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The 6 Design Rules You Should Break

Designing your dream space? Ditch these tired tenets

“Your home is not a beautiful vignette. It’s a space for living!” says Seattle interior decorator Michelle Dirkse. She creates spaces for commercial and residential clients in Seattle, where skyscrapers are popping up next to mom-and-pop shops, and modern million-dollar mansions for dot-com millionaires are being constructed next to classic Craftsman bungalows, so pushing design boundaries isn’t a choice—it’s a must.

Just as the city’s residential styles are a mix of cutting edge and classic, Dirkse’s interior designs mix modern refinement with rustic and vintage elements and one-of-a-kind finds. The end result? Rooms that feel welcoming and soothing (and have won raves from the likes of Domino magazine), even though they breach some design rules (who wrote those, anyway?!).

“I love to break the rules!” Dirkse says, adding that the idea that interior décor must align with certain guidelines is boring and expected. She says these six interior design “rules” should be thrown to the wind to cultivate spaces that just feel better to be in and better reflect your personality, too. Here, the rules practically meant for breaking:

1. Home in on one design style or aesthetic.

Sleek quartz tile and a gorgeous beachy driftwood in the same room? Yes. A log cabin decorated with Gothic-inspired lighting fixtures and eclectic furniture? It totally works. When done judiciously, Dirkse says, mixing two (or more) design aesthetics brings warmth and interest to a room. You don’t want your house to look like you picked everything from the same catalog or big-box store; show off your individuality instead.

2. Use only one metal finish.

For a very small bathroom, Dirkse wouldn’t mix different finishes between sink and bathtub fixtures. But an antique mirror with gold finish in a bathroom with modern chrome finishes on your sink and bathtub? Absolutely! And mixing metals totally works for bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens, too: Grommets on upholstered barstools can be gold while the faucet and drawer pulls are brushed nickel, and a cast-iron sculpture can smartly contrast chairs that have gold-tone trim.

3. Stay neutral or monochromatic.

Dirkse combines totally unexpected colors, such as a Galapagos green paint in a room with purple pillows. When done with control, mixing colors brings life and energy to your home—without causing sensory overload.

4. Use only one type of wood.

Yes, cherry wood is warm and wonderful, but using only cherry (or oak, or birch …) for your cabinetry, furniture and beyond can easily make a room feel one-dimensional and lackluster. Go ahead and mix maple with mahogany, or go nuts with pecan wood and walnut. If you find a wood surface or accent piece you love, get it, regardless of whether it “matches”; then, tie elements together using texture, accessories or a paint color. Your rooms will be more intriguing for it.

5. Design to expectations.

Sure, most kitchens have a microwave and an oven, but there’s no law decreeing that the microwave must be on the countertop. And the world won’t end if you decide you’d rather give up your oven for a second dishwasher. Design rooms according to how you live—not to somebody else’s list of “musts.” Even bathroom elements are up for debate: Dirkse once dreamed up a “bathing room” that featured a bathtub (no shower!) with a chaise lounge and antique-y wallpaper, all in the name of relaxation.

6. Stick with a single pattern.

If you want to be boring, sure. Dirkse combined a bold, deep green wall covering featuring a malachite pattern with a smaller pale pink, lattice-patterned pillow. Because the scale of the pillow pattern is much smaller, the mix works wonderfully; the two patterns don’t compete. Pairing floral elements with stripes and plaid with polka dots not only adds layers to a room’s design but also simultaneously energizes and balances the décor—which is exactly what you want in a well-designed home.