Monday, August 3, 2009

Geek Details Room Makeover

We're going to try out a new kind of feature today -- the "make over" where a reader asks for help designing a room and I give it my best shot, and you all chime in with your opinions and ideas. This is a bit longer and involved than most of my posts -- so definitely tell me if you like it.

Amanda recently sent me a "cry for help":

I’ve been following your blog for some time and I love it. The husband and I recently bought a house built in 1929 and we’re in process of decorating. I love the steampunk style and I know exactly how I’m going to do that in the rest of the house (and totally plan on sharing photos), but my front room is giving me hell.

First, it’s HUGE. Way bigger than anything we’ve ever lived in (yay military housing). The room is 28 feet x 13 feet, has a ton of windows and entry points and serves no real purpose. We want to steam punk it but we’re at a loss on what to do. I’m hoping you can help me figure something out maybe possibly if it’s not too much to ask? If this was your room what would you do with it?

I told her this sounded like way too much fun -- decorating other people's rooms is a lot more interesting and less stressful than doing your own. So let's take a look at this room:

It's a great room -- I love all the woodwork, especially the coffered ceiling -- but it has a number of challenges -- it's so much longer than it is wide, the woodwork is very geometric and Craftsman style, and it's very, very white.

Amanda doesn't so say, but I get the impression from her blog that she is thrifty and wants to reuse as much as possible (and who doesn't these days?), so I'm going to look to major retailers and thrifty ideas in this project (which is what I do for my own home, too). Amanda is a crafter with the brand "Geek Details" on etsy -- she's been doing a lot of Alice in Wonderland inspired crafts, and I thought that would be a great place to start for inspiration -- it's timely, but also weird and Victorian at the same time.

Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

Poker Cards on the wall, from the now defunct BluePrint.

Still of the upcoming movie, from

That's nice to get us all excited about the possibilities, but the challenge for turning Amanda's room into something fantastic and fabulous is going to require a lot of detailed work. Let's start with the layout of the room.

For a room this large -- 13' x 28' -- the most logical thing to do is break it into "zones." The biggest zone should be a sitting area, centered on the fireplace. I envision this area as an "away" area -- a quieter place to have a cup of tea with a friend or to sit in the morning before the rest of the house is up. She should break her sectional up into something approximating a sofa and two chairs, face the sofa to the fireplace and flank it with chairs on both sides. (Yes, very symmetrical. Symmetry is good, especially for hobbiest designers or geeks who like math.) Find two end tables to put in the corners (and block the white sides of the sectional) and a rectangular coffeetable to put in front of it. (All three of these pieces need to be "heavy" visually, to take up space in the room and match the sectional. I'd scout for appropriate sized pieces of relatively plain design in thrift stores or garage sales and paint them black both to work together and to take up more visual space in the room.) Place the whole arrangement on a rug to define the space -- ideally it would be large enough for all of the furniture, but at a minimum it should be large enough for the front legs of the sofa and chairs to set on. I'd also add a tall, long console table behind the couch.

The second zone Amanda already has, sort of. It's the "entryway" zone, where you drop your bags, keys, and umbrellas. I'd move the sewing table to the right of the door (under the shelf) to make a halltree arrangement. I'd keep an eye open for an antique hall tree to put in this space.

I'd also move the umbrella next to the sewing table. The radiator might get in the way here -- for now I'd say 'ignore it' -- and put the table in front of it (it shouldn't block any of the air), and hopefully the tabletop is a bit deeper than the legs so it doesn't stand out from the wall that much. One of the things that doesn't work here is the shelf brackets -- the are a delicate iron, but too delicate for this large a room. I'd replace them with heftier wooden brackets, again painted black.

The third zone would be the corner and wall to the right of the door as you walk in -- I'd make this "library" space. Use tall bookshelves on both sides of the corner, up to the window. Fill with books, objects, even a stereo. Ikea's Billy bookshelf would work, or their Markor. Or finish them yourself from a unfinished furniture store. (If you ever end up with a piano, I'd put it in there.)
Ikea Markor
Ikea Billy

Depending on the amount of space, you might be able to add a comfortable chair and a reading lamp in front of the bookshelves to complete the nook.

