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Make Large Walls Cozier

Try these smart decorating tips for large wall spaces.

Some may denigrate them as "McMansions," but there's a reason people love today's trend toward bigger homes. While these houses may seem larger than strictly necessary, much of that space is geared toward togetherness, with great rooms that combine living, eating and food preparation areas, and big basements for parties and indoor recreation. This is much more family-friendly than the traditional home, where small rooms are separated by walls and doorways.

As for the rest of the space, well -- things are getting bigger. People need a wall to fit a big screen TV and a basement that can support a workout center. It's space, not waste.

When you're looking up, it gets tough. Many large homes feature soaring foyers and nine foot ceilings that, untouched, can leave your home feeling like a cold, echoing cavern. What's a decorator to do?

The answer is this: Do whatever you want. The sky (or ceiling) and your imagination are the only limits.

Choose a Paint Color You Love

It starts with paint. That's the word from Carolyn Anderson, model home decorator and co-owner of Desa Design.

"Colors are your best friend when it comes to bringing warmth and character to a big space," she says. "Choosing the right paint can allow you to soften the space and tie it in with the rest of the home." Beyond that, says Anderson, which color to choose is a matter of your personality and taste. Bold decorators may want to go with bright, bold colors. More earthy types may want to stick with neutrals.

Try Separating Tones with a Chair Rail

One of Anderson's favorite uses of paint on a large wall space is to use two different colors. One interesting technique she favors is to break up a large wall, such as a space with a 20-foot ceiling, with a chair rail around the wall at about what would normally be ceiling height – about 8 or 9 feet. Then, use different but contrasting colors on the top and bottom. It can be lighter on top and darker on the bottom or vice versa.

Finally, unless there's a lot going on architecturally or with interesting windows, decorate below the rail. "This creates a manageable decorating space and yet still gives the benefits of that big ceiling," she says. "You still need art, unless there's a lot going on in the space, but keep it at eye-level height below the chair rail."

Mount Drapes Above Transoms

As for windows in those big rooms, especially if they have transom windows on top, Anderson says to start the draperies or curtains above the transoms. This will have the effect of softening up a room and creates a nice vertical line.

Decorate from the Floor Up

In rooms with high ceilings where there is also furniture, whether it be a family room with couches and chairs or a foyer area with decorative pieces, ignore that big ceiling and decorate from the floor up, says Barbara Jennings, founder of Decorate-Redecorate.com and author of Where There's a Wall There's a Way.

"If you try to decorate to the vertical height, you take the attention out of the room," she says. "If you have furniture flush against the wall, unless it's massive and there's some reason for going high, you want to keep the artwork close to the furniture so it's viewed as a unit. Don't worry about what's up high; keep the attention in the room instead of drawing it up to the ceiling."

In general, Jennings says that the bottom of the art should be placed just a few inches above the furniture. This keeps the eye from being drawn upward and also prevents the distraction of too much wall space between the furniture and the art. "You want the furniture and the art to look like a united group," she says.

Go Large with Decorative Objects

Jennings and Anderson both like to think outside the box when it comes to decorating high ceilings. Art is always good, but so are large decorative objects such as these:

  • Tapestries
  • Mirrors
  • Fans
  • Pictures
  • Clocks
  • Wrought iron

In her own home, Jennings has a piece of oriental artwork called a kakemono, which is a long, painted scroll. It is on a wall between two doorways and fills the space very nicely. Any large item, as long as it can be safely hung, can be used to decorate a large wall.

Anderson is a fan of posters, because they do come in large sizes. Get a nice frame, and it doesn't look like a poster, but rather like a painting or print.

Nancy Marchand of Apex, N.C., lives in a house with a split entry. One wall stretches from the top floor to the basement. On it, she's hung the antique barber tools her father gave her from the shop he owned for many years, an antique rug beater and some other items from her grandmother. The collection makes a nice display that fits well with the country motif in her home.

"I had actually stored a lot of this stuff in a closet in our old house because I didn't know what to do with it," she says. "I was thrilled to have a big wall where I could display them in our new home."

Before hanging anything, warns Anderson, be sure you know what you want and where you want it. She recommends cutting out shapes from butcher paper to match the size and shape of the item or artwork and hanging those shapes up with painter's tape. Then, if you're not pleased with it, it's easy to rearrange, and there are no holes to fill.

Still need ideas? Anderson suggests looking through magazines and decorating books. Cut out ideas you like and save them, and you'll probably begin to see a trend. From there, it's just a matter of a good ladder.

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