Small Decorating Details That Add Up For Huge Impact!

The other day I received a Dear Laurel letter after a reader read the post about brown furniture. Here’s what she said:


Dear Laurel,
I’m an avid follower, and I think I own every one of your products.


[Excellent! A little buttering up never hurt]


I especially enjoyed this last post about the wonders of “brown furniture.”  


secretary closed - decorating details

Mary’s big old secretary.

Large Victorian Secretary - open- Decorating Details


I don’t know what to do with Big Bertha here.


She is so big and imposing, and her husband won’t let her go. I’m threatening to get out my paintbrush and go to town, but he loves her as is. Can this marriage be saved?



I told Mary that I wanted to see more photos because I was intrigued by this situation. As always, I said:


  1. Would you be willing to send some photos of all of the walls and some of the adjacent space? Nothing can get decided in isolation.
  2. Don’t be surprised if the pics end up on my blog.
  3. However, I can’t promise that I’ll do a blog post about this topic.


I try to select homes/decorating problems that I think will have fairly broad appeal.


Well, I heard back from Mary almost immediately. She said:


Hi lovely Laurel, I loved your post today!


Thank you!

Decorating Details living room - teal dining room

Here are some pix of this production fixer-upper that we bought 2 years ago. (smokers lived here…ugh!)


living room - secretary - French doors


living room - thrift stores


After living in grand old beauties in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of DC for almost 30 years, it was time for a change. So here we are near the beach in Delaware in an open plan house.


Decorating Details - China cabinet dining area


However, the kitchen protrudes into the living room. (more ugh!)


No worries, Laurel, we are starting the kitchen reno in a couple of weeks.

I must say that your new place in Boston has me yearning for places of yore. Obviously, we bought this place for its location. Still, I certainly miss plaster moldings and high ceilings, but not the leaky roofs and other maintenance plagues.


decorating details - art wall vent

Please know the house is nowhere near where I want it to be, and nearly every piece is from a thrift store, FB marketplace, Craigslist, or, in the case of the Bernhart sofa, a floor model.  Even those silk drapes are from a going-out-of-business workroom.


Wow! I’m impressed and would not have guessed that.


We sold our DC property furnished, just brought the art, a few rugs, and Big Bertha.

Hugs to you,



Decorating Details dining room 2058-20 Slate Teal

P.S. Note in the dining room, big Bertha #2 (a $100 Theodore Alexander) and my $35 camelback beauty, both snagged on FB marketplace.


Issues with decorating details are more common than cornflakes.


I mean, sometimes we blend households. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to deal with fugly bachelor furniture that he LOVES, but you don’t? Or, he can’t stand your obsession with your Lladro.

Actually, I don’t hate this piece. Big Bertha. However, it is a large, brown Victorian piece. It was undoubtedly built for a place with taller ceilings and architectural details.

Of course, I’m glad that the kitchen is going to be renovated.


One thing I’d like to point out is the common practice of the big kitchen bar. No matter what.


I am not saying that it’s wrong to have to counter seating in your kitchen. But, it depends. If this is a large family home and there are lots of kids, or you think the people purchasing your home will have lots of kids, and there’s space, then sure.

And, definitely, seating for a kitchen island is fine. But, this situation feels like a coffee shop to me, and it’s right there, in the main living space.


So, this is decorating detail number one.


It’s how to handle the open kitchen living room situation.

But, before I get into my idea, please note that I am not talking about the kitchen, dining, family room open plan that is very common in late 20th century and early 21st century homes. However, in some cases, the lines between the living and family room become blurred.

I believe that every living room should be a “living” room, not a “dead” room where no one ever goes into it.


In any case, there may be times when one wants their kitchen to feel open and accessible and times when they’d prefer it more closed off.


This is why I’m a huge fan of the more recent practice of interior window walls. This post has a few excellent examples near the bottom of the page.

We’ll get to Big Bertha (BB) in a bit; however, the one thing that’s disturbing me most is–

Can you guess?



Okay, that’s fine. I’ll say that it’s all of the uneven and somewhat random doorways and window heights.


Decorating Details living room - teal dining room

Mary says that they plan to do a transom window over the French doors, and that’s a great idea. However, as is, I’m not sure if there’s enough room for a transom—more about that in a minute. But, if money is tight, even putting up picture frame moulding to mimic a transom would do wonders.

Oh, just a small thing. But, I very much recommend using hooks and rings to hang the drapes. This post will give you a lot of information about window treatments.

