Our big Victorian living room just wasn't working for us. It was a great place to gather family for the holidays and entertain guests at parties, but we wanted it to be more accommodating to private moments, too. We wanted to be enticed to read, and play or listen to music while surrounded by the room's 19th-century architecture and craftsmanship. Why don't we spend more time enjoying the fireplace, the carved mantle and the tall windows with their ornate woodwork, we asked ourselves.
The problem seemed to be how I had divided up the space. My furniture arrangement was pedestrian: a big square -- think group therapy. The TV armoire was against the long wall across from my comfy couch. I put my husband's piano against the inside end wall and arranged two wing chairs with their backs to it to make a conversation grouping in front of them and give him a "practice area" behind them.
The trouble was, when we walked into the room, we were drawn just to flop on the couch and turn ourselves over to the tube. With no guests filling the seats around us, it seemed like the only thing to do. What's worse, my husband felt cramped at his piano, the light was bad and no one could see him when he played.
Could this room be saved?
The challenge of The Morning Call Makeover is to come up with a design solution using essentially what the homeowner already has. To test this new feature before offering it to readers, we decided to make over my living room with Morning Call Makeover designer Nancy Carroll, of Nancy Carroll Interiors.
As Nancy quizzed me about what I didn't like, she saw the dilemma. "There's nothing worse than having a room where you say, "It's lovely and then you walk away," she said.
The problem, Nancy diagnosed, was that my floorplan was not organic. The fireplace, a desirable focal point, didn't function that way. Also, she said, a musical instrument like a piano should be in a place of honor -- not hidden behind furniture.
Another challenge was the utter lack of anything living. Nancy assured me that silk plants were OK, and told me I needed lots of them. "You want warmth, music, living things," she said. "Think of that wonderful word 'home.' Think safe, cocoon, nurture."
To achieve her goal, Nancy moved furniture. First she disbanded the phalanx of wing chairs, creating a view of the fireplace from everywhere in the room. She reinforced the focal point by putting the TV armoire on the end wall next to it. Topiaries on the mantle completed the visual draw.
Then she moved the piano to the light and airy end of the room with the three bay windows, a place of honor, replacing the couch that had been there. A spray of ferns went on the windowsill behind the piano and she stood my violin next to it.
Nancy rejected my matching coffee tables and arranged the two couches across from each other with only one coffee table between them. One wing chair -- my reading chair -- made the cut for the grouping. Next to my chair, she put a round table that had been obscured in a corner. On the table went a portrait of my mother and an overflowing silk plant. Enticing.
For the next stage of her makeover, Nancy trawled my house for other useables.
She put a vase of silk flowers from the hallway on the coffee table. An old gate-leg table in the foyer found its way behind the couch on the inside wall. Tibetan gongs from the foyer and old books became an eclectic sofa table grouping that included a candle and another silk plant.
Nancy hung prints from Ireland from the kitchen hallway above the table grouping on the wall where a large piece of my calligraphy had been displayed -- lonesomely.
She moved the calligraphy to the opposite wall over the other couch and found two inexpensive Manet prints I had relegated to an upstairs hallway to complete the grouping. The proportions look great. The cheap prints need to be replaced by something better. She also strategically placed other plants, family photos and favorite things on the end tables, the piano and the armoire.
I love my living room now. The fireplace and the piano set the tone, and the room invites us in. Next would be new couches, window treatments to let the outside in and a porch garden right outside the center window. Any maybe -- just maybe -- an alternative to the Victorian pastel ceiling color.
Linda O'Connell is The Morning Call's assistant managing editor for features.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun