interior designInteriors

Turning Design “Mistakes” Into Lessons Learned

by Garrett Fleming

When it comes to design and decorating, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a mistake. With so many publications and “influencers” telling us how we should dress our spaces and what’s “cool,” however, we can sometimes lose our willingness to take risks for fear of making a design snafu. We’ve gotta stop it! Some of the most memorable interiors are those that came about from the courage to try something never before seen, in contrast to what others said and thought was right. Plus – no matter how these design risks turn out – the process and results always teach us something worthwhile.

Today, we asked some of our favorite creatives to speak about a time when they thought they had made a design misstep, and how it was truly just a lesson or opportunity in disguise. Each example, in its own way, proves once and for all that design “mistakes” aren’t something to be afraid of making. Click through to hear from Justina Blakeney, Emily Henderson and more. Enjoy. —Garrett

Turning Design
"I make 'mistakes' all the time and I love how this can often lead to unexpected (and interesting!) mixing and matching. Buy a rug that's too small for the space? Cool! Great opportunity to layer two patternful rugs and see what happens when two unexpected patterns meet. Get a plant that needs lots of sunlight for a spot thats not bright enough? Put the plant in a macrame hanger and hang it off the curtain rod. 'Mistakes' keep things fun and interesting and in 'making it work' I always find solutions I wouldn't have otherwise thought of. " --Justina Blakeney, author of The New Bohemians: Cool and Collected Homes
Turning Design
"The scale of [this] dining room is small, but the ceiling is so high and the space is so open and big that I thought a small light -- like the one [previously] there -- would look so dinky and puny. And it probably would have, but the one I chose was just too big for the dining room. This was a very good lesson to learn for me, because I tend to err on the side of too big rather than too small. Partly because often in photos -- and on camera -- too small can look REALLY small. But this chandelier was absolutely too big once you got into the room." Emily Henderson, Interior Designer
Turning Design
"For this project, I initially wanted to paint half of the planter, but when I stepped away and came back to it, it had all these drip marks because I left too much paint on it. It might have been a big mistake, but I ended up loving the drip effect so much that I decided to intentionally do drips for a few other planters. It's all about embracing happy accidents and learning how to use it to your advantage." Dabito, founder of Old Brand New
Turning Design
"I really thought my modern art paired with leopard chairs and African masks would be a good thing! But as I was pulling it together, I realized the space was too narrow to hold all of these pieces, and it was all too much together! Definitely a case of too much of a good thing." -- Judy Aldridge, founder of Atlantis Home
Turning Design
"One of the biggest lessons I learned is to measure twice, measure again, and then measure one more time with fresh eyes. Why, you ask? A queen headboard delivery turned into damaged walls, a damaged ceiling, and the need to have the sheetrock replaced… I was thankful that the stairwell needed to be repainted anyway, the silver lining." -- Beth Diana Smith, founder of Diana Studios
Turning Design
"I moved to Brooklyn on the heels of an Austin vacation that was magic. The experience of the trip became welded to the aesthetic of the minimalist, modern, eclectic (San Jose) Hotel. Despite my shoestring budget, I splurged on one of the San Jose's signature block print duvets and wadded it up into my suitcase. Once I settled into routine at home, the duvet cover felt oppressive. It looked busy and garish to me. Despite their physical similarity, my Austin hotel room and Brooklyn home existed in parallel worlds. On vacation, the duvet cover was quirky and cool. At home, in New York and the hustle and bustle of life, it was overstimulating. Lesson learned: Never ignore the emotional context." -- Alex Kalita of Common Bond Design

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  • i love your block print duvet. where do you purchase it? on another topic, i too, purchased a chandelier that was way too big to comfortably fit above my kitchen table. My son who is 6’1″ hit his head on one of the many bulbs every time he stood up, and, there were so many lights that i eventually had to take out 8 bulbs so not to be blinded. naturally, i placed the overhead light on craig’s list for a quarter of what i paid.

    • Hi Isabel. Thank so much! I purchased the duvet directly from the Hotel San Jose. They have them custom made in India for their guest rooms.

      Here’s a link: http://www.sanjosehotel.com/

      Even though it isn’t right for my Brooklyn apartment, I do love that it’s reversible.

  • Dabito was on to something! He has a strong cultural precedent with the renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who famously dipped ancient pots in colorful paint that dripped down the sides. The exhibit, which I saw a few years ago in DC, was incredibly powerful.

  • I think I’ve decided just to design my space with what I like, rather than using trends. Otherwise, I’d have to buy new furniture every 5-10 years…not an option for this regular gal! ;-)

  • Thanks, Mary Kate. The sconces are an older version of what Urban Outfitters now calls the Gumball Sconce. ($34 each if memory serves.) I’m so glad you like them!

  • Sometimes when you buy something you like but that turns up not fitting well in your space, it is better putting in the storage for a while: things you like will find a space in your house first of then.

  • I agree that everything that you love will eventually find a place in your home. I love the layering of rugs! Sue @ heavensgatehomeandgarden.com

  • I love the wall hanging (paint swatches?) in Alex’s room… can you please tell me how to do this and point me towards where to get the materials? Thanks!