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Reader Decorating Dilemma: The Blank Wall Edition

Oh, I love these. We've had fun with a blank wall in a dining room before, and a bunch of you had excellent suggestions. But here we have one very large expanse of wall and a reader who needs advice, stat.

She writes:


I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and now include
a visit as part of my daily decorno diet. Yummy!

This very-blank wall (not so yummy) has been haunting
me for two years now. Perhaps my inertia is related
to something I have refered to as post-downsizing
disorder, but I'm ready to get over that and would be
oh-so-grateful for a home remedy or two from you and
your readers.

Any possible cures?

Thank you,

I have to go get dinner started, so I will have to mull it over while cooking for my people, but I am sure readers will get a jump on this in the meantime.

Michelle - can you email in a photo of the rest of the room? You will probably want suggestions that will tie that wall back to the rest of the room...

Michelle responded:

Yeah! Help is on the way!!

Here's 3 shots of the little room. Poor thing! It's
like the ugly step-sister, getting by with hand-me
downs and trying it's best to look pretty and pulled
together. I'm going to click my heels three times
and when I wake-up, hopefully there will be remedies
galore-o, via decorno.

(btw...I know the floral chair has to goooo!)

I promise to send pictures of the new and improved!


Well, well, well. See? Glad you sent in more photos because I don't think that the blank wall is our first order of business. And the reason I say this is that you've got a lot going on in the room (and that's not necessarily a bad thing).

So, my first thought is forget about your wall for a moment. I know that the leather sofa positions you to look directly at it, but avert your eyes for the time being.

Second, I am not usually a big fan of florals, however, I will say this... I don't think your floral chair has to "gooooo" (as you say) quite yet. I think you first need to talk about your sea of brown. Brown sofa, brownish rug, brown floors, brown chair in the corner. Brown, brown, brown. I mean, I am a friend of brown, but I think you could edit the room a little and make a few quick changes to offer up more contrast. Even if the colors generally stayed neutral, you could add greens or reds or sisal rug to add some dimension and punch to the room for not much cash at all. I think you deserve some happy color in there even before you attack the wall that happens to be driving you nuts.

Decorno readers? What do you think?

Also - - what DO we do with the wall? Michelle graciously puts her room at your mercy, so try to keep the recommendations affordable.

Michelle - thanks for the photos! This should be fun.

Michelle mentions this room by Tia Zoldan in the comments section, so I thought I would post it here for reference.


pve design said...

Introduce a great color on the walls, fresh paint in a robins egg blue or a grey,green color.
The blank wall, hang a collection of framed photos in eclectic frames
I would add a bolder piece of artwork over the couch!

Anonymous said...


Hi Michelle, agree with Decorno that there needs to be more contrast in the room. Here are some suggestions--

A cheap transformation can be made by painting the coffee table white. It'll bring light to the room.

Instead of having cushions that match the leather sofa, maybe you could remove those and replace them with some striking red cushions. It'll pick up the colour from the painting above.

Lastly, maybe you could change the big lamp. I'll suggest a modern crystal lamp, to offer some contrast to the more traditional decor in the room.

For the wall, I would suggest one large abstract modern painting or print with some red in it, to contrast with your floral chair. Put it in a black frame. Maybe you could remove the cloth that's covering the floral chair.

Hope this helps!

Michelle said...

Boy, that brown on brown theme is really.....brown. How come I didn't see it before? Your right, decorno. My "wall" is the least of my problems. Truth is, I purchased the rug when I first moved in, spent too much $ on it, don't love it, and have been trying to decorate around it. I even painted my antique pine armoire red (which isn't in the pic) to try to liven up the room a bit. If I had my druthers, I'd sell the rug on craig's list and reinvent my room from the floor up. What do you think? Is it o.k. to throw the baby out with the bath water or is it possible to get a "happy" house like Tia Zolden's (which I luv, luv, luv) without starting from scratch?

Anonymous said...

The wall: One picture near the door and call it a day. In my house, I like to keep some walls like that, in transitional areas, blank. It keeps things restful. People don't want to feel they have to keep swiveling their heads and registering things everywhere they look.

The color of the walls, you might want to warm that up a little. Nothing big.

Habitually Chic said...

I was also going to suggest a robin's egg blue color for the walls. Her stairs look almost exactly like those in a home that Thom Filicia designed that I just posted, Check out the last two photos.

