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Decorating Dilemma | Marie – Helene’s Great Room

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Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a Decorating Dilemma post!  I know my readers enjoy them, but they take quite a bit of time to put together and I just haven’t had an abundance of that lately.

But, I received an e-mail from a reader asking for some help with her great room and kitchen and I was inspired!  While the spaces are adjoined, I decided to break them into two posts, so this one doesn’t scroll on forever.

Let’s get to it!

This is Marie-Helene’s great room…  (Marie-Helene actually has all sorts of accent marks over her name, but I am ignorant when it comes to typing with accent marks, so just imagine that they are there and her name looks delightfully French.)

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Right away, I think there are way more positives than negatives.  I’m sure you would agree.  She has some beautiful pieces, nothing at all is offensive or worthy of a nose-scrunch.  I think this room just needs to be finessed and that is sometimes the hardest thing to do when you live in the space and your brain just refuses to look at it from a fresh perspective.  Even people who are really gifted at decorating benefit from an outsider’s perspective on their space.

Here is what Marie-Helene likes about the space currently…

  • White walls
  • Corner hutch painted ‘Farmhouse White’
  • Sideboard turned TV stand (I am planning to install light sconces on each side of the TV) 
  • Secretary desk
  • Vintage rocking horse and metal grate (inspired by you!)

…and what she doesn’t like…

  • Lack of character (I was thinking about doing a board and batten wall treatment)
  • Brown window trim and wooden valance box (I am planning to paint it white or burn it!)
  • Black couch (I can’t afford a new one so I was thinking about buying a white slipcover?)
  • Black lamps
  • I am not sure about the black antique trunk, the green chairs and the tall mirror above the sofa.  The wall planters next to our mirror are there temporarily for the holidays.

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The first thing we can address is the furniture arrangement.  This is one of the best places to start, because it’s totally free!!  I think a part of what feels off about the space is scale and symmetry.  The picture above was taken from the kitchen, so this is how the room is viewed from afar and when you first walk into the space.

This room wants to be symmetrical.  Do you feel that, too?  Right now, that symmetry is set up beautifully by the TV and buffet, but then it gets off kilter by the visually heavy sofa, the dark wood cornice over the window, and the high corner cupboard.

Scale is also another thing I noticed.  The chairs and trunk-style coffee table look small compared to the sofa and the rug looks too small for the room.

This doesn’t mean Marie-Helene needs to run out and buy new chairs, a new sofa, new rug, etc.  I think most of these issues can be address with what she already has and by a little trickery.

So, let’s start with the large pieces of furniture.  I like the buffet and TV where it is, but I know it would drive my husband crazy to sit on that sofa and try to watch TV.  That may not be the case for Marie-Helene and/or her husband, but Jeff has conditioned me!  I would try two things…

#1 – Leave the TV where it is and move the sofa across from it.  Yes it would mean the sofa is in the middle of the room, acting like a barricade, but it can accomplish a few things.  It can orient the sofa, so it’s more comfortable for TV watching, it makes the arrangement symmetrical, the rug would be a perfect size for that scenario, and it opens up a lot of possibilities for two distinct areas in the long, narrow room.  Perhaps a slim sofa table behind it with the rocking horse on top?

#2 – I don’t see any TV cables, so I’m assuming that wall is wired for it, but if the TV can be moved, what about moving it to the wall occupied by the sofa currently?  Then the sofa can go in front of the window.  (I would suggest blackout lining for the curtains in this set-up, so they can be drawn, eliminating the glare off the TV.)

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Then, move the tall primitive cupboard (on the left of the picture above) to the current TV wall and make a real feature out of it.  Open the doors, fill it with farmhouse goodies, flank it with the green chairs, etc.  This pulls the focus away from the TV right when you walk into the room.

Is there a place in the kitchen/dining area for the corner cabinet?  Or perhaps it can go to the back, left corner of the room?  Maybe the secretary can go in front of the window?  I know that might be odd, but a pretty piece of furniture framed out by a big window can look pretty cool!

Now, this is me rearranging this room in my head from a few hundred miles away, so it might not work at all, but it’s worth taking a few hours to shuffle things around and see how the room feels.  I’ve learned that I can fall in love with pieces all over again just by moving them around.

One other thing that will help with balancing the room is to paint the valance a cream or white, so it blends in.  I don’t think it needs to be burned!  I would also hang the curtain inside the cornice, if possible, so the rod isn’t showing under it.  Pull the curtains all the way to the end of the cornice, too, so they cover the window trim.  I think that cornice is pretty cool and would look fantastic with just a little tweaking.

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So, lets talk about style.

