Why Decorating Mistakes Can Be a Good Thing

If you fear making a mistake when decorating, these “fear-no-more” decorating tips will help you overcome your fears and have you enjoying the process of creating a home you love.

Last week I received an email from a reader who wanted to know my secret.

I didn’t understand the question… “My secret?… What was she talking about?”

As I read the email further, I smiled when I understood what she was asking.

She wanted to know the secret of my fearlessness (her words) when I decorate and create projects around my house. Her note went on to say she has Pinterest boards filled with decorating ideas she wants to do, but can’t get past the fear of the project not turning out as the images and photos she has saved and clipped show.

I wrote back to her saying – that I really don’t have a secret, but learned early on that if I wanted something bad enough and didn’t have the means to buy it or hire someone to do it, I had to learn to do things myself to get my house to look and function the way I wanted.

I went on to add that I also learned that I can’t be afraid of failure. Being afraid only held me back and kept me at “status quo”. Just wishing and dreaming instead of actually creating a home I love.

Her email gave me the idea for this post about how to not let fear stop you from decorating your home the way you envision or even for anything you do in life.

If you truly want to create a home you love, you have to overcome your decorating fears. Know in advance that you will make mistakes—they are a part of the design process. You will choose the wrong color, you will buy a vase and not like how it looks on your table or have spray paint wrinkle on your project. But it’s OK. We can learn from mistakes and get better with each DIY mistake or failure.

Embracing Failures Builds Confidence

I have been DIY decorating for a long time and have had many failures, especially when first starting out decorating the first home Ed and I bought.

Like when I painted a walnut stained built-in bookcase that was along one full wall in our living room, white, only to find it turned pink a week later. This is when I learned about why stain blocking primers were invented.

Or painting over a door with latex paint that was previously painted with oil-based paint. When it was dry, a big bubble appeared and the paint on the door came off in one big rubber-like sheet. :-) This is how I learned to stop and think before painting any surface as there is a specific process to follow for every surface.

Or painting the walls in our master bath a dark moody color. Yuck! Both Ed and I disliked it.

But instead of looking at the painting project as a total waste of time, money and energy – we came out on the other side knowing going forward that we prefer white or neutral color walls. This fail helped us define our decorating style.

affordable stone countertops

Even years later, after learning many DIY skills – how to paint, sew and use power tools, I still made mistakes. Like when I added a piece of wide bead board where a narrow piece should have gone when making over the kitchen cabinets in my previous house.

Oops!!! Too late to change. I joked that I left my signature just like an artist signs a painting. :-)

Even with the mistake, it didn’t stop me from doing more wood projects around my house. Going forward, I went about them with new knowledge on how to better organize my supplies as I work.

DIY Retractable Door Screen

Or more recently when Ed and I bought a wooden screen door for this door in our garage. We were very excited to be able to keep this door open in the warmer months. We brought the new door home from Lowes in Ed’s car with the top down for a 25 mile trip on the interstate.

Once home, I removed the screening so I could paint the door white, re-screened it and installed it, only to realize that on the first trial of opening the door on newly installed hinges, it only swung open about 18 inches as the top of the door hit the metal frame that opens and lifts the adjacent garage door.

We could only laugh at ourselves for not seeing this outcome before we even started the project.

But sometimes decorating and home improvement fails can come out as wins and that was the case for this door. We ended up adding a much better designed retractable door. The painted screen door went to a good cause – the construction of a home for a family in need.


When I didn’t know how to do a home improvement project or add trim to a bedskirt, I read everything I could get my hands on at libraries, in decorating books and magazines about ways to go about doing a project and then decide what would work best for my circumstances, space and style.

I still do this, but nowadays doing research for a project is a lot easier with a Google search.

Take Your Time

One of the biggest and scariest DIY home improvement projects I have ever done was to paint my kitchen counters to look like Carrara marble. I did my research, knew I had nothing to lose as I didn’t like the counters as they were, so I just did it. I proceeded slowly, making sure to follow the steps that the paint manufacturer recommended to ensure a long lasting finish.

Breaking the project into sections allowed us to still use the kitchen as the counter transformation occurred, but it did take more time to get the entire project done.

