10 Decorating Rules That Are Absolute Bunk

Rules are made to be broken—your inner teenager already knows this. But it applies to being an adult, too: Breaking a rule or two is the first step to setting yourself free from convention so that you end up with a home you actually like. A home that’s unique, that feels like you. “Ignore ALL THE RULES!” says HGTV decorating star Leanne Ford. “Do what you want—it’s your place! Get wild!” You don’t have to be a decorator to know what the decorating rules are, either; oftentimes they’re so ingrained that we don’t even realize we’re toeing the line. Take bed frames and box springs, for example. You don’t need them! A mattress can go right on the floor and look very chic while it’s at it. Maybe DIY a headboard to go behind it or, you know what, don’t. Headboards don’t really do anything; they are not requirements. Ceilings don’t have to be white, kitchens don’t have to have upper cabinets.

Somebody’s been lying to you, and we’re here to rectify it. Here are ten decorating “rules” that are actually absolute bunk. Get out there and ruffle some feathers.

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Copper plays nice with darker metals in a kitchen by Leanne Ford.

1. White Furniture Is Impractical
“The idea that white furniture with kids or pets can’t work seems to be outdated,” says Keren Richter of White Arrow, designers of this extremely inspiring schoolhouse loft. “There are sophisticated Crypton and Sunbrella fabrics out there that resist staining, sun damage, and can even be bleached.” Shop and upholster wisely and you can have the mega Zen, all-white living room of your dreams without freaking out if people sit on the couch holding a glass of red wine.

2. Beds Go in Frames
We’ve said it before, but your mattress really doesn’t have to go in a bed frame—just set it right on the floor and save yourself the extra cash. What, you want proof? Just take a look at the Studiomama’s sub-400-square-foot London home that’s entirely without bed frames and yet doesn’t look an inch amiss.

3. Metals Are Not to Be Mixed
But why? How boring. “In the bathroom, we prefer to find bathroom accessories that don’t match the finish of the plumbing fixtures,” say Jess Thomas and Andrea Fisk of Shapeless Studio. “For example, the toilet paper holder and towel hooks could be brass, while the plumbing finish is brushed nickel. We often mix and match finishes to make a bathroom feel a bit spontaneous. It helps to add a little bit of character.” Designer Leanne Ford agrees, naming “don’t mix metals” as one of many rules she loves to break.

4. The Walls Should Be Darker Than the Trim
Just the opposite is totally fine, and even less stark if you think about it. “It feels more modern to paint the trim in a room a darker color than the walls,” says designer Ryan Lawson, whose cozy Greenwich Village apartment is a testament to the fact. “It recedes visually, rather than creating a bright line around the floor and doors and windows.” Designer Melissa Lee of Bespoke Only agrees: “One common design protocol that I tend to avoid is defaulting to trim in white.”

5. You Should Stick to One Wood Finish
San Francisco–based designer Nicole Newkirk says this is baloney. “One rule I’m always breaking is sticking to the same wood finish in projects,” she explains. “Having contrast is key when using a variety of wood tones in your space. If you have light wood floors, I would add some dark colored furniture to mix it up.”

6. Wallpaper in Moderation
Who better than the founder of Hygge and West, Christina Coop, to live out the fact that you can have multiple wallpapered rooms without it feeling like overkill? “Very few flat surfaces in my apartment have been overlooked for possible wallpaper applications,” she told her partner, Aimee Lagos, for their new book, Hygge & West Home. “The back of my bathroom cabinet, my closets, my refrigerator, and the bottoms of drawers have all fallen prey to my wallpaper experimentation.”

7. All Trim Should Be High Gloss
Kevin Greenberg of Space Exploration Design says the one rule his team breaks all the time is not painting trim and molding the classic satin or high-gloss sheen. (This is a thing even people at the paint store will recommend.) “We renovate a lot of historic apartments, and we’re careful to preserve existing historic detailing (if it’s worth preserving),” he explains. “But we usually call for crown molding and wall paneling to be finished in the same dead flat finish we specify for the walls. I find it to be a much softer look than if they were painted with a higher luster, and it’s an easy way to make traditional detailing look fresh and contemporary.”

8. You Need a Big Rug for a Big Room
Honestly, the rug should be whatever size looks right to you. Some say that a small rug will make a room look smaller, but that’s really not a problem in the living room of Lisbeth Beck’s Denmark apartment, which has beautiful wood floors she didn’t want to cover up.

9. The Only Good Window Shades Are White
Au contraire. “Black sheer solar shades are always a better choice, no matter your color scheme,” says Ryan Lawson. “At night, windows are naturally dark, so it feels better to look at black shades than at a scrim of white fabric. And, during the day, the black cuts a lot more reflection and allows you actually to see out the windows.”

10. Art Should Go at Eye Level
Sure, there’s something to be said about easily seeing the painting you’re hanging specifically so you can look at it all the time. But in some of our favorite homes, like Spencer Luckey’s rambling Connecticut house, art is everywhere—up high near the ceiling, down low by the floor, more a blanket of art rather than some orderly gallery display.


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