Designer tricks make a small room look bigger

August 28, 2009|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT / Creators Syndicate

Q: We have the smallest-ever breakfast area opening off our kitchen. My husband built a banquette and hung a light over the table, but it still makes us claustrophobic! I'm thinking of wallpapering. Would stripes be a good idea, just to relieve the squeezed look?

A: Especially if you run the stripes horizontally around the walls. It's a failsafe optical illusion. Horizontal lines seem to push the walls further apart, creating -- presto! change-o! -- a room that at least looks larger.

Professional interior designers have any number of such illusory tricks up their sleeves.

You have to love what Valerie Onor ( has conjured in the tiny breakfast nook we show here. Thanks to the charming wall-to-wall mural, it's sum-sum-summertime all year long for this beach-loving family.

Of course, much of the success of a mural depends on the quality of the artwork itself.

Doubtless, the designer brought in a professional artist. You can, too, without spending all your family's vacation allowance. Check out local art schools. There's always a talented student who'd be thrilled by such a commission.


You can also buy scenic murals on wall-coverings that go up easily, sheet-by-sheet (one top wall-covering manufacturer to check out is York,

Q: What's hot in entertaining interiors?

A: Take that literally. Now you can add a romantic fireplace almost anywhere in your home ... or out on the deck. No flue, no worry about clearances, hauling ashes or smoking up the walls.

New from the Germany-based company blomus come sleek stainless steel fireplaces you can hang on the wall -- or sit on your dining table, according to Mark Burgener of the U.S. office. On view at the recent New York International Gift Show in New York, these fireplaces are practically personal accessories, adding the eternal fascination of dancing flames to a bedroom or bath, as well as apartments where no real fires could go.

Instead of logs or gas, the blomus fireplaces burn denatured alcohol, the kind you can buy at any hardware store or lumberyard. One filling lasts three to five hours, Burgener says. That's a lot of glow for the money. Ditto for the fireplaces: They run from $1,300 for blomus' new wall-hung version to $899 for a table model. But what a centerpiece! See more at

Q: Want to turn over a new leaf?

A: Click on and get ready for a Rousseau-sized surprise. Also on view at the New York Gift Show, Austin, Texas, artist Lauren's great pressed-plant "paintings" were show-stoppers: giant tropical leaves, ferns, even hydrangeas and cacti, all still green and very real, spread-eagled and pressed under glass like the works of art they are.

Lauren uses only organic plant materials, which put her smack on-trend at the Gift Show:

Natural, organic, sustainable and green were the buy words at the show, which is where store buyers from all over the county come to find the decorative products you'll be buying this coming season.

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