Friday, April 10, 2009

Rules? Bah!

I've been toying with writing about decorating "rules" for a bit, but after reading House and Home's May issue, I decided to stop toying with the idea and get on it.

I often tell clients that there are no more rules when it comes to decorating, in response to their questions "Do people still do that?" or "Can I do that? Does it work?". We are at a point in interior design where anything goes. It's your house - if you like it, go for it! Be brave! Be bold!

Gone are the matchy-matchy days of the exact same pattern on the bedding, drapes and wallpaper, or the sofa/loveseat/chair set right off the showroom floor. It's too much. I can't handle it. Where's the creativity in it?

It's all about mixing and matching, and making your home reflect who you are and what you like. Now if you like a pattern so much as to put it on every available surface, all the power to you. I don't want to offend anyone here.

I'm a great believer in what I call" eyeballing". Not the most glamourous of design terms, but I think it's a pretty accurate one. Have you ever noticed that while following the "rules", like hanging your art with the center 60" from the floor or the bottom 8"-10" from the back of the sofa that it still doesn't look right?

That's where "eyeballing" comes in. Sometimes you just have to throw away your tape measure and eyeball it.

Same goes for fabrics - maybe the colours are a little off from one another, or not every colour in your palette is represented or you think you might have too many patterns - if it feels right to you, it is. Which is really the moral of the story here.

But wait! Back to House and Home, what really inspired me to get off my bum and start typing. The cover said exactly what I'd been thinking of for this post - Decorating Rules Worth Breaking. Here are a few examples:

Think Big With Lights

They say the "rule" for lighting a dining table is to find a light 12" smaller than your table and hang it 30"-36" above the table top.The "broken rule" says to find a shade as wide as the table and hang it 30"-32" above the top.

IMHO, the classic pic's light was WAY too small and high, but the updated pics was HUGE! Ridiculously so. Maybe just the angle of the shot.

Downsize Mouldings

Rule: wainscotting should be the lower third of the wall, up to at least 30". Update: make a super-fat baseboard/super small wainscotting 18"-20" from the floor.

Ok, what? It looks hor-awful! It makes the scale of everything look off. It was just weird.

If I'm going to divide up a wall, I like to do it just under half way, or up high as a plate rail. It does depend on the space though.

There was more, but you can see where I'd eyeball some of this stuff. I'm sure there are hardcore designers out there who would be wagging their fingers and tsk-ing at me, but Bah! to them. Design is passionate, emotional and personal. Sometimes the rules just don't apply.


  1. (I edited the post and lost the comment from DesignTies - it's copied and pasted)

    DesignTies said:
    I totally agree. When you decorate your house, you have to do what you love and what looks right to you. Following all the rules is boring -- have fun when you decorate!! :-)

    That being said... I still can't figure out what the heck I want to do with my dining room. But I'll probably break a few rules by the time it's done :-)

    Kelly @ DesignTies

    April 8, 2009 5:09 AM

  2. thank you sarah for stopping by, and for your comments on my dollar store pears and nice to see you have started a blog, i enjoy doing my blog as i can just babble about anything and i have met so many creative talented people, im just amazed by ideas that swirl around blogland. Im completely with you on the not following rules, i got so wrapped up into the whole rule thing and all it did was drive me crazy. Im all about eyeballing, if it looks good to my eyeball than its right. You would be the type of decorator i would hire.

  3. I so agree with all your advice. It seems too many rooms look like somebody bought store vignette # 232 and had it delivered. Pictures way too high or some way too low. Now adding molding and wainscoting is something I am really wanting to do. We have a builder bland home with no moldings and all the rounded corners and it really isn't my style. I enjoyed your post very much. Hugs, Marty

  4. "I am my own worse enemy" when it comes to eye-balling things as I consider the esthetics from every angle. (ie: A hanging lighting fixture or picture must also look correct from another vantage point/room.)

    Your post made some excellent points! Rule-of-thumb doesn't always apply. -Brenda-

  5. P.S: Sarah, I see that you live in the Ottawa area....I just may look you up for your design savvy. Am proposing to give the interior of our home some upgrading so require some expertise. Have bookmarked your site.

  6. Mrsben - I'd be happy to help you, just let me know!

    BTW, I'm a HUGE Stephen King fan too!