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Design Dilemmas Solved by Stephen Saint-Onge

Better Homes and Gardens contributing editor Stephen Saint-Onge answers your tricky decorating questions.

Conquer Tricky Furniture Arranging

Question: We live in a lovely new townhome. The main living area has a lot of space, but how do we arrange furniture around the corner fireplace? Five feet away from it are triple doors leading out to the deck. -- Mardell, Norwalk, IA

Stephen: Usually I would decide furniture placement based on a centrally located fireplace, but this case doesn't allow it. Because it's a large room, try more than one seating area. Place a few small chairs close to the fireplace for a cozy reading spot. Then, create a separate seating area away from the fireplace. I would suggest either around a media center or the view out the doors. When you have a wall of windows or doors, they don't all need to be used. Don't be afraid to place a chair in front of an unused one.

Conquer Overwhelming High Ceiling

Question: I'm stuck on our walls! Our ceiling is 18 feet 7 inches tall and the height is intimidating. How do I create a warm and inviting design for this cavernous living room? I'd love to include the colors of nature and bring the outdoors in. -- Cathy, York, SC

Stephen: Adding an architectural element like molding halfway up the wall would make the room's height seem less imposing. You could paint the lower half of the room one color (like a light tone of yellow to enhance the natural light) and the upper walls and ceiling another. Painting the ceiling a color softens the room. I'd suggest a pale green for a natural look, but you could also choose a palette based on the time of day you love. I like twilight, so I'd use the colors in the sky, trees, and grass at dusk for my palette.

Conquer the Picture-Perfect Family Room

Question: Most Americans have a TV, but I've never seen one in decorating pictures. How can I arrange a family room to include a TV plus space for other activities? -- Joan, Irving, TX

Stephen: Flat-screen TVs are more affordable now and blend into a room's design, so the TV no longer has to be the focal point of the room. If space allows, place the TV in a separate area and surround it with built-in shelves or bookcases. Define the zone with a rug and a sectional. A large table and chairs are a great addition to a family room. They make a spot for creativity-boosting activities. Add a cabinet for art supplies and games. Or, build a desk area with loads of storage by topping store-bought cabinets with precut countertops.

Conquer Rug Size and Shape

Question: How do you choose the right rug shape for a room? I can't tell if round, oblong, rectangular, or square should be used and where to place it under furniture? -- Heather, Concord, NC

Stephen: Area rugs are particular to the spaces they go in, so here are examples of rug options for several living areas. In any room, start by thinking about where the furniture works best. In this sketch, different area rugs have been placed to suit the space.

1. Living Room: The fireplace is the centerpiece, so the furniture is placed around it. The large square rug is big enough for all the furniture legs to rest on, to anchor the seating area.

2. Dining Room: I chose a round rug to accentuate the shape of the dining room table.

3. Foyer: The space has a high traffic flow, so I would use a washable runner to lead your eye to the rest of the home.

4. & 5. Traffic Areas- If rugs are visible through multiple rooms, consider choosing a common color in each of the rugs. The similar color will tie them together without matching them.

If you're not confident about pulling colors and textures together, a natural fiber rug or sisal will give you more flexibility. The neutral color and pattern makes it easy to change wall color later on. All of these tips work if you have wall-to-wall carpeting too. Just use area rugs over them to define different uses.


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