I actually don't mind the leather sofa and you could keep the chair and just get a light colored slip cover. I also think you could paint the coffee table white or even a darker brown. If you really want to replace the rug, I would swap it out for sisal since it's less expensive. I would also replace the lamps eventually. I think the chair in the corner looks interesting and makes a great accent piece.

The key is to come up with a plan and don't feel like you have to replace everything at once. Have your list of what you need and your room measurements and take it with you when you go shopping. The best thing about living in the suburbs is that you have access to great stores like Target and even TJ Max and Marshall's to find great deals or shop the sales at more expensive stores.

I'm sure with all the suggestions here that Michelle's home will be looking great!

Decorno said...

Hi Michelle, it's funny because after I posted this I took a look at my front room and realized I have the *same* problem. Lot's of neutral colors.

As for your rug and asking if you can throw the baby out with the bathwater - of course you can. I am not saying you should, but I do think that if you find yourself decorating around something in particular that you're not totally in love with, take it out of the room for a while and re-evaluate. You don't have to married to the rug or anything else in there. And you can always repurpose the rug in another room.

I like the suggestion of painting the coffee table white. I also like the idea of color on the wall (which is funny for me because I am white's #1 fan).

And the anon who said leave the wall by the stairs mostly blank... I think I agree. One great thing on it and then you're done.

Michelle - you mentioned Tia Zoldan. How great is that room?? One of the best. I will post it so people can take a look.

Also - you're a very good sport. You emailed me/us so you could get advice on your wall and look at us - - we're redecorating your whole room. :)

Mary Ellen said...

If you brought in the fun green from the dining room chairs that would liven up the room. Also, have you considered painting the mantle and maybe the bricks on the fire place? You could have a cushion made for the hearth as extra seating when the fireplace is not being used. Maybe a fun stripe (something like Amanda Peet had on the cover of Domino). Also, I think it would help to lose the coffee table. An inexpensive fix would be two white Parsons tables from IKEA (the small side tables) instead. They cost about $12 and are very chic. The room needs some legs. Finally, I think some black and white photography would look great on the mantle and over the sofa. Love the idea of robin's egg blue walls and maybe a hot pink on the wicker chair. Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

I agree that the coffee table is weighin' things down.

michelle said...

Wow! This is so much fun and I love all of your suggestions!

First off, yes Decorno; Tia's house is the absolute best. I could move right in and not change a thing. I luv her bohemium-chic style and how her key pieces are neutral and then she pops the room with colorful accents, like that georgeous blue ottoman.

And how about that painting above her sofa? Bold and fun! She painted it herself. Maybe I can commission her to paint something for above my sofa and for "the wall" (ha!). I'd kill for a zebra rug, too; as long as I didn't have to kill a zebra. Also, I think the rug works because of the beautiful ebony floors in Tia's home and probably wouldn't be as hot with my golden oak.'s what I'm thinking about my not-so-extreme makeover.

First, I'm rolling up the rug and getting a sisal. I've been leaning that way for a while and now I have permission (thanks decorno!). It will be totally liberating not to work around that muddy thing. I hear Ikea has great prices on sisals.

Second. That monster of a coffee table is a storage work-horse, but I agree with mary ellen, she is weighing down the room and may have to be put out to pasture. Plus, painting my armoire turned into a nightmare that I'd prefer not to repeat. What do you all think of the Jacqui tea tables from Bungalow 5, instead? What color do you like?

As for room color, I love the white, but robins egg blue sounds interesting. I've been dreaming of a way I could incorporate some blue. But something to consider... my home is spanish style and the living room walls are coved and flow into the ceiling - no breaking point for a neutral/contrasting ceiling. May be a little too much.

Thanks for the Thom Filicia reference, habitually chic. If only my stairs really could look like that...hmmm.

Anon and decorno - I agree with your suggestion of keeping "the wall" simple with one large piece. I've even considered a large mirror to reflect the light from the windows across the room? Yay? Nay?

Mary ellen, funny you should mention hot pink. I was doing some late night shopping and found a fun pink chair on crate&barrel's site - Savior Chair in Willis:Sangria or maybe even Loden Green. Now that I'm breaking out of the brown rut, why not go for it?

Good idea about painting the mantel too. Any suggestions on color (darker brown, black or white to match the rest of the trim)?

New lamps - DEFINITELY.

