December 3, 2011


(Jayne Mansfield's Beverly Hills Home ca. 1959)
As people all around the world know - I've never been known to keep my opinions to myself....especially when it comes to really bad interior design. One of the things I find most egregious is an interior trying to look "rich" or imply wealth. Those are the ones I love to rail on the most...but that's just me....

Whilst harvesting photos for this blog I often come across photo's which I'll place in a file called "Bad Examples." Those photos are used for making a specific point with my design advice in forthcoming Master Classes. 
I thought it would be fun to share these bad examples with you and explain why they're bad as it's also a good way for you to avoid these mistakes.
Ironically, some of these are beautiful rooms are done by leading designers .... who's mistakes I'm more than happy to point out..... 

WWJD = what would Joe do?

Walmart's top of the line, I assume....
You think that aqua, turquoise and royal blue all works together??Really???   You can't make a room look luxurious that's outfitted and accessorized with crap, SOMETHING has to be of quality!
1.  Strike a match...

J.C.Penny's "old money" look.....?
Really??? You think that hideous fireplace, cotton Oriental rug or those "tromp l'oeil" niches are making your room look upscale and elegant?  
1.  Remove the fireplace and place a large (open legged) console on that wall.
2. Place a large painting or mirror over the console.
3. Lose the fake rug - it's too dark and makes the room look small, not cozy.
4. Get a beige and rusty red rug with a slight geometric pattern. The room will look bigger, smarter and less cluttered. 

48 hours and $200. (or less)
I can only assume this is one of those rooms that someone did over a weekend and had to use everything from grandma's attic. 
Everything's bad, not worthy of comment...
1.  Get an Internet connection and see whats going on outside your cul-de-sac.

OMG what a view!
But seriously, what's up with that puny furniture?  Everything is wayyy too small.  The powerful view demands the furniture feel solid - not timid!
1.  Use an "L"shaped sectional facing the view.
2.  Use low a chunky table as a cocktail table.
3.  Lose the Venetian blinds (drawn up in photo) and replace with soft textural open-weave curtains for softness and to filter the direct sunlight when neccessary.  They will add texture and softness.

A totally 21st century groove.
Lets say your friend Mike Meyers stops over for a some kawfee tawk..   OK, well, uh, lets stretch out over here on these cozy, comfy blue Swan Chairs and I'll drag that Platner glass topped table over to sit our coffee cups on....
It's all for show! The stupid furniture placement doesn't allow either  seat to converse with another.
1.  Place a sofa in the space to "ground" all the floating pieces.
2.  Pull the chair and ottoman and the two swan chairs closer to the cocktail table.
3.  Close the audio cabinet under the bar before taking the photo...

Such a thing as "too much white?"
Yup, here it is...we're naturally attracted to all white rooms....the truth is they're a total pain in the ass as they need to be totally spotless or they'll look dirty.  White should be used as an envelope...not a scheme.
1.  Paint the floors with a pastel color, this will help cover soil and create a single plane of color.
2.  Accent the room with some accessories in the same tones as the floor. If the "super white" scheme is preferred pastels can add zip without being a bold statement. 
3.  Add interest through art or some interesting focus. 
4.  Bring in a couple of large trees.

There's nothing wrong with large modern rooms with killer art,
just don't make it look like the executive lunch room at IBM!  Aren't dinner parties supposed to be intimate and put people at ease?  My feeling is this is too frigid to put guests at ease.
1.  Use upholstered or "softer" chairs. 
2.  Consider a large, plain carpet.

Modern shouldn't mean boring,
monochromatic schemes can be wonderful but they need to have some interesting elements, currently the room has no dimension or interest.
1.  Add a colorful painting over the sofa
2.  Throw a black lacquered cocktail table in there
3.  Add texture some how, everything is too "slick." Maybe a Flokati Rug, or thickly woven textiles on some upholstery.

Cool house!
The owner of this 4 million dollar house has a $150 fake zebra stamped cowhide rug? Really???   Whaddup wit dat??
1.  Get a real Zebra hide (Zebra's are legally culled)
2.  Use a plain cowhide in its own natural colors.

