Fireplaces and TVs

I am about to start work on a family room for a new client. The room will be used for TV watching and enjoying fires (and occasional napping). It has a gas fireplace with a stone mantle that is about three feet wide. I am not kidding. This mantle could probably hold my family room TV, which looks like a screen stuck on the front of a VW Beetle.

My client’s TV is a 42″ flat screen. It currently sits on a nice stand in the corner of the room. She would like to mount it above the fireplace. It would certainly be convenient for me: something that is 40-46″ inches wide (screens widths are measured corner to corner and not horizontal across) is a bit of a challenge to work into a design. The large fireplace wall lends itself well to handling the height and width of the TV.

But as a decorator, I must ask myself: is this really a good idea?

There are two key things to consider when mounting a TV over a fireplace: heat and height.

You can read lots and lots of complicated information about how heat affects plasma and LCD TVs differently (believe me. I have. It’s been a slow Monday).  But I will keep this simple: heat and electronics don’t mix. You need to know how hot it really gets around your fireplace after you build that roaring fire and settle back to watch two hours of American Idol.  To determine the heat, do a simple test: place a thermometer on the wall above your fireplace.  Now light a fire and kick back and enjoy. After it’s been going for a while – a couple of hours at least – check the temperature. If it’s above 90 degrees farenheit, congrats! You now know where NOT to place your television! It may take a few fires, but if you insist on mounting your TV here despite the heat, eventually your flat screen will look like those tapes you used to leave in your car in the sun all day. (Yep. I said tapes. I am showing my age here but you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

The other consideration is how high you should mount your TV. After reading a lot on this subject I’ve decided I should start handing out cards for my chiropractor friend when I visit people’s homes and I see flat screens mounted above fireplaces. Why? Most TVs are just hung too high. TVs should be placed at eye level. Anything above this and you are either straining your neck or you are slumped down in your sofa so far your practically sitting on the floor. If your fireplace wall passes the heat test and you still want to mount your TV there, then spend a bit more money and get a wall mount that allows you to tip the screen down, minimizing the strain a bit.

The last thing to consider when deciding to mount your TV about the fireplace is how far back you should sit from the screen for proper viewing. This post won’t go into the intricacies of that because it depends on the number of pixels your tv is and whether you have a plasma or flat screen and quite frankly, all that math makes my brain hurt. My best advice there is to google the type of TV you have and follow the recommendations given by the manufacturer. For example, if you have a 1080p 40″ LCD flat screen, then you could sit about 5 feet away and get a great picture. But if your sofa is five feet away from your fireplace wall, and your TV is mounted about 4-5 feet up the wall, you’re straining your neck to watch TV. But if you are sitting 10 feet away, it’s easier on your neck but the picture might not look as good. See what I mean? Math.

So what will my decorating plan be for this job? I think am going to look for a lovely piece of art to hang about the fireplace and keep the tv at eye level  – somewhere else in the room. I’ll just create two seating areas: one for tv viewing and another for enjoying fires. My client can then use the money she saved on wall mounts and hiding wires on wireless surround sound. Or perhaps some more decorating.

Painting bathroom cabinets

Many of us are “blessed” with those ubiquitous wood cabinets from (enter name of chain home building supply store here). There is no two ways about it: they are ugly. They are cheap. They serve a purpose. And that’s it.

So what  to do with them? The easiest fix, if you don’t have the budget to replace them, is to paint them. Here’s how:

First, fill in any dings or holes on the surface.You’ll need to use some wood putty and a putty knife. Take a small amount of the putty and spread it evenly over the ding. If you’ve never worked with wood putty before, just ask at your local paint shop how to use it.

Next, rough up the surface of the cabinet. Chances are the cabinet had a varnish applied to it at one time, especially if it is in the bathroom. It may be all but gone now, but you still want to go over the entire cabinet with sandpaper (100 grit is the general choice here) to remove any final remains of a slick surface so that the paint has a good surface to stick to when it’s applied.

After you’re done with the sandpaper, go over the entire surface with a clean cloth to remove any dust.

Next, prime the surface using an oil-based primer. The primer will offer good adhesion on the wood and under water-based latex paint (the kind you will use here).

Next, using a sponge/foam brush or paint brush, apply your water-based latex paint. Brush with even, side-to-side strokes that overlap each other. The trick is to use a light coating of paint: you will need to apply at least two coats, so don’t try to get complete coverage in the first coat. It’s better to have spots and get them in the second (or third) coat than to deal with a drippy mess by coating too much on in the first coat.

Next, since this piece is in a high traffic area – a bathroom – apply a water-based varnish over the paint once it’s completely dry. The varnish will help protect the paint. Apply the varnish with long, thin strokes. Try to go from one end of the piece to the other. Otherwise your piece will end up looking really streaky.
And that’s it! For not a lot of money and a little elbow grease, you can transform the look of that blah cabinet into something interesting. Happy painting!


Is your room like a polar bear against a snowy backdrop? Or is it more like a periwinkle hydrangea set against green leaves? If you feel your room is blah, there may be a quick fix: contrast. Take a look around your space. What color are your walls? How about your sofa? Floors? Are all your surfaces smooth and shiny, like leather sofas and glass tabletops? Or do you have a mix of textures? Is there enough contrast between the elements in your room?

