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Design Disasters: What's Wrong With My Room?

Michelle Jackson has studied art and interior design since 1983. She attended design school and has worked as an artist/visual artist.

Design Disasters

Is your room a design hit or a design disaster? Sometimes people are so close in their design choices. It only takes one thing to make a room look unfinished. I often walk into people's homes and see valid attempts at design that are off by one decision. The most common mistakes I see involve; color, clutter, lighting, and commitment to style. Commitment to style means that you choose a style stick to it throughout your room. Too often people almost finish a room and then throw in one thing that that doesn't belong in the room. Don't leave your room in constant transition. Welcome to my critique of the design disasters. You are about to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. A few minor tweaks can fix that design disaster.

The Two Color Scheme

Beach House Dining

Beach House Dining

House Beautiful tends to use a lot of two color rooms in its magazine.Two color rooms always look saturated with those two colors. Using two colors is elementary school design. Always use three colors in your room.Using three colors breaks up the room and creates focal points.

Can you figure out what’s throwing this room off? Several things are happening in this room. The first is the “beach House” on the wall. These large letters look kitschy. Be careful when and where you use giant letters. The letters look like a crossword gone wrong. This room need a piece of large art on the wall to ground the room.

The second problem is that this room breaks the three color rule. In every room you should have a 60/30/10 color scheme. The color scheme should be 60% one color, 30% second color, 10% accent color. Using two colors makes this beach room look like Aunt Edna's beach house. How do we fix this room? Possible a different color on the accent wall. If the goal was "light and airy" bring in a jute rug, a natural wood chair, and lighten the blue.

Tip: Every room should have an natural element such as wood, plants, woven baskets.

The Infestation

Lighting Issues

Lighting Issues

This room does a great job of using a dramatic accent wall. When you look up you see this strange light fixture that almost looks like they left it on and bugs died on it. This room is fairly minimalist. The lighting fixture should be simple. Additionally, that light has to be throwing some creepy shadows when it's on. The darker your wall color the more lighting you will need to keep it from feeling like a cave.

Tip: Cheap lighting fixtures can be personalized with paint. Consider looking at second hand stores or habitat for humanity. The right lighting fixture has more to do with scale. Find something the right size and paint it to woke in your room.

Art is an Art


Holy mother of giant photographs! Artwork scale is always important. In this room we can see that the artwork is dominating the entire space it’s way too big. Not only is it too big, it’s actually all one picture and it’s been sectioned out into many frames. This would’ve been better in one frame as one piece of art and a little smaller. Sometimes we try to save money by doing a piece like this multiple frames. If you are going to do that, skip the mats and use photo corners to keep the picture from touching the glass. This is a great photo that is poorly displayed.

Tip: To save money on framing find someone who can build you a simple frame out of wood, then buy the glass to fit and back it with cardboard. The total cost should be about $60 instead of the $300-600 you woudl pay fora professional frame. If you are good at woodworking you can even make the frame yourself.


The Bat Cave

The Bat Cave

I know what you’re thinking, Batman lives here and I’m with you on that. Dramatic paint is fine. Do not turn your home into a cave. If you walk into a house with this much black in one room you might want to seek therapy for that person. Black is a good background for large artwork with a lot of color. Black is good as an accent wall. When you make a room this dark it is going to affect your mood. To avoid decorating effectiveness disorder (yes I made that up) try going with just an accent wall in the dark color. That way your lighting can bounce off something. Speaking of lighting, what is going on with the light in this room? I swear this whole place was decorated by the set designer for Beetle Juice. Tone down that black and get some appropriate lights.

Tip: When a room has a natural focal point (in this room it is the fireplace), make sure you compliment that focal point with your design choices. In this room the fireplace looks like it doesn't belong anymore.

Getting Framed


Oddly even though the green is a darker green that’s not even what’s throwing this room off. Whats throwing this room off is the art on the wall The entire wall feels like it’s being attacked by mini artwork. Word to the wise if you’re going to use empty frames as part of your design they need to be heavier thick frames that make a statement on their own. The entire grouping is too high on the wall. Art should be a foot above the nearest piece of furniture. Also the third color in this room is yellow but, is not present enough to count for the 10% accent. Make sure your accent color is balancing correctly. If you look at the room and cannot immediately tell what the accent color is, the accent color is not doing it's job.

Tip: Groups of wall art should either follow a theme (dogs, people, plants, etc), style, or color commonality. The pictures should work together to be one object as well as being individual art. You are looking for a balance between everything matches and everything too different.