Also, see 333 Rules & Tips Guide.


Let’s move on to the next decorating detail: Doorways.


As I said, we’re all over the lot.

Based on the French doors and door in the kitchen, it appears that the ceiling height is about nine feet or a little less. But, not as low as eight feet. That’s terrific. That gives Mary something to work with to create some of the visual interest and elegance she’s craving.

Therefore, let’s go with what would be difficult and expensive to change. I am looking at the double windows next to BB. They are large and beautiful and are about one foot under the ceiling height.

I would add a beautiful 3.5″ – 4″ casing around ALL windows and doors. For more info about door and window casings, please check out this post.

You might also enjoy this post about perfect architectural proportions.

And, sorry. (but not really) Are the doorways square or arched? I would not do both.


I say they would better if square. While arched doors can be beautiful, they are difficult to pull off in a new home unless the ceilings are at least ten feet high and we have some thicker walls. Besides, to have an arched doorway without a casing and a crown moulding is strange, IMO. The only exception I can think of is if it’s an adobe or Tuscan style home. But, this home is near the beach in Delaware.


Going back to the French doors, while I love the idea of a transom, as I said, I am not sure that there’s enough space to make a transom to match the window height.


Usually, the windows and doors would have a transom with window and door height being the same.

Since I’m trying to keep costs down, I’d maybe opt for custom doors to match the window’s height. In fact, I’d love to see all doors and doorways at that height. These taller than average doors will make this place feel super-elegant. Plus, the consistent height will make the entire home feel cohesive.

By the way, have any of you seen these mouldings from Orac Decor made from polyurethane? We are planning on doing a small crown in this guest bedroom suite.


Orac Decor crown moulding - decorating details

I love this beautiful crown from Orac Decor for Mary, and I’m thinking would be great for anyone who wants to give the illusion of a higher ceiling.


Polyurethane, Laurel?


Yes, it’s flexible, which is wonderful because walls tend to be crooked. Plus, they are subjected to extremes in temperature, humidity changes, and so forth. These mouldings will not ever shrink or expand. OR crack! When painted, no one will ever know that they are not wood. Also, they don’t require any nails to install. The mouldings are glued on. I still recommend a professional installation, however.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.


By addressing these architectural decorating details, I think that Mary’s house could be a showstopper.


These changes will also add to the value of the home, I believe.

I’m not going to address the dining room except that I was taken by the vibrant teal in that room, not realizing until Mary told me that it is one of the colors in my curated Benjamin Moore paint collection


Benjamin Moore slate teal 2058-20

Slate Teal. 2058-20


The living room is Pale Oak oc-20.


And all of the trim is White Dove oc-17.


Okay, time to talk about Big Bertha. (BB)


She is a bit bossy over there in the corner.

First of all, I can appreciate the need for some light in that corner, but not the way it is. If the wall could be extended some, BB would have some more breathing room, and then I’d move the table over about a foot. And then there’d be room for a narrow console or demi-lune table and table lamp in front of the window.


As for BB herself, she would look fabulous dressed with some gorgeous ironstone or creamware pieces.


We looked at a lot of ironstone in this post about decorating above kitchen cabinets.

I found a wonderful example on Miss Mustardseed of a beautiful ironstone collection in a brown cabinet. (you have to scroll down a bit)


Large Victorian Secretary - open- Decorating Details


Then, if possible, I would leave the desk open and style it with a beautiful silver tray, something like the one I just got. And then I’d add a cascading plant to soften things further.


And, below is an idea of what I’m thinking of.


Large Victorian Secretary - Decorating Details - creamware

Of course, this was done with a cut and paste on Picmonkey, but it gives an idea.

Mary said that they usually leave the desk open, and I think it helps lighten up the piece. Besides, I moved the lamp over to the desk instead of squished on the little table.


One last detail I’d like to discuss is the return vent on the art wall.


decorating details - art wall vent


Pretty freaking awful, isn’t it? (amidst Mary’s pretty art wall)

I actually did some research on return vents, and they do not require this kind of unattractive opening. You can definitely do a decorative grille, which would look 100% better.


2-laser-cut-wood-pacific-registerPacific Register


grille cover

We looked at many other beautiful architectural grilles in this post about indoor air pollution.


By the way, I haven’t gotten an air purifier yet. I’m planning on it. But, my Roborock S6 Pure is doing a fantastic job of keeping the floors, and much of the dust cleared out. You can buy one here.


