What elements are overused in home improvement?


Our Featured Question by Patricia Davis Brown of Dig This Design: Do you ever walk into a client’s house and think to yourself, “Oh no, not this again!” We’ve all seen some overplayed home improvement trends and wished that they’d had an early grave.

Whether it’s a shoddy product, an unattractive design element, or an overused material, we want to know what home improvement trends to avoid. We’re turning to our Blog-Off experts for the final word on the issue…

Why We’re Asking:

Patricia Davis Brown of the blog Dig This Design suggested our 14th Blog-Off question. Patricia Davis Brown Designs, LLC comprises of a network of organizations, including the Dig This Design blog, Professional Kitchen and Bath Plans (a virtual design company), and PDB Home Store (an online home furnishings site). Through her blog, Dig This Design, Davis Brown offers design tips, and discusses art and fashion. Furthermore, Dig This Design gives insider’s tips on the products of companies such as Sub Zero Wolf, BRIZZO and GE Monogram.

The trends of the home improvement industry follow along with the arrivals of new materials, concepts, and technologies. For example, the heavy use of granite for countertops were once very popular. However, in the last decade there has been a decrease in popularity of the material because of overuse. Styles are now moving away from the busy patterns in granite to newer, more monochromatic materials. Granite may make a comeback, but are there any other elements of home design that professionals wish they’d never have to see again?

So experts, it’s time to weigh in:

What elements have been overused in the home improvement industry?

With all the new technologies and materials available to us today, do you think there are some that were a mistake to make?
Are there any products, principles, or other elements that you consider passé?
What are the worst or most astonishing elements you’ve seen in current home design?
Is there anything you think homeowners should stay away from, whether it be an inefficient product (or use of a product) or an unattractive design element?

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. Great question…I would say one of the most overused trends as far as materials are concerned is marble, especially in bathrooms. While there is no doubt a place for marble, which can be extremely attractive (and expensive), homes have started to use it more and more…using it as the flooring or for a bathroom floor and walls. What many don’t realize is that marble has some major downsizes: it chips easily and stains extremely easy. In fact, even water stains marble, which is even more reason why it shouldn’t be in bathrooms. Moreover, to get it rebuffed and shined, the process is extremely expensive.

    • I agree with Andrew that natural marble has no place in the bathroom or kitchen for the problems he mentioned. However, as a manufacturer of quality cultured marble products for 46 years, I have to say that cultured marble products are the perfect solution for many bathrooms – new and remodeled. These are engineered composite products (made from natural marble dust and resins) that can be made into tubs, shower bases, vanity tops, vessel bowls, flat stock and on and on. They can be made in unique and custom shapes and sizes, custom colors, etc. And, as we like to say at CoMar, they are “affordably elegant”.

  2. Brown, Brown, Brown! I think our culture has been suffering from brownout in building materials for a long time. Clients tell me when they visit a tile shop or builder showroom, the “designer” only shows them the “Old World” boards. Brown tile, brown grout, brown granite, and beige paint. While white and light is the order of the day in design magazines and online, it takes far too long for the rest of the world to catch up. Using a neutral for resale or longevity is a nice idea, but when the “neutral” is dark beige it looks dated just as fast as a color – brown IS a color. Wood cabinets, brown tile splash and stone counters make a dark kitchen; since a light, bright kitchen is number one on most homeowner’s lists, it seems counter-intuitive to use brown for resale.

  3. This one is soooo easy! GRANITE! Unless you happen to live in a place where the granite is actually mined and finished (not too many of those around), then granite is a terrible choice for countertops. Nearly all of it is imported, coming across in great big cargo ships that get all of about 30 feet on a gallon of oil. It stains, chips, and must be resealed every so often. I have known so many people who regret their choice for granite. Alas, it has been a catch phrase for the entire residential industry. Builders and real estate agents promote it like it is the “end all, be all” of a fine home. It’s a shame because there are so many great alternatives that are far less maintenance and a lot better for the environment (not to mention local economies!) Engineered stone, recycled glass, wood, recycled cardboard, etc. Most, if not all, of these provide superior performance to granite. Besides, aren’t their any homeowners out there who want to be a “little” different from everyone else??? Granite is about the most unimaginative choice I can think of. If you really MUST have granite then use a small, flashy salvaged piece as a vanity or small table top and a lightly used area.

  4. There are a lot of candidates for this answer. Interior trim is my selection…it tends to be way overused. Trim designed thoughtfully and well is delightful. But for every great trim design, there are 10-100 bad trim designs. So often trim is smeared all over the interior of a house like lipstick…to about the same effect. Trim should be thoughtfully done and bring out the proportions of the space and reinforce the sculptural spatial quality. It is mean to delight the eye…not just deal with the corner between wall and ceiling. So often trim is installed and simply runs around a perimeter, following every corner…and then when an odd condition is found it just returns to the wall or collides with the offending item (like a cabinet). Trim must be thoughtfully done to have its greatest effect…often no trim is better than bad trim. Give trim design the thought and respect it deserves.

