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Reader Decorating Dilemma: Linds B's Brownstone Apt

Hi Decorno!

First let me say that I guess I'm joining a long line of "Decorno Stalkers" (again not to sound creepy). I love your taste and your sense of humor, everything you write makes me laugh out loud or it could have totally been something I said.
(Aw shucks... thanks Linds! - Decorno)

So, here is my dilemma- my family room. I am in an apartment, so I can't do much about the color of the walls as much as I would like to. Although, I have thought on occasion about painting but not sure how the landlord would feel about it. The main pieces in the room (couch, leather chair, tv stand) are staying for now, so I need some help on how to work with them. Some color choices, accessories, fabric, etc. One thing that sticks out to me are the curtains. I live on the first floor of a brownstone type building so I need some privacy, but also want to let light in. The windows are all curved and have large crown mouldings at the top making it hard for curtain rods. Should I keep these, or invest some time into making new ones? Any suggestions? I can handle it :)

Thank you for your answers or any help anyone could suggest.




Anonymous said...

I bet your landlord wouldn't mind if you repainted the walls a rich creamy off-white, something with a little more life and body to it. Maybe it's just the photos, but that present white looks cold and glare-y.

So much of that apt. is right, I don't think you have to do much more than a few tweaks like that.

Decorno said...

I like the curtains. I say keep 'em.

I was looking at the photo of the fireplace/sofa/bookcase while eating my lunch (tuna melt. So ghetto, so good!) and thinking there are just a few things you could tweak to make a big difference:

1) Edit the "smallness" of stuff.

You've got a lot of little things in there. I have a bias toward having a few big things to maintain some balance of scale.

There are a few ways to do this:

-Edit some small things out entirely.

-Buy coordinating frames. If you get the same frames for everything (a basic white kind) it might help unify everything in the bookcases and visually de-clutter it without you having to sacrifice any of the photos to your editing project.

-After a small edit, you might consider larger accessories in the bookcases - - a large bowl, big-ass white coral (I know some people think it's overplayed. I am not one of them).... something big to balance the scale of your stuff.

2) Consider recovering your awesome side chair. I love that chair - the shape, size, the very "now"-ish rattan-y sides... I would consider having the seat and back recovered in something that pops... maybe white, maybe red, maybe turquoise, maybe a pattern. You could even paint the chair itself:

2) Consider a new rug.
Yours is a nice rug. The challenge is that there is a lot of brown-on-brown action (or taupe-iness) to the floors/rug/sofa, so if you got a lighter rug, I think the contrast would make the room lighter and brighter, plus your newly recovered side chair would have a brighter friend to hang out with. I am always a fan of sisal, but there are so many other choices, too.

3) Consider hanging something much bigger over the fireplace. Maybe it's another mirror, just larger. Or maybe you can get a big piece of art or a large photo. Best places to find good stuff for not a lot are local art schools or universities... student art is often good and doesn't have to cost a lot. Negotiate with their broke asses. $300 is a lot of top ramen to them and can score you something excellent.
(Snooping around the links on can yield some amazng finds and it's not too hard to track down the photographers and buy directly from them)

But scale matters here. That's a large space above the fireplace, so go big.

With some editing in the bookcase, a re-covered chair, lighter rug, and something big and bold over the fireplace, I think you will like the changes.

What's behind your sofa? I can't figure out if you have like a little breakfast nook back there with a chair...

At any rate, for extra credit, get skinny console table to put behind your sofa and put a smaller lamp on it. I think that floor lamp is looming large over your sofa. I am wondering if there is something you could put there to offer light, but without the big shade sort of popping up from behind saying, "Here I am!" Maybe a pharmacy lamp or maybe the console/table lamp thingy.

I am bad with color, so I am looking forward to everyone's ideas about her place. I think her brown/white/black thing going on is good, it does seem like she needs a pop of something. Let me know what everyone thinks.