Oh, wow! We covered a lot of territory discussing the decorating details in this coastal home.


But, Mary’s home is quite typical for newer homes with many conflicting design elements. This is because they are created by builders who apparently do not know historical styles. Or, else they do know, but they don’t care. In any case, they want to build these homes as cheaply as possible.

Oh well. Not all builders are doing this, but too many, it appears.

Thank you so much, Mary, for sharing your beautifully decorated home!

My favorite part is the beautiful teal in the dining room. For those of you who want to are have to work with brown furniture, painting the walls a deep rich color will help the pieces not look so heavy by lack of contrast.


Happy Valentines Day!

Oh, my darling son is visiting, and we lit the first fire last night in the fireplace!


my fireplace February 12, 2021 - fireplace screen -

I needed a screen and wanted something simple and small.


And, I found this French antique replica that’s made in the Netherlands on Etsy. They are very reasonably priced and come in numerous sizes. My only concern was how long it might take to arrive.

Well, it took four whole days to get here! And, it fits perfectly.


Below are three other fireplace screens. Please click on any image for more information.



Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES for President’s Day Weekend!




67 Responses

  1. For me, one large problem with Big Bertha in that pretty room is that she is lonesome. Wouldn’t she look better with a few more pieces of brown furniture scattered throughout the room? I mix a lot, and in my house the brown pieces always have at least one friend.

  2. The grill is so unsightly because it is installed upside down! You can see right into the wall. As the cooler air slides down from the ceiling, the cold air return should catch it. Thus, the grill louvers should open at the top to allow the air slide into the cold air return.
    Wonderful post, Laurel. The architectural elements may seem daunting, but your ideas will MAKE the house! I, too, have a BB and now you’ve encouraged me to open her up and dress her up! Mary could easily change BB’s green felt for teal which would bring that color into the room.

  3. Hi Mary, I saw your comment re: husband and arches and that you’ll soon start a kitchen reno. I hope Laurel doesn’t mind me suggesting a post by Carla Aston on a kitchen reno she recently did. The ‘before’ looks some like your space and she provided great rationale for changing up doorways/arches. The post was made on 2/6/21 is titled “a dramatically improved layout for this full kitchen remodel!” I think Bertha is lovely btw!

  4. I love Big Bertha right where she is, but I don’t think the table and white chairs go there at all. They really fight with the beauty and detail of BB. I would lose them and move on of the upholstered chairs and an ottoman facing/kitty corner to BB. That would add a separate seating area and open up the seating area around the fire place. Love how you showed hot to style BB and the grill for the fresh air return.

  5. Laurel, I loved that you dialed in the architecture of the room as a first fix for helping BB feel more at home. Brilliant!

    And I’m drooling for that ceiling moulding!

    Miss Mary, you are a brave young lass for sharing pics of your nest. It’s so cozy with just the right amount of upscale elegance.

    I agree that the kitch needs to reflect that comfy charm.

    My three cents (inflation) is to consider editing some of the furniture; it feels a hint crowded.

    You can ignore that advice if it feels dull. I’ve had clients who love to snuggle up to a full-house feel.

    I agree with Laurel that some creamy pieces would add some lightness to a big girl like BB. And I had the same ideas that Diane and GL had–add some color to the back insides to break up all that brown. I’d go with wallpaper. She IS a lovely piece. She just needs a little somethin’ somethin’.

    I like the table and chairs in front. I would use BB’s shelf as a serving space for morning croissant’s and tea.

    And I’d add a hint of color to the fabric seats on those chairs to tie in with the wallpaper, OR I’d paint them in a warmer color. All that white makes BB feel less invited to the party. Know what I mean?

    Oh how fun it is to redesign! It’s so easy to do when you don’t have to consider time, budget, or anyone’s tastes but your own. Hah!

    Thanks for all the fun, Laurel & Mary! I’d love to see the updates.

  6. I love Big Bertha, she is a beautiful piece of furniture ( and I love airy light colors). Love your comments on how to transform her!

  7. BB is simply stunning… and she is NOT an easy piece to live with. But leaving her open, treating her as the desk she’s meant to be and adding color to whatever goes into the shelves would be a big help.

    If you wan to paint the interior… suggest having thin wood cut to size and painting (or papering) the inserts)t… rather than mess with Hubby’s family piece.

    Lastly… this return vents are always and issue… how about a black “art” frame, and inside either very open-weave fabric or one of the grills Laurel suggested… can’t hide it, but you cancamouflage.