Pinky and the Bathroom

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This one should be titled how to mess up a pretty bathroom. You have a lot of personality, the bathroom is not the place to show personality. Keep your bathroom space simple don’t go over the top with artwork. A few scale pieces make a bathroom feel clean and neat. The only exception to this rule would be in the 1930s home or older where you’ve got a lot of character in the bathroom already. Also, don't get crazy eclectic with the bathroom art. These pictures don't even look right with each other. The wall could be white, the pictures are throwing off the entire room.

Tip: In a bathroom your three color scheme includes your tile. In this bathroom the pick is actually the accent color. In my opinion the bold pink in this space is distracting from the obvious expensive remodel that went on in this bathroom. With the exception of a powder room, try to stay away from bold wall color in the bathroom.

Missed it by that much


Look no further the problem this one obviously is lighting. If you have a 15 foot roof you can pull off having a large chandelier in your room. Anything lower than that you probably shouldn’t hang a big chandelier. While we are on the subject of lighting, why are there two sets of lights on each side of the bed? Basically the clip on lights (which look horrible), are saying "these bedside lamps are not enough light to read by". The lamp shades on those lights are what is causing the light to be dim. Before you go out and by task lighting take a look at what you have, you might discover that you need new shades, not more lamps.

Whoever took this picture cut out one really important part of this picture. look closer, see the drapes and the quilt at the end of the bed? neither of these items go with this room. they are both the wrong style and colors to complete the room. Blue gold and white is three colors, the pink is acting as a second accent color in the room and the green in the quilt looks like an afterthought or like the room is transitioning to a different style. Make sure your "quirky" design still makes sense.

Tip: Does your room have a set style? When you are out shopping you can appreciate items that do not go with your design style without buying them. Write down a list of what you need and in what colors or styles. I keep mine in the notes on my phone. This keeps me from buying that super cute pink dog statue that doesn't go with my home.

Shabbier than Chic


I’m not gonna lie, I hate this room. There a lot of nice pieces of furniture in this room, together it looks like someone who can't pick a style. Remember that to have balance in your room you’re only using three colors, only three. If you were going to attempt a lot of color then your artwork or rug should have all of those colors in it. In fact your artwork should be your inspiration. In this room they played a match game: I will match the carpet to the wall and will match the chair to a couple of accessories on the table and then will match the artwork the drapes and then will not paint the wall all the way the top. Know that your wall color is setting the tone for your room. This bright wall color is hinting at a more modern style not shabby chic. The artwork is traditional, and as if this room were not weird enough, let's throw up some pink drapes. The fix is to get a wood sideboard, change out the rug and make the drapes a neutral color.

Another word to the wise, do not paint all your furniture the same color. Someone got a hold of some chalk paint and didn't want to waste it. See how the white fire place is competing with the white side board/dresser for your attention? The fire place is the focal point, to not distract from it by putting furniture the same color next to it.

Tip: Is your art a reflection of something you love? Art is a great starting point for a room, that starting point should be a subject you love. Dig through art online and find art that speaks to you. If you are going to live with something you should love it. Don't be afraid to change out a frame to fit in with your rooms style. You can put any art into another frame or paint the frame.

Giving Me the Blues


If the goal in this room was to make you see the big giant piece of artwork they have accomplish their goal. Nothing else in this room goes with the wall or the art. The plywood under the bed should’ve been painted or stained. Raw plywood is not a look. The blue bedding needs to go, it was an attempt to pull colors from the painting.However, it isn't the right colors.In this room a plain white bedding would have been better.

The light fixture an upper left-hand corner needs completely different globes on it to work in this room. Although this room is eclectic, eclectic doesn't mean nothing matches. The light fixture has red in it, that is a completely different color pallet. If you are highlighting the art, then the lighting should blend in with the wall. If they had gone with blue lighting or even something metal it wouldn't look like they were misunderstanding the space.

Tip: Write down words for how you want your space to feel. Words like exciting, homey, warm, fun, and inviting help you to make the right decisions about what to buy.

Purple People Eater


This room is almost physically painful to look at. The architecture of this room has great crown moldings and instead of highlighting these moldings someone decided purple was a good idea. I’m not sure this wall color should ever be used in the living room. Your rug should always have the colors of the room in it the only way this would work is if they had chosen a more modern rug that had the purple and the blue. This is another one of those games of match this to that.

