Breaking Bad Design #1: Rules Are Boring

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 2.57.34 PM

“Nothing dies harder than a bad idea.” Julia Cameron

Design rules are more like old wive’s tales than true. Follow them and you may screw up anyway by creating really boring rooms.

The following is a very short list of very dated decrees.

“The bed and headboard should never be placed in front of a window.”

Adhere to that rule and you could miss a terrific opportunity. The most effective and best looking way to locate furniture is to make use of any focal point available. If the window qualifies as such, use it as a backdrop to form a vertical extension of the headboard. The drapery can be hung on the sides to equal the width of the bed, or stretched even further to give the illusion of a bigger window.

This is an effective way to disguise “unfortunate architecture” too.

“Bedroom furniture should only be used in the bedroom.”

Well, yes and no. A double or twin bed can be made up with layers of big pillows to look like a divan in a living room, den or office.  A beautiful chest of drawers can be both decorative and practical if used to visually balance a similarly scaled piece of furniture or a fireplace on the opposite side of the room. For that matter, dismiss the idea that certain kinds of furniture can only be used in specific rooms.

Using what you already have better, is the smart way to style your home.

“Ceilings should always be white, because white makes the ceiling appear higher.”

No, it doesn’t. White walls can make a room seem airier and brighter but don’t necessarily make a room look bigger either. Though it seems counter-intuitive, under certain conditions dark colors appear to recede, while light colors appear to pop forward. If your walls and ceiling are one continuous color, the lines are blurred as to where the corners meet and the walls end. Without the contrast of  eye popping, eye stopping white, the room really will seem bigger.

This is one way to make ceilings appear higher that actually works.

“Outdoor furniture and lighting should always be used outside.”

Open air, open mind. Willingness to think creatively about furniture arrangement need not stop at the door. Bring wrought iron garden furniture indoors and it looks architectural. Large lamps typically used to light a pathway could provide an unusual and interesting solution over the dining table or in the entry hall.

You can do yourself a decorating favor by forgetting traditional locations for anything you use to style your home.

“Art should always be hung at eye level.”

In a museum, perhaps. Think about this is in terms of establishing a relationship between the furniture, the lighting and the architecture. In so doing, the goal is to develop a composition between the players.  Hanging a picture according to some arbitrary rule greatly increases the odds that it will no longer relate to the setting you are creating.  Consider the purpose of the room too.  In the living room, where you sit to entertain your friends, you would naturally view your pictures from a seated position.

Neck strain means your artwork is hung too high.

“Dining chairs should always match.”

Yawn.  A pair of dining chairs for each end of the table with benches, banquettes or even stools on the long sides, looks a lot more interesting.

Conventional wisdom only works at conventions. Any sentence that has “should always”, “should only”, or “should never” in it, is a decorating mental block.

The only “should always” that will net great looking results for you and your home is “have an open mind to new ideas”.

Large featured photo:  from portfolio shot from Outdoor Wicker Furniture Indoors by Dotter Solfjeld Architects Read more:

Article photo: Room design by Buckingham Interiors + Design, via Houzz

The original version of this post was published on, May, 2009. This is the last word to date…