Home Decor

13 Decorating Rules We Love to Break

Because the best spaces always flout a few.

January 25, 2022
Photo by Rocky Luten

The other day, I was on the treadmill, distracting myself with one of my favorite home decor podcasts”), and my attention latched on to something the hosts were chatting about: design crimes, specifically the ones they’d like gone in the new year. High on the list of offenders were karate-chopped pillows, overly styled coffee tables (ya know, the kind with no space to put down your drink), and matchy-matchy decor. I chuckled at most of them, but it did get me thinking: What “design crimes” am I guilty of in my own home? And is it an offense if it works for me?

At the start of each year, design trends are on the minds of a lot of people. Which ones are we happy to turn our backs to? Which new ones will capture our imaginations (and wallets)? As a home editor, I’m obviously very invested, but I’m also firmly on Team Do-What-Makes-You-Happy. Trends expand our creative possibilities and rules give us a framework for action—to determine the height of your pendant light, for instance—but there’s nothing wrong with letting a trend (or many) bypass you completely, or taking a rule and stretching its boundaries.

In fact, being constantly worried about making a mistake is often why so many of us don’t end up finishing up a space. So while every rule book tells you to hang your artwork at eye level, perhaps your ceiling is so high that doing so just makes your art look comical. And maybe having a TV over your fireplace is the only logical way to configure your living room. And pssst: dark colors can totally work in many small rooms.

To celebrate this sentiment, I decided to make my own list of rules that I break—and asked my Home52 colleagues if they had any to add. So here they are. And here’s to the rule breakers among us.

Separate warm and cool colors

I’ve never been a stickler for an overly cohesive color palette, and I believe that combining warm and cool colors in a room actually keeps things interesting. My couch is grey (cool), and my throw pillows are in shades of olive, cream, brown, and rust (warm). My area rug is a combination of beige, white, and black, my daybed is upholstered in a sage green, and they all coexist very comfortably (I think). The truth is nearly any combination of colors can work together, and you can find ways to unify them, such as through intensity or saturation, and pattern.

Scale down furniture for small rooms

Meh…outdated. Sometimes, having a couple of very large pieces actually makes a room feel both purposeful and cozy. I have a full-size sofa, a large daybed, and a large multi-shelf wall unit in a living space that is by no means big—and I’m not about to swap them out. Besides, I’d like to think that my large furniture will all actually be perfectly “to scale” when I find the brownstone home of my dreams (and that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow).

Stick to one metal

When we redid our bathroom recently, one of the things I was cautioned about by well-meaning friends was mixing metals in a small bathroom. “Stick to one metal,” they said. “Better for resale.” (Another rule to break: Don’t decorate for resale!) “And, oh, let that one metal be brass.” Well, I decided to mix brushed nickel with oil-rubbed bronze instead. I kept one dominant (nickel) and the other as an accent, and it has worked to punctuate even my small bathroom beautifully. No brass hardware in sight, either—I’m putting it down to a trend that will likely bypass me.

Too many pillows

I collect throw pillows. My husband will never stop reminding me that 90 percent of them serve no purpose, and are little more than an annoyance (I remind him that taking them off the bed each night robs him of exactly 15 seconds!), but I truly enjoy the act of mixing and matching pillow sets in each room and swapping them out with the seasons. I relish the tactility of their mixed textures and weaves, and physically sinking into a giant pile of them at the end of a long day—the world’s a rough place, we all need our cocoons.

Stick to one wood stain

I've heard it said before by numerous designers that you should stick to one to two wood tones max—but I just don't subscribe to that! Our home is an old 1826 colonial, and the more time I spend in it, the more I realize that a variety of wood tones and stains just feels right here. We have dark walnut floors, inky black stained cabinetry, an oak staircase, and more—the style of the house makes it all feel cohesive. —Alyssa Longobucco, Writer

Wall-to-wall has gotta go

I recently moved into a new apartment, and the bedroom has wall-to-wall beige carpet. When we toured—and before we settled in—I was dead set on getting an area rug to cover the existing carpet, because I was totally skeeved out about living on top of used carpet. However, after a few weeks of living in the apartment (and realizing that the carpet was in extremely good condition), I grew to really like it. It’s kind of lovely to put my feet down on a soft carpet in the morning, and it reminds me of growing up in my parents’ (carpeted) house. —Caroline Mullen, Assistant Editor

