Ask a designer

The fate of the too-tall great room

N&O Design Team members offer solutions to readers

May 12, 2012 

  • Ask a designer Do you have a room that defies your every attempt to decorate it? Send us a photo or two of the space, along with a letter describing your design dilemma and the look you want to achieve. Members of the volunteer N&O Design Team will offer solutions to selected problems in Home & Garden. Send email to Subject line: “Ask a Designer.” Be sure to include your name, town and contact information. Due to the volume of email, we cannot provide individual replies. Note: If you send us a question, you’re giving us permission to publish your information.

Our great room opens to the kitchen and has vaulted ceilings. It is 12-1/2 feet by 22 feet. We moved here about 6 months ago from a very cramped 1970s house with tons of walls and enclosed spaces so the open floor plan is throwing me for a loop. I have no idea how to paint it, what color to paint it, how to decorate the walls or how to paint the area around the stairs.

We have three children, ages 2, 3 and 5, so storage is a big deal – we’ve got lots of toys. We also home-school so the desk area or a school area is very important. Right now the walls are painted white with a flat builder’s paint and the fingerprints, marker marks and crayon scuffs are taking over and even a Mr. Clean eraser can’t get them off.

I need a good color that will hide the dirty fingerprints and be scrubbable and tips for decorating the two-story walls. We’re on a tight budget and don’t want to invest in really nice furniture until the children are a bit older.

Covey Denton


We asked Donna Verdi of House to Home Interiors, LLC in Holly Springs, to tackle this design dilemma. She writes:

Thank you for allowing me to assist with your design dilemma. I have enjoyed working on your family room.

The foundation: My first suggestion is paint. Paint is the easiest thing to change without a huge price tag. An eggshell finish is easy to clean and has a pretty sheen. The color I recommend is Sherwin Williams’ Svelte Sage. It will really warm up the space. Next, I suggest investing in an area rug. Your room can easily handle a 9- by 12-foot or 10- by 13-foot rug. The rug will add that pop of color that your room really needs.

Storage solutions: Now that the foundation of the room is established, the next step will be storage, storage and more storage. If budget allows, hire a carpenter to create built-ins in the school area. This will maximize the space and give you much-needed height on that wall. If this is not an option, Ikea sells ready-made cabinets/bookshelves that will do the trick. Stock the shelves with fabric baskets for storage to hide clutter.

Study area: The photo also shows a large corkboard. This will give you plenty of space for your children’s art, adding both functionality and color to the space. The wall to the right has been transformed into a chalkboard using chalkboard paint. This is an inexpensive way to create the look of a costly, store-bought chalkboard. I also have included a large-scaled table with a whiteboard on top to give you plenty of surface for homework, crafts and such. These tables can easily be found on the Internet. The table is paired with small-scaled chairs.

Visual interest: The fireplace wall also presented a challenge with its double windows and high ceilings. The sage paint on the wall coupled with fun art over the mantle will transform the space. I recommend hanging long drapery panels over the lower windows. You should hang them at least 6 inches above the window top to create height in the room. This will also create visual interest on this wall. In addition, hanging decorative scrollwork will also add height and elongate the windows. Another option is to add some molding around these windows. Molding will change the look of the windows and this wall.

The wall that goes up the stairs is a perfect place to do a large-scaled photo wall. Find pictures that you love of the kids, animals and family members and have them enlarged to various sizes. Hang them in a symmetrical pattern. Black frames with white mattes would be perfect!

Functional furniture: I also recommend using slip-covered furniture. Slipcovers are great with kids and pets. You can easily remove the slipcovers and throw them in the wash. The sofa will look great centered on the fireplace wall. You could even add two small-scaled chairs. A floor lamp will round out this space.

Just remember, it is perfectly fine to do this room in stages. Make a list of your priorities and tackle one thing at a time. My hope is that this will be a room you and your family will love to spend time in.

House to Home Interiors, LLC, Holly Springs. 919-830-7183

CREDITS: Computerized design rendering courtesy of Christine Tobul of CT Drapery Design

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