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Help your shelf gain a starring role

December 18, 2009|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT / Creators Syndicate

Q: We collect midcentury pottery, a lot of which is white. We built in a wall of shelves and grouped them all together to make a "statement," as you advised in one of your columns, but it's not very effective. We've thought of painting the shelves, but we don't know what will work in our contemporary color scheme (mostly neutrals).

A: A dark background will provide the "pop" you're seeking for your collection.

We scouted around to find an example and came up with the pictured smart home office (borrowed from "Staged to Sell (or Keep)" by Jean Nayar, (Filipacchi Publishing). Painting the backs of the shelve dark - in this case chocolate brown - emphasizes the lovely shapes of the pottery, even throwing books and stacks of magazines into interesting silhouettes. The sharp contrast of bright white and dark brown also adds zing to the setting.

In your case, where the rest of the room is all about neutrals, the bookcase wall could easily become the focal point, which could be a welcome addition.

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Q: The ceilings in our old (1827) farmhouse are really low. We've learned that was the way houses were heated by fireplaces. Anyway, we're blessed with central heat and "cursed" with these low ceilings (although our guests from the city think they are charming). We are not going to renovate - this is a part of local history - but need some other way to make the low ceilings less oppressive.

A: Illusion is key in decorating, as in other forms of magic. And, lucky for you, the magic is a relatively simple matter of using light colors and reflective surfaces to "raise the roof," so to speak.

We've known this for a long time, which is why most ceilings down through the eras have been painted white or light - colors that recede in the mind's eye. We simply don't bother to acknowledge them; ergo, they disappear.

Dark colors work exactly the other way around: they advance into our field of vision and into our awareness. That's why dark colors on the ceiling tend to make a room feel smaller and cozier.

Your room will get a visual lift from a very light - not necessarily white - color overhead (today's trend is to mix in a few dabs of the wall color to soften the overhead effect). Whatever hue you choose, get it in a gloss finish. The smoother the ceiling, the higher the shine you can afford; glossiness will accentuate any flaws in the ceiling's complexion.

Even the merest hint of overhead reflection will make your space look and feel lighter, loftier and much less overbearing.

Q: There's no wall large enough for the bed in our little guest room. How would it look if we put the head of the bed against the window?

A: Fine, as long as you make an effort to make the bed look as if it really belongs there. The simplest of solutions: Frame the headboard in floor-length, tieback curtains, similar to a canopy.

Or, if your window reveal is deep enough, install a canopy over the head of the bed - it's easy enough to suspend a wooden rod from the ceiling. Then simply swag a length of fabric from the wall over the rod. Fringing the ends would be a graceful touch.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Manhattan Style," "Hampton Style," and five other books on interior design.

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