This scary project was an amazing success! What would I have done, if the counters didn’t turn out the way I envisioned? I would have stripped and sanded and tried again, but as I did I would have the knowledge of knowing what not to do.

Trust the Trial & Error Process

DIY’ing beyond fear. Yes, that’s the thing about DIY decorating. It requires risks and comfort with not knowing exactly how a project will turn out.

But beyond fear are wins… BIG ones that are worth it like my kitchen counter.

People say they don’t know how to put things together in a room, or how to sew a slipcover, paint furniture or whatever they are thinking of doing in their home to make it better for the way they want to live.

But just like becoming good at doing anything, it takes practice – experimenting and when decorating, literally playing around with your stuff until you like what you see is how you reap the rewards.

If one technique or idea doesn’t work, keep trying out different techniques. For instance furniture arranging in a room that doesn’t feel just right.

Buy some furniture sliding discs for your type of flooring so you can easily move furniture around a room until you like what you see. If you don’t like what you did, just move it back and try again later with another idea.

The more you experiment, the more you learn and the better you will become at it.

When building your decorating project confidence, start by experimenting with a new to you skill on a piece of scrap wood or an item you don’t care about. Then move onto a small project like making over a small powder room. Starting small will give you skills and boost your confidence.

Doing exactly this without knowing how a project would turn out, I have had some fabulous decorating project wins.

Make over a brass chandelier

One of my favorite DIY’s ever was on a smaller item that I had nothing to lose if it didn’t turn out right. It was painting a builder-boring chandelier in my dining room.

It was an experiment using craft store paint and crystal beads to try to make it look like an old and crusty vintage chandelier. It came out better than I ever could have imagined. I was sad when we moved to SC that I had to leave it with the house.

Never Doubt an Idea You Have

The best way to overcome fear or self-doubt in your skillset when it comes to decorating your home is by silencing it with action.

Go ahead and try your ideas out. Move that furniture around the room, wallpaper a wall or cover a chair with a simple fabric cover. There is a chance it may not come out as expected or it could turn out even better.

How-to-stain-furniture using solid color Polyshades black stain

Using Black Stain The Way One Uses Paint

This is what happened when I made over a few tables for a decorating client. She wanted black tables for her dining and living room and was going to buy them. I told her she could save a lot if we painted her existing tables. If she didn’t like the way they turned out she would only be out about $20 for the can of paint.

Latex paint at the time could leave the surface of painted furniture a bit rubbery. I didn’t want that, but the pieces were already stained and polyed and I wasn’t sure I wanted the pieces to look painted, just wanted them black.

With some research, I found a new product at the time that was a black stain and poly in one formula. I wondered if I could use it instead of paint right over the existing finish. It wasn’t designed for this, but I had nothing to lose, so I tried it and the tables came out amazing.

The more challenges you face when decorating – usually time, money and skills, the more you’ll have to employ creative thinking to work your way around them, and the more creative you’ll get – which is a good thing when decorating a home to suit your personal style.

There is Always a Way to Fix a Mistake or Fail

Even with DIY knowledge in hand and learning the traditional way of doing a home improvement or decorating project, doesn’t mean that it has to be done only one way. With confidence, I began to do projects using my own technique or hack to make the project easier or less expensive.

For instance, by thinking out of the box, instead of having to build a door frame and jam for the pantry makeover in my previous house, I used a few squirts of hot glue as a fix in the existing door knob mechanism. So simple and worked perfectly, but not done the traditional way.

My way of looking at a project gone awry even got a name from a contractor I worked with.

When a custom cut piece of granite didn’t quite fit the row of base cabinets in a kitchen remodel I was helping design, the contractor thought he would have to take it back, re-measure and get a new slab of granite cut.

He was upset and the homeowner was upset so I began to look at the problem and came up with a fast fix that no one would even notice. Both he and the homeowner were onboard with the idea and it worked. Years later, I ran into him and he told me he does my fix when a slab of counter doesn’t quite fit. He even told fellow contractors about it and they call the fix… “the Henkler”. :-)

So moral of that story is don’t fear doing things in your own way to achieve your decorating goals.

Keep At It

Keep trying and try again. Never trying means never learning and never improving, and that damages your decorating dreams considerably.

