June 14, 2020

View of playroom with small couch, brown and white rug, dark bamboo floors and rainbow pillows.

While it’s true that “anything goes” when it comes to your decorating style, there are some rules-of-thumb to follow to help your home look its best.  This no-no on this list of decorating don’ts are likely to top any designer’s list of pet peeves when it comes to home accessories.

Too Small Rug

When it comes to area rugs, scale is just as important as style.  Pick one that’s large enough for all furniture legs to rest on it so it doesn’t look like it’s floating in the middle of your room.

Rugs do more than just protect your flooring.  They provide comfort, muffle sound, and of course, add interesting texture, pattern and style to your space.  While there are lots of places to find affordable area rugs, they are still more expensive than your average home accessory so it’s important to pay attention to the size, styling and care requirements of each rug you’re considering so you can maximize the impact of your purchase.

I teamed up with the founder and design director of Birch Lane, Meredith Mahoney, to bring you some area rug dos and don’ts.

When It Comes to Rug Size…


  • choose a rug that’s too small for your space.  There’s nothing worse than a rug that’s dwarfed by the room.
  • let a rug “float” in the middle of a room, serving little purpose.
  • forget about round rugs, runners, or rugs with irregular edges such as faux cowhide rugs.


  • allow 5 to 18 inches of bare floor between the wall and the rug.  According to Mahoney, “Rugs shouldn’t completely cover the floor (since this isn’t wall-to-wall carpeting, after all), but the rug should still look cohesive with the room.”

Too Short Curtains

Before you dress your windows, measure the distance between the rod and the floor and buy panels to this length or longer.  You can have them hemmed if they pool on the floor, but it’s harder to fix panels that fall short.

Curtains aren’t cheap, there are some economical ways to create window coverings, but you still have to spend money on fabric and hardware, not to mention the time you invest.  That’s why if you plan on hanging curtains yourself (and why not?), take a moment to map out a game plan so you won’t make any of these common mistakes.  Here is a list of curtain crimes you’ll want to avoid.

  1. Curtains are finished at the top in a variety of ways which are directly related to how they function.  For example, you wouldn’t want to pick panels with a tight-fitting rod pocket if you want to open and close them often.  Think about how you want your curtains to operate, and choose accordingly.
  2. Picking the Curtains Last–When designing a room, many people tend to pick a paint color first, then add in soft furnishings like curtains and pillows.  Since paint colors are practically limitless, you’ll have better luck if you pick curtains first, then pull your paint colors from the fabric pattern.
  3. Taking the Wrong Measurements–It seems logical to measure your window to determine how large your curtains should be, right?  Wrong.  While it’s true that you should know the size of your window, panels should really be hung much higher than the top of your window casing–as close to the ceiling as possible in most cases. (Valances should not be hung this high; they are meant to top the window.) This will make your room feel bigger, which is of particular importance in small spaces, of course.  Here are some measurements to jot down before heading to the store:
    • Starting a few inches down from the ceiling, measure all the way down to the floor to achieve the correct curtain length.
    • Measure the width of your window, then multiply this number by 2 or 2.5 to achieve fullness and avoid the “bedsheet look.”  For panels, this means that if your window is 36″ wide, you should look for panels that actually total about 72″ or more in width.  The same is true for valances if you want them to have a gathered look.  Unlike panels, however, valances can have a more tailored appearance, in which case you could opt for one that’s closer to the window’s width.
    • 4. Hanging High Water Curtains–While some pants look great cropped at the ankle, not so much with curtains.  Again, take care to measure from close to the ceiling all the way to the floor to achieve the correct panel length.  If you can’t find panels the exact length you need, you can always buy them too long, then hem them.  Or add a contrasting band of fabric or specialty trim to the bottom to make too-short panels skim the floor.
    • 5. Cheaping Out On Hardware–Purchasing quality curtain hardware can be a hard pill to swallow when most of it is hidden by the curtains anyway.  Luckily, you can save some money with these clever curtain rod hacks.  Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when considering curtain hardware:
      • Using a rod that’s not sturdy enough to support the weight of your curtains, resulting in a sag in the middle.
      • Using a rod that’s not long enough, which results in curtains that cover most of your window.  When the rod is the exact width of your window, your curtains will cover most of it, which blocks a lot of sunlight and creates a too-dark room.  Instead, make sure to measure your window and buy a rod that can extend well beyond the window’s width so you’ll be able to open your curtains nice and wide.
      • Using a rod that’s too skinny for grommeted panels.  If you are hanging curtains with large grommets at the top, or even tab-top panels where a lot of the rod will be showing, make sure to get a rod that’s substantial-looking and attractive.
      • 6. Skipping the Iron–While ironing is a chore most of us would happily avoid, this is one case where you shouldn’t skip it.  If you’re going to invest time and money in window treatments, make sure they look their best and get out the iron.  Wrinkled curtains just look sloppy, and sometimes don’t hang straight.
      • Matching Everything–Your home will look way more interesting if you don’t fall into this trap.
      • Pictures Hung Too High

        You shouldn’t have to look up at a picture hung on the wall.  When hanging wall art above furniture–whether it’s a headboard, a couch, or a console table–think of the furniture as a magnet that draws the art down to it.  Un-anchored wall art should be hung at eye level.  The exception to this is a gallery wall, when it’s perfectly acceptable to hang art all the way up to the ceiling if you want.

        Here are some more tips on how to hang a gallery wall perfectly every time.

        Choosing Accessories That Are Too Small

        Scale is everything with regard to home accessories.  Sure, color and style are important, too; but, if you pick items that are too tiny, they’ll just look silly or get lost in the shuffle.  If you have a vaulted ceiling, for instance, pick a pair of substantial vases for your mantel.  Large wall to fill?  Skip the 8 x 10 and go with one of these large-scale art ideas instead.

        Buying Everything Off the Rack

        You don’t want visitors to your home to be able to point to your art and accessories and know exactly where they came from and what you paid for them!  Shopping at well-known big-box retailers is an awesome idea because they offer trendy home decor at great prices; however, shopping at flea markets, secondhand stores, and making some items yourself will result in a home with more soul and personality.

        Here are some ways to decorate with home decor that has meaning.

        Ignoring Eyesores

        Things like dated fixtures and untamed piles of stuff can detract from the beauty of your home, even if you’ve done everything else perfectly.  Don’t ignore those dingy, beige light switch covers, dinged up doorknobs, builder-grade brass ceiling lights, and carpet stains.  Try these five simple swaps to freshen up fixtures, use an area rug to cover worn carpeting you can’t replace yet, and get that clutter under control!

        Need some help with that last thing?  Here are tons of home storage and organization ideas to inspire you!

        Holding Onto Stuff From Your College Years

        There are some home decor items that scream dorm room.  Torch lights, futons, cheaply-framed posters, and novelty items like lava lamps may hold nostalgia, but they lack class.  Ditch the dorm decor in favor of a more grown-up look by following these decorating tips for your first place.

        Forgetting to Add a Plant

        Last, but definitely not least, don’t forget to add some green.  Look around your home.  If it seems to be lacking a certain something, try a plant.  Succulents, ferns, small potted trees, or simple bouquets from the grocery store all work wonders.  Even faux florals and greenery can help; just make sure you choose high-quality faux stems and plants and stage them properly following these best practices.

        Eliminating some of these decorating don’ts from your home will result in a more polished look and a space you’ll feel proud of.