5 Designers on Which Design Rules They Think You Should Break

Neutral kitchen with fun globe lighting.

Design: Rebel Builders / Photo: Lara Kimmerer

Some design rules are meant to spare you from headaches and hassle down the line. For example, measure and then measure again is a good one you should always follow, for your own sake. Most often, though, design rules—according to who, exactly?—are arbitrary, and simply constrain you from decorating a home that makes the most of your specific space and feels the most you

That’s why we asked five interior designers to spill the design rules that they think are out of date, cliche, or misguided. Read on for six rules that are meant to be broken. 

Rule to Break: Furniture Should Lead the Design

Always thought you had to allow your furniture, whether a couch or bed frame, to direct the design of a space? Wrong, says interior designer Ashley Macuga of Collected Interiors. Just because furniture is the largest piece in a space doesn’t mean it has to steal the spotlight—instead, let the walls lead.

As Macuga puts it, walls deserve to be part of the design story, not just the backdrop. To take the focus off your furniture, consider drenching your walls in color, layering patterns via wallpaper, and finishing them with trim that hides raw edges. 

“For years, we have ignored our walls, and opted to slather them in white paint and called it done—boring,” Macuga says. “The walls that secure our families and keep us safe deserve better.” 

Bathroom with fun wallpaper and wood mirror.

Design: Collected Interiors / Photo: Nicole Dianne Photography

Rule to Break: Don’t Use Dark Colors in Small Spaces

Go ahead, paint that broody hue you love in a powder room. Add that bold wallpaper to your cramped entryway. Forget the idea that you have to use light, bright colors to “open up” a small space.

“A dark color in a small space can often have the opposite effect than what people think,” Baton Rouge-based interior designer Bridget Tiek of TIEK BY DAY says. “It can create a cozy, intimate environment and has a great visual impact.”

Casey Putney of Putney House Interiors agrees—so much so that it’s one of her favorite design rules to break, thanks to optical illusions. 

“Walls painted in dark and rich hues can make the room appear larger, as dark colors recede and trick the eye into thinking the walls are further away than they actually are,” Putney says.  

Dark navy blue siting room with bar cart.

Design: Putney House Interiors; Photo: Muriel Silva Photography

Rule to Break: A Sofa Should Float in a Room

When working with a smaller space, interior designer Rebecca Driggs says your biggest goal should be to maximize square footage without overcrowding. Sometimes, that means pushing a couch into a corner is the best design decision for your limited space. That way, you can utilize every inch of the room without tripping over couch corners. Grab a blanket, rev up a movie, and it’ll instantly feel like a cozy nook.

Large sectional sofa up against the wall.

Design: Rebecca Driggs Interiors; Photo: Abigail Jackson Photography

Rule to Break: All Wood Tones Should Match

One of Driggs’s favorite ways to spice up a design is to mix and match wood tones. There’s no need for your dining room table to perfectly match your console, or for your coffee table to match your wood flooring.

“While we believe that all tones should coordinate, we love adding contrasting woods to create visual interest and make the space feel more thoughtful and eclectic,” Driggs explains. 

Dining area with light wood shelves and dark wood table.

Design: Rebecca Driggs Interiors; Photo: Abigail Jackson Photography

Rule to Break: No Floating Televisions

In an ideal world, every television could be cozily tucked into built-ins with beautiful millwork. “But, reality doesn’t always play along with that,” Diana Pauro of Rebel Builders says.

In this bedroom with sloped walls, a built-in system would have made the space feel much smaller—proof, Pauro says, that sometimes a floating TV is the best response. Not only does it make the room feel lighter and bigger, but it provides flexibility for homeowners if they ever want to remove the television or rearrange the furniture. 

Bedroom with floating TV on wall.

Rebel Builders

Rule to Break: Ceilings Must Be Neutral 

“Gone are the days where ceilings are an afterthought,” Putney says. Instead, she recommends treating ceilings as a fifth wall. Ceilings are ideal for adding drama to a space, whether through wallpaper, millwork, architectural features, or bold paint colors. Whichever you choose, it’s bound to draw your attention upward, tricking the eye into thinking the ceiling is taller and the room more spacious.

In rooms where all four walls are painted a dark color, Putney says, painting the ceiling to match will create a sense of moodiness and coziness, which works well in more intimate spaces like a library or dining room. 

Bold blue bookcases and black and white wallpapered ceiling.

Design: Putney House Interiors; Photo: Muriel Silva Photography