Do I Have a Secret About Decorating?

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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. 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.