That rug is too small

Our living room rug is way too small for the room's layout (and frankly, quite tattered). It's a decorating sin that I am very much aware of, but rather than fret about this, I'm patiently waiting for my ideal rug to cross my path. I also daydream about getting the old rug made into a giant floor cushion when the time comes, inspired by the ones that Los Angeles–based design studio Commune Design made early on. —Laura Fenton, Columnist

Get that couch away from the wall

Lots of designers will tell you that putting the couch against the wall makes a room feel smaller, giving it no room to breathe. But what, I ask, do you do when there is only one logical place for a sectional couch in an oblong living room? I actually recently got a comment on an Instagram post suggesting I move the rug and couch more toward the center of the room, and I tried it just to see. Unfortunately, this just left an awkward gap between couch and wall, and the couch kept scooting around each time we sat down. So! Back against the wall it goes. —Caroline Mullen, Assistant Editor

So, what’s your style?

My husband and I moved into our home almost two years ago, and we still haven’t been able to nail down our shared decor aesthetic, so it’s prevented us from going all out with decorating our space. I like a mix of modern and rustic; he likes traditional. At this point, does it even matter? It’s so much easier to decorate our space without having a certain theme in mind or thinking about whether pieces match each other. —Jada Wong, Market Editor

Plan every purchase

My design crime is definitely buying furniture and decor without necessarily knowing where such pieces will live in my apartment. As someone who loves secondhand shopping and flea markets, sometimes I just can't say no to items I find, even if it means that I may need to get creative with re-shuffling of my space when I get home. Even though I'm a planner in most aspects of my life, I think that some of the best design decisions can stem from those spontaneous buys! —Sarah Lyon, Contributor

Those living finishes…

We recently renovated our kitchen and, as a young family with a toddler, I can't even count the number of times someone questioned me for choosing finishes like marble, unlacquered brass, and soapstone. "They'll show wear in no time!" they'd say, to which I reply—”I hope so!” With modern advances like engineered hardwood and quartz countertops, there's this instinct to go with materials that will never show signs of wear and tear. But there's just something about the patina that living finishes like marble or real hardwood develop that I love. They're marks of a life well lived in a space, and that's exactly the type of home I want to be able to reflect back on in 20 or 30 years. —Alyssa Longobucco, Writer

Bedrooms are best kept neutral

I’ve basically totally abandoned the idea that bedrooms should be light and bright in order to be relaxing. In fact, I much prefer a darker, moodier bedroom to create the “sanctuary” vibe that’s so sought after. The last two colors I used in my bedroom are definitely not white and for me, really create a sense of calm and coziness. Maybe one day I’ll go back to a bright bedroom, but for now, you can find me in my little green cave! —Caroline Mullen, Assistant Editor

Keep up with trends

Wavy novelty mirrors give me such joy. They’re just so funky and fun! They were super popular for a hot minute, and now it seems like its moment has passed. Whatever, I’m determined to get one anyway and take some ’fit selfies (maybe). —Jada Wong, Market Editor

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I like things that wear and weather over time - hardwood ("Grade B" even better as it comes with character), soapstone, and yes, oil-rubbed bronze even if this means a living finish. The stove we just had installed in our new kitchen is an antique, made in 1929 and has nearly 100 years of use and personality even after restoration, rather than being pristine and new. There is a place for perfection (e.g., no holes in the drywall) but a home with wear and character feels cozier and more welcoming imo, meant to be lived in more than shown off. ”
— Terry

Okay, your turn—tell us about all the rules you’re breaking in your home!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


kim March 21, 2022
Brass is out???
I'm sorry. It's taken THREE LONG YEARS to get this house built, and it's not done yet. I don't care what anybody says about the brass I bought for this house 2 years ago, I'm using it!
Terry January 30, 2022
I like things that wear and weather over time - hardwood ("Grade B" even better as it comes with character), soapstone, and yes, oil-rubbed bronze even if this means a living finish. The stove we just had installed in our new kitchen is an antique, made in 1929 and has nearly 100 years of use and personality even after restoration, rather than being pristine and new. There is a place for perfection (e.g., no holes in the drywall) but a home with wear and character feels cozier and more welcoming imo, meant to be lived in more than shown off.
[email protected] January 31, 2022
I wouldn't trade my nicked, scratched soapstone for anything. I love the patina and the fact that I can take the hottest pots out of the oven and put them directly on my counters. This is my second house with soapstone counters. Joy!