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Here are 6 common mistakes new decorators make. Are you guilty of making one of these mistakes in your home? Don’t worry, I’m also sharing how to fix it. 

6 Common Mistakes New Decorators Make

We’ll start with some of the common mistakes I see and end with the biggest and most common mistake at the end of this post. You won’t want to miss this.

Mistake #1: New decorators install curtain rods too close to the window or fail to leave room for stacking

One of my most popular posts was the one I wrote about how to choose the colour of your drapery rods, and this one covers how to measure for a curtain rod, so if you are buying curtains (and not having a professional decorator choose and install them for you) make sure you read these posts.

Interior Design by Danielle Rollins

I particularly loved the way this decorator installed the drapes in this breakfast room (above). You can see that there wasn’t enough room on the left side of the french doors to install much drapery so she continued the  track around the corner and lined it up with the drapery on the right side.

These drapes don’t close, as you can see the track is hidden inside the drapery making them purely decorative and simply gorgeous.

Mistake #2: New decorators install too much hardware on bathroom or kitchen cabinets

I see this mistake ALL THE TIME. Less is more, especially when it comes to hardware on your cabinetry.

When you’ll really notice that there’s too much hardware on your cabinetry is if you go with a high contrast like these black ones in this kitchen of one of my clients (below):

I chose 1″ knobs (not 1.5 or 1 7/16), and one handle on the drawers instead of two smaller handles. Looks cleaner and less busy.

Ginger Jars | Kitchen Design | Black Hardware | White Shaker Cabinets | Kitchen Lighting | Decorating with Green

See this full house tour here.

One handle on the drawers is just right, instead of too much. As I’ve said many times, here and here, black has a tipping point. And, once you’ve hit it, the room can look too busy or too harsh and masculine, really fast.

See the rest of this bathroom here.

I also chose 1″ glass knobs for Crystal’s master bathroom vanity along with little 4″ pulls on the middle drawers. However, even they could have been knobs just like the two drawers above them.

Styling by Maria Killam

As I said in this post above, if you are on a budget, choose KNOBS over pulls, it looks way better than an entire kitchen full of 4″ pulls on all the drawers and doors.

If you are embarking on a bathroom or kitchen renovation or you just need to choose knobs, we can help.

I once walked into a kitchen and the ONLY thing I noticed was the over abundance of 6″ twisty pulls on all the doors and two on each drawer. Hardware adds up fast, so if you do this by yourself and end up with too many, not only are you unhappy with the way it looks (you can’t take them out once they are drilled into your cabinets) but now you’ve spent too much money as well. Let me help save you from this mistake!

Mistake #3: New Decorators Buy a Matching Set of Coffee Tables, Dining Room or Bedroom Furniture

They key word here is COORDINATE, not match.

A matching dining room set is often WAY MORE EXPENSIVE, than simply coordinating a dining room table, chairs and sideboard, like this photo (above). If you hire a designer to even just help you choose the coordinating furniture you will still be left with money to spend on other items like art and accessories.

Here is some inspiration for how to mix your dining chairs and table.

Interior Design by Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman

And if you already have a matching set of dining room furniture, here’s a great way to add some interest without breaking the bank.

Or you could paint the chairs (below). I’ve shown a traditional set here because a lot of you have very traditional ‘matching’ dining sets with china cabinets that you are afraid to paint.

It’s never going to look “coordinated” if you leave it all the same colour. So why not consider painting either the chairs and/or the matching sideboard?


If you already have a matching set of bedroom furniture, paint the bedside tables to mix it up and make it look more interesting. It could look more like this bedroom with a blue bed and a coordinating cream bedside table (below).

Via pinterest

Mistake #4: New decorators don’t know how to create and style vignettes

I asked a few people around me on some common mistakes new decorators make and this was what my sister Elizabeth said: “They have no idea how to style and arrange little vignettes with books.” 

Here’s my family room mantel which has been rearranged countless times:

Styling by Maria Killam, see the full post here

Styling instantly gives your home atmosphere and makes everyone want to hang out a little longer.

Here’s a step by step tutorial I wrote on creating tablescapes. And, here is a video showing how I styled my mantle, with some great tips you can use in your home.

Okay and here’s the next one Elizabeth added to the list:

Mistake #5: New decorators paint everything white because they don’t know which neutral or colour to choose

If you had to guess, what colour would you say this wall in my family room is (below)?

Interior Design by Maria Killam

It’s Cloverdale Rice Paper, which is a greige. It’s not a true white or even an off-white, which are both in the realm of art gallery white – a white that is often too stark and bright for most interiors.