Linds - totally agree with the first comment. You have a nice place. You don't need a major overhaul at all, so lucky you, just a day of shopping and rearranging and you'll be all set.

Anonymous said...

You would bargain with starving art students?! You are one tough Decorno!

Decorno said...

Ha! Yes, I will bargain with ANYONE. Making deals is my job, yo.

My first boss used to always say (in his excellent southern drawl) , "The answer is 'no' until you ask.

I love that.

Anonymous said...

You can apply paint, fabric or wallpaper to poster board cut to snuggly fit in between the shelves. It would make a great statement and you can change it out easily.

Jean said...

Yes, an off-white would take the chill off the walls, especially since your furniture is down home traditional (in a good way).

Re the bookcases: too many little things scattered across them. They look hungry and precarious, like they all might fall over. If you don't have enough stuff to make all the shelves look abundant, leave the top shelves empty. If you're not up for repainting, think of these shelves as your chance to put some color in your room, and frame and matt your pics accordingly.

Put all the books together on one or two shelves; it's too cutesy to have them scattered around. Make your pics into a gallery, in groups together; think of them as a book: you don't want the pages scattered all over.

Lose the Buddha on the mantle. I'm Buddhist, and I love Buddha statues and icons, but not as decor. (Rant: I hate the way Buddha heads have been every fucking where for the last too many years.) Or if you love your Buddha and want to keep him in that room for good vibes, maybe create a little devotional still life on one of the book shelves, or on the mantle, but not with the Buddha smack dab in the center. Here I'm totally in favor of mixing it up--I've got Mom Theresa and some Native American figures along with my Buddha dolls. Give them some fresh flowers now and then.

Ignore Decorno about the rug. It's a great rug. And hey, Decorno, what's so ghetto about tuna melts? I grew up on them! ")

New throw pillows, definitely, in rich, gorgeous colors. Since you've got sort of an India theme going on with the curtain and rug (okay, persian rug, but you get the pic) how about some silk pillows in India colors like hot pink and orange?

Decorno said...

Jean - how dare you! As Glenn Close says in "Fatal Attraction":

"I will not be ignored!" :)

I just think the rug and the curtains are clashy and busy together. So while it's a nice traditional rug, I think it's worth considering switching it out. She can always put it in her bedroom, or something.

Anonymous said...

I like the stuff on the shelves just fine, but I would either paint the walls behind them or follow the tip of 'anonymous' re. introducing color via posterboard. Color--and it doesn't have to be a strong color-- will add dimension, and the whole wall will have more life.

maison21 said...

you HAVE to paint. adding color, ANY color will make your room come alive. the area above the mantle and the back of the shelves, once painted will be great- the architecture of the room has good bones, so make it shine!. (leave the mantle and shelves white, or paint them cream).

the half curtains won't look so out of place if the walls of the room are a deeper tone, too (again, keep the trim white or cream though). can you remove the blinds behind the half curtains? they seem a little institutional. or get new curtains from ikea or target that will cover from the top of the window to sill and reuse the existing rods. floor length curtains would look even more finished. if you do remove the blinds, just keep them in a closet and rehang them when you move, so your mean ol' landlord can't charge you for them.

if your landlord pitches a fit about painting, promise him you will return room to original color when you move, or just forfeit the security deposit- it would be worth the loss of $$ to love the home you're in, for whatever length of time you will live there.

i agree with decorno- some larger scale items would be nice (like a BIG coffee table for starters), but if they aren't in the budget, at least add a pair of candle sconces flanking the mirror so it feels like it's bigger...

again, decorno is right about the rug- you can get a cheap bordered sisal from cost plus or and it will help the room feel less grandma. get it bigger than the one you have and center it on the fireplace to tie the sofa in to the chair on the other side. sofa and chair could stand to be moved closer together as well, to create a seating area...

last, seriously, you MUST paint. everything else will be a waste of time and money if you don't.

Decorno said...

The paint-the-wall-bits-behind-the-bookshelves is pretty genius. Do that for sure.