    And I agree. archway should go square, at the same height as that tall window…. that will also help balance BB.

  8. Laurel,
    You provided such great ideas for Mary. I can picture the space with the changes – new French doors to match the height of the windows, squared off archways, molding around windows, etc., drapes hanging on rings and hooks, moving BBIwith a wall expansion, staging BB …
    Thanks for sharing Mary.

  9. Mary, I love your house, and Laurel, I love your ideas. Try to convince your husband about changing the door openings and getting the custom french doors. I think it would make a huge difference. Enjoy your house at the beach!

  10. Mary, your taste is lovely! (By the way, my husband and I have recently moved to the Delaware beach area ourselves, from Chicago. I’m a recently retired English professor, and am looking for new friends in the area. If you’d like to meet over email, email me sometime! You’ll find my email by googling my name.) So, my one design comment: I think Laurel’s Picmonkey ideas greatly freshen the secretary and blend it in with the other nice things you have in the living room. If it were me, I’d also consider looking into having the piece refinished, to even out the color and maybe also to lighten the color a bit. But that would depend on the nature of the wood, and doubtless on other things I’m not aware of. Enjoy your beautiful house!

  11. Thank you, Laurel, for the feature post and your kind and generous design wisdom. You addressed so many of the issues I have with this wonky house and I so appreciate you. I would love to get rid of the arches, but I feel resistance from husband. And thank you to all the commenters for your kind words and suggestions. Big Bertha thanks you, too. She is over there soaking up the compliments and I can almost hear her smirking “Yes, give me the entire corner, take away that silly lamp, the table and chairs and dress me up.” I’ll check back in when I have something exciting to report. ❤️

  12. Dear Laurel,

    Happy Valentine’s Day!! So glad to hear your son’s in town. And your fireplace is soooo beautiful. A sight for sore eyes in the “blizzard of ‘21 in Houston.”

    I love Mary’s husband’s Secretary BB. What a gorgeous piece of furniture.

    I liked some of GL’s ideas and after that without seeing a scaled floor plan, it’s risky to make space planning suggestions.

    If the Kitchen bar is removed and closed off from the Family Room, the only source of indirect natural light would come from the Dining Room.

    I agree on second glance – after reading a lot of other comments – that reducing the number of chairs in the Family Room would help.

    If I had my druthers in this beautifully outfitted home – ingenious shopper!!! , I’d do the following:

    1. Move the Secretary (BB) to the left of the Fireplace and balance with another tall bookcase to match. And use BB as a true deal by removing the two chairs opposite the fireplace.

    2. Move the two upright chairs directly across from the TV/fireplace wall and leave the space across from the Bernhardt sofa open.

    3. Add a chair for BB & a desktop lamp (battery-powered, movable).

    4. Create a true Breakfast Room at the big double window next to where BB currently is. Add a beach vibe she’ll chandelier and a mirror and demilune console with skinny lamp. Keep the seating – looks like the builder’s snack bar isn’t being used anyway.

    5. Close the Kitchen. Keep the entry from the Dining Room and possibly from the front entry hall on the side – for ease of access and non-claustrophobic feeling.

    6. Bring that gorgeous blue from the Dining Room into the Family Room.

    7. The Ben Moore Pale Oak reads as an off white in the pics. It’s ok, but doesn’t add warmth. I would love to see a warm buttery yellow or beige instead – pull a color from the rug but keep the LRV fairly bright.

    Maybe GL is right – having a Breakfast Room and a Formal Dining Room is redundant.

    It all depends on how you want to use the space. If you wanted to go full-on industrial chic farmhouse vibe, someone might suggest removing the wall between the breakfast area and Dining Room and making a large Kitchen that everyone could use. Then, you could put BB where the Kitchen is and create an Office/Library look.

    But all of these ideas are useless without seeing a floor plan.

    I love the way you’ve styled the Secretary, Laurel. Snd I think I’ve pinned everything that could be pinned from the post.

    Thank you for another elegant and informative post.

    Have a great night, everyone!

    Houston, TX

    P. S. You’re so right about having actual Living Rooms and not “dead” rooms that are decorated to the 9’s and no one ever goes in them. Have you done any posts on this? I’ll check above again – maybe you’ve provided a link.

