Decorating Mistakes We’ve Made Over Our 40 Years

Decorating mistakes we've made from Ballard Designs archives

Since it’s our 40th anniversary, we’ve been taking a long walk down memory lane. While there are plenty of things we still love about our early collections, we feel it’s time to own up to some of the decorating mistakes we’ve made over the years.

1. Kitschy versus Playful

There’s a fine line between quirky and kitschy, and apparently we even have trouble seeing that line sometimes.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re in favor of playful elements to give your room personality; but, in the spaces above, we’ve got to admit that we didn’t just step over that line, we did a swan dive over it!

Archived cover of Ballard Designs catalog

2. Moody Covers

Even after asking around the office, we couldn’t come up with an explanation for this catalog cover from 1987. Is the spooky ambiance and collection of broken columns supposed to make us want to buy these plaster pieces? We hope that’s how our ’87 readers interpreted it…

There’s no big decorating lesson to learn from this space, but rest assured that this catalog cover is tucked safely away in our archives never to be seen again!

3. Climbing Vines

I think we all wish we could scrub the climbing vine trend of the 80’s and 90’s from our minds.

Now, we make no objection to faux plants or botanical inspired prints; in fact, we love both of these things. We may have gone a little overboard with our commitment to this trend in these rooms though. Apologies.

4. Rug Islands

The general rule of thumb for rug sizes is that the majority of furniture in a room should have at least two legs on the rug. Break this rule and your living room rug looks more like a bath mat.

We’ll grant exceptions to the Two Legs rule to runners, actual bath mats, and small rugs layered over larger ones, but the rooms from our old catalogs above are just disgraceful.

5. Forgetting to Edit

We’ll admit that editing your room can be one of the hardest decorating skills to master. It requires you to step back and think objectively about your space. Evidently we also needed to learn that lesson if evidenced by these rooms from our archives.

What’s happening with the room on the left? We’re not against using bold patterns on large upholstered pieces, but this sofa upholstered in fabric made from architectural drawings reminds that sometimes it’s not what you put in a room but what you don’t put in it.

6. Art Project Gone Wrong

Maybe this goes along with our previous lesson about editing, but when we came up these shots from an old catalog, we couldn’t help but think of an art project gone wrong.

Painted furniture is in no way a ‘faux pas’ in our book, but these pieces definitely push the envelope on what kind of paint finishes make sense. Let’s just say we plan to keep painted finishes more subdued from here on out.

Matching dining room set from Ballard Designs

7. Matching Sets

We love eclectic rooms, so we can’t help but cringe when we look back at old catalogs and see matching sets. Yikes! Each of these pieces — the dining chairs, table, and sideboard — are classic in their own right but together it feels dated. Mixing up furniture styles is way more our speed!

Are there any decorating mistakes you’ve made in the past? Let us know in the comments below!

Celebrate our 40th Anniversary with us by reading more:

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.


  1. Reply


    September 20, 2018

    The one that brought back memories for me was the picture of the columns….pre-garden stools I had a LOT of faux greek columns with plants and vases on them, or used as a table with glass, etc..and vines crawling up them. *cringe*

  2. Reply

    Elizabeth Fernandez

    August 30, 2018

    Since I can’t afford to get rid of my dining room set, I’d appreciate suggestions for creating an updated look within the confines of a small budget.

  3. Reply

    Nancy McMenaman

    August 29, 2018

    Love your ideas and wisdom … very refreshing and humble .. moving on with the times !! Pls put me on your e mail list … thank you. Nancy McMenaman.

    • Reply

      Heather Daly

      August 29, 2018

      Thank you for the kind words! You can sign up to stay current on all things Ballard through our website at the bottom of the page.

  4. Reply


    August 29, 2018

    I’ve followed Ballard since the early 90’s. There are products shown in your “mistakes” that are viable today. In your dining example of a matched set….I wish I had that today! I think its important to understand that every “look” is suitable and trendy for the time it exists and don’t think of it as a mistake. I am not a design aficionado but have spent eons studying it and I believe Ballard has done a great job over the years.

  5. Reply

    Nanci Natale

    August 29, 2018

    I love your catalogs. While I never really look at the rooms “as a whole” – I like to look at them in an exploratory way – will that little item in the background work in my home? How will that chair fit in – not necessarily buying all the items in a room as a whole – I’ve purchased many items that I culled from your rooms – never been a fan of “matchy matchy” – I’m eclectic all the way!

  1. Reply

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