M21 - thanks for backing me up on the rug. :)

Seriously, try sisal and it will change the whole look of the place and won't compete with your sassy little curtains.

Anonymous said...

I'd go for solid curtains, rather than the elaborately patterned ones. With the right color, it might also make the rug work better. (I'm pro-grandma, anti-sisal myself.)

Also, full-length curtains seem like they'd be more in keeping with the architecture, and with your traditional furniture. The half-ones would be more suitable for a mod pad with lots of '60s stuff.

Anonymous said...

Most of what I'd say has already been said: paint -- a creamy color for the main walls and an accent color behind the bookshelves. One large mirror over the fireplace, and remove most of the small pieces from the mantle.

Kwana said...

Please at lease pain th efairplace wall. It could just be a soft color not too harsh. Maybe a green? Bring whatever color you choose to the curtians. Good luck.

Reggie said...

I think we all agree. This room needs painting -- it is not helped by the antiseptic landlord white. As a basement apt it probably doesn't get all that much light so I'd suggest a rich color (Farrow & Ball?) to play off of that. Decorno is right, the rug shd go to another room -- get a BIG (and inexpensive) sea grass one, you'd be amazed how it will open up the room. And please, get some bigger scale stuff in the bookshelves -- take advantage of them with impactful, larger decorative additions. Finally, I'd get wooden painted venetian blinds for the windows -- great for privacy and light control.

queenbee said...

are those vinyl blinds on your windows???? accccck! take them out!

i think you've got too many little things going on. i agree with decorno, you've got to incorporate some larger scale pieces. you could do a larger artwork or mirror as suggested or do a grouping of similar smaller items. i would probably go with a larger more visually interesting mirror (maybe etched venetian) or hang the current mirror higher and flank it with a sconce on each side.

i would remove that blue pillow, replace the existing coffee table with a larger glass topped one, replace the window treatments with sheer linen-ish natural looking panels hung higher (to draw the eye up, because when the space is narrow, you've got to work with height.)

i like the rug, sisal is fine too. you should just buy a nice, textured slip cover for your couch.

Jean said...

Warning, rant ahead... Rude as it is to rant on someone else's blog... again... On top of saying to ignore said blogger...

What's the big deal about sisal? It is like putting scratchy brown paper bags on your floor. It is so 90s! (or 80s?) I just don't get it. Okay, it works sometimes, if you have a crazy-color space that needs to be pulled down a notch. Or a sunporch. But in a quiet dignified place like B's brownstone apt? It would be just...drab.

Decorno, goddess, I hereby challenge you to do a post that justifies this blanket use of sisal rugs, with or without colored borders that chop up a room. (Though maybe you're more inclined to say--ignore Jean!)

PS I agree with that the curtains are too small for those awesome windows, and the white blinds aren't so goodlooking. Full curtains and/or wooden blinds would be beautiful.

Cote de Texas said...

Jean: scratchy? Sisal is scratchy, coir is scratchy, but seagrass? not scratchy. And imo nothing beats a beautiful CUSTOM cut seagrass rug especially one that covers hardwoods that are neither dark nor light. Seagrass makes a room look larger. The caramel color of the seagrass is wonderful and warm and adds much to either a white walled room OR a dark colored room. And never, ever use a colored or patterned binding (unless its thick black leather!) - just use a plain, linen - dyed to match binding. Seagrass makes a wonderful stage upon which to layer skins or smaller accent rugs for pop. Have you ever smelled freshly layed seagrass? Heavenly! They are so easy to keep clean WITH or without pets! They are cheap - easily replacable. Seagrass adds texture to a room that a rug just can't do. Add seagrass to a 'formal' room and it takes it down a notch and makes if more accessable, livable, inviting. I could go on
and on.

Great ideas about what to do with the apartment - but one thing not mentioned - your shelves are too far apart so everything is dwarfed. I would reposition the shelves closer together BUT leave a shelf out a little lower than the mantel top's and put 1 large item on each side - like those two paintings you have or two huge garden urns, something big and tall.

