Decorating Dilemma | Marie – Hélène’s Kitchen

by | Jan 9, 2017 | All Things Home, Decorating, decorating dilemmas | 20 comments

Remember Marie-Hélène?  (Look! I figured out how to do the accent marks above her name.  That actually came about compliments of my broken E key.  I had to hold it down to coax it and realized that other E options would pop up!)  Anyway, I featured her family room in a Decorating Dilemma post just before Christmas.   I received an e-mail from her the next day sharing that she was up to her eyeballs in furniture rearranging, mood boards, and creative energy!  I hope she’ll send some updated pictures, so I can share her progress.

Today, though, we’re going to take a look at the other half of the room – the kitchen.  Here’s a little tour…



The first thing I noticed right away, as well as the thing Marie-Hélène shared puzzled her most, was the window/mirror thing.  She calls it a “mirror mantle”.  Don’t you just love weird little things like that in a home?  What in the world? It always makes me laugh to think that someone did something like that on purpose.  But, I’m sure some people think that about some of my decorating choices, so to each his/her own, right?

Anyway, judgements aside, it is a large, quirky thing hanging out in the middle of Marie-Hélène’s kitchen.  I actually was pretty excited about the potential of what appears to be a decorating mishap.

Can you imagine it with something like this built inside of the recess, sans mirror, of course…


Photo via

It would be an amazing focal point and would turn the mirror mantle into a farmhouse-style feature.

I would also suggest putting a console/buffet underneath the recess to make it feel a bit more like a hutch.  It would have to be something narrow, so it doesn’t crowd the table, but I’m thinking something along these lines…


Photo via

Both of these solutions would visually balance the cabinetry on the other side of the room and add more storage as well as a place to use as a serving buffet for parties family dinners.

I actually like the table, but Marie-Hélène wants to make things a little lighter and brighter.


Since the table has a nice shape, painting it is a great option.  I would definitely sand off the gloss and, since it would work nicely with the look she is going for, a fresh coat of white paint would be a good option.


photo via

Or painting it gray would work nicely as well…


photo via

I would also suggest adding a braided jute rug under the table.  It’s nice to have as a “crumb-catcher”, but it also grounds the table and chairs, framing them out visually.  I like the braided jute rugs, because they are a flat weave and they are soft underfoot.  I’ve tried a lot of natural weave rugs and these are my favorite.


Braided Jute Rug from Joss & Main

Marie-Hélène has made some budget-friendly improvements to the “built-in” part of her kitchen, like painting the cabinets and treating the laminate counters with a product to make them look like wood (a stainable primer).  She would love wood counters, a farmhouse sink and new appliances, but it’s not in the budget right now.

I think that what she has done looks great and there isn’t a need to immediately make big changes.  Making some of these smaller changes will make a big impact for a lot less money than new cabinets, countertops, fixtures, etc.

Now, if we are going to pretend for a moment that we live in a world without budget limitations, I would suggest a few things.  First of all, I would see if the soffit above the cabinets contains ductwork or any other “guts” of the house.  If not, I would knock that thing out so fast!  Soffits have their place, but above cabinets, they just bring the height of the room down and are wasted space.  I would then either add open shelving, which is a staple of farmhouse style (although it’s not going to work for everyone), or cabinetry that is taller and goes all the way to the ceiling.  Mixing in some glass-front cabinets would be a good option, too.

For an immediate and free option, though, I would suggest just removing the upper cabinet doors.  That is a no-commitment way to see if you like open shelving and it will open the room just a little more.  Trust me on that one.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but removing cabinet doors can add a lot of visual depth to a room.

Marie-Hélène also would like a backsplash.  Since she hopes to be able to replace the laminate counters with butcher-block eventually, I would suggest holding off on the backsplash until the counters are replaced.  Right now, there is a “mini backsplash” connected to the counters and that will make things a little hairy when/if the counters are replaced.

If she’s just itching for something, chalkboard paint is a fun, cheap option.