Here’s what Marie-Helene says about the look she wants…

“I live in a small village where people live in 1800’s farmhouses, grow their own food, heat their houses with wood and their homes are perfectly simple and utilitarian.  This is the feeling I would like our great room to have.  I love the contrast of white and dark wood with lots of greenery and a hint of black.”

Marie-Helene shared this picture from The Willow Farmhouse, which does perfect capture the look she wants in her space.

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I really think that Marie-Helene’s style is already in that neighborhood (white walls, white curtains, ironstone collection, antiques, jute rug, etc.) and it’s just a matter of refining the look and perhaps replacing pieces or adding new ones as time and money allow.

Another blog that offers a lot of inspiration in that same style is Farmhouse 5540

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photo via

So, how can Marie-Helene get from where her space is to where she wants it?  Let’s start with the things she wants to replace when she has the opportunity…

Black lamps –

What about replacing them with some accordion sconces like these?  They are $60/each from World Market.

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Depending on the room arrangement you arrive at, a pair of them could flank the sofa.

Black leather sofa –

While the sofa is a little visually weighty in the space, it’s not terrible.  It could be much, much worse!  I do think it’s worth saving for one you love, though.  Perhaps even have a yard sale or sell some things on craigslist (including the black sofa) to make up that money.

I like the idea of finding a sofa with a simple shape, like this one from Joss & Main.  If Marie-Helene has some sewing skills, she could hunt craigslist for a used sofa that can be slipcovered.

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I also envision wing chairs working really well in that room, maybe instead of the green chairs.  They are super comfy and fit well with the inspiration style.

If the existing furniture arrangement in the room is the best, I would consider getting matching sofas and sitting them opposite of each other.  I wouldn’t go with sofas that are this small, but something like this idea…

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photo via

Coffee table –

I do think the trunk is just too small for the space.  I would look for a farm-style table and cut down the legs or an old wooden trunk, similar to the one I just found for my family room, but her space would need something wider…

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(Although I would leave it raw wood or paint it white for Marie-Helene’s space.)

Well, I hope this gets the creative wheels turning for Marie-Helene!  I wish I could just pop by and help with the furniture scooting and experimenting, but we’ll just have to hope for some updates.

I’ll share her kitchen and my thoughts about it soon!

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Comments

  1. Almost it’s ready to celebrate Christmas. Everything like chair, Wall Lamp, table pot are too good.

  2. Here is something that might help without breaking your back. Measure the room and draw it to scale on a cheap piece of graph paper. Measure each piece of furniture and then cut it out to scale on a piece of “post-it.” Use that to “rearrange” the furniture on paper without scuffing up the floors and breaking your back. I do this every time I reset a room just so I can make sure a furniture arrangements will work as far as space and flow. I know you still have to be able to visualize the changes but I can not tell you how many times I have moved a couch, thinking it would work, only to find out that the “space” is not doable…which means I have to move it again!

  3. Angie says:

    Lots of great ideas. The beautiful room with the two white settees is Nancy Fishelson. I have been a fan of her work for many years.

  4. Phyllis says:

    I love the green chairs and the black lamps. I think the ceiling could be painted. it is a large white expanse that draws the eye away from everything else. I’d love to see her village and some of the homes! Beautiful name, Marie Helene! I can’t type accents, either.

  5. Thank you so much Marian for helping me with this space and for taking the time to come up with amazing, refreshing and exciting ideas for our living room. This is a dream come true and I so appreciate it! I have been shuffling furniture around for the past hour and scoured Craigslist for wing back chairs:) I can’t wait to see your ideas for our kitchen and I will send follow up pictures of our living room very soon. MERCI BEAUCOUP!

    • Michelle James says:

      Marie-Helene- I have a very similar sized living room but I have a hall opening near your corner hutch and where your Tv is hanging I have a 1/2 wall and behind it are my steps to my basement so there’s actually a wall beyond the 1/2 wall about 3 feet back. I always felt like my room is narrow but not narrow enough to put a couch in front of the window and one on the opposite wall because I would have to have a coffee table in front of one couch or the other because the space is too wide to put it directly between the 2. I hope this makes sense but I was really just wanting to see what your room measurement is, roughly? Thank you! Your house really has a lot of potential and nice pieces. Thanks, Michelle James

  6. The first thought I had when I saw these photos, was that Marie-Helene was trying to imitate MMS (rocking horse, cow painting, pom-poms, etc) While that’s flattering, it doesn’t really project who she is. There is nothing that says “this is me.” I think she should play up what she’s particularly drawn to and not imitate others. If she really likes the green chairs, use that color more in the room.

