Living With Style: Common Design Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

By Sasha Witte
Gazette Columnist
Aug 26, 2017 

Over the past couple of decades working as a designer, I have observed there are a few common mistakes that are often made that cause an interior space to not have as much harmony and balance as would be possible.

Here are a few that I've seen along with some tips on how to avoid them.

Scale & Proportion

Consider scale and proportion, including the consideration of taller counter heights for comfort.

Or rather, the lack of good scale and proportion!   

This element of design applies to all aspects of a project, whether it is with scale and proportions of furnishings fitting together, kitchen details or even accessories.

Without considering human scale, our daily activities would be more difficult.

There is a reason there are standardized heights that have been created for counter tops, chair seats, etc.  It's so that they will be scaled well to fit our bodies.

So, it's important to consider scale, but also consider your personal experience. For instance - over the past few years we've begun raising counter heights in both kitchens and baths by a few inches - due to it being preferred by our customers.  Even when you are a shorty, like me, sometimes that slightly higher counter top takes pressure off your back as you avoid needing to lean over as much to wash your face, etc.

Proportion has more to do with "an eye for design" - the scale of objects placed near one another that looks best.

You can use proportion to draw attention to an area - for instance a bold and larger pendant hanging above a table that you want to be a focal point in a room.

There are fewer "rules" about proportion - just analyze the way objects fit together in a space until it feels "right" to you!  :D

Having Plain White Walls 

Use color on your walls to create visual interest.

Unless you are creating a white background purposefully as a background to a certain type of architecture or to show off a certain collection of art.

Otherwise, white walls make everything against the wall visually float and often lack the visual interest that color would create as a backdrop.

Furniture and art is often better unified by using a mid-tone wall color or a neutral.

Consider using color, even bold color, as a way of creating a focal point in a room.  Our eyes are naturally drawn to the brightest or darkest colors in a space.

To create a colorful focal point, keep the general color scheme of the room in a neutral palette. 

Use soft brown or gray on the walls, sofa and rugs.  Then use a bold pop of color like tangerine or turquoise on your focal point - whether it is a chair, wall or piece of art.

Tie the color into the rest of the room by using small accents of your chosen color in throw pillows or small accessories.

Being Afraid to Ask for Help 

Whether it's with color, room use, scale or placement of furnishings and fixtures.  Getting another opinion can give you peace of mind and help you avoid costly purchases or the repainting of rooms.

Whether it's the help of a designer, architect, builder or talented friend, another person with experience in remodeling and design will bring another perspective to assist you with seeing your opportunities more completely.

Working Without A Budget 

One of the biggest design mistakes home enthusiasts make, at times, is working without a budget, or without a realistic idea of what it takes to create a good-looking interior.

It's important to educate yourself about costs and the internet can help to make that a little easier.

Make sure, as you create a budget to consider all the layers that go into a space - what will be inside the walls (plumbing, electrical, insulation...), what will be on the walls, ceilings and floors (tile, wood...) and then the furniture and lighting and fixtures that will layer inside the space.  And, of course, the labor to do the work!

Remember that often redoing your interiors won't always happen in one fell swoop.  Many of us have to break the process down into chapters - both for financial reasons and also just for sanity sake.


Not Carefully Pre-Planning Before Making Purchases

Carry swatches of fabrics and paint colors when shopping.

This is probably the mistake I've seen made the most over the past two decades.  And sometimes I've been able to get involved and find a way to make the purchased items work, but other times clients decide to just sell off or return the item and start fresh.

It's quite common for people to purchase furnishings because they love it - like sofas, tables and wall units - but then realize once the piece gets home that it' too large and overly dominates the space.

It's not always a problem to be impulsive and bring home one of a kind items that sing to us - but do it with smaller items you can layer in, or have a plan with preferred dimensions for the pieces you are looking for in your wallet - so you can double check the item to the reality of what will work in the room!

Add character with interesting art and antiques you love.

Another helpful thing is to carry swatches of the paint colors and fabrics you already have in the room - so you can see if that chair you fall in love with even works with the existing materials!

Not Adding Character

It is uninspiring to walk into a space where everything is so new that it lacks the warmth of a room that has been thoughtfully composed with a vintage treasure, prized antique or unique work of art.

Adding just one precious heirloom or funky playful painting or lamp can help a room transcend from the ordinary into greatness - while making it feel more lived in and unique to you!

Artwork Being Hung Improperly

This can throw a space!  A piece too high or too low can be distracting.  

A rule of thumb is to have the center of the art piece be at eye height - of course, like all rules this one doesn't work in every situation.

Proportion and scale are important to consider for art to work well in a space - a big wall calls for a bigger piece of art, or a collection of many smaller pieces placed closely together creating one beautiful artful conversation.

Not Having Flow 

A color scheme can be built around a favorite piece of art.

Always use a cohesive design thread through your home or office space. 

You can use color, pattern or other design elements - this thread creates an instant sense of flow, peacefulness and comfort.

Sometimes I'll use a client's favorite piece of art that we are placing in a prominent location to decide on accent colors to pull throughout the home.  One room may focus more on the reds, for instance - in drapery and an area rug - while in another room a similar red is picked up in a lamp and a chairs upholstery fabric.  But repeating colors in different ways thru out a space will help to link the rooms together in a harmonious way.

Not Managing The Project

(or assuming your contractors are on the same page)  

It's always best to have really clear plans laid out ahead of time with drawings and material selections all personally approved and signed off on.

Always check twice and keep up-to-date documents and drawings in everyone's hand.

Information is power and the key to success in remodeling, like most things!

Keeping An Item For the Wrong Reason 

Don't live with anything you hate just because someone gave it to you or you inherited it.

Remove it from your home or make it your own!  

A few years ago I had a client with a stained 1970's buffet that she'd inherited that she just hated.  But once we had it lacquered into a bright color that fit her personality, it became her own!!

I hope these ideas will be helpful as you make your own home the space you most want it to be!!


Sasha Witte can be reached at Sasha Witte Design or (562) 434-8824.

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