“When I first bought my house, I was totally into shabby chic, and then I bought a lot of those things only to realize that I actually hated them,” says Anna Sundman, the creative half of Annabode + Co., the interior decorating firm she runs with her husband in Denver. To this day, “my taste is still evolving.”
Yours truly has been there, too. After upgrading to a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, I quickly began bombarding my husband with links to pricey ceramics, West Elm furniture and whatever else I thought we “needed.” Turns out, I was just overwhelmed by seeing so much blank space.
Since Sundman and I know we aren’t alone, we put together a handy list of first-time homeowners’ decorating mistakes, from buying too much all at once to hanging curtains too low. And while we regret those spending decisions, we’re grateful for the lessons they taught us. After all, you don’t learn how to manage your money without making some mistakes along the way.
1. Thinking you must buy matching furniture sets
Whether it’s a table and chair or all-in-one bedroom, “that’s a big no-no for me,” Sundman says. “The most beautiful homes look collected over time.”
Also: Furniture sets are the equivalent of buying all your clothes from one store—boring! Instead, it’s a good idea to buy your items in stages—it could save you from running up high credit card balances, too.
Going overboard on your credit cards is one of the biggest financial problems new homeowners face—they want to move in and immediately fill the house with furniture, no matter the cost. That move can put undue strain on your new budget. You can see how your credit card use is affecting your credit scores by viewing your free credit report summary each month on Credit.com.
2. Hanging artwork too high
Sundman’s done it, I’ve done it, and chances are you have, too. Generally, artwork should be centered at eye level—around 57 inches from the floor unless it’s especially large—or eight to 10 inches above furniture, Sundman advises.
3. Hanging curtains too low
Most people do the instinctive thing and hang their curtain rod above the window frame, Sundman says. Not only does this make a room feel smaller, it also makes the ceiling look lower. Hanging the rod closer to the ceiling is a visual trick that makes windows look larger. It also helps to make sure the curtain isn’t too long or short.
“It definitely shouldn’t float above the floor,” Sundman says, nor should it pool “unless you have a super formal, elegant room.”
4. Holding onto pieces you don’t like
We’ve all been guilty of keeping pieces we no longer like. I, for one, have refused to part with a teak coffee table I bought in college even though it matches nothing in my apartment. Sundman can relate: “You spend a lot of money on something and feel like you have to keep it.”
But there are so many ways to offload used furniture—e.g., sites such as eBay, Craigslist, and Chairish—and it’s smarter to use the money to buy something you love.
“If the piece isn’t working, get rid of it,” she says. “Otherwise it’s going to drive you crazy.”
5. Not making use of what you have
Just as rookie homeowners keep things that no longer serve them, they also tend to overlook what might. For instance, I spent hours favoriting pretty vases on Etsy only to realize what I needed to dress up my console was already in my closet.
“I definitely would recommend just combing through your things and using that to decorate,” Sundman says, especially old books, which can add personality to any space. “You don’t need to buy a bunch of accessories.”
6. Purchasing small rugs
Rugs are expensive, that much we know. But like it or not, they’re an investment that can be worth making.
“You should buy the largest possible rug that’ll fit in your space,” Sundman says, and you “definitely want all your furniture to be at least partially on it.”
Doing so will bring your pieces together, making them part of a unit.
7. Wall-to-wall carpeting
Fortunately, my apartment has all hardwood floors. But Sundman says she doesn’t recommend carpet since it can pose a cleaning problem.
“You can’t pull it up and shake it out, and it tracks dust and is hard to clean,” Sundman says. If you’re bent on changing your floors, it may be better to opt for wood or laminate, not wall-to-wall carpet, especially in the bedroom, where dust is a no-no.