A Typical American Home With Common Issues!

A lovely reader named Cher recently wrote me about her typical American home. Of course, typical might not be standard where you live. However, this home is not architecturally gifted like some readers have presented. (Or, like I’m blessed to have.) It’s not a craphole, either. It’s just your basic no-frills house that most people live in or some variation of it.

Here’s what Cher had to say:


Dear Laurel

Happy New Year. I just took your survey and purchased the 333 Decorating Rules & Tips You Need to Know guide. I’ve already started reading it. It is so full of information I definitely need to know. Between you and me, you could triple the price. Although, it’s worth 100 times the price you’re selling it for. Maybe you’re keeping the price low so more people can afford it.




I hope you can help me; maybe this might spark interest in a “Dear Laurel” letter? It’s about my fireplace in a pretty typical American home.

My fiance and I are in our 60s (with TEN grandkids). My new home is where my fiance has lived for decades. He is the sweetest but admits to not knowing a thing about decorating and is gladly letting me take over the reins.

The fireplace brick was painted a solid brownish color. To me, it has no interest.


Is there a product or method I can use to make it look more weathered with character?


I‘ve read about limewash, whitewash, and re-grouting and watched a replastering tutorial. I have no idea what type of paint they used, oil or latex. So, I would love to know how to make this brick look more rustic and not so uniformly painted. If you are interested, I can send a picture






I wrote her back.

Hi Cher,

Brick was often manufactured to be painted in earlier centuries. However, it won’t be easy to get the brownish-painted brick to look like authentically weathered natural brick. I think the problem is most likely the brown-painted brick. Isn’t that like painting a marshmallow white? :]

The easiest fix is to paint the brick a color you do like.


In my imagination, I thought there was an entire wall clad in brick.


However, as you’re soon to see, that is not the case.

Okay, this is going to be a two-parter.


But, first, pleasee know that EVERYTHING you see here that isn’t movable is LEAVING.


Today, we are ONLY going to focus on the room’s bones. Then for Wednesday, I’ll decorate it. Please don’t jump ahead and give decorating suggestions. You don’t know some things, like the colors Cher would like to work with and the furniture she’s bringing to the house.

However, I will tell you this. Cher excitedly said to me that she’s already bought the paint.

I believe she might be a fairly new reader. I can’t tell for sure because when she bought the Rules & Tips guide, Mailchimp, who I am leaving soon, turned her into a new subscriber. My eyes rolling outta my head.

Since I don’t know for sure, I will go easy on her.




Laurel, that was going easy?


Yes, because what I really want to do is box her ears. (Ladies, remember ala Ms. Minchin in A Little Princess? )


But, in all seriousness, paint is the last thing you select.


Guys, if you think it’s a good idea to select the paint first, please review the 12-step program for perfect rooms every time. It’s like a mini interior design course, and it’s free. However, selecting paint first is a great way to make your life more difficult.

Okay, I’m trying not to stay up too late. Haha. Fat chance. Sadly. But, let’s soldier on.

The problem is these posts are so detailed that this room could be three or four posts.

So, first, let’s look at the room as it currently is.


Cher's Living Room Before fireplace


Please remember that everything you see that isn’t part of the wall or floor is leaving.


typical American home with an 8 foot ceiling


No matter what, this room layout is not optimal.


  • There’s no conversational grouping.
  • The two sofas are a mile from each other.
  • And the table is in an awkward spot too close to the front door and pathway leading to the kitchen.


The lighting is entirely insufficient and the wrong kind. That’s also typical in a lot of homes.


I am trying very hard to be kind and not make an inappropriate joke. ;]

The following two images are pretty small but not less important.


Please look at these two images closely and see if you notice what I see.

Yes, the kitchen peninsula sticks out with the stools and hangs into the living room. It looks like they ran out of wallboard, and this was the best they could do. Oh, I know the thinking. They tried connecting the living area and kitchen because everyone loves to converse with the cook.

It’s not working. I would be thrilled if Cher could have a small wall built, narrowing that doorway. This is a job some handymen can do. It’s not complicated. I would love to see some sconces flanking the giant TV that will be coming one day. The additional wall space will make that possible.


Laurel, what about the fan?


Yes, yes, yes, I was coming to the fan. Poor Cher, if she hasn’t been reading long, she doesn’t know about my lifelong aversion to ceiling fans with searchlights. I’m generally not fond of any lights on fans unless the area is relatively small. It’s the worst kind of harsh light. And, these days, they are all LEDs. So, they are bright white operating room lights.

I’m not a fan.

Sorry. So bad, I know.

In addition, while the ceiling is slanted and maybe where the chandelier is hung, it is past eight feet; however, the current ceiling fan still feels uncomfortably low to me. You might enjoy this post about ceiling fans.


Now, one thing I didn’t mention is that Cher and her fiance live about 70 miles north of Seattle in northwestern Washington State.


Rarely does it get super hot in that part of the country? Although the last two summers, it did for a spell. It also doesn’t get super cold, as a rule.

The next item I’m going to address is the bookcase. It is lovely except it’s not helping because the fireplace is in the corner. And, it’s creating a problem for that wall in terms of symmetry. I do not want to put a sofa there. A low case piece is possible, but I have another idea I’ll discuss more next time.

I asked Cher if she had a floor plan, and she was so sweet to send me one.

I only needed one or two more measurements, but I guestimated. For now, it’s fine. However, for realz, it’s essential to be more accurate.

I use virtual grid paper and do my floor plans on Pic Monkey.

One square is one square foot.

I forgot to mark that the bottom is the kitchen, with the peninsula peeking out behind the wall.

