Design Obstacles You Face When First Starting Out + How to Overcome Them

Here's how to go from Rookie of the Year to Design MVP.

Interior design is much easier (and cheaper!) in theory, on Pinterest, than it is in real life. This is especially true when you're first starting out. Let me paint a picture for you.

You compile 1.2 thousand pins onto your home-inspiration board on Pinterest, all of which totally embody that farmhouse-chic look that you live-and-die for while watching Fixer Upper. In real life? Your living room consists of a comfy, minimalist black sofa you’ve had since college and a mod, glass-top coffee table to match. This combo doesn’t exactly scream "Waco", does it?

Living Room with Neutral and Gray Furnishings and Fireplace

A Completely Transformed Living Room

By removing a wall, what was once a small room feels much larger, offering a comfortable flow between the living room and the dining room. In the process of removing the wall, HGTV Fixer Upper host Chip Gaines found the original fireplace underneath, and decided to keep it as a unique design element. The original shiplap was revealed and kept as wainscoting around the house, and natural wood awnings were installed around the windows.

From: Fixer Upper

So how does one implement their dream style when first starting out, with all the wrong pieces or barely-any pieces at all? What about the mismatched pieces, matchy-matchy furniture sets, bare walls and a super-small budget? I hear you, I’m with you and I’m here to help you. Here are our best solutions, strategies and shortcuts to tackle eight common design obstacles when first starting off.


Midcentury Modern Living Room with Concealed Television

Stone Half-Wall Conceals Television in Midcentury Modern Living Room

Designer Erin Williamson  mixes and matches colors and patterns to create an ultra-stylish, midcentury modern living room.

Photo by: Erin Williamson

Erin Williamson

Designer Erin Williamson  mixes and matches colors and patterns to create an ultra-stylish, midcentury modern living room.

Your Problem: Someone generously gifted you with an arm chair, a sofa or a box full of decorative pieces for you to deck out your new home. Problem is — none of the items feel like you. Even worse, they clash, make your space feel unfocused and cluttered or simply dated.

Our Solution: First things first — thank your loved one for their kind gesture! That said, don’t jump the gun and immediately take them up on their offer yet. Instead — really assess whether the piece is one that you can envision in your space. If you love it, go for it. If it has potential, ask them if they would be comfortable with you giving it some DIY magic. (Never underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint!) Most importantly, though, know when to politely decline. The one, sure-fire way to avoid a home full of furniture that you kind-of hate is by not bringing ‘em through the front door in the first place.

Matchy-Matchy Sets

White Contemporary Bedroom

White Contemporary Bedroom With Cow Hide Rug

Add extra seating for an ultra-elegant master suite. 

Photo by: Eric Hausman

Eric Hausman

Add extra seating for an ultra-elegant master suite. 

Your Problem: Ah, the matching set. The lady at the furniture stores spent hours convincing you that you need matching cream everything and now? Your home looks cookie-cutter, totally lacking in style and personality and you live in fear of spills while drinking your morning coffee and evening merlot.

Our Solution: Chances are, you love the individual pieces within the set. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have bought it in the first place, right? The best way to make the most of the set is by separating it! Spread the pieces and situate them in various rooms. In doing so, you’ll dilute that unwanted showroom look, while also creating a cohesive style that begins in the living room and continues throughout the entirety of your home.

Small Space, Large Furniture

Living Room With City View

Living Room With City View and Sectional

Large living and luxe lounging in a small space. Design by Abbe Fenimore

Photo by: Melanie Johnson Photography

Melanie Johnson Photography

Large living and luxe lounging in a small space. Design by Abbe Fenimore

Your Problem: You bought your dream chesterfield sofa on a whim… without taking a breath to measure it first. Now your studio apartment’s “living area” looks pretty but is oh-so-cramped and allows for very minimal living. Whoops.

Our Solution: Large pieces in small spaces might seem like a problem, but designers love using them to anchor small spaces to make them feel homier. If you’re feeling crowded, try removing smaller, insignificant pieces first and leave the larger ones in place. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by your results.