  5. Granite, Fire rings, Swimming Pools, All the things Movie Stars need and have. I feel most BBQ’s are over done, as are Pools under used. The water wasted and cost put Pools out of reason. Where is the question “what is the ROI?” when you need it. Wide spread bath faucets are an excess, cost and cleaning efforts included. Single hole lav faucets installs easier costs less, and easier to clean Less holes in the GRANITE. More than 1/2 the jetted bath Tubs are not used. Bar Sinks are seldom used . Kitchen Cabinets, now there is a return on Investment! (Wasted) As a Service Plumber, I see what people have and use, I am here to tell you instead of remodeling and re financing to do so, I paid off my Mortgage years past when everyone and his dog, was throwing money at the wall. Now they are in foreclosure the junk they put in is not working.l I am able to write this from an office that is not glamorous, nor remodeled, but paid for.
    I am sorry if I am not as supportive of remodeling as one might think I should be, but I have a bad taste in my mouth from the before mentioned excess
    Oh I might as well confess my excess, I have both Solar Thermal and Solar Electric on my house, some would say ugly as sin! but I wanted ROI!
    Greg Chick, Ramona’s Plumber and DIY Plumbing Advice . com

  6. Designing rooms with single purposes. So many people design house with traditional living room and dining rooms. They are hardly ever used. Focus in rooms should be multiple uses which will lead to smaller efficient spaces. In turn, furniture will become for multiple used orientated. For example, tables that function as coffee tables become dining room tables when needed.

  7. Well, it seems like granite is taking a kicking from the pros in 2011! Fair enough.

    There are some nationwide trends that I think can be traced, with varying degrees of success on the timeless/dated spectrum. Others are more regional, and there are a lot of trends that may not be quite as pervasive across the board. But, to me, judging these things is all has to do with *context*.

    When we notice glaringly obvious “sore thumbs” in terms of materials choices, or style choices, I think it’s usually because those things haven’t been integrated into the whole very well. They come off as slightly out of line with the personalities reflected in the design of the home itself, or even in the choice of décor, which reflects the personalities of those living in the space.

    In short, it looks like the decision-makers in question spent a lot of time comparing their spaces to those of their neighbors (or magazines, or TV shows, or blogs!) without asking themselves whether or not those elements really fit with the stylistic *context* of their particular, and unique space. I do think that all of those sources are great for kicking off design ideas. But, they shouldn’t be aped.

    It’s kind of like doing a cover version of a song when you’re a singer. You’ve got to make the song your own, not just imitate the original. Otherwise, your take on it is pretty meaningless and without personality, mostly to *you*, after a while.

    So, maybe the trend I’d tear down is the one that tells us that we have to pick a certain surface or treatment to feel as though we’ve *arrived* or have become en vogue. The great thing I’ve been seeing and reading about, coming out of homeowners making the best of what they’ve got in the homes they’re in rather than selling up in a bad market, is people really are beginning to get more bold. The colors are brighter, and there is more personality in spaces because the need to de-personalize in order to sell on isn’t as big a priority right now. That’s pretty liberating for a lot of people, in a way. They don’t have to chase the trends now if they don’t want to, other than the trends they make up themselves.

  8. My personal pet peeve is that when people choose fashion and trends over practical purposes! Brown and baby blue may be in for the season but it won’t withstand the test of time. When choosing furnishing, materials and color schemes, I generally recommend to do something that will withstand the test of time, and more importantly, the homeowner’s likings.

  9. I’m going to take you back a few years for this one, and coming at it from the perspective of the electrician. How about the sunshine ceiling!

    Back in the 70’s and 80’s, it was a popular trend to take the already low 8 ft. ceiling space in the relatively small kitchen area, drop it down another 8 to 12”, box it in with oak trim, and drop in diffuser lenses on a 2ft. x 2ft. or 2ft. x 4ft. grid, again made from oak strips. Then above the space now concealed by all this wood and plastic, screw up a series of surface mounted fluorescent light fixtures. Nice. The advantage was a relatively bright kitchen area with very few shadows. The disadvantage was that it was ugly and it made it look like the kitchen was set inside a cave. The maintenance on the fixtures above this structure was a pain in the backside as well as you had to remove diffuser lenses below the fixture that needed repairs, hoping you don’t drop them on the linoleum floor busting off a corner of the lens, or worse yet, shattering it to pieces. Then you’re faced with buying a new piece and cutting it to size without chipping or breaking the new piece. Good riddance to the sunshine ceiling! Removal of these grotesque structures and remodeling the lighting scheme was (and still is) a common project requiring a substantial amount of work.

