We’ve all been there: You’ve just moved into a new place, and you want to make it look fresh and fabulous, like, yesterday.
You’ve thumbed through all the West Elm catalogs and strolled through every Pottery Barn within a 50-mile radius. You. Are. Ready! Your living room will be the stuff of Pinterest dreams; your dining room will be a midcentury masterpiece.
Unless, that is, you make some all-too-common mistakes when buying your furniture. But we’re here to help you avoid falling prey to these blunders, and to ensure you end up with fabulous pieces that you’ll be happy with for years to come.
1. Not considering your lifestyle (or future plans)
Select pieces that suit your lifestyle, and consider how long you plan to keep a piece (especially if it’s a splurge). For example, a couple without children should consider how their family may grow over the next seven to 10 years—essentially, the lifespan of a couch.
Same goes for pet lovers: If Droolius Caesar loves to snuggle while you watch TV, maybe skip the velvet chaise and opt for a fabric that’s easy to clean and will maintain its look over time.
2. Going straight for the set
Virtually every pro we talked with agrees: If you’re an inexperienced furniture shopper, you’re destined to feel overwhelmed by all of the choices. And when you’re overwhelmed, you’re a lot more likely to just turn toward a catalog or a store’s showroom and furnish your entire home with the display that catches your eye.
“Say ‘no’ to the set,” says Jaimee Rose of Phoenix-based Jaimee Rose Interiors. “Don’t roll up to a store and buy the whole matching display. Your sofa and chairs should not match. The end tables and coffee table should not be twins.
“Design is about layering texture and materials, and it should also tell your story,” she continues. “You are more interesting than a brown microfiber sofa set.”
Consider mixing tones, textures, and styles you wouldn’t ordinarily think would pair well together.
“Pairing something like distressed leather with a piece with plush velvet accents can give a room a really layered, interesting look,” says Greta Ervin, a San Diego–based designer.
3. Buying everything at one time
We know—you just want to have your place furnished already and start showing off your stylish new pad to guests. But beware of filling out the rooms in a home decor version of Beat the Clock. If you buy all your pieces of furniture at once, you won’t leave any flexibility to find something more fabulous elsewhere.
Whitney Parrott, senior designer at Everything Creative Designs, recommends this rule of thumb: Splurge on main pieces such as a sofa or dining set, and then let the pieces “breathe” a bit in your space before adding accent pieces (preferably from other sources such as vintage shops or antiques stores).
“It’s important that you mix and match from different places,” Parrott says. “Then on the other hand, you have clients who overmix and nothing matches. You always want to have cohesion when designing your space, whether it’s through color or furniture style. If everything is all over the place, the space will start to look chaotic and confusing.”
But be careful with uber-trendy pieces. Think about factors such as the age and architectural style of your home before purchasing of-the-moment decor items.
“Often people buy what’s trending, but that doesn’t work for all homes or preferences,” says Carly Blalock of Carly Blalock Interiors.
4. Buying rugs that are too small for your living room
Don’t underestimate the power of a good rug. After all, we know how the right floor covering can really tie a room together. And in the living room, the rug is the focal point—it should be the first thing you put down when designing the layout of your furnishings
So as you’re shopping for rugs (and furniture), remember this surprising design fact from Rose: A too-small rug can make a room look smaller.
To make sure you have a rug that’s the right size for your space, follow this rule of thumb: The front two legs of each piece of furniture should be on the rug. If they miss the rug—even by an inch—your rug is too small.
“In a perfect world, all four legs of your sofa and chairs are on the rug,” she says.
5. Pairing too big with too small
As you’re plotting your perfect space, there’s another rule all designers insist you keep in mind: the concept of scale.
“A lot of my clients will buy a large sectional and pair it with teeny-tiny accent pieces like coffee tables or side chairs,” Parrott says. “Your furniture must be in the same scale. Otherwise, it will look wonky and out of proportion.”
Of course, you don’t want to buy all tiny furniture or all giant furniture, either. But if you want your room to look cohesive and not overwhelmed by your pieces, calculate the spacing between them.
In living spaces, a good rule of thumb for spacing between a sofa and coffee table is approximately 18 inches, according to Ervin. She also recommends a minimum of 32 to 36 inches of clearance between adjacent seating and furniture for an easy path of travel.
In dining rooms, you want to have a clearance of 48 inches from the dining table edge to the wall or adjacent furniture; this allows for plenty of room for your chair to be pulled out and people to walk around, Ervin says.
Not sure how to get accurate measurements before the stuff is already in your space? Rose recommends using blue painter’s tape to physically block out the dimensions of pieces you like before purchasing.
6. Forgetting to take measurements
There’s nothing worse than dropping some serious dough on brand-new furniture and delivery—only to discover it won’t fit through your doorway. Prevent this massive mistake by taking measurements of your rooms, doorways, stairwells, and elevators before you head to the store.
And, of course, don’t forget to measure the furniture itself before you buy—showrooms can make furniture look deceptively deep or tall, Blalock says, and you don’t want any last-minute surprises.
7. Ditching the stuff that makes your place unique
Don’t rush to ditch heirloom or sentimental pieces just because they don’t immediately mesh with your new stuff.
“Sometimes new things can make your existing possessions look even better, and give your home a more collected look,” Rose says. “I think every room needs a little something old in it to give it gravitas and patina.”