Redecorating? Don’t be afraid to let your inner rebel guide you.

By Marla Christiansen
December 20, 2018
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Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Getty Images
Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Getty Images

Interior design is an ever-evolving process, and what's in style today might not be tomorrow. Thankfully, there are some long-standing design rules that help steer us in the right direction, regardless of current design trends. And while these guiding principles can be helpful when you don't know where to start, there are some popular design rules that are better to break, interior designers reveal. In fact, when you turn the design rulebook on its head, your space may actually become more engaging and full of delightful and unexpected twists. In order to create a home that is personalized, inviting, and stylish, professional designers admit that bending the rules is sometimes necessary—not to mention fun! Here are seven rules that are absolutely worth breaking, according to design pros. 

1

According to Homepolish interior designer Jennifer Wallenstein, creating a perfectly symmetrical design creates a flat, boring space. Instead of focusing on symmetry, we should be striving for balance, she says. Wallenstein challenges rules of symmetry by encouraging odd numbered groupings, hanging artwork off-center, and grouping mismatched chairs. “Sometimes, nothing achieves balance better than something being a bit askew,” she explains. Asymmetrical elements help draw the eye around the room, lending to a multi-dimensional, lively space.

2

Creating a cohesive design often begins with selecting materials that flatter one another. While it may be tempting to base your design choices around a showroom model, it certainly isn’t your only option. “Instead of having all of your bathroom fixtures from the same collection and in the same finish, opt for drawing attention to a special feature in the space,” suggests Wallenstein. “Maybe you’ve invested in a killer freestanding tub,” she says, “so go the extra step and make the tub stand out." A faucet in a different finish will draw attention to this feature. To keep mixed metals from becoming overwhelming, choose just two or three kinds and repeat them throughout the space.

3

You may have heard (or at least intuited) that you should use small furniture in a small space. Well, some designers are throwing this rule out the window. Katie Hodges of Katie Hodges Design encourages playing with scale regardless of room size. “A small space with too many small furniture pieces can look uncomfortable and unwelcoming,” she says. Hodges warns against falling into the trap of buying too many small items in an attempt to create an illusion of space, as it often just leads to rooms that look overcrowded with furniture. “Try to incorporate a balance of both visually heavy and light pieces,” she recommends. One or two larger, heavy-looking pieces will help anchor the room, while the smaller pieces will help make the most of your limited square footage. 

4

Contrast is an essential design principle that adds visual interest to a room. By using a mix of lighter and darker hues, contrast can make certain elements in the room stand out. But, more important than emphasizing one element over another is the overall feeling of the room. “High contrast can yield a strong impact, but some of my favorite spaces employ a tonal aesthetic, which creates a sense of calm and ease,” says Hodges. For example, a bedroom designed around a palette of blues in various shades evokes a more relaxing vibe than a high-contrast black and white bedroom. Too much contrast throughout a room can be overwhelming, so stick to contrast in small doses. 

5

“The rule that you need to match everything has to go,” says Nicole Gibbons, founder and CEO of Clare. “Whether you’re talking prints and patterns, furniture styles, or old and new, mixing is always so much more interesting than matching.” Her secret for making sure mismatched decor doesn’t feel too busy or jarring? “Keep your patterns in the same color family and vary the scales,” she says. “A large scale and smaller scale print will complement each other nicely, whereas two large scale prints would compete.” When it comes to combining old and new, Gibbons suggests juxtaposing ultra-modern furniture in a space with older, ornate architecture. When carefully planned, these contrasting elements compliment one another. 

6

Color has the ability to dramatically transform a home. In most cases, designers will shy away from painting small rooms with dark colors because of the shrinking effect these hues have on a space. But this rule doesn’t hold true in every case. “Understanding space and light is far more important to choosing the right paint color than the size of a room,” assesses Gibbons. “When done right, a deep, rich color can look so chic in a small space. It can make the space incredibly dramatic and sophisticated in ways that an airy, bright color never could," she adds. A small bathroom is the perfect place to try breaking this design rule, such as with a trendy navy or deep green hue

7

These neutral, dark colors have always been separated due to their similarity. “In fashion and interiors, there’s an unspoken rule to never mix navy and black. Turns out we actually love this look!” admits Shea and the designers at Studio McGee. In the past, pairing navy with black was perceived as a poor attempt at matching, but nowadays, this aesthetic faux pas no longer holds true. “Pairing the two together creates more dimension than a monochromatic palette and more definition than using a variety of different shades of blue,” explain Shea and the designers.