This or That: Our Most Common Design Dilemmas

With every design decision we have to think about what will make the most sense, be the most practical, and look the best in any given space. A lot of thought and consideration has to go into each item, material, or piece that we spec and oftentimes we’re torn on what the best direction to go is! We wanted to share a few of our most common decisions that we have to choose between, our thought processes behind each scenario, and the instances that work best in each case. That being said, there are definitely instances when both work for different reasons in which case it comes down to the client’s personal choice. We typically go through a lot of back and forth when these design decisions come up, as  everyone has their own personal preferences! We’d love to know – which do you prefer in each of these instances?!

Layering rugs vs. one rug 

The idea of layering multiple rugs helps to ground a space with an additional point of interest with added pattern, color, or texture. It also helps to define an area more if furniture seems a little awkward or floating!

We love this idea but there are also cases where just one rug is enough because you don’t want to make the space feel too busy, and additional pattern and color just isn’t necessary.

Neutral vs. color 

The never-ending debate for a lot of designers! This applies to wall color, upholstery, window treatments, bedding, rugs–truly anything. What is the client’s personality or story? Does the location call for color? Or does it call for more subtlety? Our South End Reno project was a fun Boston condo that we couldn’t imagine without color…

…But several of our beach home projects call for far more subtlety and muted tones with only pops of color here and there!

We generally go by a rule of thumb to use neutrals as grounds, large upholstery pieces, and paint colors and bring the color in with pillows, rugs, and accessories–but again there’s an exception to everything!

Painted vs. wood vs. white cabinets 

Paint grade? Wood finish? White? How do you decide when it comes to selecting the perfect cabinet finish?! It truly depends on the mood of the space. A bright and beachy kitchen typically calls for fresh white cabinetry…

..but a fun pop of blue or another bold color can be just as beautiful! Or, you can even mix and match–We LOVE the contrasting statement of blue on only the island at our #ShelterIslandHomeProject where the rest of the kitchen has all white cabinets!

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And sometimes, the kitchen calls for cabinetry in a wood tone, all depending on what else is going on in the space. It may not be necessary to go bold with a color or bright with a white.

Artwork vs. a mirror 

Finding that perfect piece for above the credenza in your living room or above the console in your foyer is no easy feat! Both mirrors and artwork can definitely make a statement in their own way. Do you need more light reflected into your space? Do you need to do a final check before you head our the door? Then mirror is the way to go! Another point of consideration is what will the mirror be reflecting where it is hung? Ideally, you want a mirror to reflect a pleasing view or reflect light into the space.

If what the mirror reflects isn’t beautiful or if you need a pop of color or visual interest, then artwork is the way to go! Artwork is also a great way to bring a room together by providing a cohesive color palette to pull from for other items in the space.

Marble vs. manufactured materials

This decision generally comes down to practicality, household needs, & what type of space it is being used in. While marble and other natural stone is beautiful and stunning, it is more difficult to clean and can stain easier when used as kitchen counter tops or a bathroom floor tile. If the client is willing to take care with the upkeep of marble and natural stone, we’re all for it!


But in a space with kids or pets that may take more of a beating, there are plenty of options that look equally as beautiful with a lesser risk of staining.

White upholstery, yes or no? 

Another debate that we always have a tough time with! People are often afraid of white upholstery obviously for its “impracticality.” We love a crisp white sofa or chair for the way it brightens up a space–it’s simple and beautiful and serves as a blank canvas to design the rest of the room around. If you’re worried about kids or pets or your own red wine spilling on the couch, there are plenty of ways to have certain fabrics treated to avoid staining. There are also tons of great fabric options that are inherently stain resistant!

But, we totally get that you don’t want to take the risk either. And as beautiful as white upholstery can be, sometimes the room doesn’t call for a bright white sofa. Neutral and darker sofas will hide your stains much easier and is definitely more forgiving than the stark white.

Contrasting grout vs. matching or white grout

Do you want your grout to disappear? Or do you want it to make a statement with the tile? We love the way that a white subway tile looks with a contrasting black grout. A darker or contrasting grout will definitely alter the look of the tile pattern & the design of the room overall!

But this is a very specific look and it’s not for everyone/everywhere. Generally, a white or neutral matching grout is the way to go if you don’t want to make your space look too busy. Especially when a tile has some color in it, keeping it clean and simple with white is the way to go.

Typically, after weighing the many options, these decisions come down to personal preference and how it works (visually and functionally) within a space for each client! There is no perfect answer as to what is right or wrong, and everyone has their own opinions on what will work best for them!


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