  13. I would leave BB as is, give it a nice wood polish inside and out, find an old key for the keyhole to hang a nice vintage tassel on for extra detail, and fill it with white china as Laurel said. I have my mom’s brown wood china cabinet in my small dining room adjacent the kitchen, and I use it as my every day cupboard. I collect French white dinnerware, I like their substantial weight, glaze, traditional ‘restaurant’ look, Apilco, Pillivuyt, Revol, they are timeless, durable, work with everything. They look great in my wood cabinet. I’d upload a picture for you if I could. I like the fact that I use my BB every day. On a trip to the Loire Valley we stayed at a small chateau where the breakfast room had a huge BB from the 17th century that they still use as their every day cupboard!! But I would not keep your BB open, I like it’s curves and different look, why hide it? I’d rather free up the space around it, repaint the wall. Mine sits against a Cotton Balls wall. The white china and Cotton Balls brighten the space and give a nice contrast with the wood. I think your BB is more stylish than mine and older, charish it and let it shine!

  14. I have used polystyrene molding, and they are OK from a distance. But large pieces tend to look fake even when painted–too perfect and sort of shiny. A layer of chalk paint covered in house paint was my solution to give it a bit more tooth to look real, especially when you put it next to old molding.

  15. Happy Valentine’s and birthday (?). I love posts like these. This may be my favorite because Mary has done a wonderful job with used furniture!!! I’m on the side of installing taller French doors and staging big bertha 1 as a usable desk.

    I’d hide that green felt with a wonderful fabric which could be treated to withstand dirt or maybe find a remnant of a faux suede fabric. I think a mixture of books and some ironware would work. It doesn’t seem there would be room for a large plant, but a smaller orchid might fit nicely.

    I agree there is too much furniture, especially the glass table next to bertha 1. I’d edit the porcelain in bb2. More white and fewer but bigger objects.

    Mary deserves many kudos for a wonderful start on transforming this fixer upper.

    I, too, cannot bear the ubiquitous kitchen bar jutting out into the living space. It would be wonderful to see more of the kitchen and get in on brainstorming solutions. There does not seem to be enough room to have a bar in this space. The glass door partition seems like a great choice for a smaller space.

    Great job with this post! More like these please, especially of your new place.

  16. I’m so impressed by Mary’s beautifully decorated home! And she is a woman after my own heart, with her love of finding used furniture. I love BB, the teal dining room, artwork, lamps, and basically everything! Thank you for this post, Laurel. These kinds are my favorite. I am not one to have many great ideas about decorating, but I get so much inspiration for my own home from you and your awesome readers who leave comments. I hope Mary will follow up with us with any changes she makes!

  17. Hi Laurel,
    Happy Valentine’s Day! Thanks for another great post. Mary, thanks for sharing your lovely home.

    I have a question regarding window, door, archway heights. Mine are the same throughout my home, but my draperies are hung higher to make the windows appear taller. That makes the windows appear taller than nearby doorways. Would it have been to hang the drapery at moulding height to maintain uniformity?

    Enjoy every moment in Boston. I hope to get there one of these years for the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill garden tour.

    Thank you!

  18. I did something similar. I wasn’t sure what to do so I took posterboards (actually foamboards) and painted them to put behind the shelves of my BB. I painted them bright red and I loved it. Never actually painted the actuall back of the BB because I decided it would be fun to change the color whenever I wanted to.

  19. Wonderful post Laurel! Thank you Mary for sharing you have a lovely home. I’m a first time commentot but have spent years reading and learning. I love paint and pallette collection. I too have a few BB pieces, I love them and now will add some details for a cohesive look! Thank you

  20. This is the best idea yet in my opinion. I have a BB that I adore and I brightened it up by wrapping foam board in fabric and pinning to the inside. The beauty is that when I get tired of that color I can rewrap the boards.It works wonders!

  21. Happy Valentine’s Day! Like everyone else, these are my favorite posts. Thank you for sharing your home with us and allowing us to comment. I am very fond of BB because of her uniqueness and I am sure with the great ideas from Laurel, she will become a wonderful conversation starter!

  22. I love all of your suggestions, Laurel. My suggestions would be to remove half the furniture, as well. It’s too crowded. I would start by removing the table and chairs in front of Big Bertha, as well as the 2 chairs (and small ottoman) facing the fireplace. Then you can put some space between the 2 chairs sitting too close together to the left of the fireplace. I would also replace the rug with a more contemporary jute.