On the far right is the FRONT DOOR. That’s an excellent reason not to put the TV on the wall next to the bookcase.
Let’s take a closer look at the fireplace surround.

fireplace painted brick and hearth
Gosh, I’m not sure if that’s real brick. If it is, it’s some gagawful texture thing they did. It looks pukey in that color too. The hearth. Eegads! Concrete hell. ***We’ll address it on Wednesday.***
Frankly, as is often the case, I find the fireplace the least of the problems. However, it could be a lot better. Still, the mantel is already quite lovely. Phew!


***BIG NOTE***


I know you guys enjoy these posts and like to play armchair decorator. And, some of you are pros, too. However, please let’s discuss ideas for the fireplace on Wednesday. I want to tackle the more significant issues today.


Okay, it’s time to address the great white whale that looks ready to have the mantel for dinner.


Ductless mini-split systems are a brilliant idea. They’re like a halfway house for air conditioners. It’s not a window AC or an awful not-really-portable “portable” AC. It’s more or less central AC but without the ductwork. In addition, the mini splits can act as heaters. So, they are wonderful for more temperate climates or as auxiliary heat in more severe climates. You do need to have a condenser outside, however.

I have talked about these AC units before. There is some controversy about whether they can have any enclosure whatsoever.


Now, that is something to discuss. If any of you have firsthand or even second experience with this, please let us know in the comments.


At any rate, you don’t have to have the fugly shiny white box on the wall. There are other options for units in the ceiling. There are console units that sit on the floor or near the floor and against a wall.


fichman radiator cover idea

Fichman radiator cover.

My idea is to put a new console unit into the window seat and create a cover for it with a grill. The above radiator cover is only to give a vague idea. There would be a grill on top too. The grill can open and maybe even come off. The point is to get that shiny white thing off of that wall. Don’t you feel better already? I know I do. I don’t have time, just now, to convey better what I’m thinking about. However, I will leave you with another image summarizing the main architectural changes.


Above, you can see from the bottom up. I have added a wall that’s about 45″. I added two not-deep sconces because the front door swings towards that wall, I believe. It’s good to check the clearance before ordering. Some sconces are only a couple of inches or so deep.


I’ve replaced the fan with a simple three-blade in white from Hunter Fans.


Hunter 5222 fan white

I’m quite fond of the Presto fan in white from Hunter fans. It’s the low-profile version of the one with a stem above. It’s simple and unobtrusive. There are times to make a statement with a fan, but I don’t feel this is one of them.

Moving on…


Yes, I yanked out the bookcase. I keep apologizing. But, it’s not working for me.


Next up; okay, just a little about the fireplace. ;]


I put some honed black granite on the hearth. There’s more to it than that. But, those circles on top of the mantel indicate some small candlestick lamps. I would put a beautiful mirror over the mantel.

I will also address more about the lighting on Wednesday. This room should glow with soft, warm, flattering light. It is so important.

We will address the back wall, which is currently a family photo gallery wall.

Cher wants some curtains, and I agree that would be terrific.


Cher's Living Dining Architectural Changes After

Last, in this typical American home, you can see where I housed the mini split console unit from a bird’s eye view in the floor plan. It would be a console that’s low enough. I found one that’s only 24″ high, which should be perfect as the seat looks taller than that.

I have done a room layout that I like and want to do a couple more slight variations. In addition, there are a few other things, like the dado anaglypta wallpaper. However, I definitely want to talk about the paint colors, as well.


Okay, that’s all for this installment. I hope you enjoyed this post about a typical American Home.

Of course, if something isn’t clear or there’s something I’ve missed, please address that in the comments.

Otherwise, the topics for today’s discussion are:


  • A new wall extending over the peninsula and stools
  • Air conditioner
  • Fan
  • And, how do you feel about the bookcase?


I know. I was a bit torn, too, because it’s nice. I think it would’ve been better to build it across the entire wall. Or, better yet, a free-standing piece or individual pieces. There are a lot of options.

Thank you again to all who took the survey! I’m still plowing through them all.



Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES. There are some fantastic ones going on right now, and some are ending on the 9th. Also I made a brand new clothing widget for the Nordy’s half-yearly sale.

73 Responses

  1. Thank you Cher, for allowing yourself to be vulnerable here! Laurel, I love these types of posts. I can only imagine the work you put into them.

    If the dining room table didn’t need to fit in there, I’d consider extending the bookcase all the way down the wall and place the TV inside the bookcase area. Someone else may have suggested this already, but I didn’t read all 72 comments (Way to go to get engagement, Laurel!).

    If the dining room needs to be there too, I agree, the bookcase isn’t helping. Cher, you may also want to look at other areas close by to see if they’d make a nicer dining area. Just because a room is labelled as a “den” or “office” or “bedroom,” doesn’t mean you have to use it that way.

    I like your choice of fan only if Cher really really really feels she needs it, otherwise, I’d go for a central chandelier. Or one just over the dining table, augmented by other lighting for the sitting area.

    Can’t wait to read part two!

  2. I can see that I do the same thing Cher does. One thing sticks out to me as impossibly ugly, and it becomes my focus to remedy it. Once that’s done, I can look at the rest of the room more objectively. This is where a designer is so useful. I don’t think y’all do that, focus on one hideous thing and become blinded to the whole. You’re better at seeing the room as a whole and coming up with whole solutions.

  3. I agree with your plan and I would add that unless there is another dining space the island should be removed and the dining room table relocated to the kitchen. That living room is not big enough for both especially with 10 grandkids!

