10 Decorating Questions With Difficult to Find Answers

Hi Everyone,

I hope you’re having a good holiday. Or, at least, a peaceful one. I know that many are separated from family members and friends. Just know that a lot of us are alone. However, I’m still unpacking and trying to keep myself organized!

And, many of you had the same doozy of a rain and WIND storm yesterday. That was intense. But, the snow is all gone now! Yes, all of it, even where piled up.

If you missed or would like to review the mid-week post where I show a few photos of my new place in Boston, please go here.


In the meantime,  I can’t wait to go out and take some photos of the surrounding area.


Hopefully, tomorrow and Monday, the conditions will be favorable for that.

Today, I am going over several decorating questions that came up in the comments from last Sunday’s post about 50 living room decorating rules you need to know.

Naturally, there are hundreds if not thousands of rules and things to know.  However, these six decorating questions are all good ones.


Suzy’s decorating questions:


I’m wondering about built-in rules, baseboards, and crown moldings. Should all of them be from one catalog? Do you have personal rules for built-ins, Laurel? How about Modern built-ins and 1920s moldings and door trim? Can they work?? I’d love to read about built-in rules. William Mclure’s bathroom built-in is gorgeous, and his door trim and baseboard and crown moldings. Are they all from one architectural period?


classically proportioned Georgian door with Fibonacci Golden ratio - decorating questions


Okay, these are all terrific questions. First of all, I recommend those interested in mouldings, proportions, and styles to read at least the first three posts on this page.


modern-style home - eating area - scandi style

Fabulous kitchen designer Susan Serra’s beautiful Scandi-style home


Also, I would look at mixing a modern style home with traditional mouldings.


As for mixing styles, you can, to some extent, but it depends on the home.


If you have a 50s ranch home, I wouldn’t be putting up elaborate egg and dart trim. Or anything very ornate. It will look odd, IMO.

But, this is where the inexperienced non-professional can get in trouble. Therefore, I think two hours with a pro to consult with and get answers to your decorating questions would be money well-spent.

Please note that I no longer do these types of consults, but most designers will devote a couple of hours to helping you figure things out, usually for a flat fee. But, please take notes. Or, ask if you can video or record the consultation.

The mouldings don’t have to be from the same catalog, but they need to work together. Another helpful post to look at is this post about wainscoting.


I looked for William McLure’s bathroom and only found one with black walls, but I do not see a built-in. However, once you have a contractor, a good one can usually copy most things you see built recently.


Katerina’s decorating questions:


I wondered how you feel about having two English roll arm sofas in the same space?

I cannot decide between the Lee Industries roll armchair and the 3-seater with the same arm! Can I do both? I so often see family/ living room setups aim for balance with two identical uncomfortable accent chairs that no one will ever sit in but never two of the same sofa style! Is this a decorator IG sin?


Okay, I think that Katerina is trying to ask if you can do club chairs with the same arms as the sofa. For instance, an English roll-arm sofa and then doing the chairs with the same arms.


Colefax & Fowler English roll arm sofa and chair

Beautiful image from Colefax and Fowler


Yes, absolutely! I have done this many times. Sometimes we even did the sofa and chairs in the same fabric, but usually not. Or, we also used the same fabric, but different styles of arms.

I prefer the legs if they are either all straight and tapered or turned legs with or without casters. You can also do a combo of skirts and legs.


Phoebe Howard English roll arm sofa and chair - decorating questions

Phoebe Howard frequently does matching chairs and sofas.

I prefer that if you do the English Roll arm sofa and you wish to do a different arm for the chair, it should be a small roll arm.


English Roll arm sofa and chairAbove is an example of that in a room refresh we did about five years ago. We changed the sofa, chairs, pillows, end table, lamp, and curtains. Everything else was already there. You can see the before shots here.

However, you can do a larger arm for a sofa and an English roll arm for the chairs.


