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My Biggest Design Regrets



Designing a house means making 100 MILLION decisions every day. A mistake can easily be made, but you admit it, weigh your options, choose one and move on. I’m writing a big post right now about who typically pays for design mistakes when you’ve hired a designer (the homeowner? designer? contractor?), which I think will be a very controversial post (in a good way). But for now I wanted to go over a few mistakes I’ve made in my own house, so you can learn from my mistakes and potentially prevent them from happening to you.

Regret #1: The the height and width of the curtains in the guest room and the family room.

I had worked with Decorview on these curtains, which was generally wonderful. The designer and I came up with the height/style together, which I thought was great. I now wish that they were 3-4″ closer to the ceiling so that the windows and room looked taller. In the guest room I also wish they were much wider, making the window feel more open. Since we turned that room into Elliot’s room we recently took them down and I worked with Loom to put up new ones that are floor to ceiling, and wall to wall (in a really pretty mossy green color), and the room looks so much bigger and prettier (see the full Guest Room Makeover). 

My Biggest Design Regrets_Emily Henderson Living Room_Curtains

We haven’t changed them in the family room (although the room has changed drastically since this photo), and it doesn’t annoy me on a daily basis, but I do wish they were hung higher. It’s a minor mistake, but one that can’t be fixed without spending A LOT of money, since they were custom. For a complete guide to how to properly hang curtains check out this post.

Lesson: Hang curtains as tall and wide as possible to make the room and window feel bigger. You don’t want the rod CRAMMED against the ceiling but those should have been 3-4″ higher (see Family Room posts). We even dedicated a full post to it HERE where you can read up on how they should be hung.

Regret #2 – The size of the chandelier in the dining room.

My Biggest Design Regrets_Emily Henderson Dining Room_Chandelier

You can’t tell from this photo but when you walk into the house it’s really big and open, with the dining room being right in front of you. Here is the only photo I found of it which was taken when we bought the house, before we renovated:


We sure have come a long way. Here you can see that it’s kinda tricky because the scale of the dining room is small, but the ceiling is so high, and the space is so open and big that I thought a small light (like the one they had there) would look so dinky and puny. And it probably would have, but the one I chose was just too big for the dining room.

This was a very good lesson to learn for me, because I tend to err on the side of too big rather than too small. Partly because often in photos, and on camera, too small can look REALLY small. But this chandelier was absolutely too big once you got into the room. It looked good from the front door and was scaled nicely in height, but it was too wide. When you were in the room it felt claustrophobic. Let me be super clear about it, this was my fault completely as I gave Park Studio the dimensions and a drawing, and they executed it perfectly (and I highly recommend buying their lights or having them make something custom).


I recently sold the chandelier and replaced it with that one from Lost and Found which I love SO much. It feels light and airy, yet it has enough impact and is perfectly scaled to the space. Problem solved (see more Dining Room here).

Lesson: Scale your lighting to the table and room, making sure that the room can handle the size installed. There is not a hard and fast rule to this, as it really is based on your room and light (also if you choose a really visually heavy light fixture then you may need to go even smaller). But here is an easy guide: if your room is small, get a small light, if it’s medium go for a medium, and of course, if it’s large, go for a larger one or a cluster of pendants (which I tend to do unless the room is massive).

Regret #3 – Don’t wallpaper just one wall unless it is with something high impact (otherwise known as “The Master Bedroom Wallpaper Disaster of 2014.”)


There are a few problems here. First: The “feature” wall looks kinda boring and dumb.

Lesson: If you are going to do an “accent” wall it needs to have more impact than this. Basically, it looks like I just couldn’t afford to paper the whole room – which was kinda the case as the paper was a FORTUNE, since I had it custom printed. So we figured just one wall would be fine, but it wasn’t. Then as you know the seams all came up which brought up 3 coats of paint and some plaster (see here and please have easy access to kleenex). The easiest fix was to GLUE them back down, so now they really aren’t coming up. To fix this we would have to take off the paper, sand down the walls, re-plaster (with many coats and sanding, too), and repaint. It would take a few days and be extremely messy and expensive, plus we’d have to sleep somewhere else. I still might do it, and try to time it for when we are going to be out-of-town, but for now that just sounds terribly annoying.