That is a throw-back picture of my kitchen!

She could even draw a tile design with chalk or something.  I like that it’s low-commitment, since she wants to make changes in the future.

When she is ready, I would point her to Ikea, who sells 8′ lengths of butcher block counters for $149!  And Ikea also has a farmhouse-style apron-front sink for $312.

Lastly, I would focus on the accessories.   Marie-Hélène already has a lot to work with, which is nice.  Sometimes just gathering them all on the kitchen table and then reworking them in the space can give fresh life to a room.


photo via

And good accessorizing can detract from things that you aren’t in love with.

Remember that farmhouse style is about utilitarian beauty, so stoneware, cutting boards, rolling pins, potted herbs, linen towels, crocks and such are a good place to start.

I hope this helps Marie-Hélène with her decorating dilemma and get some of your creative juices flowing as well…

Miss Mustard Seed's Design Dilemma -Tips on adding farmhouse style to a kitchen on a small budget. Also, brilliant solutions for awkward niches!

Until next time…




  1. Kate

    The mirror-mantel was probably put there to mimic a window, add depth and reflect light from the sink window. Since I live in a dark house, I can appreciate that. I have three antique mirrors in my large (but dark) living room to bounce light around. If taking the mantel mirror out is not in the budget for Marie-Helene, she could still add a narrow buffet underneath and place tall items on the shelf of the mantel to camouflage the mirror. Another idea would be to build narrow shelving the whole length of and around the mirrored wall. It would be a great place to show off a collection. If the soffit has to stay, it is still a great place to hang a collection of small plates. If she painted it grey or a soft blue, something like ironstone would really pop. It would give the illusion of open shelving.

    • Audrey

      We have soffits like this and taking them out is out of the question right now. I love the idea of ironstone plates… Thanks!

  2. Marie-Hélène at Kingsbury Brook Farm

    Thank you so much Marian for taking the time and the energy to help me with our great room. I know that these kinds of posts take a long time to put together. I am so grateful, thankful and overwhelmed and I hope that the pictures of our updated great room will be worthy of all your work. With gratitude, Marie-Hélène

  3. Katy

    I like the idea of the plate rack most, but a quick solution might be a chalkboard. You can actually paint right over the mirror.

    • Sheila

      Or, she could have something cut large enough to cover the recessed mirror, install, frame, and paint with paint to create a chalkboard. I wouldn’t like it recessed.

  4. Andrea Jane

    How does one get nominated for a decorating dilemma? Because I have a fabulous room room I would love for you to consider. It’s a lovely little room with windows and French doors galore and not much wall space. Everything is taken up with glass and door openings. Makes furniture placement a challenge.

    We call it the sitting room and it’s my favorite room in the house because of the gorgeous light and the quirky little chandelier that hangs in the middle.

    I can’t wait to see Marie-Hélène’s finished spaces.

      • Heather Anne

        I need to send you a picture of our fireplace … but I’m pretty sure it needs a sledgehammer!

  5. DeAnna

    So many great ideas!

  6. Lorrie Mariani

    Marian, this question is not related to this post… but, I was wondering how your
    butcher block countertops are holding up. I am thinking of doing our island in butcher block.
    How do you maintenance and clean? Is it warping at all? Thanks so much!

  7. Kim Price

    Such a fun space, u have wonderful idea. I’m going to paint my table, but just going to do the legs to start with, before I commit to the whole top. I sure hope she shares pics as she goes along, please tell her, that her fans are begging !

  8. Alathia

    We had a mirror/mantle in our home, didn’t know it had a name. We did not have central heat or air. The main purpose was to allow for air circulation, since the house was heated by a wood stove.

  9. daf

    If she isn’t concerned about blocking traffic flow where that window/mirror is,then she could do the built-in shelves, as MMS suggested, and then do a built-in bench below and move the table back against that wall. That might even improve flow a bit since there is a large stove on that same wall between the kitchen and living area. She’d have to swag the light or have it moved, of course. Just an idea.

