Little design elements can mean a lot

September 24, 2005|by ROSE BENNETT GILBERT /Copley News Service

Q: Our apartment is on three levels, with the front door opening into a little stair hall that brings you up to the living and dining rooms and kitchen (the bedrooms are up more stairs on the top floor). Here's the problem: the stairs take up almost the entire hallway. There's no space for anything that makes it look inviting. What can you suggest?

A: Adopt a new mantra: "Little things can mean a lot." Surely, your entryway has a floor and walls. Before you say that's not much to work with, study the entry hall we show here.

Designer Glenn Lawson has turned those two architectural surfaces - floor and walls - into a tour de force that makes this small hall one of the biggest attractions in the entire apartment. Lawson is based in New York City, so he knows from tight spaces and he knows how to make the utmost of them.


Here, he relies on illusion. Look closely at that Escher-esque floor and you may see that the optical illusion has been worked on plain old hardwood parquet blocks, the kind that are fairly standard issue in many city apartments of a certain age. The designer uses three different wood stains to create the depth perception that adds a real Wow! factor to this front hall.

Lawson also replaced an ordinary staircase with these floating steps, an ingenious stroke that opens and lightens the space. Even if you aren't up for serious renovation, take note of his deft handling of the hall's furnishings: he fits an elegant tall clock into the vertical under-stair space; he paints a low table so it virtually disappears into the wall and you see only the decorative accent pieces; he uses art to good advantage, a painting on the lower wall and a long, classic tapestry warming the back wall between the landings, leading one up the stairs.

Q: My husband's first wife collected Hummel figurines, between us, not my taste, but he has always made it clear that he feels they are a little memorial to her and the time they had together. I appreciate the sentiment (if not the figurines) and would like to find a way to display them with some respect without their taking over my living room (there are nearly 100 Hummels). What do you suggest?

A: First, a hearty pat on your back for such super-cool handling of a potentially loaded issue. Daily reminders of earlier lives are not easy to live with if it wasn't your life.

My advice: go another mile and invest in a display case or collectors' cabinet that can house all those little cuties together, making the sum truly greater than its parts.

One manufacturer that makes show-off furniture in great variety is Howard Miller ( One of its newest collectors' cabinets features cut glass front and sides, a mirrored back and lighted glass shelves so it will add a glow to a dark hallway, say. Although such cabinets can hold a large collection - this one stands more than 6 feet tall - its footprint is small, just 14 inches deep, so it should be easy to fit where it can be admired without totally monopolizing your home scene.


Grab a notepad and get on autumn's designer show house circuit. Spring no longer has a monopoly on these inspirational makeover projects, wherein local interior decorators strut their stuff, packing rooms with professional ideas, color tips and tricks for you to take home - free of charge. Autumn's also a hot time for show houses - which makes sense, what with all the holidays coming up between now and the year's end.

My personal favorite so far is the North Fork Designer Showhouse in Jamesport, Long Island, New York ( In a beau geste of impressive proportions, the sponsors have brought back to life a derelict Victorian mansion built in the 1860s by a prosperous sea captain named Jedediah Hawkins, whose descendants still live on Long Island's North Fork.

Some 30 top designers have turned the crumbling mansion into a showplace. (Capt. Hawkins' house is open until Oct. 24; for other show houses this fall, check out, and look under "What's Hot").

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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