Key home decorating rules that one should never break

Olive Muteti, Interior design consultant and contractor of House of Liv Interior Design Studio. [Winnie Makena, Standard]

Kenyan homeowners are notorious for falling for style and decorating trends that are more of misses than hits.

That is how we came into the mixed tile monstrosity and grandmother-approved interior design that a few homeowners are fond of.

While there’s certainly no one size fits all formula, there are still a few basic principles you should master to make every room stunning and modern. Luckily, interior design in this new age feels far more unrestricted, creative, and interesting than ever before.

Interior design consultant and contractor of House of Liv Interior Design Studio Olive Muteti shares a few new interior design “rules” fit for this year and beyond:

Get the lighting right

Contrary to popular belief, all lighting options are not similar. There is lighting for every space, depending on your needs and mood.

For instance, a kitchen needs task lighting placed over work areas while a living room likely needs softly layered lighting to evenly illuminate the space without making it too bright.

As for big statement lightings like a pendant or chandelier, to hang above a dining table, aim for a fitting that is between half and two-thirds of the width of the table.

“Choose perfect lighting,” says Muteti.

“Proper lighting livens up any space and can make or break one’s space. Incorporate multiple lighting points in your space.”

Dress your windows

Your curtains should ‘kiss’ the floor or puddle elegantly. Nothing says tacky than curtains hanging inches above the floor.

Curtains that are too short are like wearing high-water pants. If your walls are especially low, don’t be afraid to go floor to ceiling.

Muteti advises having sufficient gathers on your curtains. “The more the gathers, the more stylish the finish,” says Muteti. 

To achieve this look, the combined width of your curtain panels should be two or three times the width of the window itself.

It is advisable to choose professionals to make your curtains than shop for yourself. Use social media to your advantage, checking pages like @curtainskenya to get style inspiration.

Scale your space

It may seem like it does not matter whether you get a seven-seater couch or just three seats, but you must always pay close attention to the size of furniture pieces in relation to the room.

The rule has always been ‘measure twice, buy once’. Whether you’re measuring a window frame, or finding the size of the living room for a couch, double and triple-check your results to ensure their accuracy before finalising plans or ordering materials.

“Consider day-to-day use of space when space planning. For a great home experience, factor in the flow of movement in the space when figuring out your layouts. Don’t let aesthetics override function,” adds Muteti.

Most importantly, watch for traffic flow. Make sure that your design factors enough space for everyone to move around freely without interruption or annoyance.

Mix don’t match

“Steer clear of matchy-matchy furniture pieces,” warns Muteti.

And not just pieces; always mix materials and add texture; metal mixed with wood, rattan, or natural woven fabrics with lacquered furniture or walls, for example. There are numerous ways to create contrast in a room.

However, it is important to remember that less is usually more. Too much contrast can be overwhelming and make a space feel chaotic.

It is essential to find the right balance to create a pleasing and harmonious space.

Another common mistake is buying all your furniture from one place.

Unless you want the space to feel like a furniture showroom, you should mix your pieces. Get some old, some new, or from different stores.

Rug it right

You want to be able to place furniture on it so that it doesn’t look like it’s floating in space. “Always get the correct size of area rugs,” advises Muteti. “Avoid area rugs that are smaller than the furniture pieces sitting on them.”

The bigger the rug, the more expensive it is. As such, you may be tempted to go for a smaller, more affordable option, even if that means sacrificing design. If that’s the case for you, forgo the carpet altogether.

If you insist on getting a small rug, it should at least be able to sit under the front legs of your furniture pieces.

Create a focal point

In some houses, structural elements such as a fireplace, bay window, or kitchen counter may naturally determine the focal point.

However, most may need to be done artificially. For example, a large couch centred against a wall with evenly spaced chairs positioned opposite the couch can make the purpose of the space clear and set the tone for how the space should be used.

The focal point could also be a statement or hero piece, like a large artwork, a mirror, or an oversized piece of furniture in a bold colour.

This is something to surprise, delight, and make an impact on your room. Make sure to play around with height when hanging artwork.

“Mirrors are a big trend at the moment and are a good way to liven up a space.” mirrors add light and depth to a room, as well as visually expand a space. Afraid of taking risks? Start small with accessories like a large, colourful vase.

Let your heart guide you

Muteti says it is important to ‘own the space’. “Incorporate aspects that are a representation of the occupants of the space. This could be achieved using artwork or personal sentimental pieces wittily incorporated in the decor,” she notes.

You will spend the most time in your house, so do not just buy impressive decor items if they aren’t your personal preference.

You’ve probably heard the saying that you must first know the rules before you can break them. So once you get the rules about scale, that will always apply, reach for what you love.