7 Decorating Choices That Are Making Your House Look, Ahem, Cheap

To avoid a cheap-looking dining room, I got a rug large enough for my chairs to sit on it even when pulled back.

Decorating a house takes a lot of work, and a lot of money, so it can be natural to want to cut costs in certain areas. And while I’m all for budget-friendly decorating (if you’ve been here before you know it’s basically my M.O.), you also don’t want to make a decision in the name of saving $50 that ends up making your entire room look cheap. Or, even worse, buying something super expensive that just totally throws off the vibe of your otherwise lovely room (money does not always equal style).

So, in the name of buying right the first time, I’ve rounded up 7 things that’ll make your home look cheap. The good news is that all of them are easily fixable (i.e. you won’t need a renovation to change them). Plus, I’ve listed out cost-friendly alternatives to these eyesores juuust in case you find yourself relating just a little too much to one of these decorating faux-pas. (No worries, I learned many of these lessons the hard way, myself.)

1. Too-small area rugs

diagram of area rug sizes

This is one of the most common offenders. You can the most expensive antique Persian rug from the fanciest dealer in Manhattan, but if it’s too small for the space, it’ll look like an afterthought. If a limited budget means you have to decide between a better quality, but smaller rug, or a lesser quality rug that fits the room, go for the one that fits.

Another option is to buy a larger, less expensive base rug (like a sisal or jute, for example) and layer the more expensive, smaller rug on the top.

In general, your area rug should be large enough so that all of your furniture fits on it (or, in living spaces, at leas the front legs of all your furniture). In dining spaces, you want the rug to be large enough so that chairs are still on the rug when they’re pulled out from the table.

2. Mini blinds

The Roman shades, left, cost about the same as mini blinds but look much more elevated

In today’s day in age, there is no good reason to install mini blinds, or to keep them around if you have them, because there are so many more attractive, but still affordable options. Budget-friendly, but better looking window treatments include white wood blinds (the kind you can get at any big-box hardware store), simple fabric, cellular, or bamboo shades, or lightweight curtain panels.

3. Grommet curtains

Both curtains via Pottery Barn

One caveat to my lightweight curtain panels suggestion: grommet curtain panels — skip these. Grommet curtains look like they should be in a dorm room – those metal rings are doing nothing for anyone’s aesthetic. Go for a rod pocket or back-tab style, which won’t cost you any more money, but will look far more sophisticated and expensive.

If you like grommet curtains because they open and close easily, use curtain rings, or, to make your off-the-shelf curtains look even more high end, and easy to open and close, check out my pinch-pleat IKEA curtain hack!

4. Builder-grade light fixtures

The pendant on the right is actually cheaper than the pendant on the left!

Never underestimate the power of good lighting! Builder-grade light fixtures, like can-style pendant lights or the dreaded boob light are begging to be replaced. And there are so many affordable lighting options out there these days that there’s no reason to subject yourself to ugly fixtures.

5. Matching furniture sets

I’m pretty sure that, until I was like 18 years old I thought that furniture was only sold in matching sets. Thank you, Bob’s Discount Furniture commercials.

While your furniture should certainly coordinate, when your bed, nightstands, dresser and mirror are all made from the same espresso-stained wood? We’ve gone too far. A mixed-and-matched look is simply more interesting and elevated, because it looks like you put time and effort into collecting furniture to suit your taste.

The fix here is simple. Whip out your phone and list a few of your matching pieces on Facebook marketplace, and replace them with something else.

6. Too-small art

While small-scale art can be a deliberate design decision (I love the look of a smaller piece above a king-size bed, for example), it can also look underwhelming when it’s too small for the space, or when it’s simply floating in the center of a wall without any furniture around it.

A larger, landscape-oriented piece, or a collection of 3-4 pieces would look better here than a single, small piece.

It’s all about juxtaposition here. If you were to place a 20″ x 24″ print in the middle of a 14′ wall, it would look too small.

However, if you were to move that same art into a corner of that same wall, and arrange it with an arm chair and lamp to create a reading nook, it would be perfect. Ditto for if you were to hang it above a console table/desk/dresser.

7. Furniture with a gimmick

comparison of two arm chairs side by side

Oh man, this one might be the worst offender. By furniture with a gimmick, I mean things like beds with LED lights built in, or armchairs with cupholders/trays, or sofas with charging pads. This furniture is not only instantly tied to a certain era as technologies change, but it just looks tacky, for the lack of a better word.

Do you agree with all of these? Any cheap-looking decorating decisions I missed?

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