    That being said, I think the room needs some decent crown molding or a painted ceiling to define the room. I’m not a fan of corner cupboards unless there is a matching one in the opposite corner (or something of equal scale there). I’d get rid of the corner cupboard (which is too close to the buffet anyway), put the green chairs on each side of the buffet and hang something largish (that she loves) above each. If she wants to keep the space open, I’d get another sofa to put opposite the other sofa or get two large chairs and move the coffee table between them. Or a padded bench. A large end table at the end of the sofa (instead of the plant, sled and lantern) would simplify the space visually.

    • Another idea would be to paint the corner cabinet so it pops a bit more and put something tall and painted in the same color scheme in the other corner (or a tall lamp or a tall plant).

  7. Gavin from across the pond says:

    I need to see the new arrangment ! If the sofa is moved and the TV is moved your still watching TV at the same angle ? I’d be irritated with light reflection on the TV and having to close the curtains to watch it…
    I rather like the lamps could you paint them ? and I love the idea of MMS being our interior guru :)

  8. MaryLisa Noyes says:

    I definitely would move the sofa to face the tv and add a sofa table. I would remove the cornice and move the drapes higher up. She could get a wonderful throw blanket to soften the sofa. Paint the secretary desk and accent color that you could bring pillows or the throw to compliment. Just my 2 cents. Can’t wait to see what she does.

  9. Whatever you do, either keep the green chairs or tell me you are repurposing them somewhere else in this house – LOVE them! My dream is to have a green velvet sofa that same color (or chairs that Marie-Helen may no longer want!!! lol. ).

    Love the ideas you have for this space, wish you would do mine, I’m having similar issues.

    Merry Christmas!

  10. Unfortunately, I can’t put another corner hutch, chair, lamp, or plant on the left side of the sideboard. We have a not-so-pretty monitor heater that is hidden under the white quilt where the rocking horse sits on. We need the monitor heater to heat our living room in the winter and it is currently uncovered. I would love to relocate it but it is not possible right now. I can replace the metal grate with something taller that I think would balance the corner hutch better. Thank you so much for taking the time to write ideas and suggestions. It is very helpful!

    • You have a lovely home Marie-Helene! I had a very similar sofa for many years- with the wood details and brown leather. I was able to sell it on Kijiji for a very good price- so perhaps you could too. I love the option of the sofa in front of the window, the tv and buffet on the current sofa wall- and the primitive hutch moved to where the tv currently is. Having an open hutch to style is so fun! And you could then keep those great green chairs in the room- perhaps add wing backs on either side of the tv on the new wall. I also agree that the wood cornice is cool- and would look lovely painted out! Enjoy the new possibilities.
      Also- if this is a style you love- enjoy it! No need to worry about those that have been a bit critical. Thanks for opening the doors to your home- and inviting us in!

  11. I love the green chairs with the white walls and darker elements. I think the room needs the brighter green color elsewhere to tie in. Green pillows on the couch and tall topiary on the sideboard flanking the TV would be a start. I don’t think the rocking horse on the box really matches anything else going on in the room.

  12. Holy… I didn’t read the post and just scrolled to the pics and swore this was Marion’s house and assumed assumed she’d made up Marie-Helene as a ficticious example of a decorating dilema. This is a replica of Marion’s home…
    Which in my opinion looks like a showroom for great country-french farmhouse ideas, but doesn’t look like someone (with a family and a personality) actually lives there. I hope I don’t offend anyone because I actually do love many of the individual ideas presented in this blog, but the composition as a whole is overwhelmingly void of true style.
    When Marion finally took a step out of this style-trap and ordered couches from a retailer I applauded her, whilst most of the followers here balked.
    It’s interesting to see someone like Marie Helene adopt every single element of a trend. I guess I assumed ppl followed blogs to pick up ideas and incorporate into their own selections.
    I’m not referring to bloggers Bec that’s fine that’s their job… but when a regular person does this…. I guess I would just like to warn ppl that this farmhouse look is a trend, which is extremly popular right now and very much on its way OUT. Very soon. I would advise ppl on a budget to NOT overspend trying to make their homes look like this, Bec sooner than you’d expect, the magazines and your beloved HGTV are going to start pushing a completely different look—think mid-century modern: shiny metalics, rose and lime green color combos, floral prints, furs, bold geometric shapes etc… take your cues from NYFW and what’s coming up for sale nowadays in the New York City-area Homegoods locations.
    and very soon your whole living space is going to feel sooo dated, and you’re going to feel sad. (Unless you have tons of cash to spend on decor)

    Pls take these trends with a grain of salt, incorporate a couple of things from here and there. It’s the same as ppl who decorate their entire homes like a restoration hardware showroom. Infuse your OWN personality!!! It will ensure longevity.

