There are many basic design tenets every pro follows, but great designers know that rules are sometimes meant to be broken. It’s what adds personality and keeps their spaces feeling fresh—not predictable. But you don’t have to be a pro to bend the rules. We worked with The Home Depot to design a space that shows off the easiest design rules to break, using pieces from their vast online-only furniture and decor collections. If your space needs a refresh, these tips are a great way to start.
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1. Side tables don’t have to match
One of the quickest ways to make a room feel unique is to keep it from getting too matchy-matchy. This can be a hard rule for many of us to break, partly because when you find a smaller piece you love, it’s just easier to buy two. But live a little, and find two complementary designs you love!
For this space, we went with a high-contrast concept by pairing a neutral, natural fiber and wood side table with a modern, bright gold metal accent table on each side of the sofa. While these two wouldn’t necessarily look harmonious side-by-side on their own, the other elements of the room help bring their contrasting styles together (more on that in a bit). (And while we’re working with side tables in a living room, this tip works equally well with bedroom nightstands.)
2. Neither do chairs
Similarly, don’t worry too much about buying matching side or accent chairs unless you’re working with a really (and I mean really) big space. In a big space, a bunch of mismatched chairs can make it feel a little bit like a flea market. But with a small living space, where you’re likely to have just two, maybe three chairs, it actually makes more sense to choose different pieces to add some new shapes, textures, and styles.
That said, it helps to coordinate some aspects of your chair choices. In this space, we chose a neutral mid-century-style chair in light camel leather that plays well with the brighter Arctic Blue accent chair in terms of color. Choosing a neutral chair and a colorful accent chair is an easy strategy for preserving harmony, but you could also go bright and bold if you find two chairs with other coordinating elements such as matching wood tones or upholstery styles.
3. Play with your centerline
If there’s one design principle you should keep in mind when breaking the rules, it’s your centerline. Start by thinking about the X and Y axes of your space. Make sure your room’s main components are centered along one axis. In this case, the sofa, rug, and coffee table are all arranged more or less symmetrically and coordinated with mostly neutral tones. But where most people would center their gallery wall on that same centerline, we shifted ours to the side. This creates a sense of movement by pulling the eye around the room and gives the space a subtle surprise.
4. Mix your media, mix your frames
You wouldn’t know it from visiting one of their stores in person, but The Home Depot has a ton of affordable wall decor available online. After anchoring your centerline, you can start playing with your vertical wall space with abandon. Don’t be afraid to bring in pieces that don’t strictly adhere to your overall color palette, and do feel confident in mixing your media types and frames if you’re going for an eclectic look.
We found inspiration from this colorful piece by artist Sylvie Demers. Then, we added pieces like this one and this one by June Erica Vess, whose colors complimented but didn’t perfectly match the initial piece. To keep things interesting, we went with a mix of framed and unframed art overall and added some texture with a neutral fiber wall hanging.
5. It’s OK to choose plants over people
Most of us design living space with human friends in mind but don’t forget about your plant friends. It’s OK to prioritize your plants by allocating more of your budget to new plants and planters instead of additional seating or another decor. And in the end, your human friends will be delighted.
The Home Depot has a big selection of live and faux plants online, and we decided to go with a mix of both. A live Boston Fern dominates one corner of the space, and we added some faux cacti and succulents to the opposite side of the sofa to create some green symmetry. To add depth to the small space, we added a snake plant in an accent planter to the foreground and let a money plant take center stage on the coffee table.
Despite breaking (almost) all the rules with our furniture and decor choices, the finished space still has a sense of balanced harmony and manages to pack a lot of fun style into a small room.