  23. Mary is a talented shopper! And her artwork is gorgeous! What a lucky lady she is to have both Laurel and GL offer their expert advice. Perhaps she will use some of their ideas and we will get to hear more about this situation in the future. Had the same horrible vent. Using Laurel’s ideas, I bought a used picture frame, covered it in gold leaf Rub’n Buff, added pierced gold sheet metal from Lowe’s (quatrefoil pattern), painted the actual vent black so it would recede and used a french cleat from Hobby Lobby to hang it over the vent. After surrounding it with a gallery of art, you don’t notice the vent. Love your blog, Laurel! Thank you!

  24. I showed the decorated Big Bertha with the dishes and rhe “ledge’ decorated. He said, “She basically covered up the fact that Big Bertha is big and ugly.” InHO I cracked up. And he said, “I call it like it is.” Well, to be honest, I don’t think Big Bertha is ugly; more like an ugly duckling, and it does look better with the styling. By the way, my husband adored the architectural comments in this post. FYI My husband likes rocking chairs.

  25. Great space and I also love the teal in the dining room. The upholstered chair from the dining room would work well with BB and would balance the heaviness of her. I would put a white chair on either side of the buffet and the head chairs at the table. And maybe paint the table black. Kudos to Mary for her thrifty finds!

  26. This is the first time I have commented even though I’ve been following Laurel for some time. I have been blessed with antique furniture from my inlaws, including a secretary similar to BB in addition to a 4-piece Victorian marble topped bedroom set & a mirrored buffet, all of which I love. I wanted to paint my mother-in-law’s smallish vintage secretary, but my husband wasn’t on board, so I painted the inside a darkish medium blue & found silver medallion on blue wallpaper at my local Bennie Moore store to put on the back of the glass shelve upper part. Now we’re both happy with this compromise. Large dark furniture like these pieces “pop” (sorry Laurel) against a bright color like chartreuse which I used for my bedroom in my former 1915 Craftsman style home. I really appreciate Laurel’s attention to scale in a room. I thought BB would look really good in the dining room against that deep wall color. What about having the open china cabinet exchange places with BB? Susan

  27. Mary, I think you have done wonders with this house! I am so impressed by your Craigslist and Facebook finds…you have given me much inspiration.

    I love the polystyrene molding idea. I cannot comment on how things are styled except to say that the idea of new higher doors is terrifying to me because they are so much more expensive than standard doors. Best of luck, Mary. YOu have many great suggestions here.

  28. Hi Janie. I’m not Laurel, but I just redecorated our family room with plaster cornice mouldings similar to Laurel’s picture. They are painted white and we painted the flat ceiling a Farrow & Ball blue which seems to lift the room and give a sky effect. It works for me!

  29. What a great post! All the ideas from you, Laurel and from readers are all very good ideas! I also agree there is a lot of furniture and I like the idea of removing the little table and chairs to give big bertha more room.
    One other thing, besides that air grill, that I would change and have changed in my own home is the standard wood supports under the bar. We had metal supports made and buried in the gyrock so the bar looks more floating and you don’t look at those standard supports when seated in the living space. Just gives a cleaner look.

  30. Thanks for a great post. These types of posts are my favorite. I love hearing your ideas about people’s actual homes. I learned so much from this. We recently moved from a home built in 1942 to a 1976 split level. So this post was spot on.

  31. Happy Valentine’s day Laurel! Gorgeous post and thoughts. How would you know what moulding profile to pick? Could you recommend any kind of catalog for a reference?I have exactly this situation you have described. My builder don’t know any historical styles and it’s impossible to find an alternative to him in my town, he is the best here and he shows up but charge a lot for that lol. I hired an interior designer to help me and you know… she doesn’t care about historical or any architectural details and get mad at me when I ask her if our mouldings are cohesive. Millwork or built-ins are out of pleasing proportions I can see this from their drawing but I don’t know how this kind of situation can be saved. If you see my fireplace on the drawings. Haha it reminds me your blog post about town in Turkey…Not so bad but a lot of common details! Your fireplace proportions blog post is my most frequently opened tab at my laptop. When I go to meetings with my builder and designer I use your blog as a protective…my confidence boosting shield to explain them why something in their proportions is not working that great.

  32. Hi Laurel! Wonderful post but really just want to comment on your fireplace. It is gorgeous! I love the tile! Do you know anything about it? Actually I love your new home overall, so beautiful!
    Happy Valentine’s Day and enjoy the time spent with your son,

  33. So to add to the comments I read, I’d paint the back of BB with the teal from the dining room or wallpaper it with a teal and white print wallpaper, remove that small dining table and chairs, (there are so many chairs in this room!), put that small cocktail table between the two white chairs in the living room, change the drapery rods, and do the decorative return grill you suggested! I think BB would look great styled with ironstone as you suggested!! Mary is an amazing shopper!!