Even if you do fail, you’ll know more than you did when you started – and you can create something new or even better with that knowledge.

Instead of your fear of failing when doing a decorating project, change your thinking.

Your new fear should be… the fear of not trying.

Decorating tips - The secret is out! Find out why decorating mistakes are a good thing.

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  1. Diane – I know this post is from 2 years ago, but will you share your solution to the ill-fitting granite? I’m dying to know. Glad you have recovered from this season

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Laura – The granite not fitting the countertop solution was so simple. I told them to cut a strip of granite just wide enough to cover the gap and make it 1″- 2″ tall x the length of the counter. Place the strip the length of the countertop so it looks like the granite goes up the wall. Many laminate fabricated countertops already have this but usually are taller. the fix was nothing ground breaking, but to the countertop installers, they loved the idea and did it. It looked normal and the homeowner was happy.

  2. Terry Marks says:

    Diane – AI will never replace you. You are amazing!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Terry – Thank you for taking the time to tell me that AI will never replace me. :-) It means a lot to me and also that you enjoy my blog. Reading that is the best thing a blogger can hear. XO

  3. LOVED the table and the various uses of tops that can be used. I think we should always be looking at what we have the different uses for each item’ Hope that Zoe is well and continue to pray for her. She may one day want to be your assistant!!!

  4. I LOVE this post! I think in today’s world of blogs & Pinterest where everything looks so perfect, it gives the impression that everything is easy. In fact in many dot it yourself cases what you see takes, practice, patience, and a sense of humor!
    Thanks for sharing:)
    P.S. I love the chandelier!!

  5. This came at the most appropriate time! We DIY’ed popcorn ceiling removal and learned a LOT in the process – specifically that it’s ok to call a contractor when you can’t get the bare ceiling as perfect as you’d like and need someone to come add some normal texture back in! Thank you for always being an inspriation and the voice of reason!

  6. Praying for your good health and well being.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thank you for your get well wishes Robin. I am feeling much better. :-) Eager to get back to my normal.

  7. Sorry you’re having such a tough time lately. You’ve had your three, so it’s only going to get better from here on! Thoroughly enjoyed your post today, as always.

  8. Valarie Sanford says:

    Wonderful post Diane…and I get the shingles thing having just gone thru them myself. I think one of the most satisfying feelings is when someone says “you did that yourself?” Then you get to build a relationship teaching them how to do it in their home. I’ve taught friends how to put up crown molding, trim out doors and windows and strip and stain. Thank you for all the years you’ve taught me not to be afraid! Blessings!

  9. So very sorry to hear about your 3 issues. FYI. I have been taking Tumeric and it has definitely made a difference. I bought the one with black pepper, I heard it helps more. The brand I bought is Garden of Life

    Well, I too, put the breaks on because of fear. Unfortunately, my husband is not understanding about my mistakes.

    1. I also take Turmeric and it has changed my life. Although my sister gets an upset tummy, most people I know find it works wonders!

  10. Karen Simon Peterson says:

    Diane, I’m so sorry to hear about your physical trials. I hope you’re on the mend soon. I’ve had shingles three times and know how painful it is. My best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  11. I don’t know how many years I’ve been following you now, but it’s been a lot! And I have learned so much from you about faux finishes, grouping decor items with balance and interest, white and lots of color are both just fine, and together they’re even better. SO many things! Thank you for this reminder to keep learning, whether in preparation for a project or from mistakes, as well as to trust our gut and go for it. Also the fact that almost everything in decor is fixable is a stress-saver! Thank you for all that you do for the decorating world, and all of us who follow it!

  12. I feel for you, Diane. There have been times when I think things couldn’t get worse, but then they did. I’ve learned not to ask myself “what next?” because I don’t want to find out! Sounds like you have been going through one of those times. Hope you are on the mend and feeling much better. Thanks for another inspirational post – I’m always afraid to take on some home project that seems challenging. My mom used to paint or wallpaper or move the furniture around whenever it struck her fancy, but I’ve been too cautious. Take care and know we all wish you well!

  13. Fritzy Dean says:

    Diane, thank you for pushing through your obstacles and posting about your mistakes. But I want to say how sorry I am that you hasShingles twice! I hadShiglesbefore there was a vaccine and had three relapses! My heart goes out to you. No one can understand unless they have experienced the awful pain….unlike any other.
    I hope you continue to heal . Thank you for brightening our lives.

