Old-fashioned charm never goes out of style

April 25, 2009


Creators Syndicate

Sometimes simple, old-fashioned ideas are best. Take for instance the way mid-20th century homes were constructed with built-in storage for a variety of purposes.

I wrote last week about the dining-room buffets that were typically included in Craftsman-style houses. Spanish Revival homes from the 1930s and '40s also featured built-ins, such as petite telephone desks and expanded linen closets or butlers' pantries.

We have moved away from such built-ins when it comes to new tract homes or today's condominiums and townhouses. One reason built-ins are less common is because builders count every dollar in planning their profit margins.


Yet it is when you view model homes that you are likely to see uniquely conceived built-ins demonstrating awesome ways to maximize available space. Generally, such features are offered as extras, meaning they cost extra.

Currently, there are few model homes available to walk through. And due to our current economic slowdown, it is unlikely we will see many new home starts for a while to come. But when starter homes start to sell again, and they are slowly beginning to move in some communities, folks will be looking for ideas. If you seldom visit model homes, you can still find ideas in magazines and books.

The comfortable and ageless breakfast room shown in the photo is from my new book, "Small Space Living." What I like about the setting is the perfect framing of the center window achieved by the unique woodwork on each side bookcase. The shelves and lower cabinets are shallow, yet they make perfect surfaces upon which to display china. The graceful curves and top arch of the shelves soften the otherwise stark look.

What makes this room feel elegant is the soft gray paint on the back surface of the shelves that subtly matches the insert in the area rug. With the distinctive conservatism we often note in classic Scandinavian design, this room is constructed of restful, neutral whites, warm pine color and gray. Any smaller room would benefit from this palette.

Great depth is unnecessary to accomplish functional storage. A 9-inch-deep shelf can hold things like compact discs, collectibles such as teacups or beer mugs, fine crystal stemware, or porcelain figurines. It is a great idea to paint the rear surface of the shelving in an accent color or to apply textured wallpaper. Unless you are very sure, though, try to avoid a busy pattern because those are the kind of things we become tired of in time.

In some cases, adding a mirror to the back would be an effective way to visually stretch the room. One piece of advice regarding mirrors: Be cautious to avoid reflecting the inner details of the woodwork. If there are imperfections or odd-looking joints, they will become apparent for all to see.

Illuminating shelves like those in the photo can be complex. A low-voltage light hidden at the top will only succeed in lighting the top shelf. Therefore, a simple and effective way to light shelves is to install an adjustable, or "fisheye," recessed light in the ceiling about 30 inches away from the vertical surface.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at To find out more about Christine Brun and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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