Top Ten Decorating Tips

Living room with small geometric, multicolored  rug
Despite my advice that the front feet of the furniture should be sitting on an area rug, this one is too small – a mistake often made by homeowners.

I’m often asked abut my top decorating tips. It’s about time I wrote them down!

Tip#1: Plan. Of course, I do believe in the serendipitous thrill of finding something great at a flea market, while on vacation, or when you go to Home Goods to buy sheets and come home with a lamp, but in general, plan ahead.  Know your measurements (including the width of the door into your home!). Bring fabric swatches and paint chips to the store – color memory is the worst memory of all – there are more than 600 million defined paint colors. Do your research online to find quality items and compare prices.

Tip #2: Buy the best you can afford. If you think about it, you keep most interior décor items for five, ten, or more years.  Avoid the cheap stuff – you get what you pay for. This is especially true for paint.  The cheaper products have less pigment in them and you will end up putting on more coats, costing you time and money.

Tip #3: Buy what you love. Do not settle for a sofa on sale that only comes in brown when you know you want blue. If something is not right, you know it; when it is right, you know that, too.

Tip #4: Compromise when necessary. Budgets can be a drag. If you want that $2000 coffee table but have too many other bills to pay, look for a knock off, wait for a sale, or keep looking for something else that will make your heart sing – you might even prefer it over the first choice.

Also, if your significant other doesn’t share your design style, take a trip to the furniture gallery together and look for commonalities in what you like, considering size, shape, color, material – you give a little and they give a little.  You might actually end up liking something better than your original singular vision.

Tip #5: Audition items in your home.  My clients are always surprised by this tip. Say you can’t decide between three area rugs, bring them all home to see how they fit with your existing color scheme and furniture.  View them in the daylight and after the sun goes down.  Return what you do not want.  Do this with everything from paintings to pillows.

Tip #6: Beware of trends. By nature, they come and go.  Some stay longer than others (anyone else sick of grey paint?). And it is expensive to keeping changing your décor.  If you like trendy items, stick to accessories.

Tip #7: Plan for comfortable furniture placement. Unless your room is small, don’t assume the only layout for your furniture is pushed up against the wall.  Try placing furniture on an angle and place the rug accordingly.

Don’t crowd your furniture.  Allow sufficient room between pieces so you can easily walk around the room – this might mean than you cannot fit a coffee table or end table as you had planned.  On the other hand, in a large room, create conversation areas less than eight feet apart.  Measure everything and plot it out on graph paper before you move the heavy furniture. 

Tip #8: Avoid the “floating rug” mistake.  Many people buy areas rugs that are too small. At least the front feet of all the furniture should be on the rug. Otherwise, layer a few smaller rugs together for a designer look.

Tip #9: Buy yourself a color wheel (or download an app). Analogous colors are next to each other on the wheel and are “good neighbors” like yellows and oranges or blues and violets, for example. Complementary colors are opposite each other and, well, complement each other nicely; so be confident that a pale lavender will play well with a lemon chiffon color. Learn about value or intensity and discover that you should pair a bright raspberry with a bright turquoise, not a pale blue. The color wheel is a gem of information; take it for a spin!

Tip #10: Design is in the details. Accessories make a beautiful home.  Art, framed photos, pillows, trays, candles, mirrors, plants, clocks, couch throws, and other smaller, easily-changeable accessories not only add personality but pizazz as well.

Barbara Graceffa owns and operates Secretary of the Interior in Quincy, MA offering creative solutions at reasonable rates. Learn more about her decorating, downsizing, decluttering and home décor sewing services, decorating workshops, and quilt programs and shows at, and enjoy her art quilts on Instagram @secretaryinteriordecorating. You can reach her at 617.921.6033.

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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