With these three zones, we're left with one big glaring space -- the offset grid of woodwork that you see as you walk in the door. It's lovely woodwork. It's not at all steampunk. My suggestion here would be to turn it into a gallery wall and play against the grid with a looser arrangement of framed photographs and art that ignore the grid altogether. There's an incredible selection of gallery walls at Abbey Goes Design Scouting, and Apartment Therapy put together a how-to recently.

Ok, we've divided up the room into zones, suggested furniture and arrangements. What's left? Color. This room is simply too white. I've got a lot of different ideas here (I find color the hardest thing to get right -- I ended up hiring a professional to help me with it). One idea would be to take her color inspiration from a playing card, particular a face card. (We'll tie it all together in a moment when we get to art suggestions.) I put a face card into's Color Palette Generator to get us started:

The room's already got some of the basics here -- white, the red couch -- but I'd go one of two ways here -- either paint the entire room a taupe color (not that different from the third one down) and/or paint a lot of the trim black. (I'm doing this in my addition, so we'll see how it looks soon enough.) Once you start painting the trim black, it's going to be hard to figure out where to stop, so this would require a lot of thinking. I'd suggest starting with just the fireplace. You could also do the door. If you do the floor boards, I'd also paint that darn radiator -- you don't want it to stick out any more than it already does.

Another idea would be to tone down the white by "antiquing" it.

See this photo of John Derian's home -- the wall color on the lower half of the walls is lovely. I think you could achieve the same thing with Ralph Lauren's aging glazes. Here's an example of how good antique walls and black accents can look:

Interior by Tim Clark

And if those two ideas aren't enough, I ran across this project on putting painted embossed wallpaper inside of panels (like in Amanda's door or the gridwork wall) on Apartment Therapy a while ago and loved it!

She also needs to replace the curtains. I'd use curtains that start at the top of the wall (instead of at the top of the window frames) and ideally puddle on the floor. The goal is to make the room feel taller, to offset how long it is. Depending on what color walls she goes with, I'd either go for a red velvet -- Pottery Barn usually has some that would work -- or a natural linen or cotton.

Pottery Barn Velvet Drapes -- notice how high on the wall they are, and how they puddle just a bit on the floor.

Ikea Bomull -- they come long and you hem them to your desired length.

The funnest part of decorating a room is the accessories -- art for the walls, stuff on the shelves, tables, mantels. I think most of us start with this part -- but really, it's just what pulls an already well designed room together. For Amanda's room, it's where restrain ourselves from going too over the top "Alice" -- the goal would not be for someone entering the room to think "Alice in Wonderland, of course" but rather to discover quirky details that delight them, remind them of "something", and then have them figure it out.

For the aforementioned gallery wall, I would probably stick with plain black frames, but mix Amanda's artwork, her favorite pieces that are on the shelf by the door right now, family photos, and some out of copyright Alice images or framed magazine stills from the upcoming movie. (Again, it doesn't hit you over the head, but if you are browsing the gallery wall, it will surprise and delight.)

For the sitting area, I'd soften the red of the couch with a throw similar to this one that incorporates the red and the yellows from the playing card palette.

And add some antique linen or needlepoint pillows.

I'd use an oriental rug of some sort underneath it all. You could use a smaller similar rug in the "library" area to define that space. (There are tons of these everywhere -- garage sales, thrift stores, Craig's list, etc...)

Find some brass reading lamps for behind the chairs, and put a matched pair of lamps like these on the end tables. (I think you could make these with an old teaset, a lamp kit and a ceramic bit for a drill.)

Rest the empty frame off center over the existing mirror on the mantel, for a "through the looking glass" effect. Flank the fireplace with faux topiaries -- the topiaries for the Burton movie are fantastic and would be great inspiration. If it needs more, pull teacups and pots out of your collection of china and make a collection on the mantel.

The entry table could have a lamp reminiscent of the mad hatter's hat, and a topiary rabbit.

