6 Common Mistakes New Decorators Make

This week I thought I’d do a round-up of the most common mistakes new decorators make. The best and most common mistake is at the end of this post because it’s number one and I’m starting at number six:

Installing your curtain rod too close to the window or not leaving any 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 WHERE to hang it, so if you are buying curtains (not having a professional decorator choose and install them for you) make sure you read these links.

Interior Design by Danielle Rollins

I particularly loved the way this decorator installed the drapes in this breakfast room. 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.

Installing too much hardware on your 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.

Buying a Matching Set of Coffee tables, Dining or Bedroom Furniture

They key word here is COORDINATE.

Interior Design by Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman

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.

And if you already have a matching set of dining room furniture, here’s a 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 it?


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 blue bed and a coordinating cream bedside table (below).

Via pinterest

I interviewed 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 re-arranged 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.

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

They Paint Everything White because they Don’t know which Neutral or Colour is right

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. Not a true white or even an off-white, which are both in the realm of art-gallery-white.

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, whether it’s dark or light, because it appears as a warm grey, or at times could even be interpreted as 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 of 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 that before you freak out that the colour you have chosen will be too dark.

Because everyone is looking for light, bright and white right now, they are worried that the range of  complex and versatile, 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.

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.

Related posts: Ask Maria; Now that Beige is Back is painting my house Greige a Mistake?

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

You look over at your spouse and calmly announce that the lamp, sofa, chair, insert missing item here (that you’ve scoured the internet and local stores for) does not exist!

I promise you, it does, 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, maybe it does, but not for the price you’re willing to pay.

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?

We know the search terms,  we know what the name of that elusive chair is, 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.

Just sayin’.

West Elm


Okay, here’s my list, I know there’s a lot more. You are welcome to post more in the comments!

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)














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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

    • 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

  4. 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.

    • 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

  5. 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. ?‍♀️

  6. 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.

    • 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 https://mariakillam.com/5-reasons-cannot-paint-art-gallery-white/

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

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