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Decorating Rules Everyone Should Know

Posted on Dec 5, 2019 in:
  • Maintain
  • Remodel
  • Seattle Times HomeWork
  • Homeowners
  • Build


Q: I’ve lived in my home awhile now and want to freshen up the look and feel without remodeling. What can I do with my space to make it feel new again?

A: Redecorating your home is a great way to give it a quick and easy upgrade without the cost or hassle of a remodel. As you begin to think about how you want to redesign your space, consider these cardinal interior design rules to help you in your planning.

Create a Focal Point

The first question you should ask when planning your room is where the main focus will be. Where can you do something special that will draw the eye? Choose only one focal point—a wall across from the entrance, for instance—and do it well. Pay special attention to lighting. Add texture to a wall, a contrasting color, or a vignette of furnishings and artwork. A room without a focus is lost in space.

Eye-Level Art

One of the most common mistakes people make when installing artwork is to hang it too high. Art looks best when it hangs where you can see it, at eye level. This means roughly two thirds of the artwork should be below eye level and one third above. This rule might be slightly altered when hanging art over furniture like a buffet, sofa or console table; in that case, the bottom of the frame should be 4 to 8 inches above the furniture. When artwork hangs above a mantel or headboard—which are often higher than the average sofa—this gap should be smaller.

Use the Right Rug Size

Too-small rugs make spaces feel small and incomplete. Rugs should be proportionate to the room. In a bigger room, where the furniture is nearer the center of the space, the rug should be big enough to fit all the furniture on it. In a smaller living room, where the furniture is closer to the walls, the rug should extend into the space under the furniture, but still leave about a foot of bare floor showing at the edges.

Let Furniture Breathe

Never push any upholstered seating up to the wall. No matter how small the room, there should be at least a 2-inch gap between the wall and seating. This breathing space will make the room feel more spacious. Equally important is that armoires, console tables and bookcases should never be lined up along the wall next to one another.

Flexible Lighting

Lighting is the most important design element in your home. When done well, it creates a sense of depth and atmosphere while still providing sufficient light where needed. Lighting should come from different sources at different heights, such as wall sconces and ceiling lights. The soft light of table and floor lamps adds ambiance; you can never have too many lamps. Where possible, install dimmer switches.

Use Mirrors

Mirrors are indispensable as a design tool. Because they reflect light and objects in interesting and useful ways, designers often use mirrors to correct architectural flaws, create the illusion of more space, and bring light deeper into a room. If you have an awkward, dark, or narrow room, or just want to maximize the view from a window, a mirror in the right spot can save the day.


When a room feels incomplete or wrong, our first thought is to question the bigger things like the layout, the furniture, or the colors. While these are important, the answer often lies in the smaller things. In a room that feels right, you will find layers of pillows and throws, artwork, and compositions of accessories, books, lamps, and flowers. Layers are like blankets—they make us feel comfortable.


Mia Hannom is the owner of In Form Design, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling, or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’ nearly 2,800 members, write to

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