Large Space, Small Budget

Transitional White Foyer With Stairs

Transitional White Entryway Welcomes Guests

Take it slow and size up the possibilities. Design by Stuart Nordin.

Photo by: Matthew Kleinrock

Matthew Kleinrock

Take it slow and size up the possibilities. Design by Stuart Nordin.

Your Problem: You’re moving from apartment-living to a two-story home. Suddenly you have an extra 1,000 square feet to work with and not nearly enough “stuff” to get you there. You’ve got lots of ground to cover and a small amount of cash to get you there. What’s a home-dweller to do?

Our Solution: Patience, people! Moving into a new, bigger space is fifty shade of exciting and decorating it feels like priority number one. That said, when you have a small budget we encourage you to take on this mantra: “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Don’t go overboard trying to fill the space during the first week you’re in there. Instead, set aside some cash as you go along and furnish the space little by little over time. Bonus: Decorating overtime means you’ll avoid going overboard with ultra-trendy pieces and prints, too!

Big, Bare, Bland Walls

Black Geometric Dresser

Black Dresser With Geometric Pattern

See eye-to-eye with art. Design by Prairie

From: Prairie

Photo by: PRAIRIE


See eye-to-eye with art. Design by Prairie

Your Problem: Bright, white walls and 12-foot ceilings that look blatantly blah, bare and boring. You don’t have nearly enough artwork or photos to fill the empty space and what you do have looks awkward and out-of-place.

Our Solution: Start by adding window treatments to anchor the space. From there, hang painting and prints at eye-level, and think consciously about their placement. For larger walls, make a statement by adding several curated prints and photographs for a grand gallery wall. A quick way to add interest? Pop on some wall-paint or removable wallpaper.

Harsh Lighting

Black Light Fixture

Eclectic Light Fixture

An eclectic, Art Deco-inspired light fixture hangs in the middle of the homeowner's new living room, illuminating the sitting area, as seen on HGTV's Fixer Upper.

From: Fixer Upper

Your Problem: You’re the proud new owner of a brick colonial and about six ugly ceiling fans.

Our Solution: Not a fan of fans? Me either. Set aside cash and upgrade your light fixtures, little by little. Start in the spaces that you spend much of your time – such as the living room, kitchen or master bedroom. Trading a dust-collecting fan for a fabulous, pendant or industrial chandelier will instantly up the ante in your home and add the sought-after “designer” touch.

Formidable Floating Rugs

Neutral Contemporary Living Room

Spacious, Contemporary Living Room With Tall, Stone Fireplace Surround, Large Crescent Sofa and Warm Tone Pattern Rug

A vibrant, patterned rug wakes up the white walls with fiery shades of orange and red. Design by gindesignsgroup.

Photo by: gindesignsgroup


A vibrant, patterned rug wakes up the white walls with fiery shades of orange and red. Design by gindesignsgroup.

Your Problem: Another common occurrence for apartment-dwellers turned home-owners: the too-small rug. You are better off without a rug than with one that floats in the middle of the room, with not a single sofa-foot in sight.

Our Solution: Pinch pennies for a rug that’s the right size; it will make a world of difference. Don’t want to throw out that too-small rug that you loved? Layer it atop the new, bigger, better one for a fresh, stylish look that’s straight from the Pinterest boards.

The Forgotten Foyer

Neutral Eclectic Foyer Vignette

Modern Coastal Foyer With Wooden Entry Table

The dark-stained wood entry table adds rough but refined texture with a vignette that sets the tone for the rest of the house. Design by Blackband Design.

Photo by: Tessa Neustadt

Tessa Neustadt

The dark-stained wood entry table adds rough but refined texture with a vignette that sets the tone for the rest of the house. Design by Blackband Design.

Your Problem: You’ve been running around decorating every inch of your new house, except for the foyer. There’s not a single hook to hang your hat on, a mat to wipe your shoes or a welcoming credenza in sight.

Our Solution: Foyers offer guests with their very first glimpse of your home. We all know first impressions are lasting, so you’ve got to make it out! Style the space with stuff you’ve already got laying around the house or head out to shop. Foyers are super-small spaces and can easily be outfitted in a day (or less!) and with a super-small budget, at that.

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