Five Ways to Avoid the Room in a Can Look

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Each time I drive by our local Rooms to Go, I wonder if someone is really in there purchasing a room to go. I'll admit that it scares me just a tad to think that you can go into any store and say, "I'll take that room." Maybe it's the allure of buy now with no interest until your grandchildren need furniture. Or maybe it's the promise to have your room delivered tomorrow. Not sure. For the design challenged, it is easy to just walk and pick out a room if you want it to be a simple process.  But don't be alarmed if your room looks like this.

In my honest opinion, this room lacks character.  How do you avoid this look?  There are several ways that come to mind.

1.  Avoid matching sets.

Mix it up!  Have fun!  And by all means, layer on the texture.  This might mean shopping different venues.      I love that this room has a Chesterfield sofa (my all time favorite sofa - one day I will have one), rattan, metal, wood, twisted legs, different finishes, etc.  Pieces were carefully chosen perhaps even collected over time.  But it feels and looks so welcoming and so much more interesting than a matching set.

2.  Ditch the pillows that come with the furniture.

image found here

Really and truly, ditch them.  I see this all the time where Sally has had the pillows that came with the sofa that was purchased ten years ago.  I can almost predict the pillows that come with the sofa: one set made of the same fabric and one set in a tweed with the same colors that get completely lost.  The quickest and possibly most economical way to perk up a room is by purchasing a new pair or two of pillows.  Think contrast so that they don't disappear.  Are you afraid to try something new?  Phoebe Howard shared her thoughts on pillow arrangements here.  When it comes to purchasing pillows, Etsy is my first stop.  Search blue geometric or multi-color floral - basically whatever you are in the market for.  Many of the shops will take custom orders if you need a larger size, etc.  Just send them a convo.  You can most likely find what you are looking for at every price.  I use feather inserts from Crate & Barrel or Ikea.  I have also had luck with Joss & Main and One King's Lane.

3.  Mix old with new.

I'm pretty sure that this image has been shared on the blog before.  With good reason.  This is a great example of a collected look.  Modern chairs with a more rustic table, crystal chandelier, antique sideboard, brass console table, and holy cow at the lamp!  There is so much going on here, but it works.  

4.  Mix metals and finishes.

It really is OK to do this.  I know from experience working with home builders that they like for every finish in every room - hardware, lighting, etc. to match.  I also understand that doing this simplifies their decision making process and an empty house looks cohesive when the finishes all match.  But, when you move into your home and fill it with your stuff, there is no need to obsess about whether everything matches.  Think chrome, brass, hammered metal, iron, mercury glass, and copper.  You don't need all of it, but a good mix of metals just adds to the character of a room.

5.  Personalize with art & collections.

Is there a certain painting style that you like?  Hang it on your walls.  Even better, enlist your kiddos to paint a canvas like Emily.  Do you have a collection?  Show it off.  Homes are so much more interesting when they say something about the people who live in them.  I'm not talking about having chotskies everywhere, but you get my point -  items that represent you and tell a story personalize your home.  

OK, so those are my thoughts for avoiding the room in a can look.  I hope I haven't bored you.  What would you add to this?


  1. These are such great ideas! For the pillows-that-came-with-the-couch conundrum, I usually just have someone on Etsy make covers for them, so the inserts don't go to waste! I am in love with that dining room picture, too!

  2. Rene, great tips! Love the inspiration photos too.

  3. Awesome post! I think you hit the nail on the head with each of your points. Our house doesn't exactly score high in each of these areas, but one of the most impactful things I have done around our house over the last year is to really start incorporating items that have sentimental value. It is amazing how much more I love a room, in all its imperfection, when I can glance around and see a few things that warm my heart! So, I think point #5 can go a long way in compensating for some of the others... But there's still no excuse for those matching couch pillows. :)

  4. Great post. I can never get over the room in a box concept.....

  5. I love this post, Rene! We live in Winston-Salem, but we're in Greensboro fairly frequently, as we lived there the first nine years we were married. I cringe every time we drive by Rooms To Go. I simply cannot imagine ever shopping there. When our son graduates from college, we'll give him his bedroom furniture from home and some other personal pieces in hopes that he won't shop there to decorate his own place. :)

    Your other tips are good, too. Have a wonderful week!