ALSO- the previous decor question on Decorna had gorgeous silk drapes - she got those from - they would be beautiful on your windows. And you could layer them with your exiting shades if you want to. imo drapes are an essential element to a room. What they add is well worth the cost. Restoration Hardware makes good silk drapes too for less. Look at a room with drapes and look at that same room without drapes - the one with drapes will win every time.

Maison is right too - Paint. Then repaint if your landlord wants you to. Obviously you care about your home or you wouldn't be asking for advice - so live it up while you're there and worry about the landlord later. If you paint it a beautiful color, he'd probably thank you!

Decorno - these are great posts - you're doing a great service here.


Decorno said...


On sisal:

Because Linds didn't give me the impression that she wanted to spend a lot on sprucing up her place, I had to think through some design chess. Although I think patterns can be mixed successfully, those curtains and that rug cannot. So, since the curtains are the fresher jumping off point, I suggest keeping that.

Sisal is excellent because it's neutral and light, plus it adds a humble texture to the mix, and one that can stand up to some abuse. I think sisal is a nice counterpoint to more refined elements.

You mention the texture being like "sandpaper." I prefer to describe its exfoliating powers. (Just kidding).

Like I said in my original comment, there are other fine choices out there, I just strongly recommend finding that particular rug a new home in another room. With a more neutral (and inexpensive) rug like sisal, she will be able to spend other money on punchier, fresher things for her home.

I would not want to decorate around that rug. Not because it's bad, it just seems like it will limit the fun.

decorno said...

Duh, I posted my response before I saw Joni's. So, ditto everything she says about the rug.

Joni - I am glad you like these "reader decorating dilemma" posts. I am really enjoying them. It's much easier to tell other people what to do than get off my butt and go, you know, paint a room or something. :)

Joni - what's the difference between sisal and seagrass? I could google it, but you can speak to it from a designers point of view, and I am interested in knowing more about it.


Jean said...

I'm not familiar (except through reading about it) with seagrass either. Sounds nice.

Decorno, I gotta agree with you on this one: spouting off about other people's rooms is a great way to postpone the agony of trying to decide what color to paint my living room. Oh. You said painting? Actually painting? Eh! That's the easy part!

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of leery of rules that have "always" and "never" and "essential" in them: Curtains are "essential" "every time," always use sisal/seagrass, "never, ever" use this binding, only use that one, etc., etc. And lately I've been seeing a lot of "Always use an animal skin" in every room.

It's like saying: If you're painting a portrait, the subject must always to wear something green. Who makes this stuff up?

You might not like stuff that everyone and his grandmother does. No disgrace in that. Just go slow, try things, and if they don't work or don't make you happy, get rid of them or do 'em over.

LindsB said...

omg, I can't thank everyone enough for the awesome comments about my place, and I agree with them all!! I was totally expecting people to pick apart everything I have done more, but I am going to take every comment and try to work it into my place somehow.

I knew there was something wrong with the bookcases I just could not put my finger on it without some outside help. I am in the process of cutting some of the "shit" out and getting larger items in there.

I am getting my painting items ready! The kick in the butt I got here was just want I needed to decide to paint. Now if I can get my ADD in check I will be able to pick a color in the next few days and not wait for months. Any color suggestions (specific names)?? The colors of the walls are actually a warm creamy color (that does not show up in the pics) so I'm thinking of just doing behind the bookcases or the fireplace area.

The rug was just given to me by my parents, and it’s just on loan so hopefully I can get one of my own shortly. Something not so "grandmaish" haha.

I can’t wait to get started....I guess I'm not getting any work done tomorrow because I am going to be shopping online for paint/fabric/etc ALL DAY.

Decorno, I can’t thank you enough for posting this. I would have never gotten these ideas/answers on my own!!

Decorno said...

Linds - no problem. Thanks for sending in the photos and being agood sport. Just promise to send in some "after" photos in the next 4 weeks. We would LOVE to see how it goes for you!

