7 Design Rules and Why You Should Break Them

Think tile is only for kitchens and bathrooms? Art should hang at eye level? Time to consider breaking these old rules

By Yanic Simard / Courtesy of Houzz.com

Go-to design rules can be a huge help when you feel lost with your decor. But sometimes they end up painting you into a corner. If you’re finding your decor a little on the dull side, or you just like shaking up the system, here are seven of the top design rules that you should consider bending, twisting or totally breaking.

1. Rule: Small spaces demand quiet colors. 

Why you should break it: Size isn’t everything, so use colors you love. After all, who wants to work in a boring home office? If you love bright or deep colors, don’t be shy about using them even in compact spaces. The life and energy they give will be worth the visual shrinkage of the room. Plus, using a deep neutral shade for the walls (which will recede) with bright items (which will advance) creates an interplay of depth that can actually make a room feel bigger.

Tip: Use open furniture to balance bold colors. This room has a leggy desk and a mirrored cabinet to keep the sightlines of the floor stretching on as long as possible.

2. Rule: Tile is only for the kitchen and bath.

Why you should break it: This seating area really proves that tile can be a stunning feature outside of functional areas like a kitchen backsplash. The dark yet reflective surface of this simple subway tile makes a stunning feature wall, and proves once again that dark colors can be beautiful in a small space.

Tile can make a dramatic wall treatment that provides interesting and unexpected texture anywhere. 

Tip: Balance out the hard surface with extra textiles, such as a curtain, plush rug or piled-on pillows.

3. Rule: Kitchens demand tile walls. 

Why you should break it: While we’re adding tile to bedroom walls, why not consider other materials in the kitchen? With a low backsplash in place to stop the typical food splatters, the remaining walls of this kitchen are free to take on charming wallpaper. This helps keep the kitchen feeling like a true part of the home rather than a strictly functional space.

Tip: Use a sheet of glass to cover wallpaper and you won’t need the addition of another material at all.

4. Rule: Kitchens should be neat and tidy.

Why you should break it:Although the clean-white kitchen remains a popular look, a kitchen can actually be perfectly clean without having everything hidden behind closed doors. Restaurant-style open shelving celebrates a sense of whimsical disarray and reveals the human side of cooking, letting your pots, pans and other supplies become part of the decor. So don’t stress about getting that minimalist look. Instead, try letting your kitchen tell a story by having your everyday items displayed proudly instead of locked away in cabinets.

5. Rule: Bedrooms should be symmetrical and quiet.

Why you should break it: Matchy-matchy furniture sets with paired side tables flanking the headboard isn’t the only way to create a blissful bedroom. Feel free to get asymmetrical. Use a chair or stool on one side (to provide a seat for tying a shoe or reading) and a chest on the other for extra storage, with mismatched lamps to add visual interest and variety. Let your mattress make the bedroom a restful sleeping experience and let the decor be something fun to wake up to.

6. Rule: The chairs should match in a grown-up dining room.

Why you should break it: Some people associate mismatched furniture with their college days, when hand-me-down pieces were mixed with bargain finds with no consideration for style. But mixing and matching seats is a look for grown-ups too. 

Mix to add personality, interest or to create a conversation starter. Plus, you get to include old favorites along with new additions to your collection.

7. Rule: Art should be hung at eye level.

Why you should break it: Hanging art at eye level is a safe bet. But art doesn’t have to be safe, or even hung at all. Leaning frames and canvases on the floor or even on furniture creates an “artist’s studio” vibe, so use your instinct when displaying pieces and forget about the suggested heights and measurements.