Help a (Clueless) Guy Decorate his Small 1930s Living Room

911fanSeptember 27, 2012

I posted this on the decorating forum and thought it might be better suited here - any help would be great

Great forum here and I was hoping you could steer me in the right direction in regards to design and inspiration�.

Im a 30 year old guy who just bought his first home � its a 3 level all brick end unit townhouse built in 1935 right under 1200 square feet. I love the character of the home with original hardwoods and fireplaces, however due to the small footprint and it being built in the 30s the rooms are pretty small. Also there are a lot of walls that I cant use to anchor furniture due to doorways or fireplaces. I know that it can be a showstopper in the right hand but as this is my first place (and using a guy�s eye to design) its hard for me to envision.

The room Im having the hardest time with is the living room which is 11 x 13 with an exterior door on one wall, a fireplace on another and an entrance to the dining room on the 3rd. As such, I have NO IDEA how to decorate the small space and its driving me nuts!! Ive attached a layout of the first floor below and was hoping someone could help with lay-out and furniture. Id like to do something that looks correct in the older style home because I love the character but am trying to stay away from anything too antique looking, I�d like comfortable, classic style (picture a less over the top Ralph Lauren Brookfield vibe). Any pics would be great as I�m still having a hard time picturing.

Anyway, ramblings aside HELP!!!


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and one more!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 3:33PM
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WOW BEAUTIFUL HOME ! (((envy)) I live in a 1938 apt. so I know better than you how small the rooms are !
I would take your time and search for things that you really like at thrift stores, farmer's mkt.(Ohio & PA usually have these but I'm sure there all around if you search online)and resale stores that support ASPCA etc. Think eclectic instead of "antique" and you will soon make that lovely home reflect your style. ps-From the photos your home looks like it is decorated, you need no help...

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 4:10PM
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Thanks so much - those were actually the previous owner's belongings so now its a blank canvas. Its just hard to determine what needs to go where since there are so many obstacles. Any suggestion on furniture placement would be great!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 4:17PM
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Will your tv be in the living room, or is the room just for entry/company?

I guess what I'm asking is how do you plan on living in that room?

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 6:12PM
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Hi Marti8a - I don't think I'll have a TV in this room, at least not one that will be a focal point at all. I've been toying with the idea of doing built-ins by the fireplace and if anything I'd just put a small 20" TV there.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 9:02PM
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Beautiful space. Lucky you. We all love pictures s post away.

I would consider putting a smallish sitting area in the corner created by the stair. Love the windows flanking the fireplace. I would not make your built in's too high to leave those windows nicely exposed. I would do a shorter table under the window so two chairs could sit closer together at either end and be part of the sitting area when needed.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 11:16PM
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I agree with shades, that corner is the only place I can see for upholstered pieces. And I too would put a couple of chairs in front of the big window, or one chair and a small table.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 10:41AM
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I have to disagree with my smaller home friends and say that you could possibly - just possibly - have a sofa with its back to the stairway, facing the fireplace. Because the realtor's pics appear to be made with one of those distorting lenses, it is hard to know for sure. You can put boxes or even just tape on the floor to try it out. Have the sofa's side not up against the wall under the mirror, but have a small end table against the wall and then the sofa coming out into the room. Place the sofa as far back toward the staircase as you can without it interfering with the swing of the front door. You may be able to put a small sofa table behind it to use some of the "wasted" space behind the sofa, or you may want some kind of welcoming display like a small tree and several plants around it next to the stairs so when the door opens, people see something beautiful, not clutter.

In front of the double window, maybe a small table and that chair that Shades was talking about, with a matching one on the other side of the fireplace. This way, the fireplace becomes the focal point of the room. Maybe a small coffee table in front of the sofa.

Get out your measuring tape and get a pad of graph paper. Get the room graphed out, including the door and the arc of the swing of the door. I usually use two graph paper boxes per foot. Make sofa-sized, chair-sized, occasional table-sized, and coffee table-sized rectangles and color them differently using colored pencils. Laminate each with scotch tape. Go to arranging the boxes on your carefully-drawn floor plan, leaving room to walk around. It saves pulling the furniture all over your nice floors!

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 10:02PM
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I started reading the thread on "Decorating" and I have to let you know that when I was thinking about sofas and looking for pictures, I was not thinking of sectionals - too modern for your home. I was thinking of chesterfields.

Here is a link that might be useful: smaller chesterfield

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 1:27PM
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Nancy - that would be amazing. However as I've been starting to block things out to see the traffic and sizes, I'm realizing more and more how very little space I have. For a sofa, I dont think I can do anything longer than 76" and then there will only be room for a single club chair which would back to the stairs. In the corner by the fireplace and living room I'm going to try and find a smaller scale wingback - again the challenge will be to find things on a small enough scale that would fit.

Its going to be a long road...