Tip: Choose your rooms three colors before you buy anything. Which is your main (60%) color? Which is your secondary color (40%) color? Which is your accent color (10%)? Go to a home improvement store and get paint samples that are those colors. Commit to your color scheme.

Green Eyed Kitchen


I like this kitchen. I like the color. There is just too much of it. Here again we see where the molding should’ve been a accent color. Highlighting the crown molding would have broken up some of the green. The kitchen itself has way too much of this muted green. Sometimes people don’t know when to stop painting things. Create breaks in the color. A good place to create a relief is the backsplash and the crown molding. Those two things should not match your entire kitchen. The other missed opportunity in this kitchen was the island. This kitchen needed a third color injected into it as an accent. I would have liked to see that island in a wood tone or white.

Tip: Painted cabinets go in and out of style, try to keep at least half your cabinets a wood color to avoid them looking outdated. I recommend the bottom half as wood for a practical reason which is that I don't want to bend over to paint cabinets.

Hoarder house


We live in our homes. At times we need a book for a class, a desk, we need a table, so we start bringing that stuff home. When we are no longer using or appreciate these items they become piles in our homes. That is what we see happening in this picture. There is just too much of everything. Too many chairs, too many tables, too many pictures on the wall, too many random items collecting dust. There is psychology to collecting things and I'm not going to get into that today. You can tell by looking at this room that it doesn't function well.

If your house looks like this one, I want you to evaluate why you have each item in the room. Do you love that item? Why did you buy it? Are you still using it? This room has some great things in it, but together this is a hot mess.The fix in this room is to eliminate the things that are no longer useful and create zones for activities.

Tip: Find one item in your room you love then build the room around it. As an example I will use the round table in the left corner of this room. If this person were to choose two chairs and put them against the wall with that table in the middle it would be a good jumping off point for this room.

Style Confusion


For our last photo I have chosen this very confused room. This room was labeled "Eclectic". People misinterpret eclectic style as an anything goes free for all rainbow of color. While eclectic means a wide range intertwined, that does not mean it is a license to mix every style under the sun. In general if your room looks like you created it in one day from multiple yard sales, you are not properly executing eclectic style. Again think about how you want the room to feel. Edit your items appropriately, use a good balance of natural materials.

Certain styles blend and compliment better than others. Modern and bohemian for example blend well. Modern actual blends into any style because modern decor tends to be more solid colors than patterns. Tribal prints work well with traditional wood furniture. Shabby chic is actually an eclectic mix of Victorian and farm house decor. When creating an eclectic room don't mix a bunch of patterns. Choose one dominant pattern. As this room shows us a traditional black floral rug does not mix with modern Aztec pattern chairs.

Tip: Artwork should not be displayed around or behind a television. This creates distractions when you watch television and when you view your art.

Design Ideas

Final Tip

If you look at your room and cannot figure out what is wrong, take a photo. When we look at a photo we see things that are not always obvious when we stand in the room. Look at the picture and break your room down by asking yourself these questions:

1. What style is the room?

2. What are the three colors in the room?

3. Do you use all the furniture?

4. Are their too many accessories?

5. Is the art hung at the right height?

6. Do all the things in the room belong?

7. Is the furniture the correct size?

After answering these questions you should be able to identify issues in your room. Sometimes you can sell existing pieces of furniture and replace them for what will work with your space. Consider living with what you love rather than just what you have right now. Enjoy your space!

© 2019 MD Jackson MSIOP


Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on March 09, 2019:

I found all these examples too cluttered for my taste. I like space. Colors and items that diminish that space causes shortness of breath.

I did not know about the 60-40-10 rule; I simply follow my intuitive. If I like my room and like the way the space works, then it's good-to-go. Someone else might not like it, but that's their problem.

Every so often, too I like to rearrange things. My theme tends to be fantasy, but not always. I like a bit of earthiness in my space, too.

Thanks for sharing your expertise and opinions.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 09, 2019:

You have chosen some great rooms as examples of how not to decorate. We stay in a lot of hotel rooms. Most are neutrally decorated with the odd piece of art, which is fine. It really jarred recently when we stayed in a room with a lot of deep purple. Even the surround of the bed was a purple upholstery. It was so dark and dingey. I realised then how important the choice of colour is in a room.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 09, 2019:

These rooms were to easy to see mistakes and I enjoyed reading your reviews and tips. We have been doing some redesign lately, and it does take thought to make sure your blend the colors right, etc. We have a long way to go! Thanks for the very informative article.

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