• Stephanie Sarris

Rules are Made to be Broken

We’ve all heard them. The “rules” of interior design. Pick up any shelter magazine or click on a blog and some self-proclaimed expert is pontificating on the “foolproof rules” they’ve developed to ensure a beautiful space in your home.


I’m here to question that. In fact, another word for rules that don’t stand scrutiny is “Brules.” (Brule Definition: A bull%*#@ rule. (Per Vishen Lakhiani in his book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind.) While there seem to be as many rules as there are design publications, here are a few widespread ones that need to be reclassified as “brules.”

Dramatic Accent Wall
Dramatic Accent Wall

1) “Accent walls are out”

Granted, back in the 90’s when people went a bit accent-wall happy, we all felt like a much-needed respite from the ubiquitous fourth wall. But, used judiciously and thoughtfully, accent walls can achieve a few #spacegoals for your home.


In the dining room pictured above, the room would have much less impact if all the walls were the same color. The gray (Benjamin Moore’s Coventry Gray) might have fallen flat, and the navy (Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy) would have been too dark in this space. Painting just the far wall Hale Navy encourages people to move towards that wall, beckoning them into the room. In addition, it provides enough drama to offset the fabulous statement chandelier.


Thinking about this room leads me to another brule:


2) “Trim should always be painted white.”

White trim can be a crisp and beautiful addition to a room. But within a smaller space, especially one with more than one wall color already (not to mention a lot of trim), this advice can lead you astray. If this dining room had had its trim painted white, imagine how visually noisy and distracting that would have been. Not to mention how it would have largely negated the impact of the accent wall in the first place. Between the door frame and mullions, as well as the crown and base molding, that would have been a lot of white lines interrupting the picture.

Trim Matched to Wall Color
Trim Matched to Wall Color

Instead, we painted the trim on each wall the same color as the walls, but in a slightly higher sheen (satin for the trim, versus eggshell on the walls). In this way, the trim harmonizes with the rest of the room, leading to an undiluted pop of color on the accent wall.

This brings me to a corollary of this one, namely:


3) “Ceilings should always be white.”

My first reaction is “Why?” Why not treat the ceiling as the fifth wall it is and give its color/treatment as much thought as you gave the vertical four walls of the room?

In this powder room, we doubled-down on the impact of this sophisticated floral wallpaper by painting both the substantial trim - and the ceiling – Hale Navy.

Hale Navy Ceiling
Hale Navy Ceiling

As seen above, the navy ceiling perfectly sets off the modern glam ceiling light in a way that white would have failed to do. And going back to the preceding point, that navy baseboard trim certainly complements both the wallpaper and the marble flooring.


This powder room brings me to the last brule I’ll address in this post:

4) “Small rooms should be painted white so that they seem bigger.”

This rule is a total falsehood. Take a look at this same bathroom – with white walls – prior to the homeowner decorating the home in her taste:

Powder Room - Before
Powder Room - Before

Instead of making the room seem more spacious, the white walls, trim, and floor actually appear lackluster and gray. This space had – and realized – so much more potential than that.


The takeaway from this post? Whenever you’re given a design rule, ask yourself if it works for you and the way you want your home to look and feel? And if you’re having any difficulty deciding, we’d love to help you!