For the walls, blow up some playing cards (face cards) and frame them simply. You could even have an extra large set of cards setting out on the coffee table.

Stick a hookah in the corner. (Too much? Perhaps. ) Use a pocket watch style clock on a side table.

Whew, I'm exhausted -- that was a lot of work. Amanda, I can't wait to hear what you think of it -- please feel free to comment and leave questions. There's also a Kaboodle list with a lot of the links from the article.

Readers, what do you think? What would you have done with Amanda's living room?


Waterbug said...

Yes, great fun and gets the ideas flowing for our own homes. This is hard to do with a couple of small pictures, but I'll throw out a few things stuck in my head.

Great home to start with. Half way to Steampunk already. In my home I'm going toward Craftsmen. 1860's in England and leading edge design then so it fits. I think mixing Craftsmen and Victorian works as I assume people did that back then as we do today with mixing modern and vintage.

Woodwork, paint with a faux wood grain. Very common in Victorian and you can still get the tool used to make the grain. Easier than it sounds. Stripping is really hard and depends on what kind of wood is underneath. Plus easy to paint over or do parts when you have time.

Apply trim to the walls to make faux panels. Common in Victorian. Or go Craftsmen with wainscoting.

Paint the fireplace faux marble fireplace although this one seems better in wood. You could do a panel or two in marble however.

Valances for windows.

Enclose the floor radiators with covers using wood and pierced metal. I wouldn't worry about keeping the covers low unlike the higher Victorian cast iron radiators. It's a way to get some brass in there without major work.

I like the idea of separating the room. Victorian rooms were smaller I think than later homes so smaller spaces could get you to Steampunk. For the bookcases I would go with Globe Wernicke barrister bookcases. You can go floor to ceiling and they can also go back to back to make a wall. Cost some money but you cannot beat a few antiques to add authenticity and anchor your design, like the treadle sewing machine does. Some metal bits and some have hidden (kind of) doors on the very bottom that makes them Steampunk to me. Long term the bookcases will hold value and maybe even gain. So the real cost is less than new. Common enough to be findable. Check EBay for ones in your area and the seller requiring local pickup and a low starting price. This limits the buyers and they can go for a song. Just saw this happen with item 150362261553, half price.

They have a pressed board product that looks like a tin ceiling. Possibility for the panels inside the coffered ceiling panels. But some trim would need to be added too probably unless you were really careful cutting and patterns can be an issue. Plus the ceiling might be too low, can't tell. You can cut the individual panels out of the sheet and then glue to ceiling with the spaces between appearing as trim.

Round coffee table instead of rectangular, more Victorian imo although I don't know why that is stuck in my head.

Big mirror with gold gilt frame over the fireplace with loose wire so it tilts down.

Best inspiration for me was tours of Victorian homes. Molly Brown House Museum in Denver is responsible for most of my ideas.

Unknown said...

Love this post, and would love to see more in this vein. :-)

GeekLady said...

I really love the idea of posts like this.

I love it so much, that I'm going to send you my own cry for help with my study/boudoir/mom-cave.

geek details said...

Omgosh it's lovely! I have so many ideas for the room now and can't wait to get started on it. thank you thank you thank you

We've moved around a couple things since I sent you photos but the room basically looks the same. I've started work upstairs on stripping the wood and it to die for. Seriousl the prettiest dark brown wood and the paint is coming off easily. Almost like the wood is just begging to be pretty again.

I'm wow. I have a lot of work ahead of me and I think it'll take some time to do up the room, but this is such a good jumping off point and I'm so much less lost now. Did I mention thank you? I will email with photos when the room is better off then it is now. TY!

Keshlam said...

Nice ideas. I'm going to have to study that, since my current style is largely ... uhm... functional. (If it isn't ugly and it does what it needs to do... and preferably is real wood...)

The hall tree made me say "ooh!" because... well, I've got this nice old panels-and-half-window door. It's an exterior door, which means it's too wide to use in any interior doorway without major reconstruction. (Pity; a window with some glass would be appropriate for the library.) So my current plan is to clean it up, replace the glass with a mirror, add hooks, add feet or a bench, and turn it into a hall tree.