  4. Fantastic Laurel!! I absolutely love your creative vision and the way you are so methodical in your approach. Looking forward to your next post…thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  5. Congratulations to Cher and her fiance on their new chapter in life. The similarities are uncanny. Later life marriage, free reign to transform his home to our home, and even the room itself. cant wait to see what you do. My pet peeve, the ceiling fan. Not the fan itself, but the placement. After creating an entryway ( on their kitchen wall), floating the couch to face the fireplace, the fan feels off centered. Whers the focal point? fireplace, window ,TV viewing? Im lost here. Really excited for this post, Thank you.

  6. I am perplexed by the full height opening that leads to the bathroom. I would think you’d want to draw people into the kitchen by making that opening more prominent (although agree with blocking off the peninsula). Would it be difficult to add a section of wall at the top of that opening so they are the same height?

  7. There is no LED lighting that matches the warmth and sparkle of incandescent bulbs. “Warm” LED is yellowed flat light. No nuance. No sparkle. No magic. Neighbors who proclaim the ecological virtue of LED lighting are often the same ones whose backyards burn all night with enough string lights to land a helicopter. Every window in the house is garishly lit. Odds are good there’s a giant SUV parked in the driveway. Hurts my eyes and sensibilities. If you’re performing an autopsy or hip replacement in your living room, bright flat LED lighting might do the trick. But if you’re aiming to create an atmosphere of warmth and comfort, go incandescent.

  8. I love this post! I don’t have any great insights, but I love your ideas, Laurel, and several ideas in the comments section. Can’t wait until Wednesday’s post!

  9. Love this post about an average home. I think ideally the built-in bookcase should go. It makes the space more awkward. If you reconfigure the wall as you have shown minus the built-in, that wall would perhaps be a good spot for a dining banquette and table. A ceiling fan would be fine in the space. Something with simple clean lines as you have chosen. Or not. One could argue either keeping or removing it. I guess it would depend on the overall style of the room, and whether it would be really helpful in keeping the space more comfortable. But definitely as you say, no light in it. The idea for changing the ac would make a huge difference. And with these changes it would already be looking so much better. Can’t wait to see what else you come up with!

  10. For me, the biggest issue is the corner faux fireplace (fire box). In my mind, it dominates the space as the main feature of the room and throws the balance of the room off. If Cher’s budget allows, I would get rid of it and square up the wall. A nice tall indoor palm with gorgeous sweeping leaves would do a fine job of distracting the eye from the heating/cooling split unit. Perhaps even a pair of tall palms on the same wall. Unless Cher loves her bay window, I’d consider getting rid of it and replacing it with a series of double hung windows with nice moldings and an old fashioned classic window sill. I’d put my money in the new windows and play them up with drapery — making the window wall the main feature. I’d also consider getting rid of the existing trim — and go with something a bit more “beefy” for a cornice molding and baseboard — nothing feminine — more of a chunky cottage vibe. For the television, definitely an armoire. I would narrow out the kitchen entry and perhaps install a nice french door and do the same for the adjacent doorway (which appears to be leading to the bedroom/bath section of the house). Cher could turn this into a really chic space with a cottage vibe to it without having to invest all that much in terms of expense by sourcing her windows and doors from the second hand market (craigslist, etc..) It wouldn’t necessarily have to become an expensive ordeal. I have a feeling that with Laurel’s help Cher will have one gorgeous space!

  11. Why put a ceiling fan in at all and not an attractive light fixture? I feel that fan is going to look too small and wimpy.

  12. Agree bookcase should go. It is “semi ” built-in because of the weird nook it leaves along the rest of the wall. That bump out at the bookcase makes a sensible furniture layout more difficult. Your fan suggestion excellent. Wish I could solve the mini-split problem, most unfortunate. Yes to the new wall closing off the kitchen. In other words, I could have saved space by saying yes to your new plan 100%.

  13. I don’t hate the bookcase; it keeps the wall on the same plane as the opposite side of the fireplace which gives some symmetry. If the paint chose is white or really anything with less contrast, I think it will blend in well.
    I’m thinking of this new groom; likely the TV is pretty important to him and I’m having a hard time visualizing how the furniture will be arranged for TV viewing.

    1. I don’t hate the bookcase either. However, the way it’s situated makes putting anything tall next to it, problematic. That’s the difficulty I’m having.

  14. Please, Laurel, do add some thoughts Wednesday for what if it was a long wall of brick- even worse, an equally long brick hearth standing some 18” high too match the awful long brick wall (and with no mantle). Yes, you guess it: like the one in my very average MCM home. 😉 We painted the bricks a nice cream years ago, it didn’t help at all. I know I need a mantle (of some sort), but from there, I’m just lost. Looking forward to all you have to say for Cherie on Wednesday!

    1. Hi MLM,

      I’m pretty sure I’ve addressed big brick walls. But, it’s getting late. There’s a search box, if you see this and have a chance to look it up. Usually, I recommend either painting the brick walls or sheetrock over them.

  15. A touch off topic, but I continually read of designers bad-mouthing LED lighting. It does come available in 2700K, soft white (like yellow incandescent bulbs), 3000K which is bright white, and 5000K which looks like rather garish white fluorescent light… even though it is called ‘daylight’. Replacing energy eating lamp light with 2700K LED’s gives a wonderful soft, warm glow to rooms in the evening. It takes some learning about color temperature (K=kelvin), but this is the way it is. Please experiment, and advise/educate your lovely followers, rather than issue a blanket disparaging comment about LED’s. Your ideas and information help SO MANY PEOPLE.