    • Denice H. says:

      I’m glad you brought up that the farmhouse style won’t last forever. While I absolutely ADORE it, I keep feeling conscious that I’d better not go in “whole-hog” or I’ll regret it. Nice to hear confirmation of that niggling thought.

      I also agree that it is essential to infuse your personality and personal style into your spaces. It’s what makes your home feel like YOUR home! When people enter my home (not that it’s all t-h-a-t) they often comment that it is just what they’d expect to find. I take that as a compliment that I’ve been true to myself. Great points!

    • Debbie says:

      Wow… lots of different opinions out there…Happy decorating to all… I most of all, love the idea of the two matching love seat sofa’s….

      Thank you….

  13. Okay…I love doing this. Bear with me.

    Short term:
    Move the sofa (as Marian suggested) in front of the TV and orient the rug the opposite way. I have a long skinny space too and I love the TV cutting the room. It creates a sense of depth and widens the space. I think the rocking horse is too tall to go on a sofa table but I would put a sofa table behind the sofa with some of your interesting pieces on it.

    I love the pop of green in the room but it should be repeated at least three times to pull it together. I would look for a fabric to pull the colors together. A fabric that has the sofa color, chair color, white, and some tan in it. For sure do pillows and if you dare pull it up onto the window.

    Paint the corner cabinet the green color and put some white dishes in it. On the other side of the TV put a tall green plant that would love the light in that corner to balance it out.

    Put secretary desk on current sofa wall and flank the two green chairs on each side.

    Long Term:
    Put up rustic beams in the room running from the window wall to the opposite wall widening the room visually.

    Buy two larger scaled chairs to go in front of the window with a small round table between them.

    Find a larger coffee table in a rectangular shape or use an ottoman.

    Thanks for letting me play at this! You have lovely pieces in your house and it already has a lovely feel to it.

    Nancy

    • Amber says:

      Nancy, I love your ideas the best! Good job! And Marie, You’ve made a beautiful home! It looks absolutely lovely!
      Hugs!

  14. These Decorating Dilemma posts are so helpful! Thank you for taking the time and effort to write them. It helps me think through ways to tackle my own decorating problems. :-)

  15. Paula Runyan says:

    If the wood valance stays, then the drapes need to be properly placed up inside it. The curtain rod hanging below is very distracting and messy.

  16. Rebecca says:

    Alrighty, guess I will add my two cents :) The focal point seems to be the TV wall but the seating doesn’t face that way so the flow feels off. I would try the tv and credenza on big wall, place couch front about where trunk is, place green chairs to left of couch (if you were sitting there) and closer making a cozy conversation area. Secretary is smaller and would fit on back wall (replacing credenza)
    I think the items have character but overall the room needs a color pop! Love the hutch but you can’t see the pretty white stoneware against the white background, so how about painting a pretty color inside hutch so the treasures stand out. A pretty green would coordinate with chairs, or a blue similar to what’s on rocking horse or even a red to go along with lantern and vintage sled. Whatever the accent color is it needs to be scattered around the room.
    I think you have some great pieces and are off to a good start. There is no right or wrong, just have fun with it!

    • Another way to add color behind pottery in a white cabinet is to use paper- wrapping or fabric or scrapbook paper. It’s color without commitment. Just tack it up on the back of the cabinet.

  17. sheryl hussey says:

    love reading all this, hoping she will send pictures when she is done!

  18. Naomi S. says:

    My reaction when I first looked at Marie-Helene’s LR was that there was no life in it. It just felt stagnant. I kept looking at it and saw that there was a lot of brown in the room. I didn’t see any accent colors except the rather muted green chairs. I didn’t get as far as moving furniture around and I did take note that there were several lovely pieces like the buffet and secretary. My evaluation came down to “use some color”! I don’t mean startling, bright colors but maybe some muted blues or greens, even some black pillows or a color on the corner cabinet. I think the room needs some enlivening. And just personally, I would burn the cornice! Not literally of course, but I just think it adds to the heavy look of the room. Perhaps, as has been suggested, if it were painted white that issue would be solved.

    It was really fun imagining changes to the room with you, Marian, and the other readers. Especially not having to do any of the work of furniture moving, painting, etc. ourselves!

  19. Love this space, the furniture and all of the greenery and with some help from Marion I think it will become just more beautiful.

    Pease do share with us pictures of the transformation when your done Marie-Hélène.

    p.s. Love the pine garland above the secretary desk, it’s gorgeous!

    I made one for our fireplace one Christmas.

