Melissa Barndt has been puzzling over her living room since October 2003. That's when she, her husband, Jason, and their children moved into the pretty home they built in Lehighton.
With plenty of space and great views of the surrounding mountains and trees, the home is exactly what Melissa envisioned when she and Jason picked out plans and hired contractors to help Jason and his father-in-law, Richard Bauer, build the perfect place. "We like having things just the way we want," says Melissa.
Melissa liked the two-story open plan of the transitional-style home, the high center ceiling, the soaring windows that dominate one wall in the living room, the wood floors, the stone fireplace.
But as soon as the house was framed, she knew she had an interior-design challenge on her hands. "I walked in and said, 'I'm going to have a problem with furniture in this room,' " she says. "I've rearranged the furniture so many times, my husband jokes that every time he comes home from work he wonders, 'Where's the furniture going to be today?' ''
And then there's the big, blank, two-story living room wall.
"I never thought, 'What am I going to put on that once the house is done," she says. She went online looking for something "to fill up that space" but couldn't settle on anything.
And window treatments? "I never knew what to do. I didn't want to block the view."
Facing her furniture puzzle, the window treatment question and the tall wall problem, Melissa registered for a Morning Call Makeover at www.mcall.com.
Readers nominated Melissa's house along with two others in online voting, and Makeover designer Nancy Carroll chose Melissa's challenge among the three to take on.
When I caught up with Melissa and Nancy, they had talked about the design issues, explored Melissa's tastes, looked through catalogs and settled on a budget of about $1,000. Nancy had done a power shop and showed up with her ideas and the shopping-spree booty to begin the makeover.
"I want the living room cozier," Melissa tells me. "The openness gives it an element of coldness."
Nancy observes that Melissa's room has the basics right. It has good bones. The green and harvest wheat colors on the walls are attractive. The cinnabar chenille sofa, love seat and oversize ottoman purchased at Nathan's in Hazleton work just fine. And the tapestry rug Melissa's mother, Julia, spotted at Home Depot is a great complement. (Good eye, Julia!)
First, the furniture
Solving the furniture problem is simple, says Nancy. The TV is in the wrong corner of the room, by the tall wall with the love seat. She moves it to the opposite corner of the room by the kitchen, puts the couch along the tall wall and the love seat perpendicular to the couch.
The dramatic fireplace remains the focal point of the furniture grouping, but this simple shift makes it possible for Melissa to watch TV from the love seat, where she likes to snuggle with baby, Noah, 41/2 months, son, Mason, 5, and daughter, Lexi, 7. Husband Jason, who likes to lie on the couch, gets an unobstructed view of his own.
In all her furniture rearranging, Melissa had never considered putting the TV where its backside would face the open kitchen. Nancy solves the sight-line solution by camouflaging the black behemoth with a lovely screen Melissa already has.
How about the windows?
Melissa doesn't want to cover up her wall of to-the-floor windows. "The light is good and because there is nothing but trees out there, I feel like those are my shades," she says.
Says Nancy, "She doesn't need privacy but we do need to soften up the windows a bit," in pursuit of warmth and coziness.
Nancy's elegant answer to the window treatment question is neutral-colored translucent, Stylemaster tailored linen panels from Bed, Bath and Beyond -- and only one panel on the outer edge of each window flanking the fireplace.
She has chosen slim, rustic metal rods with curled end pieces, also from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
As soon as the sheers go up, Melissa says, "It's amazing what a difference a simple thing like curtains can make."
The room is warmer already.
The tall, blank wall
Nancy has rejected the idea of some big wall-hanging for the tall wall. "A big flat thing is not right for a big flat wall in this setting," says Nancy. In a stark contemporary house, a giant Jackson Pollock would fill the bill, but in Melissa's transitional-style house, with wood floors and wooden bannisters on the second-floor catwalk running by, Nancy envisions something three-dimensional to solve the blankness problem and tame the space.
Her plan is to arrest the eye's gaze so it doesn't soar all the way up the wall but stays in the living room.
Up a ladder she goes, drill and brackets in hand. The next thing we know, she's put a wooden shelf about five feet above the sofa.
Hmmm, I still can't quite picture how it's going to work, although I do note that the shelf is a nice counterpoint to the slate shelf over the fireplace and a complement to the exposed wood in the room.
Nancy then hoists up five prints from Marshalls. "I shopped for artwork with the view in mind," she says. The prints feature trees, hills countryside, and pick up on the browns, golds and greens in and outside of the living room.
As the prints are hung with two above the shelf, three below in balanced groupings: the three-dimensional wall-hanging takes shape. Nancy adds fullness with an overflowing silk plant and tall and short pieces of pottery on the shelf.
When she descends the ladder and steps back to regard her handiwork, she observes, "I just love seeing the little $6 Wal-Mart pottery up there."
The room is definitely warmer.
Nancy then fills in the empty corner of the "L" formed by the sofa and love seat sets with a side table -- one she brought from Melissa's basement. The table is a little funky but covered with another fulsome faux plant basket, set with a lamp with a twisted black iron base (which has a conversation with the black metal of the fireplace box) and finished off with family photographs plucked from the mantel, it doesn't matter.
The final fillip for the tall wall is a suitably tall parlor palm that goes by the window, with a complementary plant at its base. Nice way to draw interest down to the floor.
Among my favorite finishing touches is the accessorizing of the fireplace and windows area.
Nancy has a wall of rectangular prints over the couch, so, in counterpoint, she emphasizes the half-circle arches atop of the second-floor-level palladium windows with a big, round rust-patina-look clock from JCPenney.
Then -- and I love this -- she hangs half-circle decorative scrollwork grills below each palladium window. One good half-circle deserves another. Wonderful!
Of course, the mantel shelf over the fireplace gets another plant -- another big one.
In fact, all the plants are bold in scale, which prompts Melissa to compare the small faux plant she chose for her mantel, which is now on a tray on the ottoman, to the larger one Nancy chose. "Look at the size of the one I had up there," she observes. "If I were to put it back up there, it would look lost."
Nancy and Melissa have also conspired to dress up the landing on the stairway leading from the living room to the second floor, where an antique chest from Jason's boyhood bedroom sits forlorn.
Another plant, overflowing, of course, tall lamp with metal base, a pretty botanical print and a grouping of family photos goes on the wall.
To set off the wall continuing up the stairs. Nancy has rescued a print that she found gathering dust under Melissa's bed, where Melissa had stashed it because she couldn't decide where it could go.
The print, a wedding present, shows a little boy and girl standing sheepishly over a broken pot and the tall parlor palm that has spilled out of it.
This touch is no coincidence. Nancy chose the parlor palm in the living room for the resonance she knew it would have with the palm in the print. She's that good.
When Lexi comes home from school, the 7-year-old eyes take it all in and can tell the difference in her living room.
"I think it should stay this way forever," she says.
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