    1. Hi Kat,

      Thank you, for your input. however, please don’t assume that folks who are not fond of some LED lighting don’t know about the 2700 kelvin LEDs warm LED lights. I wrote about that topic in this living room lighting post from 2019. However, many times, these fixtures come with a light already in it. The fan in my bedroom has a light I only turned on once and couldn’t wait to turn it off. I don’t know if it’s possible to change the bulb. Most people won’t. Please note that with the light off, the fan is quite nice.

      I have the same issue in my kitchen that I wrote about last year.

  16. Hi Laurel,
    Thanks for sharing Cher’s design dilemmas. Her living room has a beautiful celing, and wonderful natural light, and I do love her classic mantel. If I were Cher, I’d make relocating the mini-split my #1 priority. That would run a cool >$5,000 where I live, but well worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing your plan for her unique space.

  17. I am a first time commenter here, but Laurel, I love your blog and your guides! They have all been so helpful and amazing while tackling the house we bought here in northern CA earlier this year. I love your style and look forward to your posts and hot sales tips each week!

    I just wanted to give a shout out to the Hunter fans you recommended, if Cherie chooses to replace her fan. We had scary old “giant fans with multiple light bulbs hanging off them” in every bedroom of our house when we moved in. With 8 foot ceilings and a 6 foot husband, it felt as though his decapitation was inevitable if we didn’t do something about those fans 😉 We replaced with, I think, the low profile 52” Dempsey fan in white with no lights. I got the idea from you, Laurel, and the fans both work great and look great.

    Also, we capped our existing 1960s brick hearth and surround with honed black granite last month after I read about it extensively here on your blog and loved the look on Pinterest. It looks amazing, although our hearth wasn’t raised like Cherie’s is. It made a huge impact in our living room for not a lot of $$ since we were able to use a remnant from our installer instead of having to purchase a full slab. So I highly recommend that as well.

    Can’t wait for part 2 of this one! And thank you Cherie for letting us all into your lovely home – can’t wait to see what you do!

  18. I love that you’re doing a post on an average home, Laurel! I just wish average builders would pay attention. There’s so many improvements that could be made to a standard building plan without much additional cost, if any. I’m not a big fan of corner fireplaces as they make furniture arranging a bit of a challenge so I look forward to next week’s post and like you I detest those wall A/C units. So intrusive. Your idea of placing it in the window seat is brilliant! I think it would be more effective at floor level anyway. Usually I love built in bookcases but in this room 2 freestanding ones flanking the fireplace would create more balance and a better focal point. I always look forward to your posts but the do-overs are my favourite! Happy New Year!

  19. This post is a treat! Thank you Cher for opening up your home to help us learn. Love your v-groove wooden ceilings and your huge window with loads of light. Black slate on the brick and cement on the fireplace could be nice. It would be a quick fix and could be applied directly to what is there now. If the air unit bothers you and moving it is cost prohibitive, you could camouflage it a little. If this were my house, I might make it into a piece of modern art by painting the walls white (or using really light grasscloth), installing a large piece of dramatic black and white art (William Mclure type) over the fireplace and adding a gallery wall to the right of the fireplace with a mixed bag of large greyscale photos and black/white art (especially 3 dimensional art). Fabric at the windows, a seagrass rug and black shades on lamps around the room’s perimeter might help move your eye around the room and off the obvious machine sticking out of the wall. Good luck Cher. You are one lucky duck to get all of Laurel’s ideas! Oh, wait, I see GL just posted! Love reading her ideas, too!

  20. I need to know much more about the layout of the kitchen and the other rooms in the house before making suggestions.
    I love the ceiling. What is behind that whole bookcase wall and how might it interfere with what is going on in the room behind that wall?
    The mini split wall becoming a bookcase with tv inside is very appealing.
    Can the island be ripped out so that room could be made in the kitchen for dining? There would be a flooring problem, but maybe there is extra product stored in the house.
    The fireplace is a huge issue. Just as much as the fugly on the wall because if the fugly is removed/camouflaged, the fireplace will stand out more as just not right for the space as it seems huge in proportion to the room. Could it be scaled down or removed? Would a smaller insert work? What happens if the concrete hearth is removed? Corner fireplaces, unless in a large room, are a bother at best.

    What is the budget — even in the most general sense?

    So, I guess the two most important questions are what are the HVAC needs and is there room somewhere else for a dining table. Maybe the dining needs to happen in the living room.

    Yes, of course, to the new fan.

    Is this the main living space? Could the dining table be moved in front of the window?

    We are all looking forward to more answers on Wednesday.

    The more

  21. Consider how much you’re spending on a remodel and/or decorating upgrades and why not budget for a cleaner, healthier vacuum too. One that last 10 to 20 years and won’t disappoint you.

    Most Americans buy cheap, bagless vacuums that are meant to be disposable. Hepa filter? What if the particulates were leaking out around that filter’s compartment? Cheap plastics warp and then leak.

    Spend a little time with Performance Reviews on you tube. He has a particulate tester and more and has probably reviewed your current vacuum.

    Keep your beautiful furnishings AND Lungs cleaner than before you knew any better.

    Thanks for educating us on decorating Laurel. Education is rewarding.

  22. This is my favorite kind of post, thank you, Laurel. Congratulations to Cher for finding love in her 60s and with a man who will let you redo his long-standing home, no less.

    That particular mini split cannot be relocated under the window. However, they make a different style that is designed to be installed on/near the floor that might work. I have read that the new systems allow the condenser to be up to 50′ away from the mini. If they cannot get a new unit, perhaps they can move the existing unit to the right and surround it and the new giant tv with a large built-in. A very large built-in, with room for lots of decor and pictures; you don’t want to be the stepmom who moves in and immediately removes the family pictures! There are some built-ins on Pinterest with slatts over mini splits. There are even new condensers that handle up to 5 minis, so if their system is insufficient (there’s no way that one unit could cool the kitchen with the range on the other side of the wall), this might be the time to get a new one. However, this is an expensive and complicated issue. The first thing Cher needs to do is find the very best HVAC company near her and get their input. Maybe even 2 or 3 HVAC companies.