Scroll back and look again, and compare it to the white vase sitting on the console. That is what I would consider to be art gallery white.

There’s a lot of confusion about greige in the world of interior design.

Since grey is either Green Grey, Blue Grey or Violet Grey (below), there are a lot of designers calling any grey that’s in the realm of Green Grey,  a GREIGE. They are labeling greige whether it’s dark or light, because it appears as a warm grey, or because at times it appears to look like grey and beige TOGETHER.

They call it greige because it’s not as OBVIOUSLY grey as a blue grey.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, however, in my system, when I talk about or specify GREIGE, it’s in the pale and light category.

Greige in my System for Specifying Colour™ is PALE. And since all colours go twice as bright INSIDE and four times as bright OUTSIDE, greige will generally read “white” on walls. You have to consider this detail before you freak out that the colour you have chosen will be too dark.

Here’s a video on the greige colour in my living roomwith my insider trick for testing greige paint colour. 

Because everyone is looking for light, bright and white right now, they are worried that the range of  complex and versatile (aka almost white colours that I call greige) are going to somehow look too beige or like a trendy gray on their walls.

And when they’re testing them on true white paper, they appear comparatively darker and warmer than they will look when they are painted wall to wall. So they panic and grab some too stark white or off white to paint their walls instead.

And this is because everyone is chasing that blown out bright and white look they see everywhere in magazines and on Pinterest. Your home does not have a photoshop filter

But I’m here to tell you that whiter paint does not make a pretty room. STYLING is what makes a pretty room and not every house is cut out to be WHITE. In most houses, some kind of super pale greige is a much softer and more versatile choice for a fresh and current look.

Read more: Ask Maria; Now that Beige is Back is painting my house Greige a Mistake? -and- Can I paint my trim greige?

Okay and here’s the BIGGEST mistake that new decorators make:

Mistake #6: New decorators calmly announce to their spouse that the lamp, sofa, chair… “insert missing item here” simply does not exist!

Because they’ve scoured the internet for it.

I promise you, it does exist, you just don’t know what to look for and that’s why you (or your spouse) have declared that it just doesn’t exist.

Or, perhaps it does exist, but not for the price you’re willing to pay for it. 

So, if there’s something missing in your home because you have not found it yet, can I gently and with love, suggest that the reason you haven’t found it is because you’re not a professional decorator? 😬

Professional decorators and designers know the search terms. We know what the name of that elusive chair is or what colour of accent chair works with your decor… and we can find it for you.

When you don’t even know the name of that mid century modern upholstered chair you need or even worse, you don’t really know what it should look like? It’s pretty hard to find. Let a decorator help you.

Just sayin’.

West Elm

Okay, so that’s my list of mistakes I see new decorators make all of the time. I know there’s a lot more. You are welcome to post more new decorator mistakes in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’m excited, my SOLD OUT Vancouver event starts Wednesday! There’s still seats left in Dallas, Charleston and my second Vancouver course this Fall, register here.

Related posts:

23 Things Only a Designer will Tell You

How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Kitchen Mistakes

6 Biggest Colour Mistakes I’ve Made (Been there, Done That)












2302 pins


  • Rosemary says:

    They do make Crystal pulls!

  • Diane says:

    I knew a top-notch designer in HouTX who often specified white porcelain knobs or handles, especially in kitchens..they were inexpensive and disappeared! Very clever.

  • Patti says:

    Thank you for this information Maria. I learn so much from you and reading your posts!

  • Lucy says:

    Maria this post is super special! You have hit on so many points! I love looking at all of the pictures and your explanation of what and what not to do. The drapery rods and application in the first picture was certainly interesting. I have never thought of balancing the draperies in that manner. Check – something learned! So many comments that I could make about this post would take up too much space so I will just make it a keeper!

    P.S. I am sending this to several of my designer friends who need your class!

  • Superb round-up of truths. Too many drawer pulls is a big one. The same applies to front walkways outlined with enough lighting to land a 747.

    But what I really want is to ask you a question about repainting a child’s bedroom that was once a deep khaki green.

    Emily Henderson recently said that when you have a small dark room, you instinctively want to paint it white to make it feel bigger. But this is a mistake because the color white looks best when there is a lot of natural light to bounce it around. So in this situation, you should select a darker color, which she readily admits is counter-intuitive.

    Any thoughts on such a matter?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes I agree that white is certainly not the answer but I don’t think the room has to remain dark either. Choose a duvet and then pick a colour to go with it! There are many shades of pale that do not need to be stark white! Hope that helps, Maria

  • Velvet says:

    For me the area rug is the most common “mistake.” It seems to me that too many people are “copying” the neutral rug look with the diamond pattern, as if that’s the only option. It saddens me because in some cases this rug does no justice to the rest of the interior.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Haha I specified that rug for my sisters new family room refresh but that’s because she was on a BUDGET and we needed a large rug and it’s a bargain! I would have loved a more fabulous rug but we needed the entire room decorated, not just the rug.

      You’re right that rugs are a common mistake, but they are like art, part of the look and feel and if you’re not a decorator, it’s a difficult to choose. We see many rooms in our eDesign department without rugs at all. Thanks for your comment! Maria

    • Nicole Shea says:

      On my list is that they choose a rug that is too small. The room will never look right if the rug is too small.

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    I’m guilty as charged of painting everything white. Now I’m in the process of trying to warm up the spaces.
    Reason #1736475939 why you should just go ahead and hire a designer. ?‍♀️

  • Phyllis E says:

    Hi Maria! Thanks again for the informative post. I especially appreciate the clarification about off-white, whites, greiges, etc. I didn’t realize that you considered off-whites to be “art gallery white”! Where does “off-white” end and “greige start”? Would LRV be a useful way to know what would be considered off white and what a greige? (Future post topic maybe!) And another related question that maybe you can cover in a post: How to make sure your light paint color (off-white or griege) isn’t going to just look like “apartment” off-white or dirty white! Thanks.
    Off topic question: when are we going to see your bathroom remodel reveal, Maria, or did I miss it somehow??? Weren’t you remodeling it? Did your contractor skip town? I know all too well, though, that sometime contractors and suppliers, have, uhh, issues, and projects can drag out much longer than anticipated! Can’t wait to see it.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes if you were to paint your house cloud white, which is technically an off-white, it would look like art gallery white for sure. Greige looks greyer on the chip, like BM Classic Grey, Ballet White, Soft Chamois, or SW Shoji White, Herron Plume, that’s how you know you’re looking at a greige.

      Here’s a post I wrote about white

      As for my bathrooms, they have finally been photographed and will be posted in October! Thanks for your comment Phyllis! Maria

  • Charla Malek says:

    Love your informative emails/blogs and have shared it with many friends. You are so talented. Thank you!

  • Kaththee says:

    I know you wrote this piece a few years back or so but I have to speak my peace. I see mistakes all the time and most people are way too confident in their abilities. The first house I decorated was perfect but I lost my confidence somehow and with it my eye. I have hired decorators many times and they all left me broke and disappointed. I dumped so much of the stuff they sold me. One hired a florist who glued faux flowers to the tops of candlesticks and stuck feathers in them and without asking me told her that is what I wanted. Another unsuccessfully tried to sell me preserved florals in preternatural shades of green, red and yellow that looked like frozen death. Another designed the ugliest bedroom for my daughter in purple, red and black and the pièce de résistance of her design was a bed spread that the seamstress said couldn’t be made- something she should have known. They charged me 80 dollars a yard for fabric that I saw a Hobby Lobby for 9.98 a yard- the gold dragon flies on a black background. Yet another sold me “art” (mass produced) for a small fortune I later saw at Bed Bath and Beyond.
    Finally I set out to learn this craft myself and I found my “eye” again. I also found a seamstress who was really a designer and she taught me a lot -mostly how to trust my eye again. I also took design classes and even learned to draw and paint. Most of all I looked at a lot of photos and bought and studied decorating book. I can source anything. I was determined to the milk glass pulls on one section of my new kitchen and I needed only 6. I found them and replacements in the unlikely even one is accidentally broken. I dare you to find apothecary style (squared backs) solid milk glass cup pulls- not the kind with the metal seat that holds the glass. I know my limitations and hired someone to design my kitchen cabinets but she was terrible choosing light fixtures, hardware, faucets, and worse at styling. She bought a Hobby Lobby milk pitcher and other galvanized tin faux farmhouse pieces for the photo shoot and cheap faux flowers. I specifically stated I wanted nothing farmhouse, but even if I loved farmhouse that stuff was too cheap for my custom kitchen. Any idiot knows you bring real flowers to a photoshoot. I saved the day with my own new NDI florals. The mistake of most decorators/designers is they are one trick ponies and if you don’t care for that trick you better get out of there fast.

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