Attribute it to sheltering in place. Or cooking-show fatigue. Or simply wanting to transform the bedroom into a sanctuary as beautiful as those in magazines. Whatever the reason, interior design has taken Americans by storm as one of the best ways to use their energy, time and money during this uncertain time when being happy at home has become more important than ever.

Though many of us have an instinct for color, furniture arrangement and choosing accents, most would also agree that a little guidance helps. If you’ve been doing some mini makeovers around your house or want to start, you’ll appreciate these tips from the New Jersey Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Here, NJ designers share how to avoid the most common decorating mistakes you may be making:

Measure Interiors and Furniture
Judi Schwarz of Cliffside Park’s Judi Schwarz Interiors says, “We’ve had several clients who have bought rather expensive, beautiful furniture from other design firms only to realize at the installation that it doesn’t fit. It’s a nightmare for the designer, as well as the client, often left holding the bag for a very costly mistake.

“Doorways, stairs and hallways, tight corners and elevators – in the building or the residence – all need to be taken into consideration to verify furnishings can make it into the room or home.”

Take Scale Seriously
Another “huge” mistake that Ruth Richards of Ruth Richards Interiors in Short Hills sees is “buying furnishings of the wrong scale for a room, too large or too small.”

Obvious in the “before” photo of a living room she reformatted are the large sectional that “bisects the room, emphasizing the change in ceiling height and separating the dark room from the light one, and the four undersized, metal armchairs.”

She fixed it by unifying the space with a more balanced seating arrangement, beaming the vaulted section to “bring it down” and adding a delicate-toned coffee table and carpeting throughout.

“The room feels better now and your eye doesn’t stop halfway through it,” concludes Richards.

Be Wary of Online Purchasing
It sounds easy. Relax in a comfy chair, scroll through hundreds of possibilities for what you need and have it shipped. Not so fast, advises Rona J. Spiegel of Lifestyle Interior Designs in Englewood Cliffs, who says there are many things to consider if your online shopping is to be a positive experience:

  • Make sure the websites you’re surveying are secure by verifying that the URLs begin with “https,” which indicates a secure site. This will reduce the risk of identity theft.
  • Product reviews cut both ways. Some people give glowing remarks, others are scathing. If there are more negative than positive comments, think it out. The quality and durability might not match what you want.
  • Read the descriptions carefully. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, Google it. It can make all the difference in the world when it comes to durability, construction and maintenance.

Deborah Leamann of Deborah Leamann Interior Design in Pennington, brings up another point when shopping online, particularly for area rugs: “Measurements can be tricky. Colors and quality can be misrepresented, leading to disappointment. Ask if samples are available and what the return policy is.”

Put Window Treatments In The Right Spot
The biggest mistake that Karla Trincanello, whose firm Interior Decisions is based in Florham Park, sees is the way window treatments are installed. Believing the value of them when well-done – “They add color and pattern to a wall that in turn gives off a warm and homey appeal” – she is adamant that all window treatments be installed at the highest point of the wall. If there is crown molding, then to that. Never, she says with an exclamation point, install them at the top of the window itself. That is “wrong, wrong, wrong! Why? Because it creates a second horizon line making the room height appear lower.”

In this library, designer Karla Trincanello employs her use of both shades and drapes, hung correctly from the highest point of the wall.

Trincanello likes to use a woven or fabric shade in-between side-panel draperies and above the window opening. So, in addition to covering the voided area (above the window), it creates a valance that brings warmth, making it more attractive.”

Aware of many homeowners’ cost concerns, Trincanello adds, “Even readymade draperies can look custom if they are hung this way.”

Make Sure Your Chandeliers Are the Right Size
“Selecting an inappropriately-sized chandelier or pendant light for a dining table,” advises Heather Higgins of Higgins Design Studio in Wayne “is a really unfortunate mistake.”