    The corner fireplace is fugley, and may not be real. I cannot tell if that gas-burning unit is a retrofit to a real wood-burning FP. Either way, removing it triples the budget; after the demo, you have to repair and match two walls, the ceiling, and the floor. I’d rather save my $$$ for the HVAC and other issues. Instead of tearing it down, let’s think like Nancy Keyes. Remember Laurel’s posts of her once fugley but now gorgeous massive fireplace? I’m not sure painting those textured bricks would be enough, but they could be covered with tile, slabs of granite, or even soapstone. My fireplace has a similar white mantel and legs. Inside black soapstone surrounds the firebox and the hearth is a giant piece of soapstone. It looks formal but slightly rustic, which I think Cher is going for. She could also paint the brass trim on the gas unit and its backboard and remove the white-painted quarter-round. Now the hearth. Both the top and sides could be covered with thin slabs of soapstone. First, she could try painting it to match the stone she uses to cover the bricks. I have seen wood painted to look like soapstone and no one would know. Or hammer and chisel it out and put a flat stone even with the flooring to make the FP a less dominant element.

    The bookcase appears to be shallow, only 8” deep or so, yet Cher’s floorplan says it is 1’4″. The HVAC people should check out if ducts or pipes are hidden behind it. Perhaps it was the contractor’s attempt to deal with the wall jutting out. I would love to remove that jut-out section, but wall boarding over the bookcase may be the best we can do, and I usually love built-in bookcases, but this one isn’t working.

    The ceiling fan Laurel proposes is perfect, especially if it is mounted in the center of the room. With the mini-split relocated, two scones could go above the fireplace flanking a mirror or art.

    The peninsula needs to be hidden. Some have suggested removing it to make room for a table or banquet in the kitchen. The banquet idea is intriguing but now we’re remodeling a whole other room. Removing it involves fixing where it meets the other cabinetry and possibly replacing the entire kitchen floor! And they may love it as a spot to serve and do crafts with their grandchildren. So extending the wall as Laurel suggests lets us just work on just the LR for now. And think about the emotional issues of changing what may be the kids’ childhood home, this may be all the change everyone is ready for right now. Baby steps for harmony.

    If they need the seat they will lose at that end, it appears that there is ample room to add one at the other end. I agree that the best place for the table and chairs is in the kitchen or a dining room. However, if there is no other space for eating, the current table could be replaced by a long rectangular one with two drop leaves. When not used for dining, it would be a nice landing strip near the door. One or both leaves could be raised as needed. Replacing the two love seats with one slightly longer couch leaves room for a couple (or maybe even 3) side chairs that could be easily used at the table as well. Laurel, I know you said no decorating, but the peninsula, the wall, and the table placement and shape are all interrelated to me. Even if the peninsula will be removed eventually, a long drop-leaf table against that wall frees up a lot of wall space for enjoying the rest of the room and is a great interim solution.

    Thank you again for a fantastic Sunday post! I can’t wait to read part two and I hope you and Cher will be kind enough to share the “afters” down the road.

  23. I’m curious about the comments that Laurel is finally doing a regular house. Laurel does lots of regular houses, in my recollection.

    I moved from Louisiana to Seattle. I lived there 12 years and they all think they don’t need air conditioning – while they sit in their 90 degree houses.

    The ceiling fan you suggested is wonderful. I can’t think of a time I would want a decorative fan, the more unnoticeable the better. We just got a WAC fan. It’s DC instead of AC/DC and completely silent. I love it so much.

  24. Cher says that she and her fiancée are in their sixties. I expect that they are empty nesters who are combining two households. The fact that one room is serving as living/family room (hence the TV), entry and dining room suggests to me that this is a small house. Storage space is likely at a premium in this house.
    If the budget permits, I would definitely extend the kitchen wall as indicated in Laurel’s floor plan. Open shelving could be added on the kitchen side of the wall to increase storage.
    As for “air conditioning,” we have two splitter units in our new home. They provide heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. They have a shiny, plastic-like exterior. If they were painted, as some have suggested, I suspect that they would end up like our painted plastic exterior shutters, which started to peel within the first year. (They had to be replaced with unpainted shutters.) Probably the better way to make the unit less noticeable in its present location would be to paint the walls white.
    Based on our situation, I think it MAY be possible to install a splitter unit under the bay window and have the exterior box installed on the side of the house. The comment has been made that the bay window structure doesn’t appear to extend past the bottom of the window. That is what I am seeing as well. In that case, installing a splitter unit under the bay window would involve construction to the front exterior of the house, which could make this project cost prohibitive for Cher and her fiancée.
    I believe Cher’s part of the country experiences lower humidity and mild temperatures. Opening the windows and running the ceiling fan might be desirable for this couple. I like Laurel’s idea of the simple ceiling fan.
    And then there is that bookcase. What I don’t like about it is that it takes up so much space in a room that is already small and a serving multiple purposes. However, the bookcase, especially the bottom portion, does offer storage space, and that might be important to Cher and her fiancée. I think this is a personal call for Cher and her fiancée to make.