  34. Lovely post! If Mary and her husband don’t want to paint the interior of Big Bertha, the back could be lined with painted foam core or Masonite panels. Alternatively, the backer board could be wrapped with fabric. This would be easy to change out with the seasons, when decor tastes change, etc. I like the idea of carrying a paler version of the teal (so pretty!) into the back of the desk.

    Great job, too, hunting down beautiful second hand pieces that work together. We’ve done similarly, and it can take a tremendous amount of commitment and patience to do so!

  35. Wow! What a beautiful space, and all from Craigs List, etc. I think the small table and chairs in front of Big Bertha have to go–there is so much furniture in the room, and the dining room and kitchen are so very nearby for eating and serving. Bertha, opened up and styled, would be such a wonderful piece of furniture.

  36. I agree with changing out the green felt on the desk. The edges look rather chewed, which is distracting. Plus, who says it has to be a solid color? Or what about a mirror? I love the styling of the plant, and I’m stealing that idea for my own dining room buffet.

  37. I love the dining room color as well.

    Crazy to say it but i have the SAME couch and i also got it on facebook garage sale. I think i paid $120. It’s one of my favorite things.

  38. Elizabeth K: I was just about to make a very similar comment. It’s a beautiful desk and, if it were mine, I’d use it as a desk. Even if I didn’t necessarily plan to sit and work at it, I would prefer to have it full of books, notecards, etc. rather than clutter the top with a plant, lamp and tray. I like “useful” rather than stuff just for display’s sake.

  39. What a wonderful post. Coupling your wizardly suggestions and your readers’ comments, it was chock full of take-always for so many elements. . Mine was the decorative return grill. (I only wish the time was right for me to implement all the rest!)

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  40. Another thing that helps with the air return is to paint the interior ductwork (just where it shows through) the same color as the vent itself.

  41. Mary’s home is beautiful- (and thanks for sharing your home’s colors!)
    Keep big Bertha as is – Laurel’s idea was spot on- but I am a “use what you have” girl and you might consider moving some of the pretty pottery/dishes from the dining room buffet and placing them in big Bertha – I also thought big Bertha could be a great bar (if you drink)- storing various glasses, liquor, etc on the shelves.

  42. Happy Valentine’s Day Laurel! Enjoy the time with your son. Loved this post because I love seeing your design genius in action. Mary, thank you for sharing photos of your new home. I’m super impressed with your ‘recycled’ furniture: well done!

  43. PS. I agree with everyone else : four cheers to Mary for doing such magic with Craigslist and FB marketplace !

  44. I’m surprised you didn’t tell Mary to remove that small table. That’s the first thing that jumped out at me. Doesn’t go with BB and I LOVE BB. The wood is SO rich and it looks so nice where she landed. Maybe just a chair so one could actually sit at the desk?

  45. Here’s another approach : make BB and the lovely window-lit corner she’s in, functional as the desk she was born to be. Take out the tiny table jammed between her and the wall and glass-top table and chairs— as GL says, they may not be used and they seem redundant so close to both the kitchen bar and the dining room. Instead of white ironstone bought to look good (which to my eye is too similar in approach to the China collection in the dining room buffet), paint the back in some cool color to show off the warmth of the wood, and fill it with books, either by theme (my mother kept all her poetry books in a similar desk ) or beauty of binding, plus small objets d’art. That desktop is big enough for a laptop and the enclosed little spaces are perfect for pens and stationery, to write notes to the friends left behind in DC (anyone living in DC these last months needs all the TLC they can get). I have found letter-writing very cheering through the pandemic’s isolation — and art-based note cards can give a splash of beauty to a dark old desk as you scribble.

  46. I’d swap out the rugs for sea grass in both the dinning room and living room. Or layer them.
    I’d also swap the white curtain rod by BB for a wrought iron rod with finials. The white painted rod looks too 1990’s beach-y, especially next to the Victorian BB.
    A great start all in all and I am very impressed with the furniture finds!

  47. Laurel, Seriously??? Mary cobbled all those items together on a shoestring? Amazing! She’s obviously been following you for a while as she’s chosen her items wisely. Kudos to Mary!

