Picking the right couch, dining room table, or other furniture for your home might seem fun at first, but all too soon, it can morph into a paralyzing decision over just what to get. And lest you think you’re alone in your struggles to select the right headboard or rug, rest assured, it’s hard for everyone—even home designers who select furniture for a living.
“Choosing something like a sofa is a big deal, because it’s an investment and a commitment—the average one is built to last 7 to 15 years,” points out Stephanie Thornton Plymale, president and CEO of the Heritage School of Interior Design.
Even the experts fall prey to common mistakes.
“What seems great online, in a catalog—or even in person—might not look the way you’d envisioned, because there are so many variables and no perfect pieces out there,” admits Jamie Novak, a professional organizer and author of “Keep This Toss That.”
Curious to hear what designers have done wrong, so you can learn from their mistakes? Below are five frank stories of furniture fails that prove that even the pros are just like us.
A couch that’s too huge
Novak thought she had chosen the best couch ever for her family room, which was her home’s designated spot to hang out and watch TV. Although she did measure her space to see if the piece would fit, she didn’t carefully consider every aspect of the room.
“I didn’t take into account an outside door that swung inward—and then whacked the couch each time it was opened,” she says.
She also didn’t measure the height of the back of the couch, which was so tall that the room’s view was blocked when someone was lying on it.
The fix: “I almost gave the piece to my sister,” she says, “but then I realized I could reconfigure the couch a bit and also move the TV, so it was visible from all angles.”
A headboard that’s too high
Plymale’s interior tale involves a dark, high hardwood headboard and frame that looked beautiful online—glamorous, romantic—and was everything she wanted for her bedroom.
“After it arrived, I saw how tall it was, and that it took up the entire room,” she says.
The piece also raised the bed so high off the ground, she almost needed a stepstool to tuck in, and the extra height meant she couldn’t find linens that fit properly.
The fix: “I felt like I had to keep it because it was such a major purchase—so I lived with it for years, until one day, I was able to give it away to my house cleaner,” she explains.
In place of the chunky headboard, Plymale mounted a woven grasscloth screen behind her bed and now sleeps soundly.
Furniture that’s too wide to move up narrow stairs
Justin Riordan, founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency, lived in an 1890s Queen Anne Victorian in San Francisco with a finished attic space on the top floor that seemed perfect for a media room and guest space.
“We purchased a beautiful sleeper sofa that fit just fine going up the first three flights of stairs, but would not pass through the final narrow set,” he says.
The fix: Surgery! Riordan had to literally dismantle the piece by taking out the inner sleep mechanism, removing one of the arms and stripping some upholstery.
“It took two minutes to put the couch where we wanted it, and then two full weekends to put the sofa back together—and when we sold the house, we sold the sofa right along with it, in the same spot,” he adds.
Too small a rug
Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP had high hopes for the new chairs she bought for a sitting area in her den. But when she placed them on the rug she had, the carpet looked puny.
The fix: The ol’ switcheroo.
“I realized I could swap the den rug with one we had in the playroom, which was bigger, and I put this smaller one in front of the playroom couches instead of partway under it. And voilà—it worked,” she says.
An uncomfortable couch
Plymale also has a couch story—and for her, it was a low-profile, navy blue sectional that was her undoing.
“The look was perfect, but I didn’t take into consideration how much we love to cozy up on the couch to watch movies. With such a low back on this piece, you either had to snuggle down so far in the seat that you were looking up at the TV, or sit up super straight and hit the back of your head on the console table behind it,” she explains.
The fix: Plymale ended up living with this sectional and adding large throw pillows to support the low back. Meanwhile, she warns homeowners not to get caught up in the aesthetics of any one piece.
“My sensibility and knowledge went out the window when I saw that navy color, and I wasn’t thinking about how my family really lives,” she says.
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