Readers’ Design Dilemmas- Solved! Part II

Thursday, February 18, 2010 | Category: Contests, Designers

I’m so thrilled to post the second installment of “Readers’ Design Dilemmas- Solved!”

Elaine Griffin continues to answer our readers’ most pressing design questions from our Design Rules book giveaway.

Enjoy all her fantastic advice!

Wondering how to know where to hang mirrors in living spaces?

– Beth

What are your thoughts on hanging a mirror over a mantle, where is it too high for someone to actually see any reflection in it? Should it be treated as art and just admired for its innate beauty, or is the whole point of a mirror to see a reflection?


Mirrors are in the Top 5 – no, make that the Hall of Fame! – of decorators’ sleight-of-hand tricks.  They reflect the light (so locating one strategically near/opposite/catty-corner to a window[s] is always a do) and seem to visually increase the room size, too.  And they’re also just plain cute, to boot.  What’s not to like!!!

Think of framed mirrors by size and also shape.  The statement-sized mirror (2 – 3 feet wide and up) is perfect above a significantly-sized item (sofa, dining room sideboard, etc.) or prime piece of interior real estate (above a mantle (no matter how high – you don’t need to actually see the reflection), at the end of a hall, in the foyer).

Round mirrors and sunburst mirrors can have either convex or flat surfaces; larger ones are great alone, and smaller ones in multiples of three or more (odd numbers always look best in multiples, dahling – an old merchandiser’s trick!).

Mirrors should be proportionately sized to the piece of furniture that sits below them – filling at least two-thirds of the space, as a rule (unless you’re combining a smaller mirror with other framed art, in which case it becomes just another piece of art in the vignette).

Horizontally-oriented mirrors rarely look great above mantles, BTW, because those spaces typically are vertically-shaped rectangles (although circles work well there, too).

Pier mirrors were traditionally stationed between windows in Georgian homes to increase the light.  Another decorator trick, which works with any style interior, is to mirror the upper three sides of the recess of deeply-recessed windows – it triples your light.

I’m wild about the modern, oversized floor mirrors that Room & Board and Crate & Barrel have perfected!  They’re great across from dining tables, in particular, and also across from windows.

What are the rules for mixing patterns?  I always have trouble with this!


Julie, if you think of mixing patterns in a room the same way you’d mix them in an outfit, it all becomes easier!  The loudest pattern dominates (let’s say a big floral print, for example – and we’ll put it on the curtains).  Adding a stripe is next somewhere (sofa? rug? chair?), but you should add only one – if you put it on the sofa, have a tone-on-tone texture (that means a solid color but with a texture woven into the fabric, or a two-tone motif  woven into the fabric, like a damask) on a couple of armchairs adjacent to the sofa.  You can add a fabric with a subtle motif as a contrast somewhere (like on little chairs or dining chairs) in there too – a check would be darlin’ (as we say in Dixie!), or something similar and subtle.

The rule for mixing patterns:  one stripe, one floral, one plaid, one check in one room . . . but only ONE of these can dominate.  After that, you can have ONE that’s second-in-command (visually speaking! LOL) after the Power Pattern.  Everything else is discreetly complimentary to the first two.

How do you manage the eyesore that is the through-the-wall A/C?


You would think that they would have come up with cuter solutions to A/C’s by now, but no! Their ugliness persists!!!!

The truth is, through-the-wall A/C’s look best when they’re covered with little “houses”, like we do with radiators.  The covers are similar (and custom ones are always best, natch), with A/C covers having grilles over wherever the vents are (top or front).  If you have a big unit that vents to the front, consider transforming it into a window seat with a grille front.

Cheaper alternatives for my recessionistas:  stand a short folding screen the height of the unit in front of it (if the A/C vents to the front, then the screen should be covered in sheer fabric or a woven mesh that will let the air through easily); or my personal favorite (and cheapest!): simply paint the unit to match the color of the wall, which helps it to “disappear” (plastic units can take multiple coats (4-5); use your hair dryer to help speed the process along).

Soft pillows: welt, flange, or none?  Do you “karate chop” the pillows or just fluff them?

Ahhhhhh, the Tale of the Throw Pillow!  Here’s the scoop:  Professionally-sewn throw pillows almost always are welted (aka “piping”) at the seam.  Like supermodels, the thinner the welting is in diameter, the more “couture” the effect.  (This is achieved by using string as a filler, and not thicker materials.)  Very thick fabrics like velvet work better with a contrast welt, since they are too thick to make the “thinnest baby welt” (which is what the pros specify verbatim!) – this can be the same color in a thinner material (like silk, linen or cotton, or even polyester), or one of those fabrics in a contrasting color (très chic, cherie!).

Flanges (that’s a flat trim that’s either created by stitching the pillow’s edges, or they can be contrast in a different fabric) are also charming.

The welt-less edge can also work for highly-patterned, very thick fabrics (like those leopard print pillows no living room is complete without!).  Weltless edges look great in modern spaces (or if you’re just feeling lazy, which I’ll confess I was when I whipped up a set of throw pillows for my own living room recently).

And don’t forget all that gorgeous ready-to-go trim that looks fantabulous in pillow seams, too (shorter fringes, scalloping, and all that good stuff).

One last thing:  SUGAR, DON’T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT the karate chop!  (That’s what you see those Old-Fashioned Park Avenue Decorators doing to the overstuffed throw pillows in bad Architectural Digest photos – it looks like their Kung Fu Assistants came in and gave the pillows a big Karate Chop just before the picture was taken.)  Fluffing your pillows is just fine.  No chopping required!

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2 Comments to 'Readers’ Design Dilemmas- Solved! Part II'

nemo 18 Feb 10 at 7:24 am

very well descriptive blog and the room setups are marvelous. the table and mirror in second picture are so stunning

Decor Darling 18 Feb 10 at 2:48 pm

I agree – it’s hard to go wrong with mirrors. And I really liked the guideline Elaine set when she said “Mirrors should be proportionately sized to the piece of furniture that sits below them”. That will definitely remove a lot of future guesswork for me. Thanks for a great Q&A.

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