  14. Oh goodness, you are dealing with some painful health issues and I send you loads of sympathy and good energy for healing! It’s brave of you to trust your readers with a look into your private life; and, as you see in the comments, you are well-loved and appreciated. So many people worrying for you and wanting you to get better:-) We can always reread previous posts, as you take time to heal.
    It sounds like you are handling all with a level-head, just want to echo what others have said about really putting yourself first and prioritizing your healing. When you tell us how you’re making sure your physical health is top priority you model that difficult wisdom: putting ourselves first makes it possible for us to care for the people we love and to do the work we must do. Take care of yourself!

  15. Diane, sorry to hear about your troubles. I cut the tip of my index finger off on Easter morning about 15 years ago. It healed but it still feels slightly weird. Got the shingles vaccine cause I’ve heard terrible things about shingles so I’d like to avoid that as much as possible. Love your attitude about design on so many levels. I have to mull it over way too long for the most part, but if it’s a relatively inexpensive change, I agree just go for it. WHen it involves a $$$ I am way more hesitant. Just bought new barstools and it took me over 9 months to decide. Good news, I found them in a set of 3 (versus 2) cheaper because I waited. Doesn’t always work that way though. Hope you’re feeling better very soon.

  16. I just sent a comment & then read comments from others. I didn’t know about the problems you have had. I read today’s post but must have overlooked that. Please don’t bother to answer my paint question in my previous post. Take good care of yourself.

  17. I have always known how amazing you are at DIY. You are so talented & I really enjoyed this post. I have a paint question. I want to paint the door in my laundry room that goes to the garage. It has a little shine to it but I don’t know what the finish is but I am sure it is latex. Do you know if it would peel if I painted a different finish such as satin over semi-gloss? I have put off painting this because of wondering if it would peel if I used the wrong finish. Thank you.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Linda –

      Sorry for the delay in the response to your question.

      As long as the paint on the door is not an oil-based paint, you can paint any finish of latex paint over it. I would go over the surface with 100 grit sandpaper to rough up the surface first. Clean it off and then apply a light coat of primer over it, let dry then a coat of paint. If you are buying the paint, look for a paint + primer in one formula that will save you a step.

      To test what type of paint is on the door now. Take a cotton ball dipped in denatured alcohol and rub it firmly over the surface. If the paint comes off, it is latex. If nothing happens it is an oil and you will need to sand and apply a bonding primer first like Glidden Gripper sold at Home Depot.

  18. Diane, I am so sorry to hear about all of the health issues you have been dealing with! But through it all you still manage to write such an inspirational post!! Thank you for encouraging us to “give it a try” and see what we can accomplish. Love how contagious your creativity is. Take care and feel better soon! ?

  19. Omg…..you have been through the health wars, haven’t you? Hope you continue to feel better each day…you are a real trooper!

    Thanks for the persistence guide…because that is your greatest gift….and an imagination, and a sense of humor! Any chance, you would explain exactly what The Heckler is? Take care…really, stay safe! ;)

  20. Oh, Diane, so sorry to hear about your 3 health scares. You handle everything like a trooper and put this fantastic DIY guide together as well! Goodness, give yourself a break, my friend.? I bet Ed would love to make dinner for you for a while,lol. I truly enjoy your writing style with your real life sharing. You’re the best. Rest up!

  21. Cheryl Atkinson says:

    I am so sorry about everything you are going thru. I am going to need a hip replacement and a knee replacement. I have had shingles twice e in one year due to stress. I’m 56 years old, but I have never cut the tip of my finger off. You poor thing. I.probably would have passed out. Hope you feel better soon.

  22. Diane bless your heart girl! I’m so sorry you’ve been going through so much adversity lately! But…..in light of all of that you persevered and still came up with an awesome blog topic to share! I’m pretty sure that your “inspirational reader” isn’t the only one to benefit from this topic. I know I allow some of these same thoughts and fears to rule over me,but I also face the challenge of no garage, no basement….ergo virtually no work space…..which means I find other ways to be creative. But I will still find ways to change certain things when I can! Even so, this has been an encouragement to me to persevere in spite of my lack of work space obstacle! Thank you, Diane. And Please feel better soon!

