important to consider if your collection will be a secondary focal point.  If your fireplace is on one side of the room, then consider placing your secondary focal on the opposite side if that helps to create balance.

Create Balance in Your Room
There are really three kinds of balance in a space: 
  • Symmetrical balance is also known a bi-symmetrical, formal or passive balance. 
  • Asymmetrical balance is also known as informal, active, or optical balance. 
  • Radial balance is a state of equilibrium that is based on the circle.
Symmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical Balance

Radial Balance
Most homes today are our attempt at asymmetrical balance, because our life styles are informal and active.  The difficulty occurs when one must find items that are harmonious yet diverse enough to be interesting, and then arrange them to achieve a sense of equilibrium. Here are my suggestions for you:
  1. Ideally, take everything out of the room you're redecorating to start fresh.  That will give you a fresh perspective on achieving your end goal, as well as to clean everything so it looks as good as possible.
  2. Determine the focal point of the room you’re arranging.  Now draw an imaginary line dividing the room into two relatively equal parts.  You're going to want to place things on each side that take up an equal amount of visual space.
  3. Now look at the architectural characteristics.  If one side has a large picture window looking out into your yard, then you’re going to want something (or a collection of items) equally large on the opposite side to create… balance.
  4. Next begin placing your furniture, remembering that you ideally want everything to be away from the walls- at least a couple of inches.  Begin with the largest piece, and move down in scale from there.  If you have a large flat screen TV (which is a big black box when it’s turned off) then utilize a substantial floor lamp or large piece of art on the other side of the room.  If your draperies hang floor to ceiling, then a tall bookshelf or curio on the opposite side might be a good solution.
  5. Now place your collection (if you haven’t already done so.)  Remember that the affect of a carefully maintained smaller collection can be much greater than a huge collection in a disorganized box of stuff or a packed display case. Remember to use an odd (rather than even) number of items together.
  6. Next begin to add other accessories very selectively.  If it looks good, leave it on display.  If it doesn’t, then toss it, donate it or gift it to a friend/family member.  If you can’t stand to do that, then box it up and store it away for another time.  If you’re unsure, stand back and take a picture to see what it looks like in relation to everything else.  What do you notice?  Cords behind the TV that are visible, too many little things on the coffee table to appreciate them, or a dim corner all need to be addressed.
  7. Displaying some things that you use daily can be a wonderful thing.  Start looking at everything as a prop!  While you probably want to hide the TV remote(s) in a basket or drawer, you could leave your reading glasses placed on top of the current novel you’re reading with 2 others to create a nice vignette. Placing a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter creates a sense of freshness to your kitchen, but put away your pots and pans.  Put your stapler and tape dispenser in your desk in favor of a plant on your desk.

Add Lighting to Create More Focus
Good lighting design can make or break a room.  Make certain that you can see your collection, and highlight the best spots in your space.  Use directional spot lights to shoot up on the ceiling above your collection to draw the eye to that portion of the room.  You can also use small spot lights behind your collection to illuminate the wall behind your collection.  Use floor lamps for ambient light and table lamps on your side tables, desk and night stands.

In Conclusion
Using these elements of design in our spaces is a simple reflection of nature.  Think about the beauty created in the leaves on a tree varied only slightly by size and hue, the tidal action of the ocean, the repeating song of a bird, or the stones carving the bottom of a river bed.  When we seek out nature, whether it's a vacation at the beach, a walk in the woods, a hike in the mountains, or a barbeque with friends in a backyard, our blood pressure goes down and we relax.  Who wouldn't want that feeling in their home or office!?!? When we reflect nature in our designs, we’re creating good feng shui in our lives.  

I’d love to hear from you on this subject! What questions do you have related to this?  I’d love to receive your photos of a room that feels (or never feels) just right.   Check out my website at if you need help with your space.  I always make time for my readers.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Displaying Collections

What do you collect?  Art, books, and Asian artifact collections are on the rise around the world.  Some people collect tea pots, vintage jewelry, beer steins, rocks, thimbles, or dolls.  Others collect classic cars, homes, or tiles- the list goes on and on.  I’ve had numerous collections over the years: Barbie dolls when I was young; 
shells, Depression glassware and oak antique furniture as I matured; crystal glasses and sets of dishes would still currently fill my home if it weren’t for the fact that we don’t have a lot of space anymore.  My husband has his collections as well: Seattle Mariner and Washington Husky memorabilia for instance.  Then there’s the inevitable story of how Mom threw out his baseball card collection years ago.