  25. Hi Laurel, first of all, Happy New Year! I too, love these kind of posts. I learn so much from them. I also have an air conditioner problem. Mine is about 1 foot off the floor, above a long radiator. The top of it is about 3 feet from the floor. 1 foot above that, is the window sill. I have this situation in my dining room and my master bedroom. I have no clue how to disguise this fugly (do I call it a feature)? I have to, because it keeps my apartment cool in the summer (west facing window). The windows are 10 feet wide and I have nooo clue how to dress the windows, let alone disguise the air conditioner. Oh, this is a rental apartment, but, I do not have any plans to move.

  26. Thank you so much for looking at a smaller room that is genuinely difficult to decorate! I’m excited to see what else you suggest on Wed.

  27. Wow, 33 comments already! I too love your posts on these subjects about everyday houses and learn so much from your process to transform them. I can hardly wait for the next installment.

  28. Same here in western New York state! It was installed on the front of our house and for awhile it looked like an alien was trying to climb up the wall (we have a unit upstairs too). Once the tubes were painted the same color as the house and we made a screen out of rebar and vines, it kind of settled into the landscape. There just wasn’t another spot for it, mostly because of windows and the solar array hookups on the back deck. It’s a nice combination to have, I haven’t had to pay more than the fee to be hooked to the electric since it was installed (currently $18). We still use wood heat when its very cold but can rely on the heat pump for in-between weather. We rarely have a need for cooling, but it’s nice for that too. It takes the dampness our of the air.
    I don’t notice the upstairs one too much, but it took me awhile not to recoil at the downstairs one. It was not centered, but the plus side of that is I could keep all of the artwork were it was, and added a few more things to make it less noticeable.

  29. First, hooray that she’s taking over and obviously she understands the room has potential and also needs some changes. My thoughts are similar to what others have said with slight differences. The AC could be moved slightly over so it doesn’t overlap the fireplace, then that whole wall could have a “built in” that would house the TV, camouflage the AC, and decorative shelves. That requires adding the extra piece of wall to cover the weird peninsula. Remove the built in on the left and flatten that wall for improved seating arrangements. Then your seating could face the TV and the fireplace both at the same time which is desirable, and cost to hide the AC is minimized. Love the fan you chose! There are some functional things we must have for comfort that overrides design, and removing the fan shouldn’t happen. But putting in that one you selected is brilliant and beautiful. And I am one of those that likes corner fireplaces, and I had a room that had to lay out exactly what I’ve described here. It was fabulous.

  30. I love these posts! So interesting to see your thought process in action as you work through challenging design situations.

    As others have pointed out, I don’t think the mini split can go in the bay window. It likely has to be on the same all as the outside condenser unit, which the wouldn’t want on the front of the house. Also, that bay window looks like the bay is only at the actual window height, not all the way to the ground, so putting anything under the window seat would require changes to the exterior walls of the house – a major project. Painting it to match the wall color seems like it may be the best option.

    Related to that, I don’t love the t.v. staying on the current wall, even with the addition of the sconces. It seems like the seating will inevitably be awkwardly far from it, as it currently is. Could the t.v. instead go on the same wall as the mini split, with decor around both items to help draw attention away from them?

    I like the wall added to disguise the peninsula a bit, though it does mean that they’ll lose a seat at the peninsula. If they’re okay with that, I think narrowing that opening would help a lot.

    I also like the idea of removing the bookcase. While I’m a book lover, so removing bookcases always pains me a bit, I think this one is breaking up that wall too much, and when you’re looking into the living room from the kitchen it makes for a awkward view of the side of the bookcase, which in this case is just a green (or other color tbd) short wall. Once you close off this kitchen more this will be even more the case, as that view will narrow to be primarily the side of the bookcase.

    When you get to part 2 and decor it would be great to know if this is the only dining area in the house, or if there is a formal dining room somewhere. If this is the only dining area it constrains the options a lot more, but if there is also a formal dining room it would be great to promote that to daily use and removing the dining table from this room. I’m a big advocate of making formal dining rooms spaces that get used regularly, rather than being “saved” somehow for special occasions. Especially when space is at a premium, no space gets to just sit empty and unused most of the time!

  31. Love your posts, I look forward to them every week
    As someone who loves sitting by a cozy fire (I’m in Chicago) and one who watches TV, I do not love having to choose between the two! I am not a fan of having the TV over the fireplace so I have always tried to place it adjacent so both could be enjoyed simultaneously. The proposed layout would seem that you would have your back to either the TV or the fireplace. Of course you may have a furniture layout that I’m not considering. Can’t wait to see your plan!

  32. I too, live in the Pacific Northwest, where things aren’t what they used to be. Last year for the holidays we spent 2.5 weeks with no power…that meant no water (on a well) for cooking, bathing (or toilet flushing), etc. Thankful we had a wood stove for cooking, heat for below freezing temps, and to heat up melted snow for ‘bathing’. Now why I’m writing. That isn’t even a ‘fireplace’! It is for decor only with gas logs. Get rid of it! If code allows, put in a real wood stove or fireplace (we’re talking survival here), or get rid of it altogether. Builders- NO MORE CORNER FIREPLACES! I’d consider a wall of built-ins for media, tuck in the mini-split in that. Love the post, thank you!

  33. I certainly agree with previous posts, especially removing the bookcase and inspecting the fire place. I do not like the dining area in the living room. But—remember these are grandparents with 10 grandchildren, and I can only assume a minimum of 4 adult parents. Where will they feed all these people during holidays, birthdays etc. Or maybe it is just the close of the holidays for this granny. I think this issue must be addressed, if just an 8 foot folding table that can be put in storage.

  34. I wait with great expectation to how you will turn an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.
    Full confidence in you.