Lesson: I still really like the paper, but I wish I had never done it, and just stuck with an all white room. But for you guys, consider this: Accent walls are tricky in, the first place, and if you are going to do one make sure that it’s dramatic enough – I’m prepping a post about when accent walls work so stay tuned for that.

My Biggest Design Regrets_Emily Henderson Bedroom Wallpaper_Wallpaper_Bedroom

For more on the Master Bedroom Wallpaper situation.

Regret #4: Selling that blue sofa. This really isn’t that big of deal, and nobody is going to die because I got rid of it, but if I could go back in time I would have never sold it. It was almost perfect.

My Biggest Design Regrets_Emily Henderson Living Room_Couch_Blue Couch_Sofa

My Biggest Design Regrets_Emily Henderson Living Room_Couch_Blue Couch_Sofa_2

You can see it here in this post: My Living Room Through The Years. The reason that it was so good is that it was unique, indestructible and so comfortable. And man did it photograph well. I love my new sofa with the leather arms, but it’s not as inviting, and I think that is one of the reasons we don’t spend too much time in that room. It doesn’t photograph as well, either. So I’m in the market for a new sofa – one that is really unique AND super lounge-able and comfortable.

Lesson: Hmm, hoard everything? No. But if you really love something don’t get rid of it. I blame the blog for this one. I felt like I should do something new in our new living room. You had all seen that sofa so many times. We jokingly called it “America’s Sofa.” I was kinda bored of seeing it styled in my own home, despite the fact that I loved it. I did make my money back from selling it, thank god, and I think it’s in a very good home, but it does feel like a part of me is missing.

Learn from my mistakes, guys. When you are designing fast and for yourself, it’s so easy to screw up. I think it’s actually easier to make mistakes for yourself than for clients, because with clients you are super careful as the repercussions are much more stressful. But, either way when you are trying to make spaces that no one has ever seen before, spaces that are unique – you will probably do something you’ve never done before, which means that there is room for a mistake that you’ve never made.

Share your biggest design regrets in the comments (especially if there is a lesson to be learned). Don’t make me feel alone here. If we are going to make mistakes, let’s all make them together and learn from them.

Fin Mark


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Dealing with the same curtain issues. And I’d kill for your former blue sofa. Not you. But someone.


I love this comment!
“Not you. But someone.”
Me too! I adore that sofa and would happily maim for it. So I guess you win if you’re willing to kill…


SUCH a good post! I love how transparent you are. BTW there’s an identical sofa on Portland Craigslist right now for like $600 – but in brown. It would almost definitely need reupholstering but every time I see it I’m tempted…

Emily K

Huh sure ’nuff there it is. I see it’s pending now…Wonder if Emily saw your message and is having one of her family members grab it… Other than the ugly brown color it looks to be in better shape than her old one.


Found it! Dang, you are right. It’s almost identical. Only differences I see are the legs and the one on Craigslist has 3 cushions instead of 2. Definitely would be super cute in different fabric. Wish I could have been the one to snatch this baby up!


If you kept the blue sofa, would you have kept it blue or added a blanketed seat like (oh joy blog)? Basically how would have looked in your living room through the style changes you’ve had?


You are not alone! Thank you for writing this post, it’s your humility as a person and a professional designer that makes you so likable. As for the mistakes, they are totally inevitable when making all the decisions required when building, designing and/or remodeling and furnishing an entire home. It’s like Sudoku!! I love it too and I love your taste and style and writing, you make me laugh! My current challenge is correcting my lighting mistakes. I want to choose fixtures I really like (most of what I really love is too expensive), that are relevant to the home’s… Read more »


Regarding the curtain dilemma, I picked up a great tip from (blog). She had curtains that were too short so she had panels in a different color sewn to the bottom of each one. It created a cool contrast and she didn’t have to replace the whole curtain…..


Couldn’t the curtains be easily altered? Add fabric to the bottom and raise the rods, and add panels to widen?