Cote de Texas said...

Decorno - most people say sisal, but they mean seagrass. Seagrass is literaly reeds from the water. Sisal - i dont' know what it is! But you can't clean sisal like you can seagrass. Sisal stains terribly and shows water marks. But, you can take a bowl of water and soap and clean seagrass and it comes out looking perfect. Seagrass is much softer and more comfortable than sisal. Seagrass has that large weave to it and sisal has a small tight weave. Sisal is flat whereas seagrass is more textured. Sisal looks dressier, trimmer. Usually sisal is naturally yellowy but is often dyed, whereas seagrass is darker and browner. For years in the US you could only get sisal and coir (the very itchy yellowy fiber with hair like fibers that stick out). Seagrass was late to the US market where as it was all over England. Once people actually saw seagrass in the US, no one wanted coir or sisal anymore. Plus seagrass lasts forever. The binding gets dirty, but you can have that easily replaced. Hope this explains it good enough!

Cote de Texas said...

And to Anonymous who 'must' always come behind me and comment negatively about what I say, which he doesn't to anyone else it seems, yeah - I do write like that = always, must, essential, never - only because when I'm giving my opinion it's because I've tried it the other way and it IMO it works better my way - so I'm emphasizing my opinion - MY rules. And yeah, I do have rules that I use as a guide. Certain things look better when done one way most of the time - as a rule, but rules CAN be broken if need be - that goes without saying. When people ask a decorator their opinion - they appreciate and want a firm answer, an emphatic one, not some "oh, you can do it that way or this way or another way or anyway you want or try this or try that and if you dont like it get rid of it. at today's prices, I can't afford to make mistakes and that's why people hire decorators because they've already MADE the mistake, learned from it, and formulated rules to avoid making costly mistakes. I would never have any clients if I told them to "Just go slow, try things, and if they don't work or don't make you happy, get rid of them or do 'em over" like you suggest - they'd haul my ass into court and make me pay for those mistakes.

maison21 said...

cote de texas is right- anonymous just doesn't get it- it costs way too much money and time to do as he/she advises and "Just go slow, try things, and if they don't work or don't make you happy, get rid of them or do 'em over."

that is EXACTLY what our interior design clients employ us to avoid, and what linds is also trying to avoid by asking for our help. we aren't busting into her home unannounced and shouting "you MUST get rid of the grandma rug and IMMEDIATELY replace it with an animal skin" or anything. sheesh.

i'd also like to point out to anonymous that linds is getting FREE advice from PROFESSIONALS who would otherwise be charging not insubstantial fees for said advice, so if she is smart (and judging by her response, it seems she is), she'll take some of our free advice and end up having a lovely home- without wasting too much of her time or her money by "trying things out" and "doing 'em over".

so here is my free advice for anonymous:

it is ESSENTIAL that if you can NEVER EVER contribute something constructive to the conversation, that you MUST at least ALWAYS attempt to be funny when skewering your fellow commentators. thank you.

i'll step down off my soapbox now...

LindsB said...

Cote de Texas & M21, I very much appreciate your comments (and every ones for that matter) I don’t know who “anonymous” is, but I sure "know" who you two are so I will def. listen to your advice. Cote de Texas, do you know any good sources for a seagrass rug??

Decorno, I forgot to add before that there is a skinny table behind the sofa. I use it to do some of my crafts or sewing on occasion. The chair that I use for it I painted a bright fire truck red to make it pop against those curtains.

For everyone who gave advice on the curtains, I love it!! My only issue is we are on the first floor and people are walking by all the time (we live on a major city street) I would love love love to do long silk curtains with wooden blinds behind, but it does not give us enough privacy, which is why I went with the half curtain option.

Has anyone else dealt with this before, and are there any options that I have to still keep the bottom covered but make it look nice?

Lisa Wilson (& Alfie!) at The Pickled Hutch said...

