10 Things Every Room Needs

Things every room needs from Ballard Designs

In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, there are certain things every room needs. The beauty of interior design is that there’s no right or wrong way to go about decorating your space, but with that said, it never hurts to have a handy checklist that’ll help you bring the finishing touches to your latest project.

1. Function

We’re obviously in favor of creating a beautiful room, but even we know that there’s no value in having a beautiful room if it doesn’t function properly. In some ways function is both the easiest and most difficult thing to address. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking through how your room should function:

Do you need seating, storage, a combination of both?
Is it a space where you entertain?
Is it a high traffic room that needs to be resistant to stains and wear?
Are there any specific tasks that need to be accomplished here?

Answer and address these questions one by one, and you’ll be able to decide which furniture pieces and decorative things your room needs.

2. Great Lighting

If you’ve ever listened to our podcast, you’ll know how much we talk about lighting. Unflattering lighting can totally kill the mood, but a properly lit room feels inviting, cozy, and just plain yummy. 

In general, most people don’t have enough light fixtures in their space, nor do they have the right variety. In addition to overhead lighting, you want plenty of ambient light — table lamps, floor lamps, and sconces. In addition to overhead lighting, you need at least 3 other light sources in your room.

Here are some of great resources to help solve your lighting conundrums:

3. A Properly Sized Rug

One of the most common decorating mistakes we see is rugs that are too small. While we understand that rugs are expensive, a rug that’s too small can have a huge impact on the proportion and feel of your space. A rug that’s too small chops the room up, making it feel smaller. On the flip side, a rug that’s properly proportioned brings a cozy, lush feel to the space.

4. Art

We’re always talking about how your room should reflect your personality and be personal to you. Art is the perfect way to infuse your room with that personal touch.

Now, it may feel intimidating to shop for art, especially if you don’t feel confident in your choices. Here’s our best piece of advice – buy what you love. Don’t worry too much about whether it coordinates with your throw pillows or whether your mother-in-law will like it. If you love it, if it brings you joy, then bring it home. The important thing is to buy something that speaks to you!

Books on coffee table in blue and white living room | Ballard Designs5. Books

In a home office or living room, books are a no brainer, but we feel that books should be present in every room (except maybe the bathroom). They’re a great way to bring color to a space, they add levels and layers to flat surfaces, and they showcase your personality. Whether you decorate with your favorite novels or coffee table books, we love working them into a room on console tables, shelves, side tables, and even stacked on upholstered benches.

6. Something Old

Sometimes the smallest details set one room apart from another, and we often find ourselves loving rooms with something old and antique in them. It’s hard to nail down exactly why patina offers to much to a space, but we like to chalk it up to charm. Just one or two old pieces – a piece of art, an old basket, a piece of hand-me-down furniture – will make a difference in your room’s feel.

7. “The Mix”

Designers often talk about ‘the mix’ as this elusive matchup of differing styles and textures. Here’s why it’s so important to work opposing things together in your room – it keeps the space from feeling static. There’s nothing more depressing than a room that looks like it was decorated from top to bottom twenty years ago and left to grow stale. Rooms like this feel boring, almost like they’re trapped in a time warp.

Now, we aren’t suggesting you have to constantly redecorate top to bottom, but we do think it’s important to keep things moving. Rooms that have a healthy mix of styles and materials never feel aged. They have movement and never look static.   

Side table next to arm chair | Ballard Designs8. Somewhere to Put a Glass

If it’s a must in Bunny Williams’ book then you can guarantee it’s on our list, and in one of our podcast episodes, Bunny mentions that every chair needs to have some place to put a glass. This is a crucial rule to follow, especially in rooms where you’ll entertain. Every seat should be arms distance from either a coffee or side table!

9. Something Alive

Talk to any stylist, and they’ll tell you the one must-have when photographing a room – something living. Now there are multiple ways to interpret this rule, but more often or not, they’re talking about either fresh flowers or plants. Now, we like to keep this rule in mind whether we’re photographing a space or not.

Here’s the good news – there are so many ways to accomplish this. Here are a few of our favorites – house plants, fresh flowers, branches cut from your yard, preserved botanicals, preserved moss balls, a potted orchid or even a bowl of pine cones. Find something natural out in your yard and bring it indoors!

Shiny elements add glamour to a room and bounce light | Ballard Designs10. Something with Shine

It may seem like a small thing, but a little something shiny and glamorous (especially mixed with something old and weathered) dresses up a space in a beautiful way. That reflective quality – a mirror, polished metal, gilded frame, or a glass top – bounces light around your room, opening up the space and adding movement.

What do you think of this list? We bet that if you look at your living room, you’re probably checking off more boxes than you’d expect. But even if you aren’t, it’s always great to have goals!

Did you enjoy this post? See 10 furniture pieces every home needs.

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

    Rosemary Onderko

    March 31, 2019

    What can I hang above a 52″ Tv that is on a furniture TV stand the wall behind TV is at least 12 feet high am at aloss as to what to put there

    • Reply

      Abbey Nolte

      April 10, 2019

      Thank you so much for your question. We actually have a team of interior designers who would love to help you figure out what to hang above your TV. Simply upload images of your room and your question here, and one of our designers will reach out to you.

  2. Reply

    Nosson Elchanan Eliyahu Klein

    March 31, 2019

    Normally I find these comments irrelevant or not written properly./ But I enjoyed yours