Brian Smith, a founding partner at Studio Tack, 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.”

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