We hate to break it to you, but it’s true: when you invite guests into your home—designers or otherwise—there are quite a few factors that they notice right off the bat. To help spruce our own interiors, we got insight from some top designers on what they always happen to notice in others’ spaces, and they are sharing both the good and the bad.
Oh, and before you panic, note that many of these are attributes that you can easily alter prior to your mother-in-law’s next visit— we promise.
“Hopefully friends won’t read this, but one of the first things I notice when I enter a home is how organized or how messy it is. That is always the first thing that jumps out at me. Sometimes I itch to help put things away—but I resist the urge.” —Nicole Blackmon, Nicole Blackmon, product stylist, and Instagrammer @sweet_domicile
Decorations, Details, and Artwork
“Since I’m one that loves home décor, I tend to take notice of the décor or lack thereof. Do they hang art, or are the walls bare? You can tell so much about a person by the kind of art they hang. Do they pay attention to the small details and add little décor touches? Of course, one of my other favorite things to see in someone’s home is the kitchen and the bathroom. I often leave feeling like, ‘What else can I do to our rental?’” —Nicole Blackmon
“I always notice little accents like small décor and artwork. Although small, objects always tell me a great deal about the person’s character and personality. It’s actually something I look forward to whenever going to other people’s homes, as I always learn something new about the person.” —Chelsey Brown, author and blogger at City Chic Decor
“One of the things I always notice right away is if there’s any art on the walls. There’s hardly anything more important in making a space feel finished than taking the time to hang things. It not only warms up space, but it also gives personal details about the individual who lives there, which is always nice to see.” —Kerra Michele Huerta, founder of Kerra Michele Interiors
“Whenever I’m a guest in someone’s home, I’m always drawn to interesting pieces that seem to have a story to tell. The pieces can be artwork, a lovely little chair, or a decorative piece that is housed on a shelf. Every home is different, and it becomes that way because stories are created through the pieces we pick. I also love how people use color in their homes, whether it’s a little or a lot and how they choose to display it. Sometimes it’s through a fun little rug in their laundry room or a whimsical wallpapered powder room in an otherwise neutral-colored home.” —Sara Raak, Instagrammer @sararaak
Every home is different, and it becomes that way because stories are created through the pieces we pick.
“Bathrooms are a huge thing when it comes to entertaining and the overall guest experience. I always notice when a host has the bathroom freshly stocked with things like hand towels, a nice candle burning, and personal items stashed away if the main bathroom is the one guests will be using. It’s also key to have things like extra toilet paper stocked and easily accessible in the event it’s needed—no one wants to be the one to say, ‘The bathroom could use more toilet paper,’ in the middle of a party. Little details like this give the space a more luxurious feel like you would experience if you were having a night out at a chic restaurant or lounge.” —Paige Kontrafouris, designer at Paige Kontrafouris Interiors
The Guest Room
“For me the ideal guest room—if you’re staying overnight—has the comfort of an individual home but the anonymity of a hotel room: in other words, the perfect balance. Specific details in terms of the décor, bedding, and scent are a nice way to share with your guests who you are, what your home says about you, and the life you live. I always suggest keeping empty drawers in your dresser and nightstands if you’re able, as well open hangers and clear hanging space. A luggage rack always does wonders. It’s also nice to have guest-friendly amenities out and easily accessible like a stack of crisp towels, hand lotion, and mints. Finally, fresh coordinated bedding will make or break a guest room. Nothing is less welcoming than a hodgepodge of older bed linens that have what I might call a ‘history.’” —Megan Hopp, founder, and principal of Megan Hopp Design
“As a designer, I know that people—even some of my closest friends—have internal fear when I come over to their house as if I am going to walk around with judge-y designer eyes, and that isn’t the case at all. Often when designers are in friends’ homes, they just want to relax and enjoy the company and not have their work brain on. However, whenever asked for small tips in other homes, the first advice I always give has to do with the area rug. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is their area rug is too small for their space. People are often afraid to go large with their rug, worried it will swallow a room. Actually, it is quite the opposite. A large rug grounds your space and helps everything feel connected. Always aim for at least the fronts two legs of all furniture pieces to be grounded on the rug. If it doesn’t reach all the way to the back of a furniture piece, that’s okay.” —Lisa Gilmore, founder, and principal interior designer at Lisa Gilmore Design
“I always look to see what kind of window treatments a person uses. I look to see if they’ve chosen the right length and if they’ve hung them high enough. I find that people hang their curtains in very different ways—that is something that I notice immediately.” —Tiffany Barino, Instagrammer @myeclecticnest
“I usually first always notice the smell. I think each house has its own scent, which I refer to as ‘house pheromones.’ It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but usually the scent, whether a freshly baked pie or a candle, catches my attention first before anything visual does.” —Alisa Bovino, blogger at A Glass of Bovino
“When visiting someone’s home, surprisingly one of the last things I notice is the overall look and design. Shockingly, I find the scent of space to be so important. It’s one of the first things that hits you as soon as you enter a room before you even have a second to explore the surroundings, so you better make sure your home is smelling great. Whether you have a few candles lit throughout the home, a simmer pot on the stove, or a candle wax melter, making sure your home smells fresh is key. Think about all the amazing hotel lobbies out there and how amazing they smell with their signature scents—it adds to the overall experience and something that can easily be achieved at home.” —Paige Kontrafouris
“Do they have clean floors? I think if you take time to keep your floors clean, even though that’s usually the last place people look when cleaning up, you’re pretty good about cleaning overall.” —Tiffany Barino
The Television Setup
“I always notice the size of the TV. This is the one debate on which I tend to side with my male clients. I enjoy my downtime in front of the TV, so I can appreciate a nicely scaled television in the family room. Bonus points if it’s wall-mounted without wires.” —Eneia White, owner of Eneia White Interiors
“The first thing that stands out is whether or not I see a furniture set. Furniture sets signal basic design and lack of personality in a space.” —Chelsey Brown
“I tend to look at the things that I have a hard time choosing for my own home. I’ll notice the paint colors and I try to figure out what they were trying to achieve by using a particular color.” —Tiffany Barino
“My eyes are always drawn to the architectural elements of home first. I love when a home oozes old-world charm and character. I look for the elements that make the space feel special, including interesting or tall ceilings, wood beams, textured walls, detailed moldings, fireplace mantles, and built-ins, to name a few. These architectural elements are the foundations of a home and infuse personality to even the most cookie-cutter space.” —Danielle Chiprut, interior decorator, designer, and founder of Danielle Rose Design Co.
“Because I love millwork and DIYs, I always notice if the work in a home is done by craftsmen or if it has the telltale sign of a homeowner DIY.” —Stefana Silber, blogger at Stefana Silber
Quality of Light
“This is likely a result of my background in photography, but the first thing I notice when visiting someone else’s home is the quality of the light. During a daytime visit, I’m looking at how the natural light streams into their home, how the light impacts their choice of paint colors, and how that light makes their home feel. If I’m visiting during the evening, my eye immediately goes to where there are pockets of light throughout the home from light fixtures and the ambiance that lighting creates. I love that with a few dimmers and lamps, a house can instantly feel welcoming and cozy.” —Erin Kestenbaum, photographer, and blogger
The Overall Vibe
“I always notice the vibe or mood of a home right away. I notice the formality of a home versus how casual home is, and how that energy impacts how you feel in your host’s space. I always take note of the environment that my host is creating, intentionally or unintentionally. Is this a space that you want to kick off your shoes and curl up in for hours, or is this a home that feels more structured and serious? All of these questions affect how guests feel and interact within your home.” —Danielle Chiprut