Because it’s the first space you walk into when you enter my home, my living room serves as a guest’s first impression of my space and sets the tone for the rest of the house. I put my heart and soul into decorating it, but months later something was still missing. It was a beautiful, neutral space, but one that lacked personality. So I set aside what I thought I knew about decorating and made a few riskier purchases—I had an antique wing chair covered in a seriously mod fabric and added an oversized pastel pink and blue oil painting to the main wall. Just like that, the space felt alive. So I wondered, what other decorating rules are just begging to be broken? Here, the experts weigh in.
Don’t use dark colors in a small room.
“If you’re dealing with an exceptionally small space, people think a dark color on the walls will make the room feel smaller,” says Jeff Fiorito, an interior designer in Northern California. “It seems counterintuitive, but a dark color can actually make a small space feel larger.” But keep in mind: light colors advance, dark colors recede, says Fiorito. “A dark color blurs the edges of the room and makes it difficult to sense the dimension of the space. I like to use the analogy of the theatre: Those black velvet drapes surrounding the set are there because you can’t tell how deep that area is.”
Your rug has to be just the right size.
In a room with the basic arrangement of a sofa, coffee table, and chairs, it’s commonly accepted that the front legs of the seating pieces should rest on the rug, says Pam Faulkner, an interior designer in Virginia. But what if you find a small, but fabulous rug at just the right price? Try it, particularly if it has a bold pattern or color, or if the room is relatively small, says Faulkner. “Certain colors and patterns, especially when combined can make the rug appear to be larger.”
The ceiling has to be white.
“Although it is true that white ceilings reflect light and make a room brighter, sometimes painting the ceiling a couple of shades lighter than the medium color walls can make the space feel bigger without that hard differentiation between wall and ceiling,” says Leslie Saul, an architect and interior designer in Massachusetts. If you’re feeling extra bold, experiment with a deeper shade or even wallpaper, says Saul. Adding easily removable wallpaper can add interest to an otherwise boxy boring living room, and doing so on the ceiling is cheaper and less time-consuming.
Don’t overcrowd the space.
“When it comes to decorating your living room, step away from the minimalist rule and dare to go for the maximalist approach,” says Blanche Garcia, an interior designer in New Jersey. Use more objects, more patterns, and bolder colors.” But don’t color-coordinate, adds Susan Barbieri, another interior designer in New Jersey. “Let your own personal taste and natural response to color lead the way when choosing decor for a successful and less contrived end result.”
Don’t mix patterns.
“Many of us still believe mixing prints in the home is a faux pas and that we should stick to one print or a neutral palette,” says Karin Sun, founder of Crane & Canopy. “However, adding different patterns is a fun and easy way to build a unique and bold space you love. Try mixing one large, dominant print with a smaller accent or combining two different patterns that share a similar color. Don’t be afraid to mix and match in the living room with bright throw blankets, patterned throw pillows, and even larger furniture such as couches.”
The mirror should reflect something worth seeing.
Traditionally, if a mirror over a fireplace reflects something in the room like a piece of art or a lovely view outside, then it’s a go, says Faulkner. If it reflects a ceiling fan or something less attractive or distracting, then it’s a no—unless you create a diversion. If your mirror reflects something less than ideal, create an arrangement in front of it, suggests Faulkner. Think: a collection, a piece of art on a stand, or a painting on a tabletop easel. Use the mirror to frame the pieces to divert the eye.