  35. Laurel, I love this kind of post! As to the mini-split, I had one in my bedroom and loved it. Yes, it’s an eyesore unless it’s painted to match the wall. But I don’t think it works under the window seat if it is used for air conditioning. The condensation could be a real problem. I think I’d try moving the mini-split as far to the right as possible and paint it to match the wall. You wouldn’t have to move the outside condenser, so the cost shouldn’t be outrageous.

  36. I also really enjoy seeing you in action transforming the typical suburbian house into something to love (or almost love LOL). I’ve cried many tears over our ridiculous 1990’s house, but gardening is my joy, so I suck it up and stay put!

  37. The corner fireplace makes it hard to make a seating arrangement. Plus it takes up valuable wall space.
    If the fireplace were removed, it would open up more design possibilities. Does the homeowner use the fireplace?

  38. If the mini split, for whatever reason, cannot be located, could it be painted the same color as the (fingers crossed) new paint color for the walls? Not the optimal solution but better than a poke in the eye.

  39. If the mini-split unit has to stay where it is, perhaps it could be painted the same color as the wall so as to “disappear” a bit. That might help. The furniture arrangement really is not conducive to coziness or conversation.

  40. Alright, I admit, I can’t help myself. Are we certain that brown ‘brick’ is really brick? And not a brick-like covering?

  41. @Catherine Evans, you and others are correct. These are almost ALWAYS used in rooms with NO ducts for heating/ac. Certainly, in our case, that is why we have one. For years we suffered/struggled with a low mounted heat/ac unit. The a/c often clogged and caused considerable leaking onto our floor, damaging it and I suspect the subflooring. The high-mounted split, while not attractive is far more efficient and does not leak. Secondly, enclosing such a unit, I would be worried it does not have the power to really force heat or a/c to the entire room. Certainly our old unit would not have been able to do that either (in the end, it could barely heat or cool the room). There is always a reason these units are in place.

  42. Makeovers by you are my favorite post. I even enjoy reading all the comments. So far you’re off to a great start. Cher is so lucky to be receiving your personal advice. Can’t wait for Wednesday!

  43. I am so happy to “a real American Home”. I have a ranch and. Would love more ranch info landscapE backyards photos. I love reading about the beautiful homes and grand architecture but I live in an American home. I love to see this.

  44. Finally, a real home before/ after fix. This is a great change to the blog and very much appreciated. These homes are the real “Americana”.

  45. @Shirley Great point about the mirror and what would it reflect. I also agree with moving the mini split. They’re an eyesore but very effective. Here in NY, they cost about $6,000 to buy/install and I’d hate to see what it cost to move it. I imagine they put it there to cool the kitchen which is straight ahead. The green paint is complementary to the floor but it’s too dark. A light blue gray, a lighter sage green or even light neutral off white/beige/gray would work.

  46. Thank you for the “real’ home analysis. I love to swoon over the designer showcase spaces — which are gorgeous but unrealistic for most people. I also want to thank Cher and her fiance for allowing their home to be on display and ‘ripped to pieces’.

  47. I like the idea of a mirror over the mantle, but what would reflect back from it? If, heaven help us, and the mini split cannot be moved, that could show. A lot of light from the big window, esp. if they face West. I would not get rid of a ceiling fan, except the lights, because air movement is a wonderful thing, but I live in humid Ohio. Hopefully something can change about the hearth because my ankles hurt just looking at those corners!
    I do like the green color.
    Excited for the next post results!

  48. Hi Laurel. I’m no pro but I don’t like the recessed wall (one with the bookcase). I’d get rid of the bookcase and make the wall flush by building it out. I don’t think floating shelves on that wall would work. I feel the space isn’t big enough for both a dedicated dining and living room. Is this the TV room? I’d figure where that would go first if it is. Smaller scale/tailored furniture is a must and only 1 sofa with 2 smaller chairs. If the TV goes above the fireplace, which I detest due to strained necks, I’d group seating to face the fireplace. I’d find out if the fireplace is working, reface the brick with decorative tile or put a totally new gas insert in. The ceiling boards have to go. Mini split and fan are good ideas but fan should be adequate size to properly cool room and centered in the room. Too small and it will look ridiculous. The doorway to kitchen should be made smaller. You’re better at lighting than I so I’ll leave that to you. I’m not too fond of the red-toned floors but they’re too expensive to replace. How about a light blue gray wall paint with white trim? It seems the dining area need to be in the kitchen but we don’t have a full view of it. I know these ideas aren’t all that needs to be addressed but I thought I’d throw my two cents in. I hope you post the final design.

  49. Hi Laurel, love reading your blogs!!! I usually don’t comment, but thought I could add one more suggestion for this post. What if Cheri could add the 2nd bookcase to the right on the fireplaces and make both a bit with more substantial with some nice millwork to the ceiling and add grills at the top to cover the existing mini split ( maybe move the split a bit over to center it properly) The millwork can extend to the fireplace and connect the two bookcases. Best of luck with the project!

  50. It is so interesting to see a “real-life” challenge…thanks Cher for agreeing to to be the guinea pig!. I hope the mini-split can be moved, because that will make a big difference. If not, could it be put lower on the same wall? Maybe a bookcase with it integrated. The other thing I might do is but a banquette eating area on the “new” wall with the TV next to the fireplace. Laurel, you have probably thought of all these ideas…and some better ones. I’m looking forward to the next installment!!

  51. We live in a warm climate and have split AC units in all the rooms. I believe they should be mounted high to be efficient. Remember cold air sinks.

    1. Hi Catherine,

      Yes, you’re right about cold air sinking. It’s quite noticeable in my duplex. however, as I mentioned there are three versions of the indoor units. the wall units which do need to be mounted high on the wall, in the ceiling, and the console, I wrote about. They are each designed to work optimally in their respective locations I would’ve included an image, but as usual, time got away from me.

