There’s a reason we love looking at other people’s houses. Besides the aesthetic inspiration that can be gleaned from a well-decorated interior, houses intrigue us because they are personal—they’re peeks inside the private world of their homeowners. That’s why the best homes are the ones that tell a story, that eschew trends for personal expression and monotony for a little bit of messiness. That’s also why, in my opinion, there may be no greater sin in the world of interior design than the matching furniture set.
The concept of making a single purchase to “one and done” your decor is a one-way ticket to a boring home. Buying your furniture as a complete set takes all the fun, personality, and visual excitement out of a room’s design and turns it into a mass-producible, cookie-cutter cul-de-sac McMansion version of design.
And if I can’t convince you, just take it from designers: They’re pretty much all in agreement on this topic. “They’re like hitting a Thanksgiving buffet and getting a plate of only potatoes,” opines Leah Alexander. “Why reduce creativity when there are so many options out there to mix and match?” Indeed, buying a premade set removes an opportunity to shop an exciting new brand, or support an emerging designer.
“It just doesn’t feel special,” says Dorothy Draper & Company’s Rudy Saunders. “It doesn’t whether it is inexpensive or very expensive; it reads more like a hotel than a personal home where someone lives.” Plus, argues California designer Paul Heintz, “it easily looks dated” and, says Jennifer Beek Hunter, “it looks like you purchased off of a showroom floor with no attention to proportion” (because, well, you probably did!).
Toronto designer Sarah Walker has an even harsher perspective: “There is no storytelling, no character, no personality,” she says. “It says, ‘I’m all about minimum effort and don’t care about self-expression.'” As Ariene Bethea puts it, “it gives off showroom, stager vibes.”
“It’s the lazy route—and oh so generic,” says Djalna McSween. “Who wants to be basic?” Ariel Okin summarizes it even more succinctly: “They make me sad.” Basically, says Miami designer Travis London, “It’s not personal.” And that’s the biggest issue: “Design should be personal and reflective of its inhabitants,” London argues.
Of course, some might turn to a room set as a cost-effective option—and designers are well aware that budget constraints often limit home design choices. But the truth is, cost doesn’t have to be a reason to turn to blah decor; after all, with today’s options of Facebook Marketplace, Instagram, and Craigslist—not to mention the myriad online stores offering vintage furniture—there’s never been an easier time to source great deals on vintage or pre-loved furniture.
Buying an all-in-one furniture set “is the definition of generic,” Pittsburgh designer Betsy Wentz says. “Mix in an antique side table instead!” That way, you get the kind of patina that makes for a more compelling—and inviting—space. “Rooms in a box often feel too perfect,” says Atlanta-based Laura Jenkins. “I always tell my clients that a perfectly imperfect vibe is best.”
And look, if you’re crazy about a certain era and looking to go all-in with a funky vintage set, that’s one thing—but if you’re seeking out a mass-produced suite to check off the furniture box in you’re space, you’re guaranteed to be bored of it within a few months.
“I like spaces to feel collected and curated—to tell a story,” says Dallas-based Eddie Maestri of Maestri Studio. Camila Pavone agrees: “A room needs layers,” she espouses.
And while that may be easier for a designer to say than the average homeowner to achieve, the great thing about creating personal style is that anyone can do it—whether you’re shopping from bespoke European ateliers or your local flea market. Ultimately, the biggest “secret” to creating a space you love is filling it with things you love—and I’m willing to bet there are few people who genuinely love a standard-issue furniture suite in one color of boring, builder-grade wood. If you’re truly hell-bent on buying it all from one vendor, shake it up a little, at the very least: “Even if you get the case goods from the same source, make sure they have different details, lines, or other elements to add interest,” Saunders suggests.
If there’s one thing I’d hope two years pent up in our houses would have taught us, it’s to have a little fun with decorating—buy the funky fringe lamp, recover your mother’s sofa in a zany pattern, cover that wall with a bold wallpaper. Don’t color within the lines—or shop in the box(ed set). “They’re the epitome of fast interiors instead of slow, layered ones that create a home,” explains Sophie Williamson.
As Chicago designer Jenny Brown summarizes, “The only time a bedroom set is acceptable is if you won it on The Price Is Right.” And even then, might we suggest a new coat of paint? Trust us, it will make you happier.
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