The Best Decorating Advice I Ever Received

When you are thinking about or in the process of decorating a room or home, this is the best home decorating advice I ever received. It has become second nature to me and about more than simply knowing how to arrange furniture or how to choose a color scheme.

I have been decorating rooms and homes for over 35 years.

I began when I was in junior high and started reading decorating magazines at the local drug store’s magazine rack to find ideas on how to decorate my room that I shared with my 2 sisters.

If I had saved enough money from my weekly allowance, I was thrilled to be able to buy and bring a magazine home to study every page. I yearned to find a way to carve out my little bit of space that I could make my own. I was always on the lookout for ideas.

With 3 of us, our parents gave up the larger master bedroom with a bath for us. They moved down the hall to the smaller bedroom the 3 of us had previously occupied.

pretty white and turquoise dining room with rustic crystal chandelier.

My mom had an eye for decorating and was always changing things to make each space better for how my family lived in the house. There was nothing more exciting when I was a kid than coming home from school in the afternoon to find the living room completely rearranged. :-)

As the saying goes…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I inherited the decorating gene. :-)

I lived in and decorated 5 college dorm rooms, 2 apartments, and 5 houses. While living in my previous home, I also decorated 2 Designer Showhouses in the Philadelphia suburbs where my rooms were chosen to be published in decorating magazines.

I had a DIY Decorating book published back in 1994. I also helped many homeowners make the most of their spaces when I dabbled in residential design and home staging.

Kitchen decorating at the Southern Living Idea House

Along my journey, I picked up decorating advice from designers I worked with, decorating magazine editors, and my mom, who had the best advise of all.

I thought I would share the best of this decorating advice with you.

When It Comes To Decorating…

1. Stay True to What You Like

When decorating your home, don’t forget the word “you” in the equasion. If you love it, even if others don’t understand why you did it, added or removed it or displayed something that made you smile. Display it with confidence. It is “your” house after all.

Just because some arbitrary source says something is a no-no when it comes to decor or they cast certain items as not “designer worthy“. Don’t think you have to follow their dictates to the letter or at all. Decorating advice, even what I am writing in this post. It it just an opinion.

Of course, you can pick up some insights about what does matter – like using the basic elements of design that will make whatever you have in your home look better – line, symmetry, proportion, use of color, etc.

But above all else, your home should make you feel good and help you live better. When you decorate it with things you love, you will get more joy out of it – and your life overall.

2. Don’t Rush It

When decorating any room in your home, don’t feel like you need to get it all done right away. Instead take your time and let your decorating evolve. This way you have the time to get a feel for what the room really needs as well as the look you are trying to achieve.

Take the time to research and find the best options both for your style and budget. You will end up not only saving money, but loving what you have curated to fit your vision and style.

3. Edit, Edit, Edit

Less is always more in most cases.

Cleaning out items you don’t love will allow you to focus on items that do – and displaying them with pride and purpose.

Modern White and light wood toned decorated dining room

Following a trend in decorating will keep your decor looking updated and fresh, but it will also empty out your bank account. Trends are a marketers dream – to get people to buy and provide FOMO – the fear of missing out.

As trendy items become popular, you may think more of it is better. Add it in small ways to stay current, but follow #2 an #3 above.

If after doing these and you still love the trend and want to go big – then go for it as it may be time for a shift in your decorating style.

5. Never Dismiss a Decorating Book

Popular decorating books.

When browsing through decorating books on Amazon or at your local bookstore, never dismiss one because you think you don’t like the designer’s style or the furnishings in the photos.

You have to look past the photos and decorating style. The designer/author most definitely has good tips that can inspire you to create beautiful rooms in your home in your own style.

Reading about the designers style and their thoughts and ideas behind it can open your eyes and in turn change the way you do things…. for the better.

How to style a table tray for fall decorating raffia tassels

6. Appreciate What You Have

Decorating is not always about having more, the best or what is trending.

Decorating is knowing what is right for you and your family alone. Let go of the idea that you always have to have something new. Revisit the items that you love and that say “you”. Find ways to repurpose them or transform them with paint.

Maybe you only have a few of these items, but they are yours and they become you. Build on this concept, it is what personal style in decorating is all about.

7. Rinse… Wash… Repeat

If it looks good and works for you, do it again. It will become your signature style.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

I never would have never learned to do what I do now without just trying my hand at something, be it making my own drapes, faux finishing or making over a piece of furniture.

Failure is not a negative thing – it allows us to learn and become better, so that the next time we try, we are smarter about how we go about the process and have success. We may even come up with a new technique all on our own.

Nothing will teach you how to do something more than getting up and just doing it! Trust me, the more projects and experimenting you do, the better you will get at decorating your home.

So pick up that paint brush and paint that wall whatever color you are feeling. It can always be repainted. If this scares you, paint a chair or a small powder room as you build your confidence.

Interior decor at the Inn at Bald Head Island

9. Up Your Powers of Observation

When you enter a room or look at a photo of a room on a blog, Instagram or in a magazine, without thinking, is a quick visual sweep of the overall colors and furnishings the first thing you do?

Instead of moving to the next room or image, do another scan of the first, but on the second sweep look more closely at the details.

How many framed photos are on the table? How are they spaced? Do the frames coordinate? Do the pillows on the sofa match – are they all the same or does one have texture?

The next time you look at a room or photo, up your powers of observation. Take note of what, exactly is making you like what you see.

Is it a bunch of pink peonies on the white kitchen counter, a rustic wood cutting board leaning against the backsplash, rose colored plates stacked on open shelves, and the pink striped kitchen towel draped over the sink?

These are nonpermanent touches, put there by a stylist right before the photo was taken. Try to distinguish between what actually “lives” in the space (like furniture, curtain fabrics, and paint) and whats just there to style the photo.