  23. Its been so good to read this, over my years I have always had ago at anything and you have hit the nail on the head with this great post, I really hope someone feels better about any or all ‘mistakes’ made.
    I hope your feeling much better by now, what an awful time for you. Take care and stay safe.xx

  24. Nancy Bowen says:

    that is excellent advice.
    Never be afraid to improve your home.
    I have owned 5 homes since 1970, buying wall paper for .50 cents a roll
    & curtain valances for .50 cents a piece. it was all fun & I learned a lot.

    just keep on trying & improving & Never stop learning.

  25. Lynn Woodall says:

    Thinking about you and all the nasty things that have happened. to you recently Please take care of yourself. Sending hugs and blessings.

  26. So sorry you are going thru these health challenges! Sounds like you’re on the back side of it. Just keep getting better!

  27. Carpainter says:

    Oh, Diane, I cut the end of my little finger off, through the fingernail, one night preparing dinner. Home alone, I walked a block to the fire station and gave the firemen, who all gathered around, a good laugh because it was obvious to them but not me, that it needed more than an EMT. They offered to drive me to the ER but I told them I could do it and kept my hand above my head the whole way, per their instructions.
    They put in a few stitches to hold it on, bandaged it and sent me home and, yes, mine got infected, too.
    BUT, what I want to tell you is that you will probably have no feeling in that fingertip, which will feel numb for a year or so and, one day you will wake up and find that it is completely normal again. I don’t even have a scar and it was hanging by a thread. How wonderfully we are made. Sorry you are having the other problems, too. And you turn around and write a great article in the midst of it all. What a delight you are. But, Diane, please give yourself a little down time to take care of Diane, for a change, to breathe deeply and turn on your body’s healing powers and to appreciate how unique you are.?

  28. OMG!!!!!!! Glad you’re on the mend. Take care of yourself. You’re number one priority. And, if you can’t post something for a while, don’t worry. We’ll still be here.

  29. Oh, Diane – you are full of such wisdom here. Thank you for embracing “failure” as a way to learn about technique, about color, and most of all, about ourselves! You are so right. Failure is a chance to learn. Preach it, sister!

  30. Thank you for the great post! I am sometimes get discouraged after a few failed attempts! Wishing you a speedy recovery, you have had a bumpy road !

  31. Blessings Diane. You have had a big share of pain and you still have energy to put out a great blog piece. My sisters and I internet met on Sunday and had this fear conversation about decorating mistakes. Thanks so much! PS…I share your Shingles pain it can be debilitating. Best Wishes.

  32. Love this! I have had fear too. This is so reassuring! Thanks for your honesty!

  33. I think your continued experience gives you the confidence to try new things and to problem solve ‘outside the box”. Then the successes keep coming because you know (as in the right product for painting the furniture) to keep looking for a solution. You DO need to use this for a TED talk. You are amazing and continue to be a great source of inspiration to me. BTW, the trim on my sisal rugs is no longer dirty, they look new in black! Thank you!

  34. Cecilia from Georgia says:

    Bless your pea pickin’ heart! I am amazed at how you wrote this wonderful post with only 9 working fingers! I retired 2 years ago and planned to repurpose everything I could get my hands on! The biggest mistake I made was buying without a plan. Well I packed my garage with future projects and after I finished several pieces, I put them in a small thrift/vintage shop. I sold a 1930’s China cabinet immediately and then nothing big for a few months. I was in a panic because my garage was still full of stuff. I was so overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. I started reading several blogs from DIYers and that gave me the inspiration to forge ahead. It is friends like you that inspire and encourage me and I am so grateful for you. Please take care of yourself and slow down!

  35. Diane,
    You are so “right on” with this DIY decorating advice. Thank you for sharing your learning experiences. Love your style of writing.
    So sorry to hear of your 3 back to back misfortunes. Hope you heal quickly and completely.

