12 experts on their biggest first-home mistakes

From hasty celebration purchases to questionable paint colors, our favorite design influencers spill the beans

Published August 7, 2022 1:45PM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

Let's face it: Even those who we've now come to consider as design pros have made their share of home-related mistakes in the past — we're all only human, after all! Nobody gets everything right when it comes to home ownership, and especially the first time around.

Here, 12 successful home influencers reveal the biggest mistakes they made in their first houses, chiming in on everything from hasty furniture orders to poor paint color judgment and much more.

Ordering pieces too quickly

"The first 'mistake' that comes to mind for me is what I'll call 'celebration purchases.' Shortly after closing on my first home (I rented for many years before that), I got excited and impulse-ordered a couple of light fixtures and several pieces of furniture. But it was several months before they arrived and then I found I wasn't ready to install them immediately — so, I was forced to find somewhere to store these new purchases. As time went on and I fully assessed the space, I ended up with several pieces that I no longer wanted to use (and could no longer return). So, my lesson is to resist these celebratory purchases no matter how excited you are. Wait until you've fully understood your space, and are actually ready to install new pieces once they arrive." — Daniel Mathis@notaminimalist

Renovating too soon

"After getting married, we bought a fixer-upper and started a full renovation. Before it was even finished, we decided to move out of state. It took us years to recover from our investment! I wish the 26-year-old me knew that the average home renovation only results in a 70% return on investment." —Ruthie Jackson@miracleonthirtyfourth

"I realize that a lot of homeowners are eager to renovate their homes as soon as they're handed the keys. My advice for them is to always live in the home for a few months, and then decide what actually needs to be renovated. That way they're able to understand how to make the house work for their lifestyle." — Gladys Tay@thegladystay

Rushing to fill the space

"I would say my biggest regret was filling my home with things just [because]. I didn't take the time to thrift and curate pieces that spoke to me. I also regret passing up pieces that I absolutely loved due to the price tag. It's OK to mix high- and low-end things, but I should have just saved up for those super-special pieces that I would have forever!" — Michelle Lanzilatti@littlelattihouse

"When my husband and I purchased our first home — a one-bedroom condo just outside Washington, D.C. — we decided we'd buy 'grown-up' furniture and decor for our new place. So, we sold off our IKEA staples and hand-me-downs that we'd used in our rental, and set out to furnish our first home with all-new finds. At the time, I was in such a hurry to decorate that we wound up going to our local Crate & Barrel and buying everything there. The condo wound up looking like a page out of a catalog, pretty much void of any personality or collected objects. I eventually layered more (and very different) decor pieces to the condo over time, but vowed that, going forward, I'd take my time with decorating, and be far more intentional about my purchases." — Kate Dreyer@kate_decorates

. . . or waiting too long to buy anything

"One mistake I made was thinking we should wait until we could afford 'really good furniture,' so I would keep spaces empty until then. Wrong. We ended up not using certain spaces that we could have for years if we'd gotten more creative with thrifted or hand-me-down pieces. Now, I believe a mix of high-low pieces is the way to go — there's no reason to leave a space unfurnished. That said, I do believe in finding special pieces and waiting for the right things to come along — so long as I'm not going years without actually sitting in a room!" — Bari Ackerman@barij

Relying solely on overhead lighting

"When we moved into our first home, I focused all my efforts on selecting beautiful furniture and accessories, and completely forgot about illuminating each space! We thought we could shrug off this design oversight. However, we quickly realized that relying solely on overhead lighting wasn't enough even when performing the simplest tasks — lighting is one of the most important components in interior design. Outside of creating ambiance in a space, your lighting should help you safely navigate each room during daytime and at night. Be sure you include a mix of accent lighting, task lighting, and ambient lighting, as well as overhead lighting to improve the room's overall illumination. In addition to your overhead lighting, consider layering your lighting by pairing bedside lights with sconces or floor lamps to create a well-balanced lighting design." — Anita Williams@pld_design_studio

Waiting to make simple fixes

"The biggest mistake we made in our first home wasn't necessarily a design faux pas — although there were plenty of those! It was delaying small changes that would have improved the way we lived and felt in our space . . . like swapping out our counters and sink, fixing the brick steps on our exterior, and swapping the carpet on a step-down into our sunroom. To add insult to injury, we ended up doing all these just before selling the home! In hindsight, I can see that I was waiting on the budget to make more significant changes, but since then, I've learned that a Phase One makeover can help you enjoy your home in the present, while you save for bigger changes in the future. So don't wait! Make small improvements now!" — Tiffany DeLangie@prettyrealblog

Picking questionable paint colors

"The biggest mistake I (still) regret is doing a two-tone wall in the living room. The top was an ugly brown and the bottom was a sea-foam green with a white chair rail. It made the room look dated and so dark. In the same house, I also designed a kitchen with dark brown cabinets and black and brown granite. My, how times have changed!" — Sara Raak@sararaak

"The biggest decor mistake I've made in our home was not thinking carefully about the feeling I wanted our kitchen to evoke before deciding what color to paint our cabinets. I painted them grey, which is the complete opposite of the happy vibe I wanted that space to evoke!" — Ju DePaula@blueberrylivingco

One too many DIYs

"One of the biggest mistakes I made in our first home was DIY-ing everything, particularly our kitchen backsplash. It was a project I thought would be easy because it looked pretty easy — or so I thought. We chose an unforgiving, porous mosaic that I attempted to cut using a hand-tile cutter and a Sharpie marker — no leveler. Needless to say, we ended up with a crooked backsplash that did not line up at the seams and had Sharpie marks where my cuts had missed the lines. Because money was tight then, we had to live with this backsplash, and be reminded that we should have saved and hired a professional to do the job!" — Nicole Reid@thepoplarcreekco

"In our first home, I wanted to update our powder room on a budget. I painted the vanity, switched out the lights, and decided to paint the countertop with epoxy paint that was meant for vehicles, but that I thought would look beautiful. I followed the directions (or so I thought), put the epoxy on, and waited. And waited. Not only did the paint look nothing like the beautiful copper I expected, it also just wouldn't dry. I let it sit for days, even putting our dehumidifier in the hallway outside. Nothing. It felt tacky to touch right up until we replaced it. Yep, we ended up having to replace the entire counter. Instead of doing this project on a budget, I ended up wasting money on the expensive epoxy paint AND a new counter. I learned from my mistake, though, and still wince when I see people painting their counters." — Hilary Prall@hilaryprall

By Sarah Lyon

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