  48. I love the tiles on your fireplace!

    As for big Bertha, she’s beautiful and even more charming with your styling. Please don’t paint her. She’s a gorgeous old creature.

  49. I love how you styled BB. She looks so pretty. Decorating details make all the difference, but they elude me.

    A belated congratulations on your new home. It’s beautiful, and your story is inspiring, too. I look forward to reading more!

  50. Great post, Completely agree with GL here! The three things I noticed first were there were too many chairs for the space; the strange door to DR and those pillows. BB itself looks fine there to me, esp with the suggested changes. On the other hand, that most of the furniture was from local “rescues” was so impressive. And inspiring!

  51. Mary’s house is so pretty. I kinda love Bertha, especially with your suggestion about ironware and plants. And the teal in the dining room looks rich!

    I too have a weird archway, only one and its door sized. What was with builders doing that? It’s got -0- architectural interest and just feels lazy. Not sure my 2000s townhouse with 8 ft ceilings could handle crown and wall moldings but I’m so tempted to try. That crown is *chefs kiss*

  52. Another fun read .
    Just one comment respectfully submitted. The kitchen bar. Laura if you change your attitude that changes everything.

  53. PS I forgot to mention that the fire guard reproductions are what I’m considering here in France, although not via Etsy. The seller also has tons to droolworthy antique firebacks and so on, and prices are very reasonable. But it looks as though log fires will soon be illegal here (anti-pollution laws), so I’m wondering whether it’s worth it!

  54. Easy to guess your first peeve, Laurel! The minute I saw the first pic I knew that was the first question to address. And even on the fireplace wall, there appear to be two different doorway heights —— but I’ve just checked, I think that’s just the photo giving that impression. Yuck. Uniform doorway heights plus mouldings would be a major improvement. But I think the symmetry of the two windows makes the lower door height less offensive. How about a fake transom using mirror and mouldings to match the window height, which would go up if you include new mouldings? A cornice as in the dining room would be a good idea.
    Without seeing a floor plan of the kitchen, sitting room and dining room, it’s difficult to say what to do. If the kitchen reno permits, I’d get rid of the whole bar and I’d close off the kitchen to dining doorway thing, which looks terrible. Of course it would mean going round a slight corner to take food from kitchen to dining room but the detour wouldn’t be significant. Unless one left that opening and closed off the kitchen from the sitting area.
    Re styling BB, I think the writing surface could be dark blue rather than green (it looks like felt rather than leather), and the ironstone display would brighten things up. Would painting the inside back a faded teal/duck egg blue be an option? I also think the group of white chairs and glass and metal table don’t work there, as they emphasize the heavy nature of BB. Are they ever used? I’d leave just one (different) chair to go with BB.
    Final styling word: I’d change that red cushion, it doesn’t relate to the rest — there isn’t enough red in the rug to make it work. More touches of blue to link to the dining room (and to some of the artwork) would add cohesion.

  55. There is so much to love about this post! Laurel, your ideas for Mary’s home are spot on. We recently replaced a pair of sliders with taller French doors; not only are they prettier but the added height, now on a level with my tall windows makes more of an impact than I’d hoped.
    I love Mary’s dining room with the teal walls and lovely patterned drapes. What a testament this is to your last two posts about brown and painted furniture. The white painted chairs play so well with the brown table and other pieces and keep the room from looking heavy.

  56. Great post. Loved the teal coloured paint. I have a large dresser in my sitting room and have never got it looking ‘right’- will try to use your ideas!

  57. Hi Laurel,
    You made Bertha look very chic. And your other suggestions to Mary’s home are great. The first thing I noticed were the door heights compared to the windows.
    Taller doors was a great idea.
    Mary mentioned a kitchen renovation is coming up. I don’t envy her for the dust & stress that she’s in for.
    I wish her luck with it.

  58. Hi Laurel,
    Your fire looks so lovely and cozy! Now all you need is
    a kitty for your new home! 😻
    I’m not sure why that idea came to me but I know you
    loved your dear Peaches.
    Maybe a kitten would be really sweet and fun! ❤️
    XO, Ellie

  59. This is a great post, Laurel! Thank you for the tip on the polyurethane moulding. I too have an affinity for the teal wall color in the dining room. My question is about the innermost rectangular area of the ceiling: Is it better to paint it white, a pale color, or a deeper or different shade? I guess I’m asking about how to give the illusion of height. Thanks. P.S. I love your tile fireplace so much.

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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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