Kiera’s decorating questions:


Do you always have to do two matching built-in bookcases flanking a fireplace? For instance, if there is a centered mantel with only one side with a built-in while the other side has a radiator that cannot be moved, is that too lopsided to look good?


No, you don’t have to have matching built-ins flanking the fireplace.

Although, who’s to say that you can’t? Again, this is where working with a design professional could be very helpful.

Most designers are excellent problem solvers. Which came first? Well, I think that it’s a skill that designers are forced to develop. But, yes, I believe that most are naturally pretty good at it.


Since I can’t see the radiator in question, I will have to guess. Below are some possible solutions.


1. maybe move the radiator to a different location

2. use an alternative source for heating

3. build a bookcase AROUND the radiator. And then do a matching built-in on the other side, using it for deeper storage.


Remember this post about radiator and baseboard covers?


radiator cover bookshelf

Above is the idea I am thinking of. Sorry, original source unknown.


decorating questions - how to cover an ugly radiator

Linehan’s Design


This is lovely. There could be bookcase shelves above it.


The next two readers have related decorating questions regarding seagrass rugs.


Christine’s decorating questions:


I love seagrass rugs and have them in my living room and family room. However, I need wall-to-wall carpeting in my office, and I am considering seagrass. Will it unravel if it is installed as a wall-to-wall carpet? Will I need an installer with experience installing seagrass? What are the pros and cons?


Tamara asked:


When you say “wall to wall seagrass,” are you talking about a rug over the existing floor or doing a seagrass carpet over the subflooring?


I’ve written a fair amount about seagrass over the years. But, here are some basic things to know about this wonderful natural fiber.

It’s inherently stain-resistant.
It should come with a latex backing to keep it stable.

If using as an area rug, it needs to be bound with a thick fabric binding.


Seagrass is an excellent product for a wall-to-wall installation.


However, it should be glued down, ideally to a sub-floor, not a finished floor. If going over a finished floor, wall-to-wall, I would discuss it with the manufacturer. It seems to me that it could be glued to thin padding traditionally attached to the floor with staples.

My friend and colleague Amy Mitchell from Home Glow Design wrote an excellent blog post about seagrass.

Another excellent source for information about all-natural fiber rugs is one of my favorite sources in Laurel’s Rolodex,



Fibreworks is to the trade only. However, custom seagrass and many other natural fiber rugs from Fibreworks are available at Pottery Barn!


Tamara also asked:


I recently bought the 333 decorating rules, and it has been a great help to have a reference for all of these rules.

You said you prefer not to have recessed lights in the ceiling. Does that also mean no ceiling lights at all? We are pre-construction in a living room, and it feels a bit crazy not to have any ceiling lights and just a fan (texas!). But, it also makes sense because the light from lamps and sconces is so much nicer.


Hi Tamara, I went back and looked at the guide, searching for every time “recessed” was said. I did that because I don’t think I said never to use them. The only place I said don’t do them is in the bedroom because they’ll be in your eyes when lying in bed. However, for living rooms, it is fine to have a few on dimly for ambient light. It’s all in the guide. But there are a lot of pages and easy to miss some things.


Recessed downlights are also fine in the kitchen.


Although I do still prefer to keep them to a minimum using other sources of light, such as sconces, pendants and chandeliers.

Ceiling lights are best in small spaces like hallways, where the light can bounce and not create harsh shadows and dark areas that feel dank and spooky.


Sarah’s decorating questions :


Could you please post something about sizing your sofa to your room? For instance, we are buying a place with a small living room (about 12.5′ square), and I am worried about overwhelming the space with a too-large sofa. Is there a rule of thumb about this? Thank you.


This is an excellent decorating question. And, much of the 333 Rules and Tips You Need to Know Guide is filled with space planning rules and diagrams.

Here is the situation with a sofa, which I’m sure I must’ve mentioned at some point. Unless the sofa is being used for TV watching, it is being used for conversation. Thus, usually, only two people are sitting on it. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether the sofa is a loveseat size that’s 60″ long, an apartment-sized sofa at about 66″-75″, or a full-size sofa that’s 80″ to 96″. Or, however long one wants to make it.

