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5 Home Design Mistakes to Avoid

5 Home Design Mistakes to Avoid

After years of documenting my design projects on the internet for the world to watch, criticize, and hopefully enjoy, in 2018 I found myself once again crying in the shower. We are renovating an old farmhouse in Oregon, and I was extremely frustrated with our renovation process. I was so sick of feeling dumb, being mansplained by my contractor, and doubting every decision.

I knew so much about design and renovation and had been writing about it for years on my blog, but I wished so badly that there was a book full of real-life anecdotes to help educate and support me. So, I pitched the book the next day and four short (!) years later, it’s here. Although the world has changed dramatically since that tearful shower, the information in this book has become even more relevant as so many people, staying indoors, were focusing more on their homes.

So, here are five tips from The New Design Rules. The book guides you through the renovation and decoration process, from my perspective, with lots of stories and photos. It reveals things like “bathroom makes to avoid,” and “how high should you really hang art?” My goal was to help people learn the rules of design so they can creatively break them, thus making a choice, not a mistake.

Avoid The “Too Small Rug”

Emily Henderson The New Design Rules book

(Design by Dee Murphy.)

The ‘too small rug‘ is such a common mistake, but it can throw off the whole room. In this living room, Dee Murphy not only followed the rules (by having at least the front two legs of all the furniture on the rug) but she layered the vintage rug OVER a simpler sisal rug to ground the conversation area even more. We wrote more about living room rules, and I also did a super-dated-but-still-fun video about rug size here.

Vary the Art Configuration on Each Wall

(Art direction by Emily Henderson, design and styling assistance by Emily Bowser and Julie Rose.)

This is a great styling tip that I’ve used in almost every room. What you want to avoid is every wall having one similar piece of art, hung at the same height. Instead think about doing what we did here — mixing a gallery wall, mirror, shelves, leaning art, diptychs or one large scale piece of art. Even if you like more minimal simple design (which I do), you want to vary the type or scale of art so it doesn’t feel redundant and to give each piece its own moment.

Don’t Chase Every Trend When It Comes To Permanent Finishes

(Design by Ben Mendansky.)

You can absolutely bring stylish design ideas into your home, but take those risks in lighting, furniture and decor (elements that don’t require demo and hiring out to change). Do what Ben Mendansky did with the light fixtures here. Y’all, he ombre’d the yellow from light to dark. Yes, take risks! But be really, really careful leaning hard into trends in your permanent finishes, like tile, flooring, windows and architectural details.

Don’t Hang Curtains Too High Off The Floor

(Design by Rosa Beltran.)

High water curtains can make a room look silly, but most big box stores only stock certain length ready-made curtains (84″ is almost ALWAYS too short, fyi). Always size up (90-96″ usually works for 8-9′ ceilings), so the curtains hang long enough to touch or almost touch the floor. You can hang the rod near the ceiling (or halfway between window and ceiling like in this case, not at the top of the window), but always try to get as close to the floor as you can. We have a fun graph and more photos in this post. Also, please note THERE IS A BUNNY ON THE BED!!!!!

Don’t Overlook What You Already Have

(Design by Sara Ruffin Costello.)

In this world of everything at our fingertips (hello, internet shopping), it’s tempting to replace something old with something new. But before you do, look at your pieces with new eyes. If you like the shape and style but not the color or fabric, you could do what Sara Ruffin Costello did and reupholster a vintage chair in a patterned fabric. If the above room tempts you, know that the rest of her incredible home in New Orleans is peppered through the book and knocks me down every time I see her creativity. That green paint, the floor tile, the door!

You will make mistakes in the renovation or decoration process, we all do. It’s part of the creative process. But I hope this book can help you avoid as many as possible and unleash your creativity — and maybe shed fewer shower tears.


Thank you, Emily! And congratulations on your beautiful book. Emily is also having a book signing in NYC on May 12th. You can grab tickets here.

P.S. All our house tours, and an apartment makeover for Joanna’s sister after her husband died.

(Top photo design by Christa Martin.)