I’m still loving the Park Studio chandelier in there. Something about the gold tone just looks so rich with all those pictures. (I see that’s not the same now either, but I loved it.)

That blue sofa was killer! I’d be kicking myself regarding regret #5 as well! My most recent design regret: I had this beautiful coffee table that I found at a flea market. Rustic, hairpin legs, the top opened on the two long ends, had exposed barn door type black hinges. It was perfect! I had to use it as a bargaining tool with the hubby to keep the 1950s yellow diner table in the kitchen. Lesson: When bargaining with husband, don’t use something that you actually love, make him think you love something else so he feels you are sacrificing.

Karen T.

Ha! This made me laugh. 🙂

So funny, Mary Beth! I’ll have to keep that in mind!


So much good info here! That sofa. Moment of silence. My worst design mistake was buying a large hutch/bookshelf piece that I liked at the time. It was controversial – we refer to it as “The Divorce Hutch” bc hubby and I almost divorced after I bought it without his input. The joke’s on me, though, bc now I hate it and he loves it. It’s a dark red with a lot of brown in it and makes any room it’s in very dark. It’s very vintage/anthropologie and I’d love it in another color BUT the wood bits that cover… Read more »


Oh I have that exact same problem. I bought a great old hutch off Craigslist with the full intention of painting it a fun bright color. However, I didn’t make that clear to my husband and once I got the thing in the house he declared it ‘antique’ and untouchable. NOW I’m stuck with that ugly thing. If all the grandma china wasn’t in it I”m pretty sure I could figure out a way to get the cat to knock it over and do some irreparable damage. (oopsy)


oooh, good idea. My cats might need some training…

Lisa H.

Could you tape the glass while you paint it?


*another moment of silence for the loss of that big, beautiful blue sofa*

Even your ‘design misses’ are still at-a-glance lovely to look at, which says so much about your talent!

Emily K

I’ll be the voice of approval. I’m glad you sold the blue sofa. I WAS tired of seeing it all the time. And while I don’t love the new one I think it fits the direction the living room and house has taken far more than the big blue sofa would have. In fact one could say the change facilitated the current style. I’m looking forward to a new sofa reveal in the coming year. It will be awesome and as comfy and indestructible as ol’ blue. I’m off to take a good hard look at my curtains now. I… Read more »


Thanks for sharing. I think my biggest mistake has been the paint color in my master bedroom. I did so much research on the perfect dark gray, but when we were at the store buying paint for the whole house I was in such a hurry and so tired that I just picked a color from a card. It’s way too blue and is not the feel I was going for, but there’s no way I’m going to repaint it anytime soon. I just ended up getting a new duvet cover and dealing with it. No more rushing for me.


my biggest mistake was not measuring my doorways before ordering a very large couch (which was custom and non-returnable.)

speaking of hoarding, do you plan on updating the flea anytime soon?

Thanks Emily! What an interesting and informative read. Of course everyone makes mistakes but I guess we forget that sometimes you do too! I learned a lot from this post so thanks for sharing 🙂


Thank you for posting today. Surely I’m not the only poor soul that pathetically relies on your daily voice. You really add so much to the day!
No accept ion today, I learned so much!


I remember where I was when you sold America’s sofa — sad day. Especially because it took me two years to find the exact same one on craigslist and have it reupholstered. The maker is Stratford Futorian, it was made in the 1960’s. I couldn’t find the blue cotton velvet fabric like yours so I went with a gray linen. It’s not as awesome as yours but it’s still amazing. You can visit and sit on it anytime.

Thanks to blogs like yours, I didn’t make that many mistakes in my house. I’m really grateful for that; as a non-professionnal whose sole objective is to live in a house she loves, I shamelessly copied some of your rooms. I didn’t take risks, and thus, not a lot of mistakes were made: I have confidently wallpapered a very small room in a crazy pattern, and my living room, which has no natural light, is painted black. Some like it, some stare at it not making any comment, but our family loves it. AND ! We got a fantastic sofa,… Read more »


Loved this post! Thanks for being so open and honest! The worst design fail was painting a sofa white. Yes, you heard that right, paint was involved with upholstery… -Pinterest made me do it 😉 Anyway, surprise, surprise, it looked like crap and felt even worse. Plus my neighbors saw me outside painting the dumb thing and then obviously asked me how it turned out… Total pinstrosity.


omg, I am so sorry but that made me laugh out loud. “Pinstrosity”….I will never forget that word.

