7 Decorating Rules You Can Break

7 Decorating Rules You Can Break

Perhaps the most important rule to remember in decorating is – there are no rules. Sure, there are basic principles and guidelines to help you along the way, but nothing is set in stone.  In fact, one of the keys to really great interior design is individuality – and if we all followed the same rules, our homes would be boringly similar. With that in mind, here are seven decorating “rules” we say are well worth breaking.

1. Wood Finishes Should Match

When all the wooden surfaces in a room have the same finish, the result can be flat and static, as if everything were bought together at once instead of collected over time. A variety of finishes adds interest and depth, and helps your décor feel natural rather than forced. Just be sure to balance the different finishes throughout your space so things don’t look lopsided.
2. Small Rooms Require Small Furnishings

7 Decorating Rules You Can Break

Filling a small room with lots of small furniture can actually emphasize its size, making it feel cramped and doll-like. Instead of focusing on the room’s dimensions, pay attention to how you use the space. A few well-chosen large pieces can actually make a room feel bigger and function better.
3. Stick to One Style

7 Decorating Rules You Can Break

A room furnished exclusively with pieces from one time period can feel more like a museum than a home.  And when everything is the same style, nothing stands out. So accent your favorite French country furnishings with bold contemporary art or blend some rustic industrial pieces into your traditional décor – a little bit of the unexpected adds a whole lot of character.
4. Don’t Mix Metals

7 Decorating Rules You Can Break

Worried that the light fixture you love isn’t the same finish as your cabinet hardware? Don’t be. Different metals – and even the same metal with different textures – can live together beautifully. Just try to have two or three pieces of each in the room so nothing looks accidental.
5. A Living Room Needs a Sofa

7 Decorating Rules You Can Break

Don’t let what works for others dictate your décor. Your living room needs to function well for the way you live. So while a room centered on a sofa is ideal for many, perhaps you’d prefer a cozy mix of chairs and ottomans for reading and conversation or a daybed for napping and lounging. Define your space; don’t let it define you.
6. Buy Furniture in Sets

You found the bed of your dreams – that doesn’t mean you have to buy the matching nightstands and dresser, too. Decorating isn’t about perfectly matched sets, it’s about finding pieces you love that work well together. Surround your dining table with mismatched yet complementary chairs. Place a small writing desk beside your bed instead of a nightstand. Make choices that reflect your unique personality and lifestyle.
7. Paint Small Rooms Light Colors

Conventional wisdom says that light colors make a room feel more open and airy – and that’s true. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are your only option for small spaces. Dark, rich colors can create an illusion of depth that expands a room. For added impact, take the color right up onto the ceiling (and break another rule in the process: “ceilings must be white”).

There is one rule of decorating, though, that you should never break: have fun! When you create a space that truly makes you happy, you can’t go wrong.


  1. Reply

    Shari Landa

    February 23, 2021

    Hi, great article, can u please advise me on the paint color in #4, it’s gorgeous!

    • Reply

      Abbey Nolte

      March 1, 2021

      Unfortunately I don’t have information on the paint. I would suggest showing this picture at the paint store and they can match it for you.
      Best of luck!

  2. Reply

    Kim Elizabeth

    January 13, 2016

    What is the paint color in #5? I love it!

    • Reply

      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      January 15, 2016

      It’s Sherwin Williams’ Mauve Finery #6282.
      Happy Decorating!

  3. Reply


    September 17, 2015

    Thanks for the great article! I enjoyed all of the explanations of rules and why it’s okay, even good, to break them. FREEDOM! !!

  4. Reply


    January 5, 2015

    Where did the chaise lounge chairs come from? I love that color!

    • Reply

      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      January 6, 2015

      Hi Brittany,
      Thanks for your comment. That is our Eton Chaise Lounge in Microfiber Teal.
      Happy Decorating!
      The How to Decorate Team

  5. Reply


    March 11, 2013

    The wall color is called Hazel #SW6471 by Sherwin Williams.
    Happy Decorating!
    The Style Studio Tea,

  6. Reply


    March 3, 2013

    What is the color of the room paint in #4? Thanks