7 common design dilemmas solved!
how to transform the awkward areas of your home into some of its best features.
Published Mar 18, 2016 4:00 AM
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Unless you’re designing your home from scratch, there are bound to be one or two existing features in a purchased home that you may regard as eyesores. Such design challenges can be overcome with relatively simple solutions. If you have a room that’s as small as a pocket, as narrow as a tube or far too large, read on for some tricks that can hide, divide or merely alter the focus in the room.
1. The Narrow Space
Add stripes. Stripes help visually expand a room, making it appear wider. Use them narrow or wide, as seen here in this slim dining nook, but make sure they’re horizontal, as they’ll make your eye travel left and right. Whether you paint the stripes directly onto the wall or use wallpaper, this is the easiest way to make a room look wider.
Decorate with white.
By using an all-white or soft-toned color palette, you can lead the eye to a window and an outdoor aspect, helping alleviate any feelings of being cramped in a narrow space. If you must include texture and pattern, do it with restraint so there’s nothing to distract your line of sight to the outside.
2. The Pocket-Size Room
Pick a color.
This may seems counterintuitive, but painting a small room a favorite bold color can create a snug sitting area that people will gravitate toward. In the penthouse sitting room seen here, the high-gloss finish adds to the luxurious feel.
Install a massive mirror.
Create the illusion of a larger room with mirrors. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors on a closet or covering a wall will “double” the size of the room and bounce light around.
3. An Open Plan That’s Too Open
Divide the space.
An expansive room can be impractical. Demarcating zones in an open-plan space not only enhances the room’s function, but can also offer privacy. A free-standing divider can make for an attractive feature and need not be permanent.
Box off a room.
Like a Russian nesting doll, you can create rooms within rooms with sliding doors or screens in paper, wood or glass. You’ll find that even though screens are impermanent, they can still feel like walls and offer the same level of privacy — just ask the Japanese. For a quick fix, rig up curtains on a ceiling track so part of the room can be sectioned off when needed.
4. Exposed Plumbing
Celebrate difference. Having the “inner workings” on display is typical with industrial buildings, former-factory apartments and warehouse conversions. The simplest solution is to embrace the look and even make a feature out of it. Paint the pipes for a bit of fun, and in a range of colors to differentiate between the various pipes and their functions. Drawing attention to them in this way will further highlight the industrial feel of your home; you’ll find that the horizontal and vertical lines create a grid-like pattern.
Add even more plumbing.
Make your exposed pipes a special feature in the room by adding even more of them. Ask your plumber to install some to match the originals — they don’t have to be functional. The pipes will add pizzazz to the space, especially if they’re polished to a high shine. In this tiny powder room, the lustrous copper pipes are not only a sculptural feature, but they’ve been set against a dark background to really stand out.
5. Unsightly Views
Grow a natural screen.
No one wants to look out their window onto an unattractive building right next door. Foliage is a wonderful answer to hiding those unpleasantries while also enhancing your property. Bamboo grows quickly and is evergreen, a definite bonus when it comes to creating a leafy screen. (Be sure to plant it in a strong root guard underground, as many types of bamboo can be invasive.) Talk to a local landscape designer or nursery about the best species for your climate and soil, but as a rule, if you need dense screening all the way to the ground, choose a smaller species.
Blinds are a perfect means of blocking ugly views or creating some privacy from too-close neighbors. Unlined blinds in a sheer fabric still let in plenty of light while offering some privacy. You can also have blinds custom-made with transparent horizontal rods instead of the more traditional dowel sticks, for a seamless look.
6. Low Ceiling
Hang a curtain high. One of my pet peeves is a low ceiling. Thankfully, it’s easy to overcome simply by hanging curtains from ceiling to floor. With no visible rods or rails, the curtains create a waterfall effect that immediately gives the illusion of height.
Furnish with clarity.
Using transparent furniture and furnishings immediately opens up a living space. (Opaque pieces tend to stop light from bouncing around the room and impede air flow.) Acrylic or glass furniture is a fashionable choice, as it also adds a touch of glamour. Another trick is to furnish the room with low-profile furniture so it looks loftier.
7. Unused Space
Squeeze in a study nook.
If you don’t have the luxury of a separate study or home office, you might be able to transform the area beneath your stairs into a usable space. Alternatively, embrace the awkward angles of the space and build an upholstered seat into the nook, with some shelving to hold a few essentials. Nothing is more inviting than a seating nook in an alcove — grab a good book, a hot cuppa and perhaps a furry friend for some me time.
Stack up some shelves.
Built-in shelves are a visually appealing answer to filling the spaces that bookend a fireplace. Get a professional carpenter to install them — it’s a feature you’ll be forever grateful for.
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