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Nick Olsen Q&A: Common First-Time Design Mistakes

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nick Olsen describes the following as common mistakes people make when decorating their first homes on their own:

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Being afraid to paint. If you're not willing to paint, you're really not willing to do much in terms of decorating. Being safe will get in the way of good design. Paint the ugly wood trim, paint the wood doors, even in a rental. I know people will say that they signed an agreement and they are not allowed to paint; fair enough. But every situation is different. I painted every single surface of my first apartment studio and only lost $200 of my security deposit, so it was totally worth it.

Hanging one print or mirror in the center of a wall with nothing around it. It's a matter of scale. There's definitely beauty to having a small abstract painting above a mantel and having that be the only thing on that wall; that has impact. But a standard-size poster hung alone makes it look precious and, frankly, like a dorm room. Instead, group it with smaller things to give it a little context, like a small oil painting, a postcard someone sent you, framed drawings. . . . A combination of styles and mediums is always preferred over just one ordinary size, which can look deflated and sad. Having a bigger grouping hung salon-style instead of elevating one ordinary mirror or work of art looks more collected and intentional, like it's happened over time.

Hanging rectangular mirrors on the horizontal. I think it brings the eye down and makes any room low and stumpy.

Buying area rugs that are too small. What's the point of a rug that's only big enough for your coffee table to sit on? And when furniture is half-on, half-off, that bugs me. If it's a square or rectangular [rug], I prefer a border of wood floor around the room about six to 10 inches. It fills the space and makes it more cohesive. If you have wall-to-wall sisal, then by all means get a small Moroccan rug or a graphically patterned rug and place it under the coffee table.

Not taking care with lighting choices. Chintzy lamps are a big pet peeve of mine. The big box sofa can disappear, but the big plastic-y lamp will stick out like a sore thumb. CB2, Williams-Sonoma Home, Circa Lighting all have really great mid-priced lamps and fixtures.

Getting too-bright bulbs. I don't know why people think it should be 100 watts. I recommend nothing over 40 unless you really need more light or have a light with a dimmer. Then go with 75 watts but always dim it.


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