To Judge or Not to Judge?

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When I first meet someone new in a social setting and introduce myself as an interior decorator, one of the first questions posed is often, “Do you judge everyone’s home you enter?”  I politely chuckle and reply, “No, because I might never be invited back again!”

But honestly, I do; if you think about it, we all do.  “When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself,” penned Earl Nightingale, an authority on human character development. 

As a professional designer, my role is to help clients with decorating challenges – regardless of their style.  I put aside my own preferences and share sound advice about colors, materials, furniture choice and layout, and more. I am paid to offer my expertise and experience and to guide clients to make their own decisions. But in a non-client’s home, unsolicited judgement is another story.

Critique can take one of three paths: positive, negative, and what I call decorating pet peeves. 

Praising a friend’s new lamp, paint color, sofa, etc. is a form of judgement and one that we all love to receive. I recently was invited to a dinner party hosted by a friend’s new belle and her modern, recently remodeled home was striking – from her light fixtures to tabletop accessories.  I certainly pointed out the beautiful features I admired. I even loved the interior doors she chose and want them for my own home.  So, in this case, I did verbalize my judgement.

However, when I see something I feel is out of place at a non-client’s home, mum’s the word. Period.

Then there are decorating pet peeves – those mostly minor annoyances that bother me. These are typically the little things that go against sound decorating principles of size, shape, color, line, balance, and the like– all the tips I share with you in my columns. For example, in a recent bed and breakfast stay, I spotted modern lamps on traditional furniture, a mirror too small hanging above the bureau, and teacup artwork in the bathroom. I cringed at little but minded my own business.

What if a homeowner asks for quick advice? I am reminded of a quote on judgement by Woodrow Wilson. “The thing to do is to supply light and not heat.” Otherwise, silence is golden.

Interior decorator Barbara Graceffa owns and operates Secretary of the Interior, offering creative solutions at reasonable rates. Learn more at and see her traditional and art quilts on Instagram @secretaryinteriordecorating.

By Barbara Graceffa

Barbara Graceffa, CEO of Secretary of the Interior, serves decorating clients; assists with professional organizing, home staging and moving assistance; teaches on these subjects; and delivers quilt lectures and trunk shows.

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