interiors & styling

5 Design Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

5 Design Lessons I Learned the Hard Way Happy Halloween and last day of October! We had a fun weekend celebrating. How was yours? Today I wanted to share a post you might find interesting: 5 design lessons I learned the hard way. Hopefully it will help you avoid making the same mistakes I’ve made in the past. Of course these things happen when it comes to home design, but they’re certainly avoidable and I definitely should have known better for most of these. Click through for the 5 that have stuck with me…

I’ve learned a lot over the years and I’m still making valuable discoveries, but these five things I picked up very early on. You know what they say, a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it…

1. Making Purchases Without Vetting Measurements

5 Design Lessons I Learned the Hard Way This is a very common issue when shopping online. I’ve been on both ends of this scenario… the buyer and the retailer issuing returns for customers that didn’t realize the scale. Online photos & thumbnails do not give a great sense of scale- be sure to carefully inspect the dimensions and measure to visualize the actual size of whatever it is you’re buying. This was one of the first interior & floor planning lessons I learned… I was in design school, renting an apartment and my dad went with me to pick up a used desk. We unloaded it from his truck and couldn’t get it through the door. After disassembling it, we finally got it upstairs to my room (I had roommates and my bedroom was on the third floor), and it didn’t even fit in the allotted space. BIG lesson learned on that trip. Make sure you measure everything and account for doorways & tight hallways when making furniture purchases. Remember you also have to get it into the space somehow.


2. Not Swatching Paint Colors

5 Design Lessons I Learned the Hard Way My next big lesson came in the form of paint. You’ve probably heard this story from me before. In our first home, fresh out of design school, I was confident I didn’t need to swatch paint. The tiny chip in my fan deck seemed adequate and I ordered two high-quality gallons of a Benjamin Moore creamy white hue for our living room. I vividly remember this because it was the first time I purchased nice paint. I didn’t even bother to look at it in the space (another rookie move). I painted the entire living room after work one day- during the evening hours. The next morning the living room looked undeniably pink. Emmett just laughed and I repainted the entire room a few days later. Always swatch your paint and be sure to live with the swatch for a day or two- checking it at various times of the day. Color has a tendency to change with light and its surroundings, so the same color in my home could (and probably will) look totally different in yours.


3. Blowing Your Budget on Decor

5 Design Lessons I Learned the Hard Way Young Sarah also didn’t consider the big picture- which oddly led me to discover thrifting. Having just married Emmett, who is thankfully super serious about finances & budgeting, I learned the hard way to not blow our entire budget on decor and small home items, like lots of vases from Target (pictured above). Rather than saving up for investment pieces or more expensive renovation materials, I loved the thrill of a quick, easy, and impromptu find (I’m looking at you HomeGoods & Target). I quickly found that if I wanted anything nice with a designerly look, I needed to avoid those small ticket items and save my money for quality materials, lighting, investment pieces, larger furniture, area rugs, etc. Don’t blow your budget on tiny things or decor right off the bat- make sure you’re thinking long term and are investing in pieces you’ll love for years to come. These days, I like to make sure the foundation of the room is set before I begin spending money on accessories.


4. Getting Caught Up in Trends

5 Design Lessons I Learned the Hard Way Ah, trends. My younger self loved hopping on a trend, as I once really enjoyed feeling in style- especially in regards to interior decor & aesthetics. Remember the terrible zig zag West Elm rug everyone had, that shed terribly (pictured above)? Yeah, me too. It wasn’t until those first followed trends went out of style that I decided I’d rather spend my money on furniture, decor, textiles, and home items that genuinely felt more like my personal style and brought me joy… ones that I’d never tire of or have to replace a few years later. If only I would have purchased a vintage or natural rug for our very first guest room- I’d probably still have it. I definitely ditched that shag rug before moving out of our first house. It’s easy to get mixed up in trends. Today, I try to design our home for us- with classic materials and finishes we can enjoy for years to come.


5. Buying Large Pieces Without a Floor Plan or Space in Mind

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com Last, but not least… a specific story comes to mind. A day before moving to Utah (we had just picked up our U-haul), I convinced Emmett to go to an estate sale with me. I didn’t even have dimensions of the house we were moving into, and I thought buying large pieces of furniture and hauling them across the country was a smart idea. Rational, right? Ha. I think you know how this one goes… it’s always best to purchase with a plan (I’m all about a good floor plan). I ended up keeping some of those pieces in storage in a friend’s basement before finally letting most of them go a couple years later because they simply didn’t fit in our home or weren’t cohesive with the style. For the most part, it was a wasted effort and of course we lost money on those purchases. One good thing from that haul I still have? Our burl credenza. Anyway, make sure you have the space for something and it’s well thought out… unless you’ve got room to store something. I tried that plan for a few years too, and ended up looking like a bit of an antiques hoarder.

5 Design Lessons I Learned the Hard Way What are some design or home lessons you’ve learned the hard way? I know I’m not alone in some of these! It’s always fun to look back on lessons learned. We’ve all certainly come a long way since nesting into our first place, haven’t we? We’re diving back into home projects this week and are finally finding our stride and regular routine after traveling. I’m looking forward to crossing a bunch off our list before the holidays are officially here. Anyone else? Here’s to a great week ahead!

