Room Planning

Design Tip for the Week: Painting Stair Risers

This is an oldie but a goodie. If you are lucky enough to have stained wood risers – I applaud you!  Don’t ever paint them! As for the rest of us  – we know that there is not enough Magic Eraser in the world to remove those scuffs…


If you’re fed up and thinking about painting your risers, do so and know that it’s still a bit of a trendy choice but once that is quickly becoming accepted into the mainstream. Choose a dark color (it does not have to be black) to hide the marks. Make sure to pick a paint designed for wood (different from wall paint) and a finish like satin that allows you to wipe off dirt. You’ll want to give your risers a good cleaning and a nice sanding before applying the paint. Then you’ll need to decide if you want to keep your stringers the same color as your trim (white as in picture two below) or paint them to match your risers (black as in photo three). Paint one or two first, stand back and see if you like the look. If you don’t, you can always go back to your original color.


You can even add a decal if you’d like, but make sure it’s dark enough to hide the dirt, and also select one that doesn’t make you dizzy going up and down the stairs:

How to Achieve Asymmetrical Balance

We all know how balance things, right? I’m not talking about balance in your day to day life. That to me is as elusive and imaginary as a pink unicorn. But most of us do know the meaning of balance when it comes to your decor. You put two matching end tables with two matching lamps on top and set those on either side of the sofa. Boom. But did you know that it’s easy to create balance even without those matched sets? It’s just about knowing the laws of balance.

Take the first example below. You can see how everything is perfectly balanced because one side is an exact mirror of the other. Lovely? Yes. A bit boring? Mmm.


Balance has more to do with the visual weight of things rather than the exact replica of things. The first picture has the same visual weight on either side and therefore our eye registers it as balanced.

Let’s go to the second example:


Your eye also sees this as balanced, even though the opposite sides are definitely not mirrors of each other. So what’s going on here? The tree on the right is tall. Our eye needs something equally commanding – equal visual weight –  on the opposite side to balance the look. Placing several bushes on the other side in varying sizes, shapes and colors gives visual balance to the tall tree. And notice how the wide bushes are slightly closer to the center – the front door – than the tree? Our eye needs larger things  – the bunch of bushes – to be closer to the center and smaller things further away from the center in order to register balance. Just think of a see saw – if one person is heavier than the other, how do you achieve balance? By moving the heavier person closer to the center of the board. You achieve the same thing visually in design.

The bottom image is not balanced. It’s easy to see but can you explain why? All of the heaviness is off to one side. The trees plus the bushes and shrubs takes up a lot of space visually AND they are closer to the center of the line.  In this example if the bush and tree on the left were moved closer to the front door and everything on the right were moved further to the right there would be more balance. It still wouldn’t be perfect but it would better than it is now.


So how does knowing how to create asymmetrical balance help you in your space? Take this symmetrically balanced fireplace mantle for example:

source: muse interiors

Very elegant. But a bit staid, right? What if you had a lot of things you wanted to display, or even swap out from time to time? Take a look at this example of asymmetrical design perfectly executed:


source: morgan harrison home

The larger frames are closest to the center line. Plus there are more little frames on one side, to balance out the largest frame on the other. You can achieve this with anything if you just remember to balance out your heavies with your lights and keep the heavies closer to the center line.

Play around with objects on a shelf in your home to achieve asymmetrical balance. I’m off to tackle my checkbook. That is one balance that will not be achieved so easily.

How to handle a fireplace in an awkward location

Often I am asked to assist with the layout of a room when it has an awkward feature like a fireplace in an odd place.  I have seen many bizarre, head shaking fireplace placements. Here are some of my faves:

The fireplace plopped in the room like the giant box it came in:



The fireplace sitting off center in a room:

FP A 1


The corner fireplace:



I haven’t seen this one yet. But apparently it’s out there:

I understand it when I see awkward fireplace locations in the older homes: their fireplaces were used to supply heat, not provide a design feature: form followed function.  But there’s no excuse for new construction. In that case bad fireplace location is just plain laziness:  “Living room – check. Wait. Damn. We forgot to add a fireplace. Well, just stick it over on that wall so we can easily vent it outside.”

Most people  – and rightly so – try to arrange their furniture around the fireplace because it is the natural focal point in the room. But this can lead to very bizarre furniture arrangements and awkward room flow. I’ve seen rooms with a sofa plopped in front of the fireplace and then the rest of the seating flung to the far corners of the room, as if everyone were in a giant timeout.

So what’s the fix? The easiest solution is to hire a designer. Just kidding. (No really. Call me). Here are a few solutions for the most common issues above:

1. Fireplaces with the entire box sitting in the room. In this example the fireplace box was large and squat, completely disproportionate to the space. So I brought the box all the way up to the ceiling and surrounded it with a honed travertine. Now it became a good focal point, not an eyesore. Next I flanked it with bookshelves so that the entire fireplace became a builtin wall. It helped to draw the eye up and out, expanding the wall and visually enlarging the space.


MORAN FIREPLACE-with sheer curtains (1)

2. Fireplaces off center in a room. The easiest thing to do here is take the focus off the fact the fireplace is off center by creating asymmetrical drama. This can easily be achieved using a bold pattern rug or a rug placed at an angle in front of the fireplace. Here I used a bold rug, pillows and drapes to create drama. The asymmetrical furniture grouping  – with a sofa on one side and occasional chairs and a baby grand on the other –  also helped drama and helped mitigate the less than ideal fireplace placement.




3. Corner fireplaces.  The best solution here is to create another focal point in the room. Place the furnishings in the most logical seating arrangement in the room and use something else as the focal point. It could be a large window overlooking a garden,  a large piece of artwork, or a cool conversation piece. If it’s a family room then make the tv the focal point. Always keep the line of sight open to the fireplace, and if you have room, create a second seating area by placing a settee or upholstered bench in front of it.


Happy arranging!


Holiday Decorating

I recently helped a client get her dining room ready for Christmas. When she called me we had just under four weeks to make the room feel more inviting and warm before 18 relatives descended upon her. She was a quick decision maker and excellent notetaker,  so while I gave direction, she quickly executed. We started with a new wall color  – a warm gray. There was a nice sized hole in one of the plaster walls and no way to get a painter in by Christmas. My client patched and painted by herself like a pro. Next we pulled new drapes in a bold pattern and a wool rug with soft lines to give the room more texture. A print on one wall was replaced with a striking mirror that added a lot of interest and helped bounce light around the room. Vases, lots of red and silver accents, holiday plants, and lights strung from the drapery rods added holiday charm and warmth. Good job CM!