This guest post is brought to you by San Francisco interior designer Sarah Bashford. Thank you, Sarah, we love your work!

As an interior designer, I work with people everyday who want their home environments to feel relaxing and look good. I specialize in comfortable, stylish spaces that reflect who people are. Fortunately for me, because I love working in new spaces, it’s not always easy for people to figure out how to translate their inner vision into beautiful rooms.

Here are some of the more common decorating mistakes I see people making, and some workarounds:

Decorating Mistake #1: Paint Color

Whichever color direction you like, once the paint is on the wall it will pick up different tones from the direction and type of light that hits it, the other colors placed near it, and the amount of space that the paint will cover.

A wall opposite a large window will make the color look different than a wall which gets comparatively little light. Paint colors will look different in daylight than they do in incandescent or fluorescent light. Additionally, and this is especially true with beiges and grays, the paint color will be affected by the color of something near by. For example, if you have a large green toned sofa or rug and if there’s an undertone of green in the paint, it may recede when put next to these pieces.

The same paint color, when placed next to a large piece of red furniture will look more green. When you paint a whole room (or even just one wall) the color that you see on the swatch will be more intense and darker than it appears on the little sample.

So, when you’ve narrowed your paint color choices down to 2 or 3, it’s worth the trouble to buy a quart of each option and paint a large (2’ square or more) sample on each of the walls in your room. Once you have the large swatches on the walls, look at them at different times of day and against the colors of the other things you plan to put in the room.

The take home: Picking a paint color for a room from a 2” square sample is like knowing what a new dish will taste like based on one ingredient!

Decorating Mistake #2: Height to Hang Art and Photos

I sometimes walk into a room and notice that all the items hung on the walls are too high. This can give a subtle unsettling effect, similar to having large or heavy items placed high on some shelves which could fall on you at any moment!

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to hanging picture height, but there are some guidelines to bear in mind. Start with putting the center point of the art at about 5’2” from the floor. This is around the average eye height for women. If possible, have someone hold the art at this point for you, then stand back and look at it from a distance. Does it seem to pull the room down? Then it’s a little too low. Do you have to to look up to see it? Then it’s probably a little too high.

Another thing to bear in mind is that different rooms lend themselves to different picture heights. In a kitchen, where you’re almost always standing, pictures can be a little higher. In a living room or bedroom, where you’ll spend most of the time sitting or lying down, pictures will need to be a little lower to compensate.

The take home: While there are no hard and fast rules, this decorating mistake can often be avoided by hanging your art lower rather than higher.

Decorating Mistake #3: Small Rugs

Taking a living room as an example, I often find that rugs are sized so that they cover just a small area in front of the sofa. However beautiful your wood floors may be, you’re doing an injustice to the room if your rug looks like a little row boat on a sea of wood. The eye sees the edge of the rug as similar to the edge of the room, so a rug that is too small makes a room look smaller.

It may seem counterintuitive, but if you use a rug that is as large as will comfortably fit (a border of up to a foot of wood around the edge is fine in a medium sized room) the space will instantly seem more expansive. Does the rug have to go all the way under the furniture? No, but it needs to act like an anchor. All the seating in that grouping must at least have their front feet on the rug.

The take home: When it comes to area rugs, larger is better.

Decorating Mistake #4: One Light Source

A bright center ceiling light fixture in a living room is only useful if you’ve lost a contact lense. Otherwise, the effect the light will have will be to make the room feel unwelcoming and small.. Recessed ceiling lights are certainly better than a single center fixture, but if you place table lamps or floor lamps near the corners of the room and near places where people want more light (such as a favorite reading corner), your room will seem cozier and larger.

If you have the opportunity to wire the room so that one of the light switches near the entry controls the electrical outlets into which you plug the floor and table lamps, you’ll get the instant effect without having to walk around the room each time turning lights on and off.

The take home: There’s no harm in keeping the center fixture as long as it’s not the only source of light.

Decorating Mistake #5: Wood Only Furniture

It’s natural enough to think of wood when you think of tables or cabinets, but if you want to avoid a traditional ski cabin look (and it’s fine if you don’t!), try to think beyond brown wood as the material for all the hard furniture.

Natural wood is a lovely, warm material, but used in combination with painted wood, metal (rustic, antique, or sleek), resin, glass, shell, bone, or any number of alternative finishes, it will seem all the more appealing and interesting.

The take home: When it comes to furnishings, mix it up!

While truly great interior design is usually the product of art, science, and years of practical experience, avoiding these five home decorating mistakes will make a beautiful difference in your rooms.

Give them a try and let me know how it goes. Feel free to reach out to me with questions here.

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