I keep seeing these pins on Pinterest about painting upholstered furniture and every time I’m all “HUHHHHH?” Sorry you lived through that. I bet it was a little um, “scratchy?”


Do you remember back in the old days when the designers painted couches (can I call it that on this blog? I want to be true to my roots, but it sounds do unsophisticated compared to all the ‘sofas’ ;-)) on trading spaces? Blame them for planting that idea in anyone’s head! Good for you for taking a risk though.


So great to see someone with such talent have some design regrets. I once bought a black “leather” chesterfield sofa from Home Decorators. I was so excited because I loved the tufted look but didn’t want to spend a small fortune for a place to sit and it was pretty affordable considering the alternatives. Long story short…the “leather” started to peel all over and I guess I should have splurged for quality since now I want to replace it! It’s so hard when more and more I’m ordering things for the home online since it’s slim pickings in our town… Read more »


Maybe I’m blind but I can’t find regret #4?

Emily (not henderson)

You’re not blind! I was surprised when the post ended because I was like wait that’s really only 4!!!

Hi Emily! Great post as usual. I really don’t want to cause u more heart ache by saying this, but I wanna scream- I love that sofa! I may have dreamt about it ??. That said I’m sure you will find one more beautiful and we will all be swooning over it again 🙂

Love this post} I can relate to giving away or selling something you think you don’t need. Trying to do the right thing by downsizing. But when you give a way that special piece its impossible to stop thinking about it.


Please please please tell me about that leather coffee table in your family room!


I ordered a custom chair from Ethan Allen in a bad fabric. The chair was expensive to begin with & now I want to have it reupholstered.
My husband wants to kill me. Fortunately it’s a bedroom chair so nobody sees it but us.


I have the exact same blue sofa if you ever want to buy it…

I posted in one of your contests once and you noticed.


cute place (and cat!)


There is actually a part of me wondering how much shipping to the UK would be…


Love this post! Make me feel so much better about all the things I would love to change in my home. The first is my giant dark leather sofa (the pottery barn kind, not the cool midcentury modern kind) the husband wanted it so badly and I gave in – it IS comfortable! (I’m still anxiously waiting on a follow up on a comment you made about dark sofas coming back into style!)

This is probably my favorite post (other than your house reveal). Thanks for being honest so that we can all learn from you! Now…onto the design mistakes: 1) Choosing a paint color because it looked good in a friend’s room. Lighting and room layout make one paint color look different in two different rooms. 2) Choosing a chandelier that needs special lightbulbs that require special ordering. They are big globe ones and are expensive to replace. Beautiful chandelier but not practical. 3) Buying furniture without searching the internet to see if I could find a cheaper price. I could have… Read more »


I’m reading this in our bedroom while sitting at a drop-leaf table that USED to be in my office. Sounds good so far, right? *sigh* More bedside space just means more stuff on my side of the bed! But, that’s not my biggest regret in this room! That would be an armoire that USED to live in the living room of our former home and housed a tv. It still does, BUT the 4 poster bed we bought for this room doesn’t allow one person (that would be me) to see the screen without scrunching down to the middle of… Read more »


Emily, at least you don’t have skimpy curtain disease! I totally get why you might want your drapes higher and wider and I agree. But the worst curtain mistake I see all over the blogosphere is not enough fabric. Sad but understandable for those of us who are design enthusiasts. Tragic and infuriating when it’s pros showing pictures of their client work. My biggest regrets/mistakes: – skimpy curtains in our home office – bathroom “lipstick job” done by me with no clue: mirror too big, counter edge wrong, off white paint when it should be a more true white –… Read more »


Emily – thanks to reading your curtains blog, you saved me recently when installing our master bedroom curtains. I went for the taller, wider ones and we LOVE them, so thank you!!

Excited too for your accent walls blog. I’m debating whether to do a dark wall on our two story dining room and could totally use your expertise as I don’t want to make the room feel heavy.