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 11:08PM
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I would think loveseat instead of couch on the wall with the dining room door and a couple chairs on each side of the window.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 6:57AM
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Hi, and welcome!
Those floors, and the stairs, what a great space you have.
I see that the two windows flanking the fireplace are reminiscent of Arts and Crafts. So any builtin cabs you make, put doors with the four-square look to them. And of course a flat panel if you do a TV. Hide it behind a pair of doors.TV to the LEFT of fireplace, since traffic will be walking or stranding in front of the RIGHT side of the fireplace. If you do decide to lower the cabs adjacent to the fireplace, relate the top height of them to the height of the firebox, so the eye makes a straight line across that wall and it will be much more satisfying. Long lines can add size to a small space. You decide, low or high, but make the line long and continuous.

I think the sofa really needs to be very small scale, and you might find a loveseat like one I got from Boston Interiors. It has plain legs, but think about the furniture not being large, and chairs not having skirted bottoms, so that more of the floor shows. It tells the eye there is more open area. I would consider a modern looking wingback chair or maybe two. Stay away from the Queen Ann style dining chairs, which is what the former owner had. It is not suitable for a younger male resident. Too really old fashioned. More appropriate for your grandma, don't ya know.
I'd say if you got parsons chairs for your dining area, then two of the chairs could serve in the LR by the windows. It is easy to pick up different colored slip covers for parsons chairs, with or without long skirts. If you are the kind likes to entertain formally, then a special set of slip covers for such occasions might be worth considering.

If you go with the smaller table beneath the larger window, make it a type of tea table. That could serve as a breakfast or coffee spot, and give you a chance to observe what is going on outdoors on your street....that is, if you are facing a street with a sidewalk? Pretty interesting way to become acquainted with the style of your street.

Make your dining area work hard too. Do not forget to put at least ONE storage piece in the dining area. But no big buffet. A skinny 60" long parsons table against the wall with a floating shelf arrangement above it would be a good way to create display space without restricting yourself to a set wall hanging. Such a table works as a serving space in the dining, or any number of ways in the LR. If need be, a nice place to also use baskets beneath it for hidden storage. Look for a skinny vertical piece with or without doors to display artwork or pretty large serving bowls in it.

We will wait while you give us a tour of the other floors, where are the bathrooms. I bet two baths, right? Do they have original ceramic tile? Wainscoting up high or woodwork like at the mantle wall? How cool your new house must be.

And is the upper floor, the third level, where you have a master? Does it have small closets and a bath on that floor? Is it tucked under the eaves, or are ceilings full height? If you have a space with slanted ceilings, then that is a good space for a headboard, or a chest that can fit with it. Or, a desk and book shelves or a console.

Whatever you do, enjoy the experience.
The first house I bought, I had only a pair of wicker chairs and a cypress coffee table. I rattled around in that place like a bee-bee in a washpot for a long time. So many options. Do not buy a lot of stuff just to fill it up. That will happen soon enough. And if you have a lot of friends, watch out for them.....they will want to feel GOOD about giving away their old stuff so they can feel GOOD about buying NEW for themselves. :)

Enjoy. We realize how much fun it is to begin with a blank slate.

Oh yeah. No recliners in the living room. That goes in the study or den. If you are single, it will favorably impress your dates.

A second thought here. It might be a good idea to locate that 20" TV in the kitchen, or somewhere in the dining room that can be seen from the kitchen. Also, think about mounting it on an articulating arm that can be swiveled toward the LR, or made visible from the kitchen. If you have friends over to cook and watch a game, will they be in the kitchen with you? Is there room for that? How many of them will there be USUALLY? And do you need to have a counter space devoted to kibitzing guests with stools that can be tucked away? Is it possible with the current setup? Is the kitchen unfitted enough that you could have a rolling tall island with space for 2-3 stools and a second person helping with cooking chores?

Enough already. Glad you dropped in. See ya later.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 12:22AM
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I wish I had a drawing program, but I don't. Right now, I can't even find my paper graph paper! Let me see if I can find a way to paint a better picture with words, instead.

My small sofa, or loveseat, will not be against any wall. It will face the fireplace, but it will be further back in the room. If there is enough room, I would place the sofa so that there is room to walk behind it, between the back of the sofa and the stairs. That nifty bar cabinet (from the thread in decorating) could go against the wall, directly across from the front door.

Ideally, the side of the sofa is not up against the wall, a small table separates the kitchen wall from the sofa. A coffee table is in front of the sofa. A small, skinny table or a small round table is in front of the window. Two club chairs are on either side of the fireplace, facing the sofa. I loved the idea (other thread, maybe) of the fireplace side built-ins with little tables for lamps and a place for the people in the chairs to set their coffee. Given that, the chairs may have to swivel, not be club chairs, though.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 11:27PM
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