The 5 Surprising Interior Design Rules You Should Break

It’s true that some design rules serve as foolproof, guiding principals…it’s also true that breaking those very rules can lead to some of the boldest and most memorable spaces. We’ve always been fans of those who are willing to take risks (after all, our co-founder Anna Brockway is known for her mantra “Just try it!”), whether that’s by mixing bold patterns or adding an unexpected piece of art to a room. Below we round up five rules that some of our favorite (and dare we say rebellious!) Chairish design insiders love to break.

Photo courtesy of Susan Greenleaf

RULE #1: “A well-designed room should have a sense of balance.”

San Francisco-based designer Susan Greenleaf has an expert eye for adding just the right element of surprise to a space. Sometimes that means throwing off that often sought-after sense of symmetry in favor of a more daring – and ultimately more compelling – design. “Always add those one or two pieces that throw the room OFF balance. Pieces from the same era read flat. Adding Basquiat skateboards to a formal dining room or reupholstering antiques in modern color-blocked fabrics helps to create a bit of drama and unexpectedness.”

Photo by Meghan Beierle-O’Brien, courtesy of Wendy Labrum

RULE #2: “Don’t paint a small room a dark color.”

Chicago-based designer Wendy Labrum loves to stray from the conventional wisdom that dark colors make small spaces feel even smaller. “Small rooms make the best jewel-box spaces when done in deep, rich colors!” Adding a dark hue to a small room – especially a galley kitchen, powder room or butler’s pantry – can add an unexpected jolt of drama (the good kind) to an otherwise blasé, cramped space.

Photo by Lucas Allen, courtesy of McGrath II

RULE #3: “Go for symmetry by using matching pairs.”

Mother-daughter design team McGrath II are experts at creating spaces that are equal parts elegance and warmth. Their secret? The duo isn’t afraid to break from the perfection of matching pairs. “We think odd numbers are always better than pairs. And, don’t be matchy-match with pillows!”

Photo by Laura Hull, courtesy of Betsy Burnham

RULE #4: “Don’t go overboard with bold patterns.”

Known for her ability to design spaces that are just the right balance of playful and traditional, Los Angeles-based designer Betsy Burnham likes to layer patterns that lend plenty of eye candy to her interiors. “I’m a pattern mixer from way back and I see no reason why paisleys can’t live with plaids, florals and stripes. I’m not sure this qualifies as rule breaking but it definitely surprises people when it works.”

Photo by Rikki Snyder, courtesy of Raji RM & Associates

RULE #5: “Aim to balance scale and proportion in a space.”

When we first spotted D.C.-based designer Raji Radhakrishnan‘s work on Instagram, we immediately fell in love with her refreshing and original use of scale. “I love turning a room’s scale on its head with massive murals or playing with proportions in a room by using considerably smaller or tiny (but special) objects or art and juxtaposing them with fairly large scale items.” Stretching the imagination and adding in extra large (or teeny tiny!) design elements is a surefire way to dial up the drama in a space.


Ready to stray from the crowd and break these old design rules with us? See our curators’ favorite one-of-a-kind pieces to make your space stand out.


Lead photo by Raji Radharkis and Rikki Snyder @rikkisnyder photo, courtesy of Raji RM & Associates



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August 10, 2017

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