Try some big ideas to decorate a big room

July 02, 2005|by ROSE BENNETT GILBERT /Copley News Service

Q: We have bought what our friends tease and call a "McMansion" - a large house with a double-height living room and a double layer of windows. I loved the idea before we moved in! But now I don't know how to handle those upper windows. We sit in there and feel like we're at the bottom of a well. What to do?

A: You have to change the room's focus. Bring it down from on high, using color and pattern to shift the center of attention back where it should be - on the people in the conversational grouping at the bottom of your "well."

This doesn't mean you have to cover or camouflage the windows that attracted you to the house in the first place. In the room we show here, for example, the windows are left bare, the better to let in the light and the sight of the surrounding landscape. The designer uses custom-designed wall-to-wall carpeting as the central point around which the furniture arrangement is anchored. The rug design of trailing branches and flowers echoes the sofa's floral pattern and the colors in the other upholstered pieces.


Although custom carpeting is costly, you could achieve the same effect using an area rug - on top of wall-to-wall, if you like - to organize and anchor your seating arrangement so it doesn't drift aimlessly on that sea of space.

Large and tall rooms are both a blessing and a curse, as you've just found out. You will want to check out a wise book called "Big Home, Big Challenge," written by Kira Wilson Gould with Saxon Henry (McGraw-Hill/Elements of Living Series). The authors offer a wealth of solutions for dealing gracefully with rooms that are too tall, too wide, too spacious, too overpowering.

One other good idea from the room in this photo: the reason it's OK to leave the windows uncovered and open to the light and the view is that they have been treated to an application of a window film that blocks almost all glare and solar heat-gain. Applied by a professional installer (find one in your local Yellow Pages under "Window Film"), the coating also protects your furnishings and artworks against fading. The film you can't see on these windows is Vista UV Shield, which costs $4 to $10 per square foot, and has a five-year warranty, at least (some come with a lifetime warranty). To learn more, click on

Q: I have my heart set on painting my home office walls black - a delicious, shiny black with white woodwork to set off my collection of black-and-white photography. My husband thinks I'm nuts, that I will get lost and depressed in a black room. Maybe a light floor would make a difference? What do you think?

A: I think you should have the courage of your "color convictions" (to quote designer Catherine Stein, president of The Color Council in New York).

This is your office, after all, so where better to express your personal tastes? Your husband may look at a black room and see potential depression, but like you, I see sophistication and crackling energy radiating from those polar opposites, black and white. The shiny finish is also energizing.

And, yes, you may be wise to keep the floor light in color, say, pickled hardwood, wall-to-wall ceramic tile, or one of the new and remarkably realistic laminate floors from manufacturers like Pergo ( that look like wood, tile or even stone. Because your black walls will absorb so much of the light, you'll need the light-colored floor to bounce back all the available illumination that comes in through the windows or from electric fixtures.

Final thought: Painting your ceiling white - with a high-gloss finish - will also help brighten your workaday world and lighten your work load.

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

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