decorating dilemma | Susan’s awkward fireplace

by | Jan 7, 2016 | All Things Home, Decorating, decorating dilemmas, Secret Weapons | 21 comments

Before I get into today’s post, I wanted to apologize to those who still want to buy hemp sheets, but they are sold out.  I was floored with how quickly my largest order ever was exhausted!  We do have some more from that shipment to list, but the weight is a bit different.  I will give everyone a head’s up before I list them (most likely early next week.)

Also, I will place another order for hemp sheets when my source has them back in stock, so if you would like to be on a “waiting list”, just send an e-mail to and let me know how many you would like and you can have first dibs.  They are $110/each.


Now, to today’s decorating dilemma!  I think there are times when someone designs or remodels a space and they have an idea and implement it without really thinking through how it’s going to function.  If you have an awkward space or room layout in your house, you know what I’m talking about.  It’s the thing that throws a whole room off and leaves you scratching your head.  How in the world did someone think this was a good idea?

Such is the case with our design dilemma today.  Susan asked for some help with the twelve shelves above her fireplace.  Here is her e-mail and a picture of the space…

“I have a new house that has 12 (yes, 12) shelves above the fireplace….6 and 6. I would like to send you a picture and get some feedback about what I could put on these shelves. I have a collection of vintage dishes that are collecting dust in my pantry that I have been thinking about. I have put a few of them on a couple of the shelves to get an idea. Yay or nay?”


The good news is that the fireplace and shelves look really well done.  Everything looks high quality and I love the wood planking and trim.  The rest of the space appears to be beautifully finished, too, with plantation shutters and wood floors.  So, there are a lot of good things going on here.

What makes it a little awkward and challenging is the long, narrow “wall” above the fireplace and the shelves that go up for days on either side.  The little cubbies flanking the fireplace are a little tricky, too.

So, I’ve given it some thought and this is what I came up with…


Let’s talk about the cubbies first.  I immediately pictured them filled with neatly cut logs…



They would just be decorative, but they would make sense of those cubbies.

Another less conventional option is to fill them with books…



The example in the photo above is perhaps a little messier than I’m thinking, but it’s the right idea.  Stack books tightly in the cubbies, keeping them either all in the same color family or with the pages facing out, so they are all white/cream.  Again, I’m not suggesting this as a functioning library, but as a way to store books that you don’t use, but aren’t ready to get rid of.  Or perhaps a way to decorate the space with some yard sale or thrift store books.

In my sketch, I drew logs on the left and books on the right and I think you could use both of these options or one or the other.

Above the fireplace, I suggest hanging a big piece of artwork.  Yes, allowing it to cover part of the shelves.  Again, this is a little unconventional, but it is a “thing” and “acceptable” among designers.  I think it’s an interesting visual choice, actually.  This is a different room style, but you can see how nice it looks…



I think a seascape with a pretty turquoise in it would tie in with the sofa and create a real focal point above the fireplace.  It’ll draw your eye to the painting instead of the awkward stretch of wall.



Another thing I would suggest is painting the wall behind the shelves white.  It looks like they are a pale aqua right now (or that may be a shadow), but I think painting them all white would help them blend in a bit better.  Ordinarily, I like the back of shelves painted a color, but I think in this case, it just draws attention to their awkward layout.

I would fill the shelves with a mix of textures, natural elements, pieces to add texture like woven baskets and a few pops of color.  I think the colors of the vintage dishes are fun and they would be nice scattered throughout the shelves, but with twelve shelves, they need to be mixed with some other things.

I gathered some coastal design elements and inspiration that I thought would look nice in Susan’s space…

…aqua mason jars in a simple row…



…inexpensive glass jars filled with collected shells, driftwood, sea glass, stones, etc…



…and I like this mixture of books, creamware and shells.



Since Susan has so many shelves, I would also suggest adding a few larger items to fill up a few of them.  Baskets are a great option, because they can be budget-friendly, they add great texture and can be used for extra storage, if needed.


I would also mix in a few low-maintenance or even artificial/preserved plants to add a touch of greenery.  Succulents would be a nice option and would fit well with the coastal feel of the room.


Susan, I hope you’re inspired AND that you share with us what you end up doing to the space.  Obviously, take whatever ideas work for you and follow wherever that leads.  I know sometimes I just need a fresh set of eyes to get my creative juices going.  I think your space has a ton of potential and won’t take much to be fantastic.

Thanks for sharing your space!