  10. Dianne Plourde

    These were such great ideas and it was so helpful to observe the difference little changes made! I have a space between the dining room and kitchen, the old open window that houses had in the 60’s. We put shelves in it and I keep mason jars on there, and crocks, actually filled with necessary items. Kinda like a pantry, but out in the open. It’s not perfect, but it helped. I have a super dilemma going on right now, regarding paint and open spaces and replacement windows … I am overjoyed to think I might be able to tap into your knowledge about it. Will send an email. 🙂

  11. B. Folk

    Very good ideas, Marian! I like some of the commenters’ suggestions, too. I knew immediately why someone had put the “window-mantel’ there, to try to bounce some light into the room. I have been trying to do the same thing in our apartment for three years. I’ve almost given up. My husband pointed out: “It’s hard to reflect light when there isn’t any”!
    I have almost exactly the same kitchen table as Marie-Helene (I tried holding down the “e”, and just got a string of “e’s”). Mine is either pine or beech, something that was stained “natural” and has slowly yellowed over the 20 years that I’ve had it. If we ever get a house again, I will strip it and re-finish it. Another color besides white or gray to be considered, since she is trying to bring in some green, would be a light green paint, or greenish-gray. Perhaps the kitchen table would look good in the finish/color of the narrow console/buffet in your example photo.
    It will be fun to see how your ideas inspire her!

  12. Gwyneth Miller

    Thinking about that ‘mirror wall:’ is that wall a weight-baring wall? Not sure on how deep of a project you want to tackle on it, but I’d consider possibly either knocking it down to expand the kitchen area(depending on what’s behind the wall &/or weight baring) or at least opening it up half way to expose more openess. Just a thought…. 🙂

  13. Lorna

    I didn’t comment before(on the living room). I wanted to see more of the kitchen first. I love all of your ideas, and the visuals that go with. MH could remove the mirror and execute the first one right away. Since she has a limited budget, perhaps she could paint the buffet under the tv And use it under the mirrored area, putting the chairs on three sides and pulling it out when entertaining company. I had previously thought that the tv could be moved to the left corner with a corner tv table under it. This way she could still see the tv from the kitchen. The big mirror in the living room could then be moved to where the tv is now and become a new focal point. (Just had to get my two cents in). Paint is probably the best place to start and the grey table looks great with the black chairs which she already has.

  14. Susan

    My guess is that the mirror/mantel was originally a pass-through from the other room (kitchen?) to improve light & airflow. I love the idea of making it into recessed display shelving.

    My heart hurts at the thought of painting that beautiful table! (I’m a recovering member of the never-paint-wood cult – I’m ok with it when the finish has gone beyond “distressed” or the item is cheap, but that table is lovely as is!) Maybe leave the top unpainted and paint the bottom & the chairs. That might be enough to lighten things up but still keep that rich warmth from the wood.

  15. Pat McClane

    I was very late in responding to the last post about this design dilemma so let me say again that I think this house is charming. I’ll be sad when the Christmas greenery is gone, though. The one thing that seems “off” to me is the flooring. I’m not sure if it is the color or if it is just not as rustic as the floors in the inspiration photos. Hopefully someone with more color expertise can puzzle it out but if it is the color, it seems to me that it could be covered with larger area rugs or painted. I like the idea of painting the floor white. Yes, I know it would be a lot of white but I think the rooms would have a Scandinavian appearance.

    I like the wood finish of the table and would recommend not painting it. It lends warmth to the room and provides contrast to the white cabinets. My recommendation for the mirror mantel would be to enlarge the recessed space – almost to the floor – but only if the mirror is taken out. I hate watching myself eat, or worse, watching other people watch themselves eat. As is, it needs grounding but I’m concerned that adding a piece of furniture below will really squeeze the space around the table.

  16. Mimi Forsell

    I would love to see the after!


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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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