      It just seems to me that if a unit can be embedded in the ceiling, which seems the least likely place for efficiency, in terms of heating; then why can’t they design a unit that’s meant to be embedded or at least work well with a well-ventilated cover. Or, a cover that can open or come off for greater air circulation.

      The idea is to make them more attractive.

  52. Agree with most comments- this is a small home and without a full floor plan you can not make accurate decisions. This is a bay window unit that installed on a flat wall. There is no window seat, that would require a small addition to the home. Fireplace should be inspected before any changes are made. It looks like it may be a prefabricated unit and I see pieces showing along the exterior.
    Best of luck Laurel and Cheri.

    1. Hi Robin,

      I see a seat or a ledge rather. Something is holding up the center window which is set back from the front of the ledge. So, there must be a hollow space under the ledge. There would need to be a support behind the unit. I don’t know if this is a viable solution for other reasons. I am also wondering if the indoor unit could go in the area by the bathroom.

  53. Yes, that was my experience. I installed a console split and the condenser had to go directly outside where the split was placed.

    1. Hi Sharon,

      My source (Carrier manufacturer) said while closer is better, the outdoor condenser can be up to 100 feet away. https://www.carrier.com/residential/en/ca/products/ductless-mini-splits/install-ductless-ac/mini-split-placement/

      I believe you, but in my own home, if I do the mini split, the condenser goes in my little garden, of course. The indoor units won’t be particularly close to the condenser. I’d love to put the upstairs one in the little vestibule by the upstairs bathroom.

      Last summer, my new window AC cooled the entire place super well. Downstairs was fine with the ceiling fan on, and the door open, of course.

  54. Hi Laurel…just a note on the air conditioner. We live on the east coast of Canada, on a tiny island in New Brunswick. Obviously, we have cold winters! We have 2 ductless mini splits. We rarely use the AC function, however they are our main source of heat. They are very efficient and economical to operate. Not pretty though! We would definitely not be parting with them!

  55. Hey Laurel. I would nix the bookcase and the fan. I also like the idea of getting rid of the peninsula and would love for the table not to be in that room, but without a kitchen layout it is impossible To know what would work in there. Can’t wait to see what you do with furnishings!

  56. Cannot wait to see what this room looks like after transformation. Please tell us she will do a follow up after using your advice. If you kept the book case that could be where the gallery pictures are displayed or you could remove the bookcase, put a low table there and display the photos above it. Some people put these photo gallery displays in a hallway. In the end I think the bookcase needs to go, it complicates furniture placement and looks awkward. I know some said get rid of the peninsula but it likely has cabinet storage on the side facing the kitchen and counter space that she would lose. Is there space for a table in the kitchen? I’d say likely not since they have turned the living space into a dining room. In some very small homes that is the only option. But she needs a different dining room set.

    1. Hi Nanci,

      I agree about the peninsula. This appears to be a rather small kitchen, unless it’s as long as the living room. However, I doubt it.

      There is nothing gained by having an extra-wide doorway, an eliminating the storage, counter, and seating area. I could also see shallow floor-to-ceiling storage on the right side looking in from the LR However, I don’t know for sure. I don’t have the measurement for that opening and it’s most likely not in the budget, in any case.

  57. Better doublecheck: I think the split’s outside condenser unit must go directly (or almost) behind the inside unit. If the bay window is in a pretty yard, remember the condenser is not only ugly but plant material which might camouflage would likely be damaged by its big winds. Bookcase ok if you repaint interior a contrasting color. Your new wall a snap. Good luck w/hearth.

    1. Hi Camilla,

      The outside condenser can be up to 100 feet away. (I just looked it up as I wasn’t certain.) Closer is better, however. The problem with the bookcase is what to do with the rest of the wall.

      Of course, nothing needs to go there, but it’s a waste of space for some needed storage.

  58. Ditto for GL’s comments about moving the eating are to the kitchen. Three functions for the room is one too many. I too would rip out the peninsula and add a table. A banquet would be a nice space saver. While it is hard to tell exactly how much room there is in the kitchen, there should be enough room for an eating area.
    The overlay doors on the bookcase don’t work for me. They look cheap, in my opinion. If I were to keep it, I’d swap the overlay doors for replacement inset doors. A handyman can do this project.

  59. It would be good to see a plan of the kitchen as well, to see what could be done there. On the evidence of what we can see here, my idea is more radical: get rid of the peninsular unit in the kitchen. Of course I agree about the air-conditioning unit; I’d get rid of the fan altogether and get rid of all overhead lighting which invariably looks wrong with a sloping ceiling. But the great problem is that the room isn’t really big enough to accommodate three areas: entry, dining, living. Ideally, I’d put only two functions in that room: entry and living, with a low wall to offer a visual separation of the two. The dining element would move to the kitchen, occupying the space now visible from the entry zone, and I’d extend the wall between the two, but from the other end so that a banquette seat could go on the back wall of the kitchen without it feeling too exposed. Bookcase? Provided it was painted to match the walls rather than to stand out, there’s no reason to get rid of it. The fireplace, on the other hand, … but that’s for next time!

    1. Hi GL,

      The wall where the TV will be, without the extension is only 9′-7″, so it is unlikely they would have a space large enough to accommodate a dining table unless the kitchen were moved somewhere else or the house extends beyond the living room’s front door. However, I don’t know. I also don’t know if there’s a separate dining room or not because Laurel forgot to send the email she wrote to Cher, on Friday. haha.

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