  1. Shelly B.

    I love your ideas, Marion, especially the oversized picture and the ideas for filling the cubbies. My first thought on the cubbies was covering them with doors. That might help to simplfy the look and reduce the amount of space that needs decorating. Have fun with it Susan! Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect!

  2. Arli

    Shelly B., we think alike! I was thinking doors too. I really like Marian’s idea of placing a painting in the wall space. I hope you send a picture of your result.

  3. Karen K

    Great minds must think alike……I had the same idea to cover at least some of the shelves with doors and maybe make the lower areas shelved storage areas without doors.

  4. dolores

    The room is beautiful and I love all your ideas. One other thought….are the shelves removable? Might be fun to take a few out here and there to be able to put taller items and pictures.:)

  5. jackie pankuck

    Hi Marion,
    I love the plants in the china and ceramics you show. Do they do well in it? I’m assuming you don’t drill holes in the bottom…rocks in the bottom for drainage? I just planted some succulents in some great pottery that I have that talented friends have made. Just wondering what your experience has been with using that type of vessel.
    Hope this finds you well.

  6. Sarah

    I’m loving the design delimas series!

  7. Betsy

    If the shelves are movable/adjustable, I’d be tempted to remove at least one on each side and space out the remaining shelves. Just having one less shelf to fill would make it less busy looking. I love the idea of a large landscape painting to further break up the vertical lines. And yes to the doors over the cubbies. Or if you had a subtle fabric to make curtains for the cubbies that would coordinate with throw pillows or draperies in the room…it would add a little softness to that hard, linear wall.

  8. Amy Kaminski

    Hi Marian! I love this series too and think all of the ideas you have given here are really good ones. Keep it up!

  9. Mary Jamieson

    I think she should plank over all the shelves above the mantle and instead, put shelving in the cubbies.

    • Arlene

      I would plank over all of them too and have a blank slate for decorating. Looks like there is a boxed in section that sticks out like a chimney. I would be investigating what is under that and ripping it all out and make it flat.

  10. Krista

    I can’t wait to see what Susan does with this dilemma. She’s received a lot of great suggestions. Love this series.

  11. Debbie Delosreyes

    Can’t wait to see what she does… love the wood, picture and cream pieces with books ideas you gave her!

  12. Julie Blanner

    You are always brilliant and inspiring!

  13. Joyce Adams

    Take out a few shelves allowing for larger items to display.

  14. Sarah Phillipps

    I wonder if adding some cupboards doors to some of the lower shelves would be good, too? I love this post, so much inspiration and hope in it.

  15. Susan

    Marian’s suggestions are spot on! LOVE the overlapping painting idea, especially. This is my favorite feature of your blog…among all the other great ones! Do more of these!

  16. Jess

    Hello Marion, it was nice meeting you on Sat. at the market. You were very sweet and welcoming to the young lady before me who was so happy to meet you. You are a nice person. I did go ahead and get the hemp oil. In fact I met up with a friend and talked her into trying it also. In the spring when the weather is nicer I will venture over to the vendor in RiNo to see their store. One thing I noticed and appreciated about the Vintage Whites Market was that even though it was PACKED with people- everyone was pleasant and patient while waiting to buy their finds. That is truly amazing in this day and age.

  17. Kim

    It looks like I see the adjustable clips the shelves are sitting on so I agree with others taking a couple out and readjusting them.

  18. JeanFB

    Wow, I love your ideas, particularly to hang a painting that spans beyond that narrow portion of wall above the fireplace. And love your ideas for those cubbies, too – awesome!

  19. Jill

    My first thought was two remove at least the top two shelves on each side to bring down the horizontal line. You could either leave that space blank (and painted the same color as the walls), or fill it with a simple painting or perhaps a basket on each side. Something less linear, like an oval mirror or an egg basket, might also help to soften the space. You might even play with the heights of the shelves, alternating them on each side, so 1 space on the R, 2 spaces on the L for the first shelf, then next up would be 2 R, 1 L, then 1 R, 2L again, etc. Anything to make the effect less linear. I love symmetry, but this is overkill. To the same purpose, your lovely round ceramic pieces help to soften the lines. Marian’s wonderful suggestion of round birch logs in the cubbies serves the same purpose. Please send a picture when you’re happy with it! Please keep this series going, Marian. Love it.

  20. Susan

    I love your ideas! Really love the wood in the cubbies. Another thing I would do is paint the 2 gold strips on the fireplace screen with heat resistant paint. We did that to ours and it made a huge difference.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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