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  • Reply
    Peggi
    October 31, 2022 at 5:24 am

    Good morning! These all seem like pretty common mistakes. Paint was definitely young Peggi’s nemesis! I absolutely painted my first kitchen *several* times before landing on a blue that did not make my eyes bleed. I’m pretty sure sample pots weren’t even a thing back then. My process has become much more foolproof! Ha. Luckily, my terrible indecision has served me well in most other areas. I’m one of the least impulsive people around-especially where purchases are concerned. I know when I’m feeling rushed, I will not be happy with my choice. I still have 15 yards of fabric that I hate to remind me that I should not settle for “good enough.” I was so scarred by that purchase that I abandoned the project completely! As for measuring…one or two narrow escapes coupled with incredulous yelling kind of cured me. (Although, I still often feel like my “eyeballing” is pretty accurate. LOL.) To be honest, as long as mistakes aren’t über-costly (or somehow dangerous?), I consider them part of the story of our home. The sometimes embarrassing part, but a part nonetheless! I hope you had the best weekend celebrating! Will the big Halloween bash be tonight, or did you host on Saturday? I hope we get to see some pics of your epic decorations. Cheers to a new week! 💜

    • Reply
      Sarah
      November 1, 2022 at 9:09 pm

      You painted your kitchen several times?! I never would have guessed. I’m so happy you landed on a color you love. I’m the opposite and can sometimes be impulsive when it comes to design in our own home (like the pink paint, ha). Luckily, I’ve learned to slow down over the years. I’m itching to know what that 15 years of fabric looks like! I’m with you on eyeballing when it comes to hanging things- I hate measuring for art. For furniture, I had to learn the hard way. I shared some Halloween IG stories last night- I hope you caught them :) I’m finally getting our house back together after hosting. So fun! Hope you had a great Tuesday! xo

  • Reply
    Lauren
    October 31, 2022 at 8:05 am

    Good morning and Happy Halloween! Ahh yes…mistakes have definitely been made. The biggest lesson for me, has been not settling. Early on in our first home I frequently would compromise too much of what I wanted- constantly settling either because Jeff “couldn’t see it” (what does that even mean?🙄), or because someone else gave a negative opinion. It led to many instances where items would be replaced later, and we both felt like it was a huge waste of money. Hand in hand with that, was allowing other people’s style to dictate my home, instead of following my gut on what I wanted. (I’m thinking of you JCPenney curtains). What I took away from those experiences is that if I’m going to compromise, it should only be for budget’s sake, and that when I’m indecisive is when I’m most vulnerable to other people’s opinions. It’s taught me a lot about the value of floor planning, making decisions on large purchases beforehand, and having an overall idea of the goal I want for a space. Pinterest has made it terribly easy to not fall into those traps. I’m constantly saving inspiration images and before I sit down to think about a project I consult my images to find the common thread. That really helps me find out what my heart desires for the overall look and feel. It’s still difficult to reconcile my style with Jeff’s. He loves overly traditional and minimal and I’m much more eclectic and collected than that. But I’m able to trust my decisions now because I know what I can get away with when it comes to his tolerances. It’s also given me room to take our kids into account, and the fact that they’re still growing (and ruining all the nice things, haha). I’m sure that’s the lesson of the era that I’m currently in. I’m learning as I go that some things just aren’t practical for this season, but that’s ok. Because they won’t be in that moment forever- and when they advance I’ll have room to update and sprinkle in the things that I really shouldn’t incorporate now. That realization has been freeing, because it felt like I was backsliding into mistake #1. Such an interesting topic to consider- I can’t wait to read the other responses. I hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween! Cheers to an almost official start to November!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      November 1, 2022 at 9:06 pm

      I hope you and the fam had a fun Halloween weekend and birthday celebration, Lauren! I definitely relate to standing up from pressure from others. I firmly believe our homes should be designed for us to enjoy… even if it’s not someone else’s cup of tea. I love that point you made! I also think designing with your spouse in mind can be tricky. Emmett was definitely not on the same page when we first married, but over the years- he has learned to trust the vision, and I’ve learned what design elements make him happy. It’s a balance for sure. Cheers to November!! xo

  • Reply
    Judith
    October 31, 2022 at 8:45 am

    Not hiring an Architect to design our home and an experienced Interior Designer who could translate our vision costs an incredible amount of money, stress and anxiety building our dream home. We trusted the process and our builder too much! Now trying to figure out how to get all selections and design into my vision is super hard and beyond expensive 😔

    • Reply
      Sarah
      November 1, 2022 at 9:02 pm

      Oh no, I’m sorry Judith!!

  • Reply
    Colleen
    October 31, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    Glad to hear you had a fabulous bday weekend! We had a super weekend too. Lots of great advice here Sarah! I can’t believe the cost of paint these days so great advice on Tip #2 I’ve definitely painted a room more than once, thankfully the room was small ☺️ Many years ago before so many online tools were available I actually took a course on space planning and learned all about scale and proportion which definitely helped me with Tip #1 & 5 I had a keen interest and understood the value of a floor plan that would work for our family. It also helped tremendously when making choices and important changes in the home building process of a cookie cutter floor plan. Builders have some weird “architectural features” that are useless, take up valuable space or incredibly unappealing. All of our homes were purchased from a builders floor plan (5 homes) and the only resale we ever purchased is the one we reside in currently in Burlington.
    I think in terms of decorating and determining style I think this takes time and evolves. Stages in life with small children and pets sometimes dictate decisions too 😉 For me, I always want my homes to feel approachable, welcoming and comfortable.
    Happy Halloween everyone 👻

    • Reply
      Sarah
      November 1, 2022 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks, Colleen! I’m so happy you had a lovely weekend as well. Paint really can get expensive! I love that you took a course on space planning- that’s amazing. Floor planning is definitely an essential skill when it comes to interior design. I rely on it for every room in our home. Builders do have some weird and unnecessary features they try to push. I wish developers would consult with designers & architects more often. We’ve never purchased a new home, so I’ve never been through the building process. I totally agree that style evolves over time and flows with each stage of life we’re in. Thanks for the fun chat! I hope you’re having a good week :) xo

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