How To Avoid Decorating Traps

Our Guest Home & Living Editor, Erin Boyle, shares her secrets for finding the perfect furnishings for your home. The strategy is more low-key than you might think.
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Image Credit: Erin Boyle/Abrams Image

Image Credit: Erin Boyle/Abrams Image

Erin Boyle, our Guest Home and Living Editor, has shared all sorts of home-related insights with us this month. For her final post, she is offering her strategy for finding that absolutely perfect piece for that empty corner of your room you know the one. In her personal hunt for the just-right chair, she shows us why it's wise to take a slow, hands-off approach to decorating.

We should probably start by establishing what a decorating trap is, exactly. A booby trap made of throw pillows and rugs? A shag carpet with a loose thread, waiting to trip you up?

A decorating trap is something that entails spending money and later regretting that money spent.

But here’s the thing: tastes change. Styles change. Today's affinity for ikat might be eclipsed by an affinity for plain-Jane cotton voile, just a few years from now. There’s no telling, and you can’t beat yourself up for the mistakes seen only in hindsight. But you can decorate more slowly.

The only real way to avoid the traps is to put the breaks on. Slow way down with your shopping and styling. Snail’s pace? Precisely. Let your furnishings work themselves out gradually, and in the meantime, enjoy the way the light moves around the room.

There’s a spot in my house right now that could probably use an armchair. A rocking chair? The proverbial chair in the bedroom where today’s clothes get tossed for tomorrow—except goodness knows I never do any such tossing. I haven’t found the right chair for the spot. I might never find the right chair for the spot. Maybe the spot doesn’t need a chair at all! So for now I’m letting it sit empty. I’m gonna let the chair find me.

I know it sounds a little woo-woo, but I think most of the best decorating—especially of the layperson’s variety—is born of serendipity, not strategic shopping. Let the perfect thing show up when it wants to. Leave the tireless hunt for the perfect chair to the professionals, and embrace a laid-back approach when decorating yourself.

If you're too frustrated by the glacial pace of waiting for chairs to march into your life by way of miracle, you can help things along by having a sense of what you like and what you’re looking for, however inactively. If you’re stuck, let yourself fall down a Pinterest hole or make an old-fashioned mood board. Pin a board full of images that feel good to you. Mull them over. And keep your eyes peeled for the things in them that you most admire.

Instead of high-tailing it to the local home goods store, do some old-fashioned slow shopping. Drive around with your best friend on a Saturday morning to scope out neighborhood tag sales. Take a walk past the flea market. Rummage around in your parents’ attic. Didn’t find anything? There’s always next week.

It seems counterintuitive, but I avoid conventional furniture stores when I’m hunting for a particular treasure. It can be tempting to go to the very place that you know will provide at least something. Will there be a chair to take home from a furniture store? Definitely. Will it be the one that sticks around as your ikat obsession softens to see-through cotton? Probably not.

And after all of this waiting, when the perfect something or other does finally appear? The reward is so sweet. And pretty darn likely to stick around awhile.

Chair, I’m waiting for you.

p.s. Erin's full of sage advice for home decor without the fuss — check out her tips for ten things to purge, ASAP