Brian Smith, a founding partner at , has a name to describe the pitfalls of a stereotypical bachelor pad: catalog syndrome.
“It’s when everything begins to blend together, making spaces feel more like homogenized showrooms and less like homes,” he says. “While they may not be dirty, thereʼs a visible laziness to them.”
When a bachelor pad fits this description, it means that a quick tour illustrates practicality over personality. The design leans heavily on matching furniture sets or passed-down items—like an old sofa placed directly in front of a television, with chairs lined up against a wall—which fill a room...but do so without style. Smith also mentions how the artwork, if it exists, tends to be something bland or juvenile.
“The problem is often one of semantics,” he says. “Men can view decorating as mindlessly buying accessories at a store and then scattering them around their house. But we canʼt blame them for this. Weʼve been conditioned by catalogues and store windows that design can be, quite literally, a one-stop shop.”
So how can this problem be fixed? We asked Smith to share some ideas on how to avoid the bachelor pad cliché, and his answers are as much about shopping carefully as they are about fostering comfortable details. Follow his advice, and a place that exemplifies catalog syndrome can eventually become a space worth showing off.
“This may sound wishy-washy, but you need to do a little soul-searching before you set out to decorate,” Smith says. “Your home should tell the story of you, not a brand.”
Take Your Time
In order for a home to tell a story, as Smith recommends, the first step in design is likely the hardest: patience. “You need to have patience,” Smith says. “I canʼt emphasize this enough: Design is a process.”
Consider the type of style that best suits your taste—such as modern, traditional, eclectic, and so on—and then take your time to collect pieces that fall under that category. Of course, decorating your home this way won’t be done as easily as buying everything at one store. But that’s the point.
“If you view your home as a work in progress that’s never really complete, you’ll see it as a living canvas for your self-expression that evolves over time,” Smith notes. “This way, you have the freedom to snag that beautiful chair you saw at a flea market without worrying if it will fit with everything else you own.”
Don’t Forget: “If youʼre moving into a new space, donʼt rush to buy everything at once, as eager as you are to have a ‘finished’ look,” Smith adds. “If your home is layered with things you truly love, it will look beautiful, because everything will have a significance that no catalogue or store could possibly replicate.”
Mix Old With New
In keeping with the idea that you shouldn’t furnish a home from one store, Smith says that you also shouldn’t buy everything new. Either hold on to family heirlooms—no, a broken recliner doesn’t count—or search through vintage collections.
“Beautiful homes have a healthy mix of old and new pieces,” he notes. “For media and clothing storage, try looking for something vintage, like a beautiful mid-century credenza. These can be found at any decent vintage or thrift store, and for good reason—theyʼve stood the test of time because they’re well-constructed.”
Smith says that sofas, on the other hand, should always be bought new. “Itʼs going to be easier to pick one that perfectly fits your space and meets your comfort needs,” he says. “Take advantage of stores with white-glove delivery service. Thereʼs nothing worse than having to figure out how to get a used sofa from one space to another.”
Don’t Forget: “When Iʼm arranging a space, I like to use my phone to take photos of the process,” he says. “Itʼs a good way to step back and look at everything objectively. If your home is your story, then think about creating little ‘chapters’ or vignettes throughout different rooms. This could be as simple as a putting a narrow console table in your foyer with a small vase of flowers and a bowl for your keys.”
Light Each Room Properly
Now that you’re considering which furnishings are best for your home, don’t forget about the proper way to illuminate them, too. “Lighting is crucial, but too often itʼs the last thing people think about,” Smith says. “You can have the most beautiful space in the world, but if the lighting is bad, no oneʼs going to notice.”
Stay away from fluorescent lighting, which is too harsh for most spaces and can lead to headaches or blurred vision. Instead, Smith says, stick to warm incandescent or LED lights that can be adjusted with dimmers. “Dimming is crucial to adjusting light levels to suit a space or mood,” he says. “You can buy these at any hardware store and install them yourself. Be sure to bulbs that have a Kelvin temperature from 2,000 to 3,000K. At these levels, the light will be inviting and intimate. Anything higher, and your home will begin to look institutional.”
Don’t Forget: “In design, we use the phrase ‘touch point’ to describe the things that you literally touch a lot, like light switches, door knobs, and faucets,” Smith says. “Itʼs worth investing more on these items, because they will be used so much, and thereʼs nothing more satisfying than a beautifully sturdy rotary dimmer knob—favorite of mine is .”
Create a Sanctuary in the Bedroom
A bedroom should be the place where you feel especially at ease, so spend plenty of attention to its design. Smith says that it should start with a well-made mattress for a restful night’s sleep, and then—much like the rest of your home—expand on your tastes.
“Avoid bedroom sets where the bed, side tables, and dressers all match,” he says. “If you want a more streamlined look, try buying the bed and side tables in the same wood finish but from different sources. Then, try to balance heavy and light furniture. If you have a platform bed that sits on the ground, balance it out with side tables that have slender legs. This will keep your room from looking too bulky.”
After you’ve figured out the furniture, move on to details like artwork and lighting to complete the look. Layering in these pieces should feel balanced, too, and it’s best to work in groups of three. If you don’t like how a collection looks, rearrange the pieces until you do—there’s no time limit.
Don’t Forget: “Layering doesnʼt have to mean cluttered,” he notes. “A layered space considers how all the elements in a room blend together. It could be as simple as putting a vintage rug under your bed, or adding a small lamp and beautiful incense holder on a nightstand.”
Where to Shop
: “Reform is a company that creates beautiful, design-forward fronts and countertops for Ikea kitchen cabinets and wardrobes,” Smith says. “Itʼs an easy and affordable option to add personality to Ikea’s popular modular pieces.”
: “Framebridge has revolutionized how we frame and display photos and artwork,” Smith says. “In an increasingly digital age, our memories often remain locked up in our phones. Framebridgeʼs custom framing makes it easy to capture these moments and put them on display. Look through your phone, pick out some of your favorite photos, and send them to Framebridge, and theyʼll take care of the rest. Theyʼll even assign you a designer—free of charge—to help you pick out the best frames for your space.”
: “Tariq and Nick have carved out a space in the design world thatʼs focused on helping men create homes that are modern and beautiful,” Smith notes. “They have a line of custom and curated furniture, lighting, and accessories.”
: “This brand has a wonderful and affordable collection of lighting and accessories that are all handmade made in Portland, Oregon,” Smith continues.
: “Based in Brooklyn, Fort Standard designs and builds furniture that is timeless and modern,” he adds. “If you buy a piece from Fort Standard, you can be sure that it will never look trendy. Their pieces are so high-quality that youʼll probably be able to pass them down to your children.”
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