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DECOR ADVICE: How to avoid disasters

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Professionals spill their design pet peeves and offer solutions

You can always count on a decorator to tell you what’s wrong with a room – and typically, said decorator will not take a breath before telling you how to fix it. “There is just so much that is obvious to us, but not to others,” says decorator Zoe Feldman.

But most of us don’t have professional decorators stopping by regularly to tell us what faux pas we’ve made, so we asked eight for their top design pet peeves.

Here’s what they told us:

Art that’s hung too high or too low

To find the right height to hang art, designer Celerie Kemble says to pretend the piece of art is a mirror and see where you’d want your face to be in the reflection. “Your art should be looking at you in the eye like someone who would be shaking your hand,” Kemble says.

Coloured mounts for your art “Never pick out a colour from a piece of art to use for the mount colour; it’s distracting. Mounts should be neutral and just disappear,” Feldman says.

Badly hung curtains

Decorator Betsey Mosby says her biggest decorating peeve is curtains that are not hung appropriately.

“It’s a mistake to hang the rod right above the window moulding and have the rod extend only to the edge of the windows.” Instead Mosby hangs the rod directly below the cornice (unless the room has unusually tall ceilings, in which case she raises the rod half a metre or so above the window).

Feldman also hates curtains that are too short or that puddle on the floor. “I like my curtains to fall like nicely tailored pants.”

Unlined curtains: Mosby says they are “the worst”. “There are few occasions that call for no lining on window treatments. Lining always gives the appropriate weight and feel to your curtains.”

Too-small rugs

For designer Jean Liu, walking into a room and seeing all the furniture crammed onto an area rug that’s too small is her number one pet peeve. “I recommend getting rugs that are appropriately scaled for each room. It’s a balance between wanting to see enough of the floor, especially if it’s a nice species of hardwood, and the rug itself.”

Decorator Paloma Contreras concurs. “There are few design crimes as bad as having a little postage stamp for a rug in the centre of your room.”

Contreras says to always opt for the largest rug your room can accommodate. “You’ll want to make sure that at least two of the legs on each piece of furniture are on the rug, but optimally, every piece will sit completely on top of the rug, except for the dining room, where all of the legs must be on top.”

Rugs layered on carpet

For designer Jeffry Weisman area rugs layered on top of wall-to-wall carpeting is a major pet peeve.

“We hate it, but sometimes you have to do it. In that case, we use sisal wall-to-wall, which reads more like hardwood floor than carpet and then we float the area rugs on top.”

Poor furniture placement

Make sure your chairs and sofas are placed as though they are friends chatting to one another. Picture: Jacalyn Beales

Kemble dislikes furniture being set up so that everyone is facing one direction (usually toward a screen). “Living rooms should be set up for conversation. Place the chairs and sofa in relation to one another as if they were friends at a party and were chatting.”

Contreras warns: “Don’t push all of the furniture up against the walls. Your living room should feel inviting and conducive to conversation. It’s not a school dance.” She says to “float” at least one solid piece in the room.

Uninspired furniture shapes

New York stylist and designer Olga Naiman dislikes it when everything in a room is square or rectangular. “It becomes one-dimensional and uninteresting. You need to mix it up by adding circular or amorphous shapes.”

Bad lighting: Bad interior lighting bothers Tatyana Miron Ahlers the most. “Lighting in any room makes all the difference, but when entertaining, low and even light is crucial.” She says to avoid compact fluorescent lights at all costs and instead buy LED bulbs that have the “warmest” temperature. She also suggests stocking up on 60 watt incandescent bulbs to use at dinner parties or holidays.

Visible electric wires

Kemble hates it when people miss simple chances to hide electrical cords. She says to tape them under tables or use twist-ties to conceal them.

Cottage cheese ceilings Weisman (and just about every other designer in the world) dislikes those outdated textured ceilings he calls “cottage cheese ceilings”, though you may know them as popcorn ceilings. Use sheetrock to cover it, which he says is more cost-effective than scraping. “Also, we have been told that the old acoustical coating sometimes contains asbestos, in which case it’s safer to bury it than scrape it.”

Sad, flat pillows that came with the couch Feldman doesn’t like throw pillows that aren’t full enough. She says to always go up a size with cushion inserts. And Mosby says to replace any throw pillows that come with your sofa. “You should always customise them to one or two different patterns to add interest, texture and scale.”

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