Regret I didn’t see on here… have you ever regretted painting natural wood?


Thanks for your honesty! I wonder if you would like the wallpaper in your bedroom better if you painted the walls in a similar color–would look less disjointed than the stark white.


You are too hard on yourself Em! Really, most of these aren’t huge mistakes (except the wallpaper, which in retrospect you never would have done if you would have known how it would turn out).

Mistakes help us learn. And you’re an even better designer because you can recognize them!

For what it’s worth, I can’t wait to read your post about accent walls, since I struggle to believe they ever look good. They remind me of the 90’s in a bad, itchy way. (Shiver!)


I TOTALLY agree. Knowing Emily though, I’m sure I’ll be convinced…


can you do a contrast band on the bottom of the curtains to give you the extra length you need. You can even match the color but do a different texture if you don’t want a stripe effect.

I was just thinking about this the other day. When we remodeled our house, I had the opportunity to put the door to my daughter’s room any where I wanted since we were creating the wall. I didn’t really think about it then, but if I would have put it to right, I would have had an opportunity to put a much wanted banquette in my breakfast nook. However, I put it to the left, which makes sense when you are in the bedroom, but slightly limited my choices for seating in the nook. Considering I only had about a… Read more »


My biggest design mistake was hiring a designer to help me decorate a few rooms in my house. We had a consultation, I explained what I wanted, explained that I wanted items x, y and z included in her design plan. She returned with really crappy selections for x, y, and z and no real cohesive ‘plan’. Then slapped me with an obscene invoice. Clearly I went wrong by hiring her and could have done better via trial and error and still saved myself a bundle of money. I’d LOVE for you to do a blog post on how to… Read more »


A very good suggestion indeed. Perhaps tips for hiring contractors too.


Shauna, I would LOVE for Emily to do a post on this too! I am sorry to hear about your experience. Did you see examples of the designers work that you liked beforehand? Did you ask what the fee would be and what you could expect in return? I am a designer and I definitely review these things and more with clients before I begin a project. It is also in their contract. Designers definitely are not only for the rich, but I am also wondering what your idea of a “ridiculously robust budget” is. When you start tallying up… Read more »


Hi! I wrote this question on the last curtain post, but I am still in the dark… We are living in a house where all of the bedrooms have one, small mid century long narrow window. The window is off centered, closer to the ceiling than the floor, and a horizontal skinny rectangle. I don’t know if the curtains should be long, short? Help! Thanks.

Roman shades-outside mount.


That is indeed what em Hendo would say (IMO). Long ago she did a post on it. You’ll have to google it.
I had some made and bought some of her recommendations.

I have no shortage of design regrets – painting a huge, vaulted room the color of pantyhose chief among them – but probably my biggest one is the curtains in our front room. I made them myself and I love the material, but unfortunately I based the measurements on curtain rods left by the previous owners of our house – they’re way too low and too narrow, crowding the windows.


When choosing a new countertop for my bathroom I regret not asking for more details. I wanted a stone with a lot of white in it to coordinate with the other pieces in the bathroom. We found one that was pretty good, but I really preferred another. The person helping me said my preferred choice was a lot more expensive, but I never asked about the price difference and ordered my second choice. When it was installed it was way more creamy/ off- white than I had wanted. It’s not terrible, or terribly important, but it’s not what I wanted.… Read more »


Emily! This post & the comments below made me laugh. We’ve all been there. I’m so glad I’m not the only one with a loving spouse who wants to (lovingly) murder me over some of my decisions / indecisions with home design! The “divorce armoire” = hahahahaha! Worst Mistakes: – “putting green” green accent wall. Seemed like a great idea in college. Still resent how horrible it was to paint over upon moving out… Accent walls, in general. – Rugs! I hate them. Too many horrible options or they cost a million dollars. I tried 4 different rugs in a… Read more »


Sarah – I hear your pain on the rug situation. I’m stuck living with a rug that is fine but that I’ve grown to hate after many years (purchased online and is a cobalt blue when I thought I was getting a navy rug). I’ve looked and looked and looked and can never find anything durable, beautiful and not obscenely expensive. I pray my rug dreams will come true one day. Hopefully yours will too!