    Here’s another one that not many may have heard of, but we ran into a few houses with this little “decorative touch” on the finish of a ceiling. It was called “candling”. This practice was the art of taking a smoothly finished drywall ceiling, lighting a candle and then holding the flame up to the ceiling making a pattern on it with the smoke coming off the open flame. It made the ceiling look like marble (with a little imagination incorporated), and then sealing the dirty old soot into place with a clear lacquer spray. So now we’re taking the relatively low light and dark finishes of the early 80’s, and adding to the problem by defacing the white finish of the ceiling with soot. Nice.

  10. I’m with the majority about granite. Homeowners have gone a bit overboard using granite for every countertop in their homes, so I think some other options (concrete, solid surface, tile) will become more popular as granite “fatigue” sets in.

    Dark cabinetry with the long brushed nickel pulls are seen everywhere too, but I’ve noticed that some other finishes are starting to show up more often. I recently visited a home with cabinets that were stained a warm gray, and the unusual color combined with the wood grain was stunning and different.

  11. Closets are a fact of life, important components of virtually every room in a home. When thoughtfully designed, they serve as space-efficient extensions of rooms.

    With that in mind, I’m surprised that so many homes still come equipped with basic closet shelving; meaning closets that have just one closet shelf with a single clothes bar or pantries and linen closets with limited shelving. It’s just not a realistic storage solution for anyone.

    Homeowners today are begging for efficient storage spaces and with so many options out there it’s an easy request to grant. Even if it’s as simple as adding double hang space to adding more elaborate components like drawers, shoe shelves and cabinets, homeowners should schedule time to work with a closet designer or their builder to create organized and efficient storage spaces to increase productivity in their homes.

  12. One of the most overused trends we have seen is the fireplace. In this day and age, warmth from a fireplace is no longer necessary to keep a home warm and for most homes, the fireplace hardly ever get’s any use. The maintenance and upkeep required in keeping your fireplace clean and the surrounding areas safe also proves more of a nuisance to homeowners. Furthermore, the one or two times a year you do decide to use your fireplace, it will require purchasing wood, and if you attempt to heat your entire home with it, it will require purchasing a whole lot of wood! Finally, using a fireplace requires you to invest in fireplace accessories. This includes tools, pokers, racks, and screens. These investments can quickly become costly if you are trying to match the style and décor of the rest of the home. Due to its initial costs and little or no use, the fireplace is slowly becoming an ‘over’ yet ‘underused’ component of the home.

  13. In my opinion, stacked stone is hitting the “chic-cool” ceiling, and is quickly becoming my number one vote for overused elements in home improvement. Stacked stone is to the 2000’s as stucco is to the 1980’s. Admittedly, the use of naturally inspired materials is much preferred and longer-lasting than man-created effects, but on a recent walk around my neighborhood I found myself feeling a wave of “design nausea” with regards to all the stacked stone adorning so many new and relatively newly built homes. It’s okay to use certain trendy design elements, but should be combined and complemented with timeless building materials such as natural stone, wood, brick, and/or cement or plaster so as not to date a home’s curb appeal and possibly decrease its future resale value.

  14. Greenwashing Design by branding. Two that annoy me are Passive Solar Design and Net Zero Energy homes.

    I am afraid that for a home to be truly passive solar it requires more than Southern exposure. There is a need to insulate the mass correctly, understanding the way light and in turn how air from that light is conducted through the home. It is not just lots of good windows that makes a home “passive solar”.

    “Net Zero Energy” is odd as if its being constructed right there it is using embodied energy from its materials to its build. It takes Energy to build a home, so right there is no zero in that equation. It should be thought of as Positive Energy Homes to understand how the home is using LESS energy than it needs to function and can store or return the excess power it generates to the utility provider(s) and one does not need to build a new home in order to achieve that goal. The greenest building is one that is already built and any home can be renovated to meet any number of high performance energy saving “types” of green homes.

  15. There are so many candidates for this one! Though, my number one pet peeve remains cookie cutter, magazine carbon copy spaces. While I adore looking at those perfectly turned out rooms on TV and in books, when I visit a home I want it to speak to the personalities and lifestyles of the people who live there – not look like they printed out a picture and asked a store or designer, “Give me this.”

    Along that same vein is beige walls — really, with so many gorgeous palettes out there, why? – and matching furniture sets, which just make it seem like you were shopping in a hurry and didn’t have time to select complimentary chairs, sofas, tables and TV stands. A little bit of mix and matching goes a long way in showing personality!