(I can't take full credit for the idea. This Old House, I think, showed a similar reworking from door to vanity a few months ago -- they added a shelf to the door's face -- and I'm just tweaking that to suit my own needs.)

my croft said...

That gridded paneled wall behind the sewing machine could also be painted to look like metal -- I'm thinking not wholly tarnished silver.

Jennifer Emick said...

A great place to go for topiaries, etc., is savon crafts, which has a very large selection of very cheap florals and the like, including big sheets of faux moss.

Also, I think if I was doing a wonderland theme, I'd include a)a chess element, and b)Tenniel prints, c)roses! A little black and white checker somewhere wouldn't hurt.

geek details said...

Okay now that I've digested this info

Can I use the faux aging over the existing creamish colored paint? Or is that a repaint the wall and faux age in the process type of thing?

I'm sure I'll have more questions as I continue the process. It's exciting though to have a direction to take that room now

MB said...

Lots of opportunities, and I love the ideas. The existing curtains could be re-used under another set; Victorians layered lots of fabrics. I love that nifty wood bracket, and may use something similar.

Raven said...

I love the curtains and the red love seat! I also love the suggestions you gave and the tea set lamp and the whole Alice in wonderland theme!

Holly said...

Oh Lord, I'd kill for a front room that size...

Ballroom. Seriously. But then, we use our biggest room (what would be the dining room, in a normal familly) to practice martial arts in, which is virtually the same thing...

geek details said...

We love the front room size too, it's just overwhelming to decorate! We moved from base housing of about 1200 sq ft to a house with 3000 sq ft. We've lived in military housing for the past 9 years and it's exciting and yet overwhelming to be able to finally decorate how we want.

We do have one room labeled "ballroom" though. It's the hall bath and you can fit 4 adults in it comfortably. I've never lived in a house with a bathroom that large.

Liz said...

Love this post! How cool and your suggestions are fantastic! Totally agree with ceiling to floor curtains over the windows - that is what I have in a chocolate velvet - however, I have 2 curtain rods at the ENDS of my huge window. The window is probably 12 feet across and my rods are 4 ft long each hung at the ends of the window (covering 1 ft of wall, and 3 ft of window on each side). Our windows have raladans that roll down and black out the room but if you don't have blinds on your windows you can hang long panels of off white or tan sheers behind the heavy curtains. Just a thought. :) Anyhoo - LOVE IT and i hope geek updates us with her changes. :)

geek details said...

I've started the changes and you can see photos here

We're still hunting for the perfect red curtains and I need ones that are 108 inches just to skim the floor, longer if i want it to pool. Also picking out the wall color and going to do that soon. Bookshelves are being ordered next week. Made some art for the white area and rearranged a couple things. It's not there yet, but it's on its way. TY!!!

rkamper said...

Great ideas. I love the colors!

I don't think much of your choices in timepieces though. Not very steampunk or interesting. Check out our blog posts on clocks and steampunk:

Consider a mechanical wall hanging clock where you can see the gears:



geek details said...

Finished the fireplace, have new art over it for now since that's the only place it would fit. I may keep it, may not. I rather liked the mirror but the scale was off.

In anycase, I like the black fireplace better. Slowly working on the other details. MIL is going to help me make curtains because I priced them out and it was around $800 for curtains for one room. OMG

Found red velvet online and I can use a 50% off coupon which means my 18 yards of red velvet will be $80ish. woohoo

Sara said...

Starting to look better -- I like the fireplace, and can't wait to see what you do with the map.

Tell me where you're getting the velvet online, and how you scored a coupon -- I want velvet curtains for my bedroom, which gets pricey, as you've noticed.

geek details said...

if you go to they have a fabric section. There's some red velvet in the fabric section and you can find 50% off coupons by googling "joann coupon." I haven't purchased my fabric yet, but the price was right for all that fabric. They also have a ton of not red velvet stuff that would work too!

lisa_d said...

What a lovely room. I'm so with you on the curtains. Hope mi condo like that too.

condo manila


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