Fireplace divides room


Q: We are thinking about opening up the wall between the living and dining rooms in this old house we've been remodeling. I'd like some way to separate the spaces without actually dividing them physically -- the dining room is not very large. What would you suggest?

A: One smashing answer would be a free-standing fireplace like the one we show here. Designer Marilynn Lundy of Environmental Images in New York has used a two-sided fireplace as a room-divider par excellence. Not only does it define the space without closing it off, but the fireplace warms the room both literally and emotionally.

Her room, which is featured in the East Coast edition of "The Showcase of Interior Design" (Vitae Publishing Co.), also offers several other imaginative ways to deal with a smallish space stylishly.

The skylight overhead opens up the ceiling by day; by night, soft hidden lights shed a glow over the table in lieu of the more predictable chandelier.

A large mirror set into the arch on the far wall effectively doubles the space.

Cream-colored gloss paint and a light-finish floor work further space-making magic.

The floor is also laid on the diagonal, a masterful way to add movement and the illusion of greater room than really exists.

She's also kept furnishing to a minimum, using accessories that stand out like sculpture and furniture dramatic enough to silhouette against the stark-but-warm background.

Q: I have always been intrigued with textiles and wallcoverings and want to know more about them, especially since we have bought a mid-Victorian house and would like to furnish it in keeping with the period when it was built (1869). Can you recommend a really good book on the subject?

A: You couldn't have asked at a better time -- just out from Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown is a colorful book that's much more interesting than its title, simply "Fabrics and Wallcoverings," would imply.

Author Barty Phillips traces the history of decorative fabrics and wallpapers almost from cave paintings forward, illustrating all the way with extraordinarily beautiful photographs of old treasures and new reproductions they've inspired for today's homes. It would make a delicious self-study project before you turn to your own walls.

An older -- but eminent -- source is Catherine Lynn's classic "Wallpaper in America" (Norton), published a decade or so ago but fortified with everything you need to know on the subject and then some. (Ms. Lynn was the curator of the Cooper-Hewitt wallpaper collection for seven years before going for her doctorate in American Studies at Yale.)

Decorative fabrics and, especially, wallcoverings have found their way back into favor of late after decades of being declassed by the "less is more" school of thought. Like you, I welcome the return of color, pattern and visual interest to our walls, windows and furnishings.

Q: After we bought an old house (early 1800s), vandals went in and pried mantels off two original fireplaces before we could even board things up prior to starting the renovations we have in mind. I'm heartsick, but my husband says we can find similar mantels. Where should we look?

A: Happily, your husband is right. You may even be lucky enough to find replacement mantelpieces from the same period (maybe even your own, if the thieves were lazy enough to sell them nearby). If not, a number of millwork suppliers are making such architectural features in period styles. Or you might find a craftsperson skilled enough to carve two to size.

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