Nice Chic Room!
Helloooo over there, can u hear us??
1.  Put chairs closer to the sofa.
2.  Always have a small table next to chair to rest a drink on.
3. Ottomans are the last choice to sit on during a party as they're not comfortable at all - especially for those over 50.
4.  Place most seating within the ideal "conversation distance" of 5 feet from one person to the other.

Great Architecture, 
better throw another log on the fire 'cause that room is freekin' frigid!   One sofa, one chair, one lamp and two pillows? Really???

1.  Add a tree. Rooms with lots of floor to ceiling windows need an indoor tree to blurr the lines between outdoors and indoors.  
2.  Add a carpet with texture.
3.  Add some organically inspired things - curvy chairs, or wooden pieces to make it warmer.

Nice clean lines!
But enough already with that 1978 monochromatic shit.   Those three caramel colored pillows don't make it pop - they make it droop...
1.  Add some interesting pillow fabrics in either pastels or brights 
2.  A groovy tree - with big leaves - behind the sofa in the corner would be perfect too.
3.  Lose the retail "off-the-shelf art"

Beautiful Wallpaper, Nice Antiques!
at first glance this room looks charming....
Correct a few flaws and it will be charming.  The furniture in this room feels so "leggy" and the room is missing a central focus.
1.  Place a larger console or buffet against the wall.
2.  Bring the four paintings in closer to the mirror and raise them slightly to "beef up" the grouping - 6" off the mirror's edge.
3.  Use the Chinese chairs beside the buffet not at the table, makes the room look confusing.
4.  Get a larger, less patterned carpet
5.  Drop the chandelier down, the bottom should be 30-32" off the table top.

Love the Wall Mural!
The colors and pieces all work well together. I love the sepia-toned mural with the dark floors.  The architecture of this older home wasn't considered when the interiors were selected.  The "chunky" mantle with it's strong horizontal lines makes this room feel squatty and low-ceiling'ed. That problem is exacerbated by the installation of the new oversized crown moulding and painting the ceiling taupe - making the ceilings feel even lower still
1.  To make the ceilings feel higher mount the window shades at the bottom of the crown moulding.
2.  Paint the ceiling white.
3.  Lose the goofy "lamp tables" on either side of the fireplace and replace with two floor lamps. The lampshades should be solid, not silky or see through. If the lamp shades are brighter than the chandelier they will be the focus, not the main attraction. Solid     shades provide light furtively. 

Gorgeous Stair Hall, Amazing Architecture!
Architecturally, everything is awesome, but this foyer is too small to have a center table. You're actually forced to walk half on the carpet and half on the floor - not good. And WTF are those stools doing directly in your walkway?
1.  a: Add two opposing consoles.
     b: Add a console on one side and a large bench on the opposite wall.
2.  Lose those two stools in the middle of the main walkway. Never create an obstacle course...
3.  Add a lamp on the console so you can have soft light in the foyer - not bright, general light drifting down from two floors above.

Pretty Antiques!
Pretty room, but impractical unless you're some old Swedish dowager.... There's nothing practical to sit on!  There's too many chairs and table legs, and no personal items. (Straight) Men would hate this room.
1.  Add two fully upholstered chairs to anchor the room.
2.  Add some books or a live plant.
3.  Add a gilt framed mirror over the fireplace, it will make the room sparkle and pop a bit more. It's very "flat" now, without any punch.

Nice Colors and Furniture Finishes!
The furnishings are all nice and appear to be the right scale for this room, however..... 
1.  The arms of the dining chairs don't tuck under the table top, not a crime but not great.... it limits some people getting close enough to the table. 
2.   Get rid of that stupid puny "wagon-wheel" mirror over the buffet. I assume they probably didn't want to cover any of their wall mural, but there should be a huge-ass mirror or painting over the buffet.

Nicely Scaled Dining Room!
But it looks like a private dining room at a hotel.
This is a case of "over building."  This space has wainscoting, parquet floors, cove-lighting, fireplace, curtains everywhere, silk wall-coverings, etc, etc.  That big-ass Oriental carpet and the board-room style furniture is just so pedestrian...the whole room is trying to imply "success" too hard.
1.  Cove lighting always looks commercial.
2.  There needs to be more furniture in the room, maybe a settee under the window.
3.  A light colored or sisal carpet would take the pretentiousness off the space.
4.  Chairs with a less rigid design would soften the space, take away the boardroom look.
5.  Some nice art on the walls would be great.
6.  This room could handle two round dining tables.
7.  Lose the curtains at the door - you're not at the Paris Ritz, you're in a tacky gated community. 
8.  Nothing on the windowsill, ever! Unless it's a plant.

Stunning Room!
Whats that lounge chair doing in the corner of the dining room???
It's got a magazine rack next to it too..really???  
1.  Lose the chair and magazine rack.
FYI: Maybe a chair or settee in a bay window, but never in the corner like's goofy.

I Love's Me Some Silk Velvet Tiger Fabric!
Talk about gilding the lily...I think this decorators motto is "no surface left behind."  This well proportioned dining room is overwhelmed by the layers of decoration.  Each of the pieces are lovely and look like quality.... But, somethings gotta go...
1.  Lose the Chinese rug, it's just too busy for this room and the bright yellow gives an odd tinge to the silver-leaf Chinese wallpaper and silver-gilt accents.
2. The tiger velvet upholstery or the handpainted wallpaper deserve center stage, but you cant have both.

A Smashing Room!
What a pretty space, well-proportioned and comfortable. Howeverrrrr.....For a traditional room it's all too stiff. 
1.  Lose two of the four identical club chairs - the plan is too rigid with four of them.
2.  Get two different pairs of club chairs. Using two squarish ones with two roundish ones, or one large chair, one small chair and two matching chairs.
FYI: Four matching chairs in a contemporary setting looks great sometimes, in a traditional setting it looks very "lobby-like."

A Handsome Mediterranean Room
Pretty space.  Nice floors, table, chandelier but crappy faux-formal dining chairs. 
1.  Get upholstered back, less formal dining chairs. 
2.  There's too many hard surfaces; add casual, soft off-white curtain panels.
3.  Add a carpet; a round sisal one would be casually chic.

Nice Architecture!
But how boring can you get with all that sepia-toned printed linen everywhere...ugh.  
1.  Add some burnt orange or French blue to make it pop, cause it ain't poppin' now...
2.  Lose some of that upholstered stuff, it's just too feminine looking.
3.  Get some art that isn't color coordinated, that sepia-tone flower is beyond heinous.
4.  Have something fully upholstered in the room, now everything has exposed frames from all different periods...not good.

Love the Architecture and Palate
A good arrangement, attractive pieces and lovely textiles but....
1.  Use all long hanging curtain panels; the London shades look stupid on one wall only. Pick one style and stick with it - regardless whether they're doors or windows.  Roman blinds on doors aren't easy to use, so all windows should've had full length curtains on poles.
2.  Wheres their "stuff?" No tsotchke's or books makes it feel so sterile.
3.  A tree is needed in the corner too!

A Truly Grand Room!
The perfect table, handsome wainscoting, a glorious wall mural, pretty curtains and great mirror....
1.  I'm loving the antique white finish on the dining chairs paired with the mahogany table,  but that tired-ass 1980's tapestry fabric just totally wrong. A beautiful "antiqued" russet colored leather or small "French" geometric  pattern would've been perfect. 
2.  Lose the tiebacks on the curtains: Never use tiebacks...they're sooo Park Avenue 1976.
FYI: The tapestry fabric competes with the beautiful walls. ONE thing needs the be the focal point.

