Painting, wallcoverings help tame tall walls

March 07, 2005|by ROSE BENNETT GILBERT/Copley News Service

Q: We have really high ceilings in our living room, and I'm having trouble figuring out how to keep them from making us feel as if we're sitting at the bottom of a well. I hung a big mirror over the mantel but don't know what to put on the other walls. My husband suggests a tapestry but we can't find one we can afford.

A: Other inexpensive options abound, such as a can or two of paint. Color can work magic, instantly and cheaply bringing a tall room down to human size. Simply painting the ceiling darker than the walls will make it look lower. Ditto for wide crown moldings, installed around the ceiling line and painted to match the ceiling, not the wall.

As for decorative hangings for your tall wall, consider a quilt if your decor is informal, or a few yards of handsome fabric, say, a damask, if it's more formal. Instead of a costly frame, tack the hanging to wood dowels, top and bottom, to hold it taut against the wall.


Rely on tall furniture, too. Here's where a hefty armoire, imposing secretary or big bookshelves should throw their visual weight around. Think also of grandfather clocks, of standing screens that will bisect the wall's height at a comfortable level, of an art collection hung right up to the ceiling, Victorian-style.

The bedroom in the photo we show here boasts a high, beamed ceiling - a bright idea worth stealing if you can find the right antique screen. Stripped of its tattered fabric, the wooden frame becomes unorthodox wall art, accented with a tic-tac-toeish arrangement of smaller artworks. Featured in "At Home in Nantucket" by designer/author Lisa McGee (Chronicle Books), the old home offers other suggestions for taming too-tall walls. For example, the owner ran a bookshelf up the wall and across the top of the wide doorway in the living room. And to make her own bedroom feel more intimate, she swagged a canopy of simple blue-and-white patterned fabric from the sloped ceiling over her bed.

Q: I have fallen in love with a beautiful, handmade Tibetan carpet I found at a charity consignment store. It's in perfect shape, the colors are great for my hall, and I can afford it. But my girlfriend says it was probably made by child labor. I don't want anything to do with that, but how can I know?

A: Go study the labels on the object of your desire. If it says "Rugmark," you can breathe easy. Rugmark is a global nonprofit organization created by the carpet industry itself to end child labor and offer educational opportunities for children in India, Nepal and Pakistan. If the rug you love is a Tibetan made since 1959, it was probably made in Nepal by refugees who fled Tibet when the Chinese took it over.

One of the largest contributors to the Rugmark foundation is American importer Stephanie Odegard, who honed her social conscience as a Peace Corps volunteer. An important resource of original and antique Tibetan rugs, Odegard donates a good chunk of their selling price to the foundation, which funds rehabilitation centers and pays schooling expenses for children who might otherwise spend their young lives laboring over rug looms. For a closer look at what the foundation does, go to For more about Odegard, go to

Q: We are planning to add a great room addition that includes the old kitchen, which has a brick wall we love. We want a huge fireplace in the great room, which will have a cathedral ceiling with beams. Here's our question: Should we make the fireplace wall stone, or brick to match the kitchen wall? Also, is there anyplace we can find old - or old-looking - beams?

A: Your timing is terrific. America's collective urge to reclaim and recycle offers a wide choice in "pre-owned" building materials, like used brick and old wood planks that are being refinished for another lifetime of service. Expect to pay more - it's expensive to take down old buildings, brick by brick, and board by board. Vintage lumber is also being dredged up from lake bottoms and underwater bridge supports. What you may get for your money, besides the lovely patina of age: old-growth and wood species that simply aren't available today.

For your fireplace, I say go with the old brick. If you can't find it locally, jump on the Internet and tap into the many salvage yards that are flourishing coast to coast. A sample to get you going are;;;

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. Please send your questions to her at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or online at

Copley News Service

The Herald-Mail Articles