Some guidelines that make the task of decorating a space a little easier and more foolproof.

Share story

The saying goes that you must first know the rules before you can break them. And though we love the irreverence of tossing the design rule book out the window, there are some guidelines that make the task of decorating a space a little easier and more foolproof.

Few know this better than America’s leading interior designers, who are well-versed in using decorating tricks to transform an empty space into an inspiring and unique home. We spoke to top interior designers to find out which rules are worth following for a statement interior.

MIX TEXTURES

If you can’t understand why your space feels lacking, Charleston, South Carolina-based interior designer Angie Hranowsky recommends adding different textures, via accents like rugs, throws or accent cushions. “Always mix materials and add texture — metal mixed with wood, or rattan or natural woven fabrics with lacquered furniture or walls, for example,” she says.

LAYER LIGHTING

Rooms with one type of lighting, such as a single overhead pendant, can feel two-dimensional. “Lighting will elevate the mood of any room,” says Consort Design’s Mat Sanders. “Find creative places for an extra floor lamp or sconce, or an empty corner where a small table lamp could reside for added glow.”

TAKE SMALL RISKS

Nate Berkus Elephant 
Decorative Tray, $10 at Target
Nate Berkus Elephant Decorative Tray, $10 at Target

Adverse to taking risks? Start small, with accessories like a quirky bowl or statement vase, says interior designer Grant K. Gibson.

DON’T FOREGO FUNCTION

We’re all for buying a beautiful, sculptural piece of furniture that has instant visual impact, but Los Angeles-based interior designer Jeff Andrews says those with small spaces should always opt for items that offer form and function. “Use every square inch of space in creative ways — especially in a small home where you can’t have a lot of clutter. Include pieces that are as functional as they are sculptural and interesting,” he says.

SEEK SYMMETRY

Kelly Wearstler’s creations might challenge traditional design rules, but there’s one thing she always adheres to: symmetry. “There should always be a hierarchy of elements within the space,” she says. “Even the most maximalist rooms should possess a cohesive dialogue with well-balanced, thoughtful dimensions.”

INVEST IN PIECES YOU LOVE

If you only follow one rule, Lilly Bunn says it should be this: “The only real rule in decorating is to buy things that you love.”

BE BOLD WITH PAINT

Looking for a surefire way to give a room instant wow factor? “When in doubt, make a dark room darker,” says San Francisco interior designer Scot Meacham Wood. “One should always enhance a space’s natural atmosphere.”

DEFY THE RULES

Now that you’ve mastered the basics, design powerhouse Nate Berkus wants you to follow your gut to create a truly unique home. “Reach for what you love, not what your best friend or the latest design trend is telling you,” he says.