We often have so many collections that we don’t have room to display everything so that their magic is as apparent to others as it is to us.  After all, when properly displayed they can start meaningful conversations about who we really are, often recalling warm memories. They represent what makes us unique, and often help to offer glimpses of past generations and family history.  Sometimes they take over the house, though, and then we tend to ignore the clutter, or pack them all away labeling them (in our minds) as useless clutter or trinkets.  

This week we’re going to talk about how you might creatively display these treasures so that their majesty is something awesome to our guests and as importantly, to us.

You Likely Will Need to Purge
If you haven’t gone through your collections for a long time, or ever, it’s normal to have it feel overwhelming to start, so begin slowly and small: one box or 1 shelf.  Keep what’s truly special, and only what’s honestly exceptional to you.  Suggestion: Pay attention to the feeling you get when you look at a picture of someone you really love- it might be a spouse or partner, but it also might be your parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or even your favorite pet at an early age.  Now, when you go through the box of artifacts you saved, see what brings up those same feelings.  Keep what really touches your heart, and dispose of the rest.  Marie Kondo (who you either love or hate) calls it “sparking joy” in her book, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe affect of a carefully maintained smaller collection can be much greater than a huge collection in a disorganized box of stuff or a packed display case.  If you simply can’t bear to give it to charity, gift it to another person, or throw anything out, then consider putting out collections on a rotating basis- perhaps make a change every season. If you like the result of your first staging, be sure to take pictures before you pack it up for the next rotation, so you can recreate it in a year.
Crowding makes this display less appealing.

This Waterford crystal display affords plenty of light & space.
Wall Mounted Collections
  • Framed old family legal documents, often times yellowed with age can make a wonderful montage on a wall.  You’ll want to make color copies of them if they’re something you need/want to pass down to younger family members.
    Credit: Pottery Barn
  • Do you have a meaningful handwritten note from your parent, aunt, or grandparent?  Consider framing it and putting it where you can appreciate it every day.
  • Black and white photos can be stunning, even in a more contemporary setting when framed identically in a plain frame with white matting.  These are particularly nice when placed on a dark wall.  Frames are available at craft stores, Target, and Ikea if you can't afford to have them professionally framed.
    Credit: Pottery Barn
  • If your items are 3 dimensional but still fairly flat, then consider shadow boxes, which are available at craft stores and Ikea.  Remember too, that DIYers find spray paint their friend when they love it, but doesn’t come in the right color.
  • Consider mounting collectibles directly to your wall- they make a statement in and of themselves.
Camping gear makes some hearts sing!

Scissors of all size & shape: barber or seamstress collection?

Melamine, bakelite, plastic items from the '40s & '50s

Collections on a Shelf
  • Floating shelves, available at Target, Ikea and higher end stores is a great way to display your collection of 3 dimensional treasures.
  • Finding old wooden or metal boxes to mount to a wall is another option.  Find these at public salvage stores, antique stores, or salvage stores such as Second Use or Earthwise (in Seattle.)
    Collectible cameras are featured in this collection

    Jewelry is featured in this collection.

  • Try grouping these by color if you have many varieties.  Shape is another option to consider.

Pitchers & teapots are combined with books.
  • If your collection is of very small things, such as thimbles, bottle caps, or even match books, then consider placing them all together, on a grid.  Having a few of them on many shelves can look like clutter and they can get lost from view.
  • Consider using contrast (another color from your decor or pattern versus solid) on the shelf or its back for a more dramatic effect if your collection is all the same hue.  Paint, shelf paper, wall paper or craft paper all make awesome backdrops for collections such as crystal or white dishes.
  • Combining two collections can sometimes be a very effective way of displaying treasures.  Setting shells next to and on top of a collection of books can work beautifully, for instance.
  • Display in odd numbers: 3, 5 or 7 of something is more visually appealing than even numbers.

Collections in Containers
  • Vases, decorative bowls, glass cloches, stemmed cake plates, and water goblets are all objects for consideration when displaying collections.  Placing your collectibles in these can elevate their importance.  

  • Setting items on a shelf, coffee table, window sill, or side table all can work beautifully.  Sometimes the old wooden horse you got from Aunt Hannah can look sad on its own, but placed with two other items that share its hue or age can make it an interesting artifact.

In Conclusion
Check out stores to see how they display collections in their windows- they have experts who design them, and often we can glean an idea of how we might display something from them.  Also check out hotels’ public spaces like lobbies, bars, etc.  Again, they can inspire you to think outside the box.  

Sewing Machines in commercial window Credit:

What do you collect, and how do you display it?  It would be awesome if you shared pictures for your fellow readers.  If you need help, contact me at and we’ll set up an appointment to help you best display your treasures.