Great ideas - everyone!! Thank you. Now....where to begin?!

michelle said...

seeing Tia's room and mine on the same page makes me want to cry (not in a good way).

mominaledo said...

I think color on the wall would make a huge difference...and what about some family photos?

Anonymous said...

Michelle: Don't cry. Your living room looks seriously comfortable, something lots of "chic" rooms never achieve.

Navy & Gray said...


I agree with anon about leaving the wall by the stairs blank. You dont want to overwhelm your self or anyone else who comes over with a wall full of stuff. BUT, then again, you could always try a mirror (think interesting shapes) there and see how you like it. Alot of places will let you reurn one if you decide you dont like it.

About the rest of the room: honey, get some color. Dont feel like you have to paint the walls orange or neon green but you could def. use some color. In fact I am really liking white/neutral wall with neutral funishings and a great pop of color (exactly like Tia's room).

Incorporating colors with accessories will allow you to change them out when the mood strikes or when the seasons change.

I am thinking a color scheme of navy blue, yellow, crip white... perfect for spring and summer. You could also use some of your existing pieces you already have.

Anonymous said...

Well, I totally think you should get a mirror in that dark corner. A mexican metal framed one might carry your spanish theme. Also, recover that chair with white or light slipcover, and yes lose the rug and you might like the coffee table better. Also I think you need to either get a lot more art, or objets(mirrors, collection of cool vintage wire baskets, ...?) or more dramatic art than that landscape wreath combo. Its part of the brown problem. And if you like the Tia Zolden room, then how about faux animal print pillows or sheepskin, and turquoise pillows in a fabulous sensual fabric as well, like good velvet or silk. The room in addition to being brown just seems inhibited to me, and it's surprising that you really want tia zolden. Actually, brown can be great, when it's used in a contrasty way, lines of wood in the sun against a white background, or with a strong sense of sensuality and touch, as in old leather chairs and velvet. White walls are fine, but try for a matte wall, not shiny. And could you do something like a low settee/bench under the staircase, to break up the line of the wrought iron? If you can afford to splurge on new chairs and rugs, ok, but you could do a lot with under $1000 and accessories.

Jean said...

I found this stairway collage at Stylecourt stairway wall. Don't know if it would work, but it looks handsome in the pic.

Sorry, HabitChic, but I feel an urge to save people from the stupid mistakes I've made: Don't waste your money on crappy stuff at Target or TJ Max.

Yes: "Actually, brown can be great.. with a strong sense of sensuality and touch, as in old leather chairs and velvet."
I wonder if you like brown, but just don't like the dowdy, fussy pieces you have?

Hurray for getting rid of the rug. Cover those chairs with a plain color. Yellow? Cinnamon? Tawny orange? Or you could go for the manly suiting look.

Don't paint the mantel! It's lovely. Keep the table.

Sisal is drab and dated. What about a colorful, bold rug?

The brick on the fireplace looks all right to me, but I well understand the hatred that a person can feel looking at brick inside their house. If it's bringing you down, paint it, or you might like to tile it.

Careful on painting your walls blue. I tried it once and really disliked the yellowy look of lamp light on it. Also, I don't think it's flattering to most people (blue reflections). Not to mention that it would be out of tune with your house style.

Anonymous said...

I agree with that last caution: If you paint your walls blue, none of your big pieces are going to work with it. That means a lot of $$$ for new furniture or slipcovers (and paint for the coffee table).

You can gets lots of handsome stuff at Target, but I'd agree that it's not the place to get furniture. Some of the Victoria Hagan and Thomas O'Brien wood pieces I've seen, though they look stylish in the ads, are cheap-looking and badly constructed in person.

Anonymous said...

I'd start with the bones. This room has hardwood floors, coved ceilings, nice windows, and arched doorways, but the trim and stair railing look wimpy. They will look even wimpier if you paint the walls a color. It looks like the architectural details have been removed. The door and window casings need to be at least 4" wide and I'd guess the picture molding has been removed.


Tia Zoldan said...

