Room Doctor: 10 Things to Try When Your Room Needs a Little Something

Get a fresh perspective with these tips for improving your room’s design and decor

Room feeling cramped, artwork a mess, color scheme missing the mark? Whatever ails your room, sometimes all that’s needed is a careful tweak or two to bring things back into balance. Here are seven common dilemmas and 10 remedies to put things right.


Dilemma: Can’t find the right furniture arrangement.

Try this: Remove the area rugs. Because they anchor the room, big area rugs can blind you to new room layout possibilities. If you just can’t seem to get your furniture arrangement right, roll up all of the area rugs before trying anything else. Look at your space from a new angle — from an upper floor, atop a ladder or low to the ground. The shift in perspective can help spark a new idea.


Dilemma: Wall decor feels jumbled or unfocused.

Try this: Focus on one big piece of art. Lots of small frames on the wall can feel visually cluttered, especially if they are hung at different heights. Take everything down and put back just your favorite large-ish piece. One big piece gives the eye a clear place to focus on and leaves plenty of white space to keep the room from feeling jumbled or messy.

Or this: Add a crisp grid. If you don’t have a large piece of art, or you want to try something different, work a number of small pieces into a grid arrangement. It’s important to use identically sized frames for this and to measure carefully before hanging! A theme for the art works well for this idea — collect photos in shades of blue, a collection of photos taken in the same place, all black and whites, and so on.


Dilemma: Room feels cramped.

Try this: Add a giant mirror. Your space may be small, but it doesn’t need to feel that way! The biggest impact design move you can make in a small space is to add a really big mirror. Hang it or just lean it against the wall, and your space will immediately feel much larger.


Or this: Swap a solid piece for something clear. A bunch of solid wood and upholstered furniture can quickly make a small room feel overfilled. Reduce visual clutter by replacing a heavy piece with one made from clear acrylic or glass. This works especially well for coffee tables and consoles, but you could also do a clear desk, a glass-top dining table or acrylic chairs.


Dilemma: Room feels too stiff and formal.

Try this: Swap out a hard piece for one that’s upholstered. If what you want is a room that makes you go “ah,” you need some squashy pieces you can sink into. Trade out a wood coffee table for a plush ottoman, toss a few big cushions on the floor or swap a stiff-backed wooden chair for a comfy upholstered version.

Or this: Add something worn and aged. A chunky wood coffee table (with a few dings and dents) is an open invitation to kick back and put your feet up. Choose a few pieces that show their age — a vintage trunk, a hand-me-down table, a chipped painted chest — and your guests will surely feel at ease.


Dilemma: Room feels too casual and unfinished.

Try this: Add something shiny and metallic. If a polished vibe is what you’re after, choose accent pieces in the shiny metallic hue of your choice — silver, gold, brass, copper, bronze. A few pieces (for instance, a lamp, vase and table) are enough to make an impact.


Dilemma: Room feels too small.

Try this: Hang curtains high. This is one of those things that doesn’t seem like it would make a big difference, but it really does. Hanging curtains nearly at the ceiling makes ceilings look impossibly high, and by extension makes the whole room look bigger.


Dilemma: Color scheme isn’t working.

Try this: Let a photo be your guide. Being in a room (especially one you are in a lot) can make it hard to put your finger on what’s working and what’s not. Take a photo of your space and examine that to get a more objective view. Name all of the colors you can see in the photo — if there are more than three, that could be a sign there’s too much going on in your color scheme. Decide which hue you’re not as fond of and start removing items with that color from your space.


Tell us: What is your biggest room dilemma?

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