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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

7 Mistakes Rookie DIY Decorators Make

Updated: May 15, 2020

“I’ll get there,” I assured. “I can’t just drop everything.”

A long pause followed, during which, I’m pretty sure, she was wondering what could possibly constitute my life apart from hers. See, my two daughters believe I do nothing all day but pull lint from my navel while biding my time between phone calls from them, all of which are more pressing than whatever I could possibly be doing.

“Can you just tell me what color to paint the walls?” Paige asks me, for the third time.

“Honey, I need to see the paint in your space. I can’t pick a color over the phone.”

“But we want to paint now!”

Where does she get her impatience?

Finally, last weekend, a month after Paige and her long-time boyfriend, John, both 25, moved into their new house, I flew in to check it out.

“Great job!” I said, looking around. Indeed, they’d gotten off to a fine start decorating and painting. The three-bedroom, single-story ranch house was cuter than a ladybug and had more potential than a Derby winner’s foal.

And although they’d gotten a lot right, I could see half a dozen rookie mistakes that we could fix fast. I resisted the urge to upend the place before setting down my bags. Instead, I waited uncalmly, until Paige finally asked, “Do you have any ideas for what else we could do?”

“Do I!” I jumped to my feet.

Paige looked at John dubiously, who looked at me wide eyed.

“Ready to move some furniture?” I asked.

By the end of the weekend, not one room looked the same. We’d move furniture and art, added and subtracted accessories, and addressed the following rookie mistakes DIY decorators often make:

1. Lopsided rooms.

  • Rule: Furniture in a room should balance visually. Imagine the furniture on a seesaw. It shouldn’t flop to one side. Rookies often focus on whether furniture fits and overlook balance.

  • Reality: In Paige and John’s shared home office, they had put both their desks on the same narrow end of the rectangular room, and a small book case on the other, which wasn’t visually heavy enough.

  • Remedy: We put one desk on each side of the room along the long wall, and the book case centered on the opposite long wall, balancing the room.

2. Forgotten focal point.

  • Rule: Successful rooms work around a focal point, such as a view, a fireplace, or an entertainment center.

  • Reality: In Paige’s living room, the sofa and chair looked onto a freestanding bookcase loaded with books (including old paperbacks), board games, and a television. Though functional, the bookcase as it stood was not focal-point worthy.

  • Remedy: We moved all but the prettiest hardcovers to the office. Then we moved the bookcase next to the sofa against a long wall that needed weight. We styled it with an edited stack of handsome hardcovers, pretty art objects, a large mirror propped against the back, and a healthy infusion of empty space. We put the television on a painted wood chest, flanked with two, tall potted trees, creating a less-cluttered focal point.

3. Mistaking dirt for age.

  • Rule: Clean before you replace old counter or floor tile.

  • Reality: The original blush-colored, 4-inch-ceramic-tile counters in the 55-year-old kitchen looked ancient. Paige and John thought they’d need new counters and were dreading the cost. But what looked like missing grout and corrosion between the tiles was really grime. The counters likely had never been thoroughly cleaned, just wiped.

  • Remedy: I pulled out some Comet with bleach, added water, and scrubbed the grout with an old toothbrush. After an hour, the tile counters looked like new, and the kitchen gleamed.

4. Believing more is more.

  • Rule: Less is more.

  • Reality: To embellish her space, Paige had layered area rugs on carpet in the office and living room. While such layering can work, it can also make a room (especially ones with only eight-foot ceilings) feel congested. That was the case here.

  • Remedy: We pulled all the area rugs out and the rooms instantly breathed.

5. Keeping sets together.

  • Rule: Furniture sets don’t need to stay together, and are often better apart.

  • Reality: When furnishing their guest room, Paige and John used a hand-me-down bedroom set that included a four-poster bed, two nightstands and a dresser, which together overwhelmed the small room.

  • Remedy: Seeing the bedroom dresser as a chest of drawers that could work elsewhere in the house freed us to move it out of the guest room and into the living room, which needed furniture, and where the piece now keeps board games and linens out of sight.

6. Misplaced motifs.

  • Rule: Artwork should have the right colors, be the right size, and also have the right subject matter. Many rookies overlook motif.

  • Reality: Paige had a rather formal landscape in her casual kitchen eating area. Though colors and size were right, the art’s subject matter didn’t quite fit the room.

  • Remedy: We found a fun painting of a pig on wood (Pier One $25) that fell into place, and moved the landscape to the master bedroom.

7. Spreading, rather than grouping art.

  • Rule: Gather don’t scatter multiple elements on a wall.

  • Reality: To fill a large wall, Paige took a series of four botanical butterfly images and stretched them. The result looked fragmented.

  • Remedy: We pulled the butterfly art together in a grid-like square, unifying it so the grouping read as one large image.

CLARIFICATION: Last week’s column on power yard tools incorrectly stated the number of potential recharges for the EGO lithium-battery. The battery is good for up to 2,000 recharges (not 20,000).

CAPTION: Subject matters -- This pig art is right at home in the kitchen, but would look out of place almost anywhere else. Photo courtesy John Pederson.

CAPTION: Break it up – (Before) Keeping this bedroom set together crowded the guestroom. (After) Breaking the dresser apart from the set opened up the guest room, and benefitted the living room, too. Photos by John Pederson.

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