Michelle, I have to help, now that I have been "decorno-ed!" Thank you so much for luvin my living room, your compliments are my porn!!
So lets start out with the staircase since that is why you emailed in the first place. I love the black and white idea but instead of all different size frames, maybe 4 frames all the same size with prints or sketches in them so they are more consistent and symmetric. You place them going diagonal up the stairs.
I do love white paint, especially because you have cove ceilings, but i would go with a really grayish white like Revere Pewter from Benjamin more and then make your trim pop with a white. I would also paint your fireplace ( the whole thing up to the ceiling) a color a little bit darker than the walls and then paint your wood mantle and the bricks white like the trim. I would paint the back of the front door in a high gloss black to bring out the railing on the staircase (so pretty.)and over the mantle maybe a white laquered framed circular mirror!
I also think a great big seagrass rug with a black border would be nice, the bigger the better (in this case)!
My heart is starting to pump now....2 matching chairs would bring a little more symmetry to the room ( white mohairish kind of fabric) and then maybe cover the couch in black fabric. Now is when the happy colors come in!!
pink? yellow? blue? pick your poison, you can do anything at this point which is lovely!
The pillows will bring in the pop of color, and you can also do that with a great new shade for your lamp.
If the funds allow, a new coffee table ( i love the parsons idea )
and for over the couch something big and beautiful!!!
I hope I helped...
Decorno's biggest fan,
Tia Zoldan

Decorno said...

OMG, Tia! I can't believe you even read this thing. I love that you chimed in.

LOVE your living room. It's "sick" (as the kids say).

Anonymous said...

Now THIS is how Domino should read!!!

Deborah Needleman, still listening?...

Michelle said...

Now my heart is pumping!!! Only in my wildest dreams would I be receiving a design consultation from Tia Zolden. INCREDIBLE!

I feel like I just won the lottery. Love you Tia. Love you Decorno. Lovin' life right now!!

Tia, your suggestions are fabulous and I hope you get a chance to check back (give me a little time) so you can see just how much you've helped! I'd ask for your address so I could send flowers, but you might think I'm a stalker....when I deliver them in person.



btw Tia...when is your website going to be up?

Tia Zoldan said...

You are so, so welcome!!
I have been lagging on my website for a while, I will get it going in late spring.
love to see the "after" pics of your home!

Jean said...

How generous and exciting that a star would drop in!

I'm glad Tia didn't hate the stair rail, which I like, too. Black & white pics on the wall will "kill" it, in a good way--give it a harmonious background so it blends into a bigger scene rather than looking a little skinny on its own.

(sorry in advance if this posts 2X)

Decorno said...

"Sorry, HabitChic, but I feel an urge to save people from the stupid mistakes I've made: Don't waste your money on crappy stuff at Target or TJ Max."

There is definitely a lot of crappy stuff at TJ Maxx and Target, etc., but Habitually Chic has a good eye. I think she knows that if you're careful, you can find some great items and mix them into your house in a high/low kind of way.

I think the key is avoiding anything that screams "I got it at Target" and to make sure that the whole house doesn't look like it came from one store.

Jean said...

Yes, but note that HC lives in NYC, where the shoppin' is easy. (Not! I remember my husband and I lugging a sofa home on the subway, back when we lived there. Insane! But determined.)

I just hate how many times I've "settled" for junky stuff, thinking I'd replace it eventually but the money never is there--maybe because it was spent on junky stuff. Resist!

Decorno said...

Oh, believe me... I know what you mean. Settling is easy, yet hard to get rid of. I do like that HC is pretty Domino in her decorating approach, though. She knows she can find a diamond in the rough anywhere she shops. :)

Habitually Chic said...

Since everyone is talking about me, I thought I would chime in. I love shopping at Target when I go back to visit my family. It's my favorite part since we don't have one in NYC.

I had a conversation recently with another designer about how neither of us can afford any of the vendors or furnishings that our companies use. I think that's why I don't talk about fabrics or anything to the trade only.

Just decorate with what you love and don't worry about where it came from. I found my favorite chair on the street!

Anonymous said...

"Just decorate with what you love and don't worry about where it came from. I found my favorite chair on the street!"


Jean said...

Absolutely. It's not a question of worrying where they came from, but of the quality and durability (physical and aesthetic) of what you get. True, there's plenty of tawdry
"pedigreed" stuff, and equally true that it's all in the discerning eye of the beholder.

style & grace said...

I've always admired Tia's work featured in Cottage Living, so it is so thrilling to read this post and comments. As far as the high/low debate I couldn't help but comment. Just like fashion, there are some things worth investing in your home. I am anti cheap shoes or handbags, buy the best you can afford. In your home, invest in a few key pieces. I spent a chunk on my dining room table, then bought the chairs at West Elm. If it looks hot, all people will do is say how fabulous you/your home looks.

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