However, space planning and deciding what size furniture to get is something that takes practice and experience. But, there’s an excellent space planning cheat-sheet in the guide. You can also find the living room space planning guide in this blog post.


Things to consider are the placement of doors, windows, and traffic patterns. Is there a fireplace?


Will there be a TV? How many people do you need to be able to sit in the space?


I think, with a living room that’s really the size of a bedroom, you will probably not want more than six people in there at any given time– tops! However, if you have an L-shaped sectional and the super bowl is on, it’s fine to have 20 people. haha!


Well, not this year, it isn’t.


Still, even without seeing this room, I know that a seven-foot sofa is going to be too large.

Several years ago, when this blog was very new, I worked in a living room in Connecticut about 12′ x 20 feet. However, there was a large opening on one of the long walls. The client definitely wanted to seat six, and so to do that, we did this 60″ settee from TCS Designs. (There is also a 72″ version of this settee, which you can see here.)


TCS Designs Settee - decorating questions


And, then, two slipper chairs and two French chairs flanking the fireplace. You can see the rest of the room in the link above. Unfortunately, you can’t see the fourth wall, which are beautiful built-in bookcases that turned out great.


In closing, many of these questions are addressed in my guides, especially in the 333 Hard to Find Rules and Tips You Need to Know Guide.


***And, Below some information about my rockin’ interior design guides***


(Clicking on the links will send you to the pages to learn more about each guide)


Laurel’s Rolodex – A unique shopping guide that shares hundreds of my favorite sources and especially for decorators and designers tells you the best sources that sell directly to the design trade.



The Essential Paint Color and Palette Collection (two volumes)

This is a must-have guide for anyone struggling with paint colors. If you don’t believe me, there are dozens of testimonials on the Palette Collection page.


Six-Figure Income Blogger. (This should be required reading for everyone who has a website and wishes to get the most out of it for their business) You do not need to be a heavy-duty blogger. But, once or twice a month consistently will do wonders for your business. But, it would be best if you learned some other things, as well. Believe me, when I say in the early years, I made every mistake and then some.


333 decorating rules and tips you need to know

333 Decorating Rules & Tips You Need to Know – You’ll get a free Etsy guide with this guide, as well. There is so much information, and much I’ve never seen anywhere else. The window treatment glossary alone is several pages.


best of etsy 150 sources
Or, order the Etsy guide on its own. It’s 150 seriously cool vendors.

Etsy is known for exceedingly helpful, personable vendors and great pricing.


Please note: Some prices will be going up on January 1st.


I took this photo for a friend tonight in my new living room, and honestly, I can barely keep my eyes open. I can’t stress enough the power of good lighting. haha! Oh, and La Mer facial products. I know. They are wildly expensive, but a LOT cheaper than plastic surgery! A big jar of the moisturizer lasts forever. I keep it in the fridge and transfer a small amount into a little jar every couple of weeks.

And, no. I have not had ANY work done; no injections, either. Nuttin’ but delicious moisturizers from La Mer. Below are the three I love and use, usually twice a day. They feel so good and have the most lovely exceedingly subtle, but sweet fragrance. I’m very sensitive to overly perfumed products.



Melissa has also updated the HOT SALES pages. Some wonderful end-of-the-year sales are going on right now.

Well, that’s a wrap for the penultimate post for 2020. I’m sure it will only spawn more questions.



17 Responses

  1. I did wall to wall seagrass in my last home and will do it again in this new home. I have 2 dogs. A lab and a brown dog. The seagrass took a beating and looked fantastic after 10 years. True it’s not soft but the texture is fab.

  2. Just wanted to say that I love your picture and to wish you all the best in your new home and city! Happy New Year Laurel!!