I think a shortcut to color would be to paint the mantle in a deep color and the the walls behind the shelf in the same color palette with half the tone of the fireplace. (i.e. taupes or chocolate brown which would tie in your sofa.) It would highlight the architecture better.

And if you love the mirror, place a large scale matching vase or candlestick on either side to create some balance with the bookcases.

I would take a shelf out of each side. And then create a smaller shelf for photos, a medium for books and a large to put leaning artwork layered one in front of the other.

The curtains need to be long and flowing to complement the window scale.

And the rug does need to be lighter to anchor that particular area. The sisals are organic feeling and bring in a bit of nature to the room. The rug you have could sit behind the sofa.

You have great bones here.
Lisa & Alfie

maison21 said...

thanks, linds!

for window privacy, you might try a roman shade in a light color/fabric on the lower halves of the window only, and then have fllor length curtain panels layered over it. ikea sells cheap roman shades, the only problem is size, as on your windows they'll need to inset exactly, it looks like.

a less desirable option, though still a step up from the current mini blinds imo, is a roller shade, again for just the lower half of the window, and again with full length curtain panels layered over the shades.

for a little more money, both roller and roman shades can be ordered from places like smith and noble with a from the bottom up option for closing them, so you could leave them just covering the lower half during the day, then completely pull them up for privacy in the evenings.

last option is a frosted window film- ikea used to sell it for something like 3.99/roll, and it's super easy to apply with soap and water and a squeegee. best part- when you leave your apt, for good, it peels right off with no residue! it's great stuff- i have it on the lower half of my own windows that face the street, and i'm planning on using it for a client who like you, has ground floor windows almost directly on the street.

i don't know if ikea still carries it- it's not on their website, and i don't recall seeing it there on my last visit. but here's an online source, though they are a little more expensive:

Cote de Texas said...

Maison: thanks for that comment. You just don't know how each time I make a comment, he does that to me. c'est la vie. Thank you though, so much!!!

Linds. Mason has a great idea about the shades. You can get shades that roll up from the bottom. I like the film idea too - never heard of that, but seems like a great idea.

Now - it's my idea that you just keep the shades you have in the window now - minus the mini blinds - put those in the closet. then buy the silk drapes from R.H. and layer them over your shades. At night - you can close the drapes against the gawkers.

As for seagrass - have you measured your room? PBarn has them in standard sizes and so does www.decoratorshome
here is the exact link:

get the biggest size your room can handle - they have 12 x15 and 9 x 12 - the bigger the better.
Plus you live in NYC - right? check with ABC too, though it may be pricier than the link above.

And Mason is correct about the good advice you've gotten. Most people really said basically the same things, so that means we're probably on the right track! - I would write down what people said about the shelves, the paint, the rug, PILLOWS (you need a couple of nice bright 22" down pillows or 20" to pop some color) - and you will have a great plan to do as your budget allows. I do think with paint, the curtains, the seagrass, and hefting up the bookshelves, you are going to have a knockout room. maybe use the older rug in your bedroom? will it fit there? And I think the mirror is fine for the mantle for now. That wouldn't be a priority to change if you were my client. it's really not that small and like the other commentor before said - you can "flesh" it out with something like vases on each side to make that vignette appear larger.

And Linds - feel free to email me with pictures as you proceed, I would love to help you with the details.


Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm a blog virgin but here goes, i agreed with Lisa; paint the wall above the mantel a chocolate brown and Paint your existing mirror high gloss white. You can offset the sides by placing some tall white vases on the mantel-it will make your white walls look intentional.
if you have to keep the curtains, I would replace them with a bold black and white pattern and do the same pattern for the pillows. Paint the coffee table black. declutter and replace with a couple of black and white frames.

as for the rug, there are great indoor/outdoor rugs that are durable, not has hard as sisal on a bare foot and if you ever move to a space with a garden, you can put it outside (or a roof party)

good luck!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I think you should install some window film on some of those windows, it would really help them.

Perry Jamal
frosted window film

Anonymous said...


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