Above-average ceiling heights and quirky angles throw an added challenge into living room design.
We’re in the final stage of my complete home reno, and the second season of Sarah’s House is almost done.
I’ve taken you through my conversion of the upper and lower levels of my back-split bungalow, and now all that remains is for me to share with you the main floor and the outside. When I think back, it was actually the living room that made me love this house. Over all, it’s not big, but somehow it feels much larger than the square footage would indicate.
I’ve had my share of challenges to overcome, and there were days when I thought the back-split would break the back of my creative spirit. But the house offered me some excellent features to work with — among the major ones are the great sightlines on the main floor and the extra-height living room with an open staircase to the upper level.
If you are short on square footage the best you can hope for is an open plan that gives the illusion of greater size.
The grass isn’t always green
You know by now that I love a single wall of wallpaper to add pattern and playfulness to a room, but bold pattern and strong colour isn’t the only way to achieve it. To play up the soaring ceilings, I gave a nod to the sixties by installing a pale straw-toned grass cloth. It has a shimmery finish that picks up the southern sunlight streaming through the window, adds a soft texture to the space, and helps disguise the slight imperfections in this long expanse of wall. A plain paint colour would have paled in comparison.
At an affordable price of less than $50 a roll, grass cloth comes in myriad colours, patterns and textures, and offers a dynamite way to bring a neutral colour scheme to life. If you love it as much as I do, by all means paper the entire room, but that’s not always necessary; you may get the hit of texture you crave from just one wall.
In the pink
Not only does a neutral room need texture, it also needs a jolt of colour. I like every room I work on to have a fresh look and try not to repeat schemes that I’ve done in the past. I’m constantly on the lookout for new patterns and shades that can serve as the jumping off point for a new direction.
In this case, we were thinking pink — not the bubblegum, cotton candy, saccharine-sweet tones that go hand in hand with Barbie dolls and tutus — but the more sophisticated geranium/coral/salmon shade of sophistication. With a slight undertone of orange, this pink finds a lovely complement in the muted olive and wheat tones that we used for the upholstery, rug and walls.
The usual move is to put a single, large, important piece of art on the wall above the sofa (read: the most expensive and showy piece you own), but this isn’t the only solution. With a nine-foot-long sofa and a 10-foot ceiling, I had lots of wall space to play with. It seemed to be calling out for a collection of smaller pieces to create one powerful grouping.
Lucky for me, my Rolodex just happens to have the names of some great artists, including Michael Adamson (who is not only a dynamite artist, but a childhood acquaintance and classmate from grade school).
I always advise keeping the upholstered pieces neutral to guarantee flexibility in the future and allow you to switch your accent colours.
This multicoloured wall of abstract paintings offers endless inspiration for every shade in the rainbow.
Make mine a Venti
In Starbucks speak, the bigger the coffee the better, so it’s only fitting that in these coffee-crazed days, the living room coffee table grow to reflect all things big and bold. While I can live without a monster dose of caffeine coursing through my veins, I can’t live without the benefits of an oversized coffee table.
At 2-1/2- by 6-feet, this light bamboo number offers room for my favourite design books, candles to set the mood, a few pretty objets to admire, and it still has room to spare for cocktails and canapés when impromptu entertaining is on the agenda. It’s low and sleek, and anchors the room — and it rests on a plinth base to prevent toe stubbing or tripping.
In most cases, I subscribe to the benefits of symmetry, but some installations call for a less balanced approach. The angled fireplace wall had already aggravated my aversion to all things angled, so I had to devise a new way of embracing it to work with my design sensibilities.
Instead of ripping the fireplace apart and spending a fortune to redress it, I just gave it a cheap and cheerful makeover. It was a floor-to-ceiling monolith of yellow brick with a golden oak mantle. I simply faced the brick below the mantle in inexpensive porcelain that is a dead ringer for Botticino marble, recladded the mantle in dark walnut, and covered the area from mantle to ceiling in drywall. Goodbye yellow brick, hello blank slate.
Since I’d blown the art budget on my gallery wall, I installed a full-length dressing mirror above the mantle. Since the upper level in a back-split is only half a floor above the living room, this mirror creates a dynamite sightline from the upper hallway. By setting the mirror off to one side instead of centring it on the fireplace opening, the remaining space showcases a sparkly crystal pendant and a few tall vases full of fresh blooms.
Small change, big payoff
There’s no foyer or enclosed entry in this house, and the existing solution was in dire need of a new look. I stripped off old panelling, ripped out the stairs, tossed out the built-in planter box and opened the main floor to the upper level.
Since I wanted to capture every possible inch of space for living room furniture, I was hesitant to build a wall to create the feeling of a foyer. Instead of a studs and drywall solution that would have stolen a precious six inches from the room and blocked the light from my glorious new front door, I brought a touch of modern steel and glass to the mix with a matching stair railing and floating glass panel.
There’s no denying that the railing lightens and brightens the stairwell, but what I love most is the semi-transparent panel that was created by sandwiching a piece of sheer fabric (of my own choosing) between two sheets of glass. This juxtaposition of industrial metal and diaphanous fabric perfectly sums up my approach to the entire place — one part masculine edge tempered by one part feminine accent creates the ultimate marriage of style and substance.