  3. Thank you so much for your thoughts on my sofa sizing question. I really appreciate your help since many blogs assume everyone lives in a 10,000 square foot McMansion! I was thinking I might be able to squeak an 80″ sofa into the space but I’ll drop it to the lower end of the 60″-70″ range now. Happy New Year (in Boston)!

  4. Love this post, but, PLEASE, can you tell me how you hung those gorgeous drapes in your new living room? The sofa post is brilliant, we just bought a new home and I really got a lot of help from the info.

  5. Hi Laurel,
    Thank goodness your move is behind you. Now moving on to unpacking.
    I’m glad you shared the info regarding sea grass rugs & carpet. I remember about 10 years ago I went to my local carpet store to inquire about sea grass. Unfortunately they didn’t have anyone to install it. Apparently it wasn’t something the people in my area were buying.

  6. You look extremely gorgeous, so beautiful!!! Thank you so much for answering my burning questions, I appreciate it. Btw, William McLure has posted new bathroom on instagram stories (with buit-ins, moldings, door trim and white gorgeous shower tile). Love your new home! Take care and Happy New Year!!!

  7. Laurel, you look super happy in your beautiful new home. Here’s wishing you years of continued pleasure in your adopted city. I seldom write since I enjoy lurking, reading,learning –but for some reason Susan Serra’s eating nook really bothered me. I’ll cop to a personal prejudice against them, always thinking of Zero Mostel’s line from The Producers. I’ll paraphrase – have you ever tried eating at one of these things? No matter how many people fit on the couch, or what shape the dining table is, there is never enough room, and all of it is awkward. Whoever sits in the corner is trapped for the duration of the meal, and just try cutting your steak without bumping into the poor sot sitting next to me. So, as visually attractive and space saving as it might appear, I’d be lousy company sitting there, muttering under my breath. On the other hand, perhaps I’d be a lot thinner since eating is so difficult? Oh no, wait. I’d be an alcoholic. Picking up my wine glass has never presented a problem…
    Anyway, thanks again for a great blog! Wishing all of us a wonderful and safe 2021.

  8. I really believe in my polypropylene faux sisal. I swear it looks real to me and it is a great leap forward for my house with regard to maintenance and messes. I have it as stair runner too. If I wanted the look of wall-to-wall seagrass I would definitely consider it. I bought it online as “four seasons sisal” but I have seen the same product at the rug store as something else. And it comes in that diamond you like.

  9. You look terrific, even after such a week of “happy stress”. Wishing you a safe and healthy 2021! And thinking about how we all will benefit as you blog about your new place!

  10. I gave myself the Furlow Gatewood book for Christmas. Gives me lots of inspiration, we even have peacocks at my condo complex!! Hope everyone has a good 2021, anything is better than 2020!!

  11. Laurel, you look gorgeous and like you just got back from a fabulous vacation-certainly not like from a big move!

    I’ve been reading and loving your blog from the beginning (I think). I refer back to the older posts often, but can’t find their dates of publication unless I read the comments. Am I missing something?

    Keep them coming, Laurel! You are a true gem!

  12. Love your design and decorating advice, love your great sense of humor! Thank you for all that you share. Happy New Year to you and yours.

  13. Laurel,
    Thank you for all the wonderful advice you give to everyone! I’m interested in building a barrier free home to accommodate some of my husband’s medical issues.
    Fortunately our current home has a first floor master, so we don’t have to make a move quickly. And, of course, builders are extremely busy right now.

    Do you know of any sources that I should look at? Or house plan idea sources. Thanks so much for your consideration.

    Love your blog and your new home!

  14. Hi Laurel, I was happy to see a new post and then saw that you’d answered my questions from last week – thank you!

    To clarify, when I said that you said you prefer no recessed lights, I was referring to last Sunday’s post, not the decorating guide. I used one comment to gush about the guide and then also ask questions about the post. 🙂

    You’re looking amazing. I wouldn’t have guessed that you just went through a big move.

  15. Laurel, you may be tired but you look happy.
    That is great to see! Here’s to 2021, may everyone have a better year than 2020.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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