The Seven Sins of Design
Garrett Lane

Realizing Your Sins

You've bought every design magazine at the newsstand, carefully studied what was "in" and what was "out," and spent too much money on new curtains. And you still hate your living room. You're not alone. But you can significantly improve the look of a room just by eliminating some common decorating mistakes (and you won't have to spend a fortune doing it). Read on, we'll explain the seven sins and share virtuous examples of successful design.

Artwork Aligned with the Desk
William Waldron

High Art

We're not talking about art that is unusually thought-provoking. We mean art that's literally floating out in that void somewhere high above the sofa. Art should relate to the furniture below it. A rule of thumb is to separate artwork and furniture by no more than 10 inches. In the example at left, the artwork follows the lines of the desk for a compelling arrangement.

Room Designed with a Yellow and Orange Palette
Michel Arnaud

Matchy-Matchy Decor

When everything matches, the room becomes so safe that it's boring. Buying a suite of furniture of the same design went out decades ago. And although fabric and wallpaper manufacturers offer coordinated patterns to simplify design for the do-it-yourselfer, you should use those coordinates as a background for something old, something personal, something that makes the room your own. At left, designer Victoria Neale chose a yellow and orange palette, rather than a room full of matching pieces, to unify this living area.

Livingroom Designed with Armchair Covers
William Waldron

Armchair Covers

Armchair covers are dinosaurs. They're akin to leaving cellophane on lampshades. Today, fabrics can be treated for durability and stain resistance. Whip the covers off and take them along to remind you of the color and pattern when shopping for other fabrics and accessories for the room. And don't dare put them back when you're done. Note the brightly upholstered and cover-free seating that designer James Beebe Hawes used in this living room.

Howard L. Puckett

Wimpy Houseplants

Sure it's fine to show off your green thumb inside the house. Just don't scatter too many small houseplants around the room. They'll have much more effect if you bank three to five small plants together. For example, poinsettias, classics of the holiday season, look stunning in a mass grouping. Or, buy one large-scale plant that makes a bold statement (and doesn't have to be watered as often).

simple hand picked flower arrangement
Tria Giovan

Silk Flowers

Silk flowers can surely be beautiful, but they may also become dust traps. And if the arrangement never changes, eventually you reach the point where you don't even see it anymore. Either update your silk designs regularly, or make simple, inexpensive arrangements like these with fresh flowers or greenery from the backyard.

Collectibles Grouped on Bookcase
William Waldron

Unedited Accessories

We are all natural-born collectors. The trick is realizing that every object, gift, or family treasure need not be displayed at once. Take care of Aunt Martha's cranberry compote, but tuck it away until the next family gathering. Organize accessories by grouping collections together on a table or shelf, as shown at left. Use similar objects and colors together, and remember that odd numbers of items will look better to the eye.

Library with Family Portrait
Jeff McNamara

Family on Display

We may be treading on hallowed ground here, but the point is this: Contemporary paintings of the family can lend an imposing, elitist air to the room where you most often receive guests. Save portraits for the bedroom or spaces that are reserved for family. In this case, a portrait has found a fitting home above the mantel in a warm, cozy library.

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