  36. Loved reading this blog. Great content and very inspirational! Hope all your boo boos get better soon.

  37. Barbara B. Pilcher says:

    Wow! This should be a TED Talk, Diane! You have wonderfully summed up a success formula for all DIYers. I find that you have to strike a balance between being so brave that you jump into projects you don’t have the patience, experience, attitude, or tools to finish, and on the other hand, being afraid to start projects. The key is doing the research, as you point out. There are plenty of tutorials out there that are misleading or incomplete. The best ones come from experienced decorators and crafters like yourself, who can also write clearly and take photos that are helpful. Thank you for teaching us bravery.

    The Henkler…that’s a riot!

  38. Diane,

    They do say things happen in threes. Hopefully soon you will be all better. I also got a chef’s knife for Christmas that sharpens itself every time you take it out of the holder. I will have to be super careful.

    You have been blessed with a beautiful talent – don’t we all have to make a mistake before you actually perfect.

    God Bless the both of you.

  39. Oh Lordy Diane….I certainly hope you’re on the mend!?. Good thoughts are coming tour way ?
    I love your attitude and thank you for sharing all the stories and inspiration!!!

  40. Feel better. Infections and inflammations are nothing to fool with.

  41. Dianne Whitehead says:

    How comforting it was to discover that even an expert DIY’er like you makes mistakes! Thank you for your fearless sharing.

    Different topic: I have a question that a lot of other readers may share. With the advent of huge TV’s, much of the living room and bedroom walls are covered by ithem. Still, especially with high ceilings, the total blank above them looks, well . . . blank and unfinished. So far, the only idea I have to decorate the spaces are giant paintings, which are out of my price range. Do you have any ideas?

  42. Deb Wostmann says:

    Oh my goodness, you’ve had a rough time of late. Praying for a speedy recovery for you. Darn those sharp knives. We’ll always be here no matter the timing of your posts. Sometimes life has a way of telling you to slow down…..

    Take good care of yourself.

  43. I’m so sorry to hear about your finger and shingles! I sure hope you are feeling better soon. Your article applies to everything in life. We have to let go of fear and just try our best. Making mistakes is part of the process. Thanks for really taking the time in your blog to explain this in such detail.

  44. Bettsi Ledesma says:

    Great post, Diane. Such good advice. I’ve always been pretty fearless, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more hesitant and worried about “failure”. The jumping in and bashing around is definitely how you learn. I think I’ll take that advice! (Hope you feel better soon!)

  45. Lisa Farr says:

    I had a similar problem putting a screen door in my garage. I found a Larson retractable door at Lowes. The screen retracts into a compartment on the side of the door, and opens to attach to the other side magneticly. Its fabulous and take up almost no room. We have had it for about ten years and it still operates perfectly, and I have three dogs! If you are still looking for a solution, it might work for you too.

    1. Cecilia from Georgia says:

      Lisa, thanks for sharing about your retractable door. You have helped ma solve a problem!

  46. Carla from Kansas says:

    Diane – l am truly sorry about your finger cut AND your shingles pain, plus your hip pain. Getting older is not for wimps. I was thinking the other day that when I was younger I was pretty fearless about almost everything. But as I’ve gotten older not so much and I don’t like that a bit! I need to just go for it again. Hope you feel better ALL OVER soon.

  47. Sending prayers your way, Diane, for a triple recovery of all your challenges. Take care and relax so you will be up and running when spring hits, hopefully, in a few weeks. Blessings from the frozen tundra that is Texas!

  48. Marlene Fast says:

    Totally understandable for not posting a lot – I hope your “things come in 3’s” is done now. :)

    I just wanted to say that this is probably my favourite post of yours! I love how you approached these DIY’s and what you learned from them!

    Stay well.

  49. Gay Bofill says:

    Hello Diane! I just had to write to tell you how sorry to hear about your multiple tragedies! I used to work at a restaurant when I was younger and cut off the tip of my finger as well. Ouch! Took a long time to heal but it grew back! I love your posts and stories and information about DIY and decor. Hope you feel better soon.

    1. Judy Becker says:

      Dear Diane,

      So sorry to hear about your accident with the knife. I see this as an opportunity. An opportunity for your husband to cook for awhile, and for you to sit back with a good book and read for a while!! :) You could use a little rest and relaxation, right, girl? I love your blog and would certainly forgive you if you took time off to take care of yourself. You deserve it.
      Wishing you a speedy recovery.