A Pretty Bedroom
at first glance.... but, its got issues...
1.  Get a larger carpet
2.  Don't install the curtains on the face of the window casing - in a bay window, they should almost always be mounted at the ceiling line.
3.  Don't install curtains that look like they're from Sears Home Catalogue... Swags and jabots are soooo passe'....ugh...
4.  Bed-side wall lamps should usually be installed about 40 - 46" high....not 6' high as shown.
5.  The ceiling should be white. 
6.  The chairs look cheap and uncomfortable, they're in the MBR, they should look comfy.
7.  Another color accent would compliment the room, there's too much blue which makes it boring.
FYI: Wall-to-wall carpeting is often the best in a bedroom, it helps with the acoustics and makes a room feel larger.

Hmm, can't think of something positive here....
The architecture is absurdly amiss and over-reaching. That huge chimney breast with that teeny-weenie firebox looks retarded. The windows, built-ins and doors each have different header and sill heights....then, the four pieces of furniture in that huge-ass room are totally the wrong scale... 
1. Call a Realtor, or a demo team

Great Wallpaper,
but, that's where it ends...
1.  They've done something silly by installing the wainscot to coordinate with the wallpaper pattern - which makes the chair-rail wayyy too high. If the wallpaper went from floor to ceiling without a wainscot it would be perfect. 
2.  The crappy wainscoting has been painted three different colors which highlights its poor quality and attracts attention to it instead of  the good quality wallpaper. Rooms this size shouldn't have wainscoting at all as it makes a room look small.
3.  The mirror over the buffet should be vertical, never horizontal!
4.  The low-quality dining chairs shouldn't be upholstered in two different fabrics, it creates visual clutter. The room would be very pretty if the chairs were painted antique white and upholstered in the green geometric pattern only.

Great Beach House Living Room!
This house has a personal feel - like a real home. Touches of yellow are helpful and happy.
1.  Lose the National Geographic magazines stacked up for their yellow color is just too cutesy - regular books would be better. Too many color-coordinated accent pieces are never good.  
2. Don't fill bookshelves with plates and iscellaneous junk just because you don't have books. Go to the Salvation Army or thrift store and buy a hundred books at 50-cents each and fill the shelves, leaving room for the occasional plate or tsotchke. 
FYI: In a beach house such as this, old books are read by guests who forgot their book or finished the one they brought. With 50-cent ones around they can take the old Ann Rice, James Patterson or Dan Brown novel home and it's OK!  

Nice, Light-filled Room!
But sooo  many decorating mistakes...You cant even get a painting above that mantle its so huge!
1.  Minimize the size of that fireplace by:
a.  Paint it in the same sand color as the walls.
b.  Remove the wooden mantel and surround the nice stone with a wood "bollection" moulding.  
2.  Get a larger rug so that no wood is inside the furniture arrangement.
3.  All the curtains should match in this room - why do they change for that one window by the fireplace???
4.  Get a more substantial cocktail table; everything in the room is masculine and well-scaled, the current cocktail table looks flimsy.
FYI: Check out the 9.18.11 Master Class on Fireplaces.

A Large Formal Foyer...
with issues...
1.  Remove all the existing woodwork; door casings, baseboards and crown mouldings - they're all wayyy under scaled for the size of this room. Add larger, better quality mouldings and this room will instantly become much more elegant.
2.  Get a larger table, that ones way too puny.
3.  Put a carpet runner on the steps.(See February 2, 2011 Master Class on carpet runners)
4.  Don't have a lantern without glass, it looks low-budge.
5.  Put a piece of furniture (chest) under the steps, it looks "empty."
6.  Lose that stupid column on the landing....

Hello, 1985 calling....
What a design cluster-f**k
1.  Never use a self-rimming sink with a stone top. Use an "under-mount" sink.
2.  Never use a "colored, decorative" sink, they look dated almost immediately.
3.  Paint over that hideous wall finish ASAP
4.  Don't use a cheap mirror in a powder room, your guests are too close to it and its poor quality will be revealed. 
5.  Those sconces are heinous....
FYI: A powder room should always have the best fixtures and decorations you can afford. Reasons are: Guests are alone in there for a few minutes - so they'll have time to check things out and any low-budge stuff it will be realized, and guests are physically much closer to the decorations in a powder room.

