Symmetry provides a solution for small living room

September 18, 2005|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT

Q: The living room in our new retirement village is really small and square, not more than 12 by 12 feet, and I'm having a hard time arranging the furniture. We got rid of the old sofa when we moved here. Now I'm wondering if we can even fit one in this space. I have always liked traditional decorating, and a lot of our accessories, like the coffee table, lamps and area rugs, were bought to go with 18th century Colonial. What can I do?

A: Think different, as the ad puts it, however ungrammatical that truism may be. Given the size constraints of your new living room, you'll simply have to look for new ways of meeting old needs for good looks and comfort.

For openers, don't mourn your sofa. Designed to seat at least three, sofas seldom attract more than two people at a time anyway. Who wants to sit in the middle, following a conversation like a tennis match?


A pair of love seats makes better sense - and better use of your limited floor space because you can split them up. In the tidy little living room we show here, two love seats face each other across a low table positioned in front of the fireplace - which, you'll notice, is flanked by two windows dressed exactly to match (in wide Country Woods blinds from Hunter Douglas).

Add in the two matching lamps on matching tables beside the matching love seats, and you see the perfect symmetry of the furniture arrangement, and how that symmetry serves to calm the space and make it look and feel larger.

It's a device the Greeks and Romans understood and used so well that today, we equate symmetry with Classicism. Which should work well to give your living room a sense of grand Colonial Classicism, and never mind how small the floor space really is.

Q: I am removing wallpaper in my bath and kitchen. The walls will be smooth, but I can have them textured to match the walls in the rest of my house. Recently, I visited someone's home and they had rooms with both smooth and textured walls. They said the trend is to smooth walls, and a combination of smooth and texture is not a no-no. What is your opinion? Can I forgo the texturing before I paint?

A: Forgo, and don't look back! Nowhere is it written that all walls should match, no more than all floors should be tiled or covered in wall-to-wall carpeting.

In fact, if you are not planning to re-paper the bath and kitchen, you will want the walls to be smooth because the paint job will look better and last longer that way. Moreover, smooth walls, painted in a semi-gloss or even a glossy paint, are the easiest to take care of in rooms subject to spills and splashes, like baths and kitchens.

Q: I don't know what we expected, but my daughter's dorm room is impossible to live in. She has two roommates and one tiny closet and no, repeat, no shelf space. There's not even wall space for a full-length mirror (which I couldn't live without). I know she's there to learn other things, but I wonder if you have any suggestions about how she can get more space from no space?

A: Look for double-duty furniture and lots of baskets to corral stuff in neatly. Among my favorite two-in-one pieces is a swivel mirror bookcase (about $499, from that has foot-deep shelves on one side, then rotates to a 72-inch-tall mirror on the other. With a footprint only 18 by 12 inches, it makes an open-and-closed case for two-faced furniture.

Another good idea: Lift her bed as much as 7 inches higher and - voila - many more square feet of storage space to be put to work. Solid wood bed risers - about $20 from sources like - will fit square and round bedposts. Buy a slightly longer dust ruffle and you can hide the undercover story handsomely.

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