It’s taken many years for most interior designers to come to a general agreement on decorating rules. As with everything else in life, one size does not fit all. The guidelines work well in most cases but there are always exceptions. Sometimes rules are meant to be bent and broken and that’s what I’m aiming to do today.
RULE: Artwork should be hung so the top is 60 inches from the floor.
Some people have a terrible time with hanging pictures and paintings and they tend to place them too high on the wall, so this rule was devised on behalf of people who complained about craning their necks to admire the artwork. However, if you’re putting an oversized frame behind unusually high-backed chairs, the rule would have you hang the piece so that only its top half was visible. That doesn’t make much sense. And a collage of prints or photos also requires a bit of leeway in order to balance the look of the whole group, not just those on the top row. And not all walls are created equally, especially in lofts and in older homes with tons of character.
There are two excellent ways to bust this rule and still have a good-looking room. First, trust your instinct and hang the pieces at general eye level, all the way around the room. The second is to look closely at the photos of model homes in this very publication and steal those ideas. Professional designers are always experimenting and what works is what ends up being showcased. Skip the whole trial-and-error part and duplicate their successes.
RULE: A coffee table should be 14-18 inches from the seating area.
What if you don’t want a coffee table at all? In one of our living areas we have a gorgeous, rustic old trunk that’s big and square and although you need to lean in a bit to place a drink on it, no one seems to mind that it’s not the requisite 18 inches from where they sit. It holds old magazines and other treasures and it serves a purpose for the whole room. I once used a long leather bench, advertised as a blanket box, as a coffee table. It was light enough to be moved around to wherever it was needed. The addition of nesting tables, side tables, TV trays and even stools that aren’t being sat on mean you don’t need to be too picky about how many guests can reach the coffee table.
RULE: You need 18-24” of space between a dining chair and the wall for guests to get in and out comfortably.
You don’t have to follow this rule if you are short on room and put a bench in place of a couple of chairs on the side of the table nearest the wall. And remember that a chair rail can be used as much for function as it is for fashion. Occasional paint and wood-filler touch-ups on a properly placed chair rail are certainly preferable to patching and re-patching a wall that’s been bumped time and again.
Another often repeated decree for decorating that I’ve happily shattered with positive results is the one that dictates using smaller scale furniture in a small room. In fact, bigger furnishings can be more functional and have a wow factor when they’re placed in a smaller space. Pieces that do double duty, such as ottomans with storage capabilities, help make the most of cramped quarters.
The so-called rules can help you the next time you’re shopping for furniture or planning to redecorate a room. They can serve as a starting point and offer some direction when you’re stuck for an idea. But there is never only one solution for each situation, no matter who tries to convince you otherwise.