The simple chandelier in one of Heather Higgins’ projects adds the final touch, correctly positioned above the center of the table. Photo credit: Anastassios Mentis Photography


Follow her guidelines and avoid that happening:

  • Fixtures need to be proportional to both the table and room size.
  • They must be at least 12 inches narrower than the width of the table surface or people will hit their heads when rising. A diameter of 24”-30” suits most tables seating six to eight.
  • Two or three fixtures are often better for longer tables. For these longer tables, illuminate the center two-thirds of the table length.
  • The height at which a chandelier or pendant light is hung is equally important. Position the bottom of a fixture 30” above the tabletop in rooms with eight-foot tall ceilings. For every foot over eight feet, increase this dimension by three inches.

In this kitchen by Deborah Leamann, a chandelier and pendant lights over the island complement each other beautifully in the same space. The pendants are hung 34″ above the island. The chandelier 30″ above the table. Photo credit: Tom Grimes Photography


Leamann adds: “A common mistake is how one hangs it, too high or low, or the scale could be off, too small or too large.” The formula she uses is this: For an eight-foot-high ceiling you can have a 12” drop; for a 10-foot high ceiling, a 24” drop works and incrementally so on.

“If the chandelier is going over a table where people won’t walk under it, the formula still applies, but there can be wiggle room,” she says.

Choose the Right Area Rug
Of all the mistakes that could have been mentioned, area rugs were on the top of most of the designers’ lists including these three:

  • “Most people buy rugs that are too small for the sitting/conversation area,” says Rina Capodieci-Quinnof RCQ Design in Ramsey, “which often causes furniture, especially end tables, to sit unattractively on the rug partly on and partly off. This can also produce an unlevel or wobbly table.

Perfectly scaled to provide an anchor for the major pieces of furniture, the subtle patterns of Marina Cheban’s area rug also reflect the room’s graphics. Photo credit: Ray Vassallo

“Color and material of the rug are dependent on all the variables in the room, i.e., flooring, fabrics, use of the room. So, I always suggest purchasing a rug once you have 80 percent of the fabrics chosen.”

  • Marina V. Umali of Marina V. Design Studio in Ridgewood agrees about the problematic area rug. “It’s key,” she says, “to measure the space destined for the rug to make sure it’s good in terms of scale. I always recommend
    using painters’ tape on the floor to see what the actual size of the rug will look like in the room.”
  • Marina Cheban, Allied ASID, of Marina Cheban Interiors in Hoboken, says“It’s best to purchase a rug that is big enough to sit under all your furniture pieces.”

Hang Artwork at Eye Level
“A common mistake people often make,” according to Jennifer Pacca of Jennifer Pacca Interiors in Hillsdale, “is to hang artwork too high. Artwork should be at eye level, your eye at the center of the piece. If there is another adult in the household, you need to compromise on the height.”

In this interior, Jennifer Pacca balances two groups of artwork at eye level, centered to pleasing effect. Photo credit: Peter Rymwid


Don’t Over-Accessorize
Heather Higgins’ pet peeve is over-accessorizing. “Accessories give a living space interest and distinction, and when you use items that truly mean something to you, they provide a deeper connection to your surroundings, speaking volumes about you. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, over time, to keep adding items without taking anything away, diluting their effectiveness.”

A few strategically placed accessories take on a sculptural quality in one of Heather Higgins’ living rooms, injecting it with subtle elegance. Photo credit: Higgins Design Studio


She says that removing even a few items can make a noticeable difference. “One of the simplest ways to instantly refresh a space without any financial investment is to remove all the accessories and put back half to two-thirds of them in a different location or new arrangements. This will make the entire room feel new again.”

Keep these ideas in mind when planning your next project and you’ll be amazed at how much easier and successful it will be.


The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) serves the full range of the interior design profession and practice through the Society’s programs, networks, and advocacy. ASID thrives on the strength of cross-functional and interdisciplinary relationships among designers of all specialties, including workplace, healthcare, retail and hospitality, education, institutional, and residential. Learn more at