I can’t find the post about how to do the Target glass lamp makeover that was shown on your Guest Room Makeover post. I love how your turned them from clear glass to such a pretty blue color. 🙂


Too many design regrets to count but luckily only 1 or 2 for a client and they always somehow worked out. The worst one was on me… got so excited on my honeymoon in Bali to design a custom carved recycled teak headboard, so much less expensive than buying one in the States that why not? I’ll add a custom platform too (ooo that’s heavy). Well, shipping it wasn’t too expensive, but getting it to my apartment building from the port was about 3x the shipping (Ohhh, not so cheap anymore) and the EPIC FAIL) was the the platform was… Read more »



Kate Lim

How about selling it away? But then again, how do you even get it out for the buyer…oh my gosh.


Oh so many mistakes! The latest one is a new construction project and 11 thousand square feet. The number of decisions are mind blowing! The homeowner wanted a really fun craft room an her favorite color is lavender. I took the lavender color of the fabric I found and had the contractors paint all of the cabinets, window trim, base boards, crown molding and door trim all in the same shade of lavender! It looked ridiculous so I had the painters repaint all the trim white. I hated it again! Rather than cost my client more money because of my… Read more »

Michael K.

This post is so amazing! I have couch remorse too. Glad to know I’m not the only crazy person about couches here. I’ve had 4 couches in 9 months!! I even bought the beautiful mid century one from Sally’s living room that is featured in your book….but man is that one uncomfortable!! So now I’m on the hunt again. If you ever sell yours hit me up!! I love it. (assuming it’s fairly comfortable LOL) Thanks for the informative and entertaining article!


Such an interesting and helpful post! Love hearing how you’ve processed decisions after the fact.

Random…I’m kind of going crazy over that old “when we first bought the house” picture from the front door looking towards the dining room. Have you shot that as it is now? I LOVE your dining room, but I don’t think we’ve seen it from that angle as it is currently styled. I’d love to see that shot:) So beautiful.


Biggest design mistake was during a bathroom remodel – I wanted to find the perfect vintage dresser to convert to a vanity. I searched, and searched and never was able to find anything acceptable that worked with the room’s small dimensions. I ended up having to get a ‘big box store’ style vanity would have been passable – except that their ‘gray carrara marble’ top was actually veined in pink, which did not work with the room AT ALL. It finally became a budget issue – last thing to get the contractors out of there – so I had to… Read more »


We had our house built and I regret a lot of the decisions I made. After living in the house, I wish our family room fireplace was on the other wall and that I would have left the builder grade in the bathrooms instead of “upgrading” (and paying more) for basic tile that probably half the development has. I wish I would just done more basic builder grade (which sounds crazy) and customized it later as we lived in the house more and made more informed and purposeful decisions. Going to the design studio was overwhelming and I made decisions… Read more »


Your blue sofa wasn’t almost perfect. It was perfect.


Hi Emily
We recently bought the Camerich Lazytime Sofa in the deep version and it is soooooooo comfortable yet still
stylish….I can send you a picture of it. It is heaven!


Kate Lim

Gosh, I had the same thing in mind when I was reading Emily’s words. OH.MY.GAWD.

Kate Lim

I meant to reply DONNA. 🙂


Emily, you can fix those Drapes.. use the hem , which is usually 4 inches. ( the lining can be easily pieced and no one will know.or have a band of alternative fabric inserted as a stripe/ or added on. as a band.


Emily, I am so, so sad for you that you’re still regretting selling that sofa. (But I kind of get it, it was/is beautiful.) Can you have someone custom make another one for you? It seems like it may be worth it at this point.

Thynaya williams

My name is thynaya, i have fall in love with a man called williams, we have been i love for so many years now, i have not experience heart broken from him he love me more than any other thing on earth, until my boyfriend travel to see his mother, when he comes back he have not been the same that he is, he was change totally but i can’t live without him,even if i went to greet him in his house he will send me away, i keep crying every day, i try so many spell caster but know… Read more »

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