Don’t Learn to Decorate the Hard Way

Last week, while skiing in Colorado with my husband and son, I fell and broke my leg. I wish I could say I was attempting a particularly difficult trail, that it was my first black diamond run. But actually I was on a beginner slope, and the fall was due to my own lack of skill and inexperience. It was humbling to be splinted and strapped prone into a sled, and pulled the rest of the way down by Nate, the 19 year old ski patrol dude. On the way down I tried to distract myself from the pain and nausea, by focusing on what I could see through my snow-frosted goggles, mainly the tops of pine trees, and intermittent glimpses of the underside of the gondola lift. The next six weeks will be focused on healing, and claiming what little measure of self-sufficiency I can muster while confined to one working leg and crutches. Humbling indeed.


My point in sharing this story, if I may spin it in a design-oriented direction, is that being a beginner often means making mistakes. When I was beginning my design career twenty years ago, I occasionally made mistakes. Even with a design degree, I wasn’t fully prepared for the lessons I would learn on the job, through trial, error and experience. By this point I’ve selected hundreds of colors, I’ve space-planned countless rooms, and I’ve guided dozens of renovations. I know what works, I can put my finger on just what a rooms needs to come to life, and I can visualize how a space will look when it’s done. What some may call intuition, “taste” or talent is really the summation of twenty years of living and breathing interior design.


One design mistake I made about 12 years ago, and I’ll use my own home for example, is the brown chair shown above. We recently bid adios to this set of not-terrible chairs from Thomasville. With this purchase, I got a few things right and a few things wrong. The sandy brown color was fine, and the size of the chair in the room was okay (I knew enough to do a space plan first). But the fabric choice turned out to be terribly wrong for a cat-household. The nubby texture on the sides of the chairs was like catnip to eager paws. *Note the high-tech cat scratch deterrent, a.k.a. packing tape, on the edges. Also, the boxiness of the mid-century style was all wrong for the room, and worse, the high arms were not to my liking or comfort at all.

living room

I’ve learned a lot since then. And applied that knowledge to the chairs’ recent replacements: a lovely set of wingbacks with graceful lines and leather wrapped backs which our cats don’t like to scratch. The indoor-outdoor grade cushion fabric is soft to the touch yet fade-resistant, cat-scratch resistant, and stain resistant. Because I don’t enjoy furniture I have to worry about. The height of the new chairs is much better proportionally for a room with ten foot ceilings. And they are comfortable. At least, as comfortable as possible with a broken leg!

living room flowers

In the realm of design and decorating, mistakes don’t usually result in loss of life or limb, thank goodness. But they can be expensive and time consuming, and give you a really icky uh-oh feeling, kind of like nausea, when you suddenly realize the sofa that just arrived is too big, or the room that was just painted is the wrong color and you hate it. That’s why there’s so much value in having an experienced design professional by your side to guide you through the numerous decisions involved in any home improvement. Someone to stop you before you make that bad decision, someone with the know-how to prevent you from falling. I am hopeful I’ll ski again someday, but when I do I think I’ll be taking some more lessons first. Because you can learn to ski, or decorate your home, or just about anything, the hard way. But you don’t have to.


Tamara Leicester is a licensed interior designer and owner of Tamara Heather Interior Design, LLC. She designs casually elegant interiors with an artistic sensibility, often drawing upon the talent of local artists and craftspeople in her work. Dreaming about updating your space? Learn more at