Nice Stone
but it's trying to be too decorative...
1.  Be careful using a vividly patterned stone, it can get "busy looking." 
2.  Never use 12" x 12" stone tiles.....they look very "off-the-shelf" from Home Depot, regardless of what you paid.
3.  Don't use all the "accessory pieces" in a tile series, it's just too matchy-poo.
4.  Keep the inside of a shower simple.
5.  Don't put huge-ass silk arrangements in a bath they look totally ridiculous.

Beautiful Bathroom, Great Finishes
but somethings awry....
1.  Get rid of the grids on the shower glass!  There are many nice patterns and finishes in this room, but the shower doors just put it over the edge into the
clutter zone. If the doors were plain, clear glass the room would look much bigger as the interior of the shower would become visually a part of the room.

Really? You're Gonna Sit There With Bubba and Do What?
1. Get rid of that stupid "double" chaise,  it's like a piano in the bedroom.
2. Get a comfy chair with an ottoman, they're easier to get in and out of.

Where's The Elephants?
Strike a match and run, tacky synthetic fabrics are flammable...

Pretty Colors & Nice Pieces,
but too much going on...
1.  Paint the walls solid, flat, smokey blue instead of whatever that is on the walls - the wall pattern clashes with the's an unnecessary layer of decoration.
2.  Lose that stupid capiz-shell light fixture; no light fixture should drop from the ceiling in a living room, ever, unless you have a very high ceiling.
3.  The mantle is huge, but it works because its such a good decorative one.
4.  Get other chairs for beside the fireplace, those are too decorator'y looking; very feminine and look especially stupid with those throw pillows on them - where ya supposed to sit? 
5.  Replace those "granny-grits" sheers at the windows with Plantation shutters or grass blinds (behind the curtains) if you have a privacy issue. If you don't have a privacy issue have the glass fully exposed.
6.  Lose the tiebacks on the curtain panels.
FYI:  Don't use pillows as "stage sets" it's just bad....the chair should look inviting to someone to sit in, not look like a store display.

Nice Decorator Pieces,
but too freekin' many of them.....
1.  Short of a total redecoration (which I think is whats needed), I'd say edit out about one-third of the stuff in there. The apartment is too small to be so overstuffed with all that "old world" decorator crap. 
2.  Lose that stupid bookshelf floating in the middle of the you r-e-a-l-l-y think that looks like you have a seperate dining room now? uhhh NO...
3.  Introduce one or two contemporary pieces to the room, this looks like an old lady's apartment that was done in 1990.
4.  Lose that tacky curtain valance. Hard, upholstered valances are out and make the ceilings look lower.

Nice Cocktail Table, Pretty Palate, 
does someone really live here....or is it for show?
1.  Lose the dining chairs with the decorative pillows, it looks dumb and they're way too large to be paired with that petite settee.
2.  Put a square-ish loveseat where the settee is and put a pair of round-ish chairs flanking it.
3.  Place the existing settee facing the loveseat, floating in the room (back to the camera) this will create a cozy seating area which is still chic and contemporary looking.  The settee also adds some "patina" which makes the room less "retail" looking.

Stunning Fireplace and Wall Finish
but IDK what's going on here .....
1.  Lose the two downmarket rattan chairs;  rattan rarely looks good with metal fittings...
2.  Send the five pillows back to whatever online source you found them....tassel fringe went out with the Oldsmobile.
3.  If this is a foyer, a pair of beautiful old consoles would be perfect on both sides of the fireplace. Or, a pair of trees, either topiaried Bay's or Fiddle-leaf figs. 

Nice, Soft Colors With Fresh Accent Colors!
1.  Never end a paint finish or wallcovering on an outside corner.  The proper way is to run whatever the finish is through out the area until its actually divided by a doorway, moulding, or another transition. If you cant afford that much paper, just paint.
2.  Never end a wainscot by just dead ending it into a corner as is done here (right side of photo) it should run circumferentially around the room and die into another moulding or door casing. 

