Common decorating mistakes and how to avoid them

Ciara Elliott in her home office

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Unsure of what design to choose for our kitchen, bedrooms or bathrooms, we’ve been drawn in by a ‘seems to good to be true’ price and either played it too safe or went way off piste with something we’ve seen in someone else’s home that may not look so great in our own. These are some of the most common decorating mistakes I’ve come across (and made myself).

I’ve certainly made my fair share of questionable decisions over the years – I have a burnt orange wall in the passage way to the downstairs cloakroom, which I thought was so very 1960s Corbusier when painting it. Now I think it looks more like something you would see in an NHS dentist – but luckily, I have lived to tell the tale and can impart the resulting wisdom onto you.

Another memory I have is when the painters got the ceilings and wall colours mixed up and I wasn’t on site to fix it, so ended up with a grey ceiling and white walls. Obviously they redid the work, but it was huge hassle and I’m still not even sure at whose expense. As common decorating mistakes, I’m here to admit mine and have I’ve decided to pick the five common ones and show you how you can avoid them…

Mistake: Playing it too safe

We all know the feeling. You’ve moved into a new place or need to redecorate your current home and you’re thinking that if you paint everything in a neutral colour and pick furnishings that will stand
the test of time, you’ll avoid wasting money on something you’ll hate in a few years. Sound familiar? We often play it too safe and layer neutrals. “I hear people say ‘I’ll get sick of it after a few years’ a lot,” interior architect Ruth McGahey at House at Goose Studio told me when we were debating about just that. “But honestly, you’ll get sick of it much faster if you don’t choose the piece you absolutely adore. Your personality needs to be incorporated in your home to make it interesting.” There’s the first (and likely most made) common decorating mistakes.

Solution: Think about creating a scheme that feels contrasting and complementary by introducing colours and textures that work together to feel warm and characterful. A moodboard is a really good place to start.

Mistake: Not measuring and buying randomly

From a too-small rug to a mammoth sofa that overwhelms your room, furniture that is bought without sizing first is a definite no-no.

Solution: Map out the space and think about how everything will fit into its look. Try to avoid overcrowding by considering heights and proportions. With a really small or large space it can be worth buying a few made-to-measure pieces so you can get the proportions right. For rugs, bigger is usually better.

Mistake: Undervaluing quality

Picking poor-quality floors and doors or cabinetry that is not up to standard because it seemed such good value at the time is another thing people often regret after a renovation. One of the most common mistakes is buying items because they seem cheap or are on offer. Interior designer Emily Wheeler confessed to me: “Putting sliding doors into our loft extension rather than wooden sash windows and wooden-framed French doors that would have been more in keeping with the house was a mistake for us.”

Solution: If something seems very cheap, make sure it actually is what you want it to be and of the quality you want. Always request samples to touch and feel in advance of ordering anything.

Mistake: Rushing

Another common problem? Being in such a rush you end up making mistakes.We often feel under pressure from our builders to make quick decisions, which may result
in all sorts of things going wrong.

Solution: Take your time, follow a process, and allow contingency for both time and budget. It’s worth finding good tradespeople to do the work and waiting for their availability to get it done.

Mistake: Badly planned feature walls

Whether it’s a supersized mural, wood panelling, or a punchy paint, all houses deserve fun wall coverings in my book – as long as they don’t look lost against too many neutrals. “In my last house, I painted a single kitchen wall in an subergine shade,” Darran Heaney, who runs a blog called Old Victorian New, told me. “It looked horrendous and was all anyone could see as they walked in. I also put a floral wallpaper on a chimneybreast. It didn’t tie in with anything else and was an eyesore.”

Solution: Don’t leave a feature wall bare. Think of it as a canvas to make other details stand out – prints, mirrors, floating shelves or even a fireplace.

Are you brave enough to share any of your decorating mistakes with me? Leave a comment below (if you dare!)…

You may also enjoy: First Time Renovator: decorating the living room

Follow Ciara @ciaraelliott

Featured image: photographed by Chris Snook.

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