    As for tired trends, I’d list accent walls and wall decals. While both these things can be pulled off gorgeously, I’ve just seen my fair share of them and think it’s time to try something new – or even give the trends a new spin. Instead of a decal of inspiring words, maybe try a wall mural, which doubles as an accent wall?

    I guess, really, my complaint is that trends really have very little place in home decor. They’re fun to look at and use in small, easily, replaceable doses, but a lilac (purple was one of last year’s hottest hues) kitchen cabinet can look awfully dated in five years time, while choosing something you love is timeless.

  16. What a great list my fellow designers have created ! I had a fun time going down the row as most of their complaints are mine as well. While as an environmental designer I create a lot of stacked walls, I will be the first to say that I see them stuck in designs that make no sense. Actually, I prefer to do more formal stonework but that clientele is limited.

    My over all biggest complaint is to take a house with great bones, great design, great ambiance, that represents a distinct design period and expand it into a big monstrosity.

    I would prefer that people buy homes that they like and update them with care to maintain the character of the original style. If you want a McMansion built it from scratch. Or if you love the location, expand in a way that compliments the current structure.

  17. Successful interior design depends on creating a unique space that reflects the personality and needs of the owner. In my opinion, nothing is off limits in terms of the materials and design strategies that homeowners can choose today. Rather than focusing on what trends are “in” “out” and “overplayed” I recommend focusing on what you like and what meets your needs. Working with a professional interior designer is really the best way to arrive at a cohesive, attractive design because of the training and industry knowledge that designers have. Pulling bits and pieces of design ideas from various places (TV shows, magazines, websites, friends) can work as well – just keep in mind that you are not recreating a space you’ve seen somewhere else, but rather creating an entirely new one reflecting your home, your style, your needs. You are your own best inspiration!

  18. I agree with several of the comments above, especially those regarding the choice of marble or granite counter tops in the kitchen or bathroom versus a cheaper option.

    There are so many counter top options out there that are cheaper and easier to maintain, and these other options can even have a marble or granite look. In general the kitchen and bathroom are two major focal points in a home, specifically when selling. The condition and attractiveness of the cabinets and counter top are one of the first things a potential buyer will look at. With that said, I understand why homeowners tend to think highly of marble or granite, as it is socially well-known as an expensive, classy style. But being practical, a homeowner can get a counter top made with a very durable, laminate finish in any style or color for much less money.

  19. In my opinion I think the term “Do-it-yourself” has been way overused. Like any other aspect in life, it depends on your experience, skill level, and the tools you have access to, that will determine if you can actually “do it yourself.” I believe that if you’re going to educate homeowners as a “home improvement expert,” it’s your responsibility to guide homeowners as to when they should consult a professional. I think too many so called “home improvement experts” just throw out information under the title of a “do-it-yourself” project. So, to wrap this up, I’d like to see the term “Do-it-yourself” used a little less in the home improvement industry, and the term “here’s the information you should know” used a little more.

  20. One of the biggest mistakes people make with any trend is over doing it. Just take the ” Old World ” look…are we OVER this yet??? OMG, if I never see another corbel or applique again it will be too soon. Now, as a designer I do love all things design but, there is an art to not over doing an element in a design and we have all seen where someone has crossed that line. There is a balance to an ” Old World ” look. If you have a decorative corbals at the island, that alone is a strong statement, don’t over do it by also having appliques on the refrigerator cabinet, the hood etc. Be suttle with your strong moldings because they go far, less is more.

  21. The trend that makes me cringe is a Shaker cabinet door style. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate Shaker and Mission styles; in fact we were on HGTV with the “The Ultimate Craftsman” project about ten years ago. We have a number of neighborhoods that are definitely craftsman, but I can tell you for a time EVERYONE wanted the same door style; whether it had anything to do with the architecture of their home, and the design of their interior spaces or not.
    The other part of the Craftsman craze was the misunderstanding of the door style itself. Clients would say they want a Shaker door style, only to have them pointing to something that was not a Shaker style door at all. They would continue to refer to something with bead board or other ornamentation as Shaker. I stopped trying to explain.

    I guess what really rubs me the wrong way is for a client to insist on a trend that is completely juxtaposition to the architectural style of their home. There are times when a house is fairly new and so vanilla it doesn’t matter; but when a client wants to remove a 90 year old barrel vaulted ceiling from a historically significant Tudor home I become an advocate for the house itself.

    The other trend I don’t need to see more of are interior water features. Mc Mansions with a waterfall over glass mosaics as you walk in, or walk over. Maybe in Hawaii or Florida but in Seattle it feels more like your waiting for a table in a restaurant.

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