If it turns out you what you like is the nonpermanent styling, consider taking the same approach to styling your own home – and think twice before painting that pink accent wall or buying pink chairs.

10. Decorating Isn’t Just About the Furnishings

When decorating a home. It is wonderful to have beautiful rooms, but the life you live in it them counts a whole lot more.

Above all else. Your home should reflect your lifestyle, make you feel good and help you live better. When you fill your home with things you love, you will get more joy out of it – and your life overall.

What is the best decorating advice that you received and has become second nature to you?

Kitchen in Bald Head Island Showhouse. Text overlay says how to become a better decorator.

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  1. Debra Matcovich says:

    I love your advice especially with decor that you like, even if it’s not on trend. I read two different articles that contradicted themselves on which was in and not. So yes, the bottom line is love what you have even if it’s the orange and brown shag carpeting from the seventies that everyone says your in the wrong decade. No, I’m not the shag lover.
    Thank you

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Debra – I have read quite a few decor trend contradictions especially lately. Going with what you like it the only way to go. :-)

    2. Good advice never gets old.

  2. M4ADesigns/ Architect in Jaipur says:

    Hi Lauri,
    These designs are good. Seeing them, my heart is filled with happiness. thanks for sharing This Blog is very informative for all. Thank you for sharing all your great articles and photos. great job.

  3. I just wanted to tell you Diane Thank you for all your great Tips and Photos . Your blog is clear and easy to follow. Thank you , Lauri.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Lauri – Thanks :-) And also for taking the time to tell me. XO

  4. Taffy White-Pritulsky says:

    Thank-you Diane for the great advice! After many Navy moves and base housing, I think I found my stride….hardest part is parting with pieces that were my Parent’s or have a memory of them, I am a work in process with my home! I found a thrift shop that supports animals and this has made the difference to donate these items! really enjoy your blog!

  5. Terri/Houston Lady says:

    Thanks Diane! Great advice ?

  6. Shannon Combs says:

    I like your advice to use what you like. My husband and I were into Craftsman waaaaay before it made it’s big comeback. When we built our house all we could find was plans for big farmhouses. This was before the internet was big enough to search house styles/plans on. So we went around our city (Tulsa, OK) and took pictures of every Craftsman bungalow we could find and took it to our architect. He helped us get the look we wanted by adapting a farmhouse floorplan we liked to have a Craftsman facade. Now everyone is into the modern farmhouse with the white and black stuff. Not us, we still have our warm woods, our muted greens, reds and golds. Everyone who comes to our house loves it and wants to know how old the house is. When we tell them it was built in 1996 they can’t believe it. They all think it was a turn of the century Craftsman. Even if your house style is not the “it” style of the moment, it can still be lovely.

  7. This is terrific advice, Diane. I love your examples and suggestions. Your blog is one of my favorites! I’m going to try painting the trim on my 3 of my rugs per your instructions today. Hope they turn out as well as yours!

  8. Catpainter says:

    Solid advice, Diane. I’ve been moving things around during Shelter in Place to show things off in a new light. If I don’t, I stop seeing them. Moving old standbys gives them new life and also lets you know what you can let go of.

    The best tip I ever got was from a designer friend 35 years ago. Don’t think small and buy a lot of little tchotchkes because you don’t want to spring for a big item. They’ll always look like clutter unless they are a collection of like items, a la Martha Stewart. Save your money and buy the big statement pieces everyone remembers. It will be a lot less expensive and more satisfying to have those few great pieces that you love than a lot of little things that never seem to satisfy you. And use wonderful fabric that you love for pillows.

    PS. I’ll be moving cross country this year and taking the statement pieces I love that are truly me. Big upholstered pieces that fill up a moving van and small tchotchkes will be sold. I’ll be downsizing, so my new place will still feel like MY home on a smaller scale, but more stylish and open.

  9. Nancy Drew says:

    Such helpful information Diane! As usual you are spot on and give so many great tips and tricks of the trade. I have been styling things since I was a young girl sharing a room with my sister too, such fun memories! I used to drive her crazy moving our twin beds around all time! I love to decorate and have tried many of your tutorials. Keep doing what you’re doing, love every bit of it! xo

  10. I have been following your blog for quite sometime and so enjoy your tips and informative details . Today’s post really hit home when you shared your mother’s rearrangements ! I too would come home to new furniture placements or the tail end of a project . Very relatable and fun knowing others were living some of Moms dreams n visions. Thanks for the flash backs .

  11. Good food for thought, Diane. Thank you!

  12. Such excellent advice as usual, Diane! I found one blessing in staying home during this pandemic is looking at what I already have and trying things in new ways and places. I attribute that to reading your blog. A few years ago I would be running to Homegoods for something new and now I don’t feel the need to do that. Plants and fresh flowers from the grocery are adding a bit of color during our long, snowy winter. Thank you for your down to earth and very functional advice!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Margot XO – I agree that the pandemic has made us rethink how we do stuff and what truly makes us happy. Most everything I buy anymore is always from the grocery store. It is the one place that I do get out to weekly. :-)

  13. Cheryl Atkinson says:

    Everything I have, I love and I try to display. My daughter, on the other hand, is not sentimental and does not like clutter. I dont look at my decor as clutter but I guess it could be. I like stuff.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Cheryl – That is the best – you each know your style and stick with it. :-)

  14. Such a great post. I enjoyed all your ideas and tips. Thanks

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Marty – Thanks. It was one I found in my blog Drafts. I wrote it, got sidetracked and forgot all about it. I was so happy to find it and put the finishing touches on it. :-)

      1. I just wish I had 1/2 of your vision and talent!! I can follow, but I cannot lead when it comes to decorating!