  20. Fran Gospodarek says:

    I guess we are all putting our two cents in, but isn’t that fun to see what the other visualizes for Marie-Helene’s room. Here are my ideas:

    1. Put sofa in middle of room facing tv with the buffet acting as a sofa table. Depending on the width of the buffet, flank each side with one of the black lamps. The buffet could be used for its intended purpose, since the dining area is so near.

    2. Depending on the height of the secretary desk, place it under the tv with a green velvet chair angled at each side of the desk. The rug would be placed centered in this area with one or both front legs of the chairs resting on the rug.

    3. Once the Christmas tree is disassembled, place some of the small pieces and rocking horse in that area as an interesting vignette highlighted by the light coming from the window. Perhaps some other treasured items could be added.

    4. If the black lamps do not work well flanking the buffet table, try placing them behind and aside each chair. I think the corner cupboard could remain in place even with the chair partly in front of it. Because of the cupboard’s color, it actually looks like part of the wall.

    I so look forward to seeing the end result.

  21. Margie says:

    Accordion lamps, not “according” lamps…

  22. Kim Price says:

    So inspiring! Thanks Marie, I have a long thin living room as well ,but its just 10 ft wide, ugh and it is the room I hate the arrangement of and I just cannot get it right . I love option 2 ! I can just see it !
    Scooting around furniture is such an easy way to really see and live with a new arrangement without spending any money at all ! I hope you share an after picture with us all.

  23. Elyce says:

    I have a dark brown leather sofa that was sucking the life out of my room. I added two large white pillows, two grass green pillows that were a little smaller than the white pillows and a rectangular white pillow with several shades of grass green polka dots. The pillows are very textural and the white and green brighten everything up. I don’t hate the sofa any more because all i see is bright, happy pillows.

  24. Chrysanthe says:

    I agree with those who have said that there is something lacking in this space. It doesn’t speak to me or feel alive. It needs some color, such as more of the green, to bring some life to it.

    I would not place the couch or furniture in front of the window. You don’t want to block the natural light. If you move the couch to face the TV, I definitely would create a separate seating area or other type area behind it. If you don’t, you will be blocking the good chi energy from entering the room. (Don’t laugh. It’s feng shui.)

  25. Paula Hubbard says:

    Hhttp://www.theendearinghome.com/2015/12/14/holiday-home-tour-2015-family-room/ Here’s a link to how I see the room. It’s the 3rd picture down on this web page.

    Buffet goes in front of window or right wall. Couch and rug are turned to face where the buffet was. Chairs are placed on each side of the new electric fireplace which is now where the buffet was. TV is placed over the fireplace. Corner cabinet and desk find a new place within the home. The trunk/coffee table is now behind the sofa along with the plant and stool? in the lower right of her picture. I’ve heard to never see the back of a sofa but if you place something there that’s interesting, that’s another story! This is just one idea…good luck with the new look!
    I wonder if the buffet would fit behind the sofa, facing the kitchen. It might be just the ticket if it fits!

  26. Pat McClane says:

    I think this room is charming and so festive for the holidays. I even like the sofa and lamps, but I would be hesitant to put a full length sofa facing the TV. It looks like it would not leave enough room on either side to walk through the room. In the meantime, you could try pulling the furniture away from the walls and have a tighter seating area in the middle of the floor with the front legs of the seating pieces on the rug. That way, you wouldn’t have to replace the rug right away because it would be an appropriate size for that seating arrangement. You could also try moving the two green chairs side by side with their backs to the kitchen to give them a bigger presence in the room. Like I said, I like the black lamps but if you are unhappy with them, you might try changing the shades to see if that is a good interim step. Of course, if you pull the furniture away from the walls, the floor lamps would not be a good source of light with the cords crossing foot paths. I think the best solution in that case would be table lamps on either a sofa table or end tables.

    The one thing that caught my eye when I first looked at the pictures was the flooring. The floors in the inspirational pictures were all more rustic but I think this has more to do with color. Someone with a better sense of color may be able to provide input, but if it is the color, I think there are two ways to fix it. You could cover a larger portion of the floor with a bigger rug (a bound carpet remnant could be an inexpensive interim step) or you could paint the floor. Lauren Liess who does natural rooms so well, painted the floors in her last home white and they were gorgeous.

    You are fortunate to live in a community that is so well grounded that they grow their own food, burn wood to heat their homes, and keep their homes (and I assume their lives) simple. This room seems to fit in with that so well.

  27. Cindy Redman says:

    That was fun! … and i think you totally nailed it. Love the Joss and Main sofa… can’t wait to scoot over and look at the price. I think it would be a great investment in the whole look of the room. … and i see wing chairs at the thrift store all the time! I love how you noticed the need for symmetry right off. I’m a symmetry freak…

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