Mirrors can help add light, and open up spaces

March 14, 2009|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT / Creators Syndicate

Q: We bought an old house with low ceilings (under 9 feet), which doesn't have a lot of natural light in the living room. The architecture is mostly traditional - ceiling mouldings and a simple fireplace - but our furniture is pretty slick modern since we're moving from the city.

Any suggestions will be appreciated. After painting everything white, we are kind of at a loss.

A: To your rescue comes designer Matthew Smyth, who faced similar issues when he rescued an 18th-century farmhouse in Connecticut. The house had been broken up into many rooms to serve as an inn for "lady schoolteachers," Smyth reports. Therefore, he had to be creative about opening up the spaces to let in the light.

His method is an idea worth stealing: with mirrors (no smoke). In the pictured sitting room, he hung a pair of tall mirrors on both sides of the single window "to give extra height (to the 8.5-ft. ceilings) and reflect the light - the house is surrounded by big maple trees. I love them, but they do block the light in the summer months."


It also helped that he opted for "cleaned-up" traditional furnishings, mixed with some sleek contemporary silhouettes and a palette of light colors, including the natural sisal rug on the floor.

"I don't like cliches, but it could be called 'traditional for today,'" Smyth explains.

That's today with a lot of respect for the l8th century, too. Centered on pedestals in front of the living room mirrors are plaster busts (bought on e-Bay) of 18th-century American heroes Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Not bad company to keep.

For a closer look at Smyth's work, click on

Q: Where do decorating trends come from in the first place?

A: Trade shows are a major source, especially for the furnishings and design industries.

During the first of every year, a lot of international design trade shows take place in both the U.S. and Western Europe, in major cities like Paris, Cologne and Frankfurt.

What is seen and heard in these shows appears in your local design stores roughly six months later. So what will you be buying (if this recession ever ends) six months or so from now?

From Heimtextil - the world's largest home textile show that is held every January in Frankfurt, Germany, - here's a preview by journalist Michelle Lamb, founder and chair of Marketing Directions Inc. and publisher of The Trend Curve market reports:

o Metallics have become more of an infusion. They are used more often as accents rather than as complete coating.

o Black is moving from basic to fashion-forward with jewel tones, not white.

o An orange version of coral is incoming and directional.

o The newest neutrals have chameleon characteristics; they change colors depending on how you look at them.

o Eco-right textiles are here to stay with organic fibers and anti-microbial finishes on bed linens. Adding wellness to texture, towels are infused with vitamin E, and some are cut smaller for saving energy.

o Dimensionality is hot, Hot, HOT. With advanced technologies, construction has leapt to the front of newness: multiple weaves, tiny weaves, pleating, puckering, bubbly textures and sheers with heat-set floral blossoms.

o Patterns are going in opposite directions, from giant to tiny, often in the same fabric.

o Also emerging: Grainy textures instead of flocking on wall coverings - twill weaves, tweeds and herringbones - paint spatters and lines of all sorts.

For more about Michelle Lamb and her professional prognostications, visit

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas.

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