9 Design Details That Make Interior Designers Cringe

Updated 03/08/19

Professional interior designers notice things that most novices might not pick up on. This is especially true when it comes to the small décor details that can make a home look cheap (even if it isn't). No matter your budget or lack thereof, certain details can make a space look instantly more luxe and expensive while others do just the opposite, making even the nicest of homes seem a bit off.

In an effort to help you create a space that looks its very best, we turned to three interior designers to find out the seemingly small décor details that secretly make them cringe every time and what they'd do instead. Ahead, Becky Shea of , Jennifer Wallenstein of , and Tina Rich of  spill all of the little things that they think bring down the design value of a space. Here's what they always notice and how to avoid common mistakes.

THE PROBLEM: Furniture that's too big or too small

THE FIX: Measure and map your space

Living Room Furniture
Catherine Kwong

According to Shea, the scale is one aspect that you'll want to consider carefully when planning the layout of a space. "If furniture isn't to scale with the room, you run into a space feeling sparse or cluttered," the designer points out. "It's not a good look." However, when you nail the perfect scale, it can make pieces look more expensive than they might actually be.

In order to avoid this common mistake, you'll want to meticulously measure any space you're planning on decorating before making any major purchases. Shea recommends leaving three feet between each piece of furniture for easy mobility. "It also gives each piece enough room to breathe and shine on its own," the designer adds. 

Then, once you've picked out pieces that you think will work well, try mapping out the furniture on the floor to get an idea of how it would all look in real life. This is a simple way to get a visual sense of your potential décor if you're not familiar with space planning tools, Shea explains.

THE PROBLEM: A bad paint job

THE FIX: Do the research or hire a professional

White Dining Room
Sarah Sherman Samuel

While  may be your main focus when it comes time to refresh your walls, Wallenstein notes that a poorly painted wall can make any space look cheap and not well put together. "Wobbly lines and splotchy walls make a room feel unfinished, no matter how much thought was put into it," she explains. 

If you're aiming to stick to a tight budget, you can still paint the walls on your own, just be sure to do a bit of research about best practices before you get started. You'll also want to have all the necessary tools on hand, like painter's tape, in order to create a luxe finish. You also might consider leaving this project to the professionals to ensure you'll be left with a proper paint job, Wallenstein points out.

THE PROBLEM: Faux finishes

THE FIX: Go for the real thing

Gold Details
Alyssa Rosenheck

Rich names faux finishes as one of the décor details that instantly makes a room look less expensive. "Fake spray painted metallics are instantly recognizable and cheapen any room," the designer says. The fix here is to simply source pieces that are the real thing, like brass or nickel items.

Additionally, Rich isn't a fan of faux finishes when it comes to sponge painted walls or furniture. "There are some amazing companies out there that can concrete or plaster your walls and it’s totally worth the extra money to source finishes that are authentic, well crafted, and will stand the test of time," she adds.

THE PROBLEM: Animal print overload

THE FIX: Smaller details

Modern Living Room
BHDM Design

Although 2018 brought with it a surge of , Shea is wary of going all in on this style. "Yes, [animal print] can be executed tastefully if used in moderation, but there's a very fine line and my recommendation is to always steer away from this," the designer says. "When I start seeing leopard and zebra print in funky colors and weird textures, it just reads cheap," she continues.

So, unless the trend feels like something that truly fits with your personal style, you might consider going for pieces that are more timeless or using animal print in small doses. "Adding a coffee table book about leopards and zebras in their natural habitat is a more tasteful route and it can be inspirational at the same time," she suggests.

THE PROBLEM: Vertical blinds

THE FIX: Custom or premade panels

Panel Blinds
Katherine Carter

Another décor detail that makes Wallenstein cringe is vertical blinds, which she notes are often the go-to window covering for apartment buildings. She's not a fan of this common style and suggests going for custom drapes or blinds instead if you have the budget for it. "Even a simple upgrade to pre-made panels and adjustable rods are a massive improvement," the designer points out.

THE PROBLEM: Bad lighting

THE FIX: Soft, natural lighting

Contemporary Dining Room—Small Dining Room
BHDM Design

The wrong lighting can completely change the mood and atmosphere of a room. According to Shea, fluorescents, white LED lights, and simply not having enough light are the décor details that stand out in a bad way to her. 

To fix a bad lighting situation, she recommends using 2700k color for LED lighting. "It provides a bit of a soft yellow, white light mix that feels natural and inviting," she says. Aside from picking the right bulbs, you can also be sure to include additional light sources in spaces that could be brighter and more inviting. "Purchase table lamps or floor lamps, even plug in sconces if you can't open up the walls to add more lighting," the designer suggests.

THE PROBLEM: Small rugs

THE FIX: Measure the space

Living Room Rug
Catherine Kwong

According to Rich, one of her biggest design pet peeves is rugs that are too small for the space they're in. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that most of the furniture in a room fit on top of the area rug. This will make your space look much more expensive as opposed to letting furniture only partially cover a smaller rug. "A sofa should either completely fit on the rug or the back legs can hang slightly off the rug," Rich says.

THE PROBLEM: Pilling fabric

THE FIX: Invest in high-quality materials

Living Room Details
BHDM Design

Just as pilling sweaters hanging in your closet can make your wardrobe look less expensive, pilling furniture fabric can make an interior space look and feel cheap. "Those little knots of fibers that seem to also suck every lint and hair in their vicinity into their vortex make even the most beautiful sofas and chairs look poorly made," Wallenstein points out.

According to her, the fabrics that tend to be most afflicted by this particular design faux pas are blends of natural and synthetic fibers, like combinations of cotton and polyester. The designer recommends solving the issue with a special shaver that can remove most of the pills. Otherwise, you may consider being proactive when furniture shopping and avoid purchasing pieces made with the fabric blends mentioned above.

THE PROBLEM: Short drapes

THE FIX: Properly account for the full vertical rise

Long Drapes—Modern living room
Katherine Carter

Just as the size of your furniture and rugs can affect how expensive a space looks, so can the length of your drapes. Shea points out drapes that are too short, in particular, as a major design issue. According to her, short drapes signal that you either went for a shorter option because it was less expensive or simply because you didn't properly measure the distance above your window casing to account for the full vertical rise.

"This is one of those things I really push for custom made, even if it means ordering drapes that are too long and taking them to the dry cleaner to be seamed," she says, pointing out that this is one design element that you'll want to really get right the first time around. Get it right from the start by measuring how much space you have above your window so you can mount a rod as close to the ceiling as possible, Shea explains. This should ensure the perfect length for your drapes.

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