    Denise at Forest Manor

    1. Thanks Denise. I can see how shopping there would be an easy solution for someone just starting out with no idea how to go about it. Let's hope that our sons avoid it :).

  6. I finally ripped apart the cushions that came with our couch and used the stuffing for new much better! But regretting the matchy matchy love seat we own...sigh..always sumthin! Great post!

  7. This is such fantastic, easy to follow advice. The biggest "crime" IMHO anyone can commit in their house is to purchase a full set of furniture. Mix and match new and old, just like you said. Imagine all of the homes you could beautify with these tips, Rene! The world needs you!

  8. Great tips! Those 'coordinating' pillows that come with the sofa give me hives! It's the easiest and biggest bang for the buck to change them out for a one of a kind look!

  9. This is such a great post, Rene (and I'm not just saying that bec. you linked to me. Ha!). The room in a box is the worst but is just the easiest, quickest solution if your goal is to fill up your house fast :( And, I think throwing out the pillows is the best advice--and those terrible arm covers that come with them.

  10. I love that you went ahead and layed it out! Great images too! Rooms to Go makes me want to cry...

  11. I was discussing this with friends the other day- I hate when everything is new, whether it's low end Rooms to Go, or those certain designers where you can instantly place their work- when you walk into someone's home and know exactly who the interior designer was? BLECH!

  12. We bought matchy furniture when we were first married, but over the years, we've gotten rid of all of it to have our new & old mixed look.

    I'm with you...those stores scare me to death.

  13. This is a great summary of what makes a great room! It's so hard to get it right sometimes. So many people err on the side of too much clutter and personalization and others on the rooms to go side. BTW, this is the first time I've ever heard of rooms to go. I had no idea this even existed--I thought you were coining a term at first!


  14. What a brilliant breakdown of how to bring personality into your home, Rene! I am 100% behind all your ideas!

  15. Great post! My new neighbors are getting furniture delivered as we speak, all from one place and I can't help but feel their new house will have that Room In A Can Look! Matchy sets of things make me cringe....

  16. Terrific Post! I can't tell you how many clients where I have walked into their very upscale homes for a consult, and I see furniture arrangements that resembled Rooms to Go, and these rooms had been like this for years. Sometimes they wanted to keep everything and just have help with a rug, or lamps and perhaps new wall colors! Yikes! Instructive images.

  17. Great advice and spot on recommendations!! I totally agree. I try very hard to not make a room look contrived, but one that took time and a process. You gave some good ways to do just that. Great post,

  18. Love love this post!! Take care, Caroline

  19. Loved this subject! I wasn't sure what you meant at first about Rooms to go... here in Australia we call them 'furniture package deals' I think... something I would never look at or consider even when I first moved out of home, they always consist of matching dining, chairs, buffet, console, entertainment unit and sofa with floral cushions that match the ottoman... I don't think you could even try and decorate a room full of this if you tried. I always had a mix of old and new. Everything you said I just agree with 100%. It's trying to convince my clients that mixing old and new, timer and metals, florals and geometrics is the way to go!! Great post!

  20. Saw the link to this post on Emily A. Clark's blog. Such great tips, and I agree with every one. A friend who recently purchased a house they're going to remodel asked for my help with decorating. She emailed me some photos of sofas and chairs she had already purchased for her living room. Wah-wah. They were in two different colors, but the the styles were all the same. Oh no!

    When we purchased furniture in our 20s, we bought the whole bedroom suite or living room suite. That was before the days of blogs and I had no idea what I was doing to myself. In the past several years I have been so happy to get rid of those pieces and/or mix them up in various places around the house.

    I don't even like decorating a room all at once. I like the natural progression of finding pieces here and there over time. While it's frustrating to not be finished right away, the end result is so much more pleasing!

  21. Great post! I agree. Rooms have to evolve. When I work with a client, it warms my heart when she shows me a piece and says, "my uncle made this for us on our wedding, do you think we could find a place for it?" Nothing makes me happier than to come up with a room that is all about them and their journey in life.


  22. Excellent! Thank you for saying its ok to not have everything match in a room!! I've been beating my head against a wall (figuratively) with my living room. I love the collected look, but I feel stuck trying to get there.

    Actually, id love your feedback. How wohld you suggest I improve my space?



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