LOVE That Patterned Cotton Fabric!
was there a piece left over???
1.  Never use a bold or patterned fabric on something large in the room, then on one small item, it will always look like a scrap was used. If that lampshade was a simple white paper or burlap linen it would be perfect.

Nice Collection!
but too much of it in one room....
1.  Layering accessories is always good, but here it's creating a claustrophobic feeling.
2.  Clear off the bedside tables for the guests to put their own things down.
3.  Take two of the pillows off the bed. Getting into bed shouldn't be like undressing an elderly person before bed...

Cool Bed, Nice Mirrors and Lamps,
1.  Lose the skinny legged glass topped tables. They're the wrong visual "weight" for the room, they should be solid.  These look as if they ran out of money and went to Pier 1.
2.  Don't have the casters on the bed exposed, especially if they're white...
3.  Lose some pillows....again.

Handsome Colors and an Architecturally Interesting Space
but, what hotel is this???
1.  Really, four seating areas??? That's just not good, it's too commercial looking for a home. Not cozy at all.
2.  Have some seating areas against the side walls and some perpendicular to the entrance.
3.  Don't create an "aisle" through the room. Move the people around, through the room.

1.  Gut this room, send it all back to that Vintage (second hand) store that ripped you off and demand your money back.
2.  Never disregard the architecture when designing a room.
3.  Never have a tufted upholstered wall unless your lithium isn't working.
4.  Never do anything like that with curtains, ever...

Great George Nelson Wall Lights!
1. Use other lights, these totally don't go with the feeling of this moderne preppy space. And they stick out way past the bedside tables, so you'll walk into'ink.
2.  Never make a bed up like that with the white bedspread tucked under the pillows unless your at the beach or grandma's house...

Beautiful Beds,
they're just in the wrong room....
1.  Never put beds in front of windows like that, looks stupid. 
2.  If the room is small don't use beds with foot-boards and side rails it takes up too much room.
3.  Here, upholstered boxsprings would be nice as they're clean-lined and subtle.

Pretty Country Style Room 
but sloppy looking
1.  No sofa needs more than two throw pillows!
2.  I'd give a tutorial on fluffing down seat cushions as these people clearly don't know...

someone thinks this looks good?
1.  Never have pieces on the diagonal, or catty-cornered, it wastes space and doesn't add interest.
2.  Paint this ceiling white!! Pink ceilings don't work unless it's a light blush or pale-pale pink and that's only for a young girls bedroom or ladies bathroom

Nice Restful Room & Color Scheme, 
but there's danger lurking...
1.  Get bigger bedside tables. Those are pretty but the wrong scale.
2.  Don't have a chair in a room if you cant move around in the room.
FYI:  A bedside table top should be above the top of the mattress by several inches.  The reason is - if your pillow pushes over in the night or your comforter flops over it wont knock everything off the table.  The room also just looks better when the tables are higher. I like them usually 30" and up, depending on the scale and height of the bed.

How Luxurious to Have a Fireplace in the Bathroom,
what a lucky kid!
1.  Don't have upholstery monogrammed (anywhere) unless it's in a child's room, or it will look like....yes, a childs room.

Hmmmm....Sofa Bed?  or Sears 70's Colonial Headboard?
1.  What's the phone number for Goodwill?
2.  Don't buy or design a bed that looks like a sofa, it's really, really stupid.

You can do it, I'm here to help!
p: 202.669.8669
Twitter: JPDMasterClass
Master Class of September 19th on Fireplaces)


Poly Van said...

Hello! You are so great! I'm from Buenos Aires so please understand that my english is not so good.

I am a crazy woman for decor and architecture and I found your blog looking for "Black Front Doors" and I couldn't stop reading your comments.I totally agree! Your last post is so funny and SO true.

I'm happy to have found you and I will continue reading.

marilyn said...

Joe, you really, really made me laugh outloud while reading are great!!

Lighting Deals said...

Lights in all room are perfect. Everything looks so bright, fresh, clean and cool in our eyes. Thanks for sharing.


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