Sometimes having little contrast is a good thing, like blending into your environment to avoid getting eaten. It can also help minimize the appearance of something that you don’t want to call attention to, like a support beam in the middle of a room. But if you want to create more interest and depth, add contrast in the form of color and/or texture. Add some soft, patterned throw pillows to that sofa. Swap out that glass table for distressed wood. Put a potted red geranium in a clay pot on a black side table.  It may take a little bit to play with textures and colors, but have fun! You don’t have to change the big stuff: just add a few accents here and there to create more interest.

Demolition Sales

Sounds like a monster truck event, doesn’t it? They can certainly feel like one if you’ve ever been. A demolition sale is a giant scavenger hunt to a decorator. It’s like an estate sale, but with one big difference: after an estate sale the house is usually left standing. Not so with a demo sale: the building is literally torn down after the sale. So don’t be late.

Demo sales are great resources for decorators and anyone who’s on a budget because you can literally find everything down to the kitchen sink. Currently I am looking for a stair railing/banister for a client. True, I could go to Home Depot and get something utilitarian. But I want something unique, something beautiful, something with character. This client doesn’t have the budget to have someone  custom make one, so we’re looking to repurpose an existing one and then I’ll have my contractor retro fit it for my client’s home.

How do you find demo sales? Simple. Just google “demolition sales” and find ones in your area. Most demo sales require you to pay in cash and take items with you immediately but read the fine print for the demo sale you’re interested in to see what they require.

Dress to get dirty and have fun!

Cool chair for dining or office

I have been on an IKEA kick lately. I found this chair while looking for some pieces for a commercial space I’m working on. It’s super comfortable and sexy and sleek. It comes in two colors – a clear and a smoke grey. It would look great with a round white Knoll table, a knotty wood rectangular table or even with a little writing desk.

My new favorite find

I went looking for a chaise lounge for a client today and came across Treasure Hunt. This place is amazing. The website doesn’t do it justice: visiting the 10,000 square foot space is a must. I found a fabulous tufted chaise

Isn't this lovely?

and other beautifully kept vintage items, but nothing broke the bank.  Schaumburg isn’t someplace I normally shop because it’s a bit of a haul for me, but at these pieces and at this price, I don’t care. I’ll brave the traffic. That is if I ever get up from this chaise again.

Coolest space saver ever

While working with a client on a closet redesign, we came to that age old question: how do we organize and store all the shoes? She is a simple woman, with, oh, about 200 pairs. I used to be like this. But then I had a baby and somehow my shoe fund disappeared.

Some women like to keep their shoes nice and tidy in the original boxes. Others like to keep their shoes nice and neat in shoe trees or shoe shelves, or I guess, in a nice tidy little pile on the floor. With the exception of the shoe pile, these are great organizing ideas,  but not so great storage ideas. Boxes and trees and storage cubes just take up too much room in my opinion. Room that could be used for other things…like more shoes. (BTW, if you haven’t tried putting a size 10 1/2 in one of these organizers, don’t. They don’t fit. I swear most of those storage things were made by hobbits.)

So imagine how happy we were when we discovered the Rakku shoe wheel. Measuring just over a foot wide and two feet tall, this thing holds 30 pairs. Just slide the thing under your clothes: it’s got wheels on it so you move it anywhere. When you need a pair, just spin the wheel and slide them out. It’s like playing roulette every morning!  Oh, and it takes 10 1/2 sizes like a champ.

The best bookcase ever (isn’t really a bookcase)

It’s the world’s greatest storage unit: the Ikea Expedit bookcase.

I use 12 inch x 12 inch wicker baskets in mine. I stuff them with shoes, toys, remote controls (really, why do we need three remotes to watch tv?) and fabric samples. Fill the cubes or leave them open for pictures, books, vases, whatever. Stand it horizontally for shelving or use it vertically as a media cabinet. Buy it in black, brown, white, or birch, large or small size. Stack them side by side, or whatever your space requirements.

So there. You have no more excuses. Here is a perfect inexpensive solution. Pick up your mess and put away your clutter. Get organized. Look Danish modern chic, shabby chic, cottage chic, or my favorite, just plain neat freak chic.

What the Bleep is Redesign?

Hiring a decorator to spruce up your space may be a lot more economical than you think. Most decorators – myself included – offer redesign solutions. What is that you may say? It’s a fancy term for more affordable but still fabulous design. It’s more affordable because the decorator uses what you already have and usually charges a flat fee per room. Most of you have wonderful pieces in your home – furniture, accessories, art, rugs, lamps, etc – but you aren’t sure what to do with them or how to arrange them. A decorator uses his/her expert eye to make those pieces work together, then give suggestions for color and accessories that would work well with your stuff.

It’s also a great excuse for getting rid of things, like your spouse’s smelly chair from his first apartment. Just say, “It wasn’t me. The decorator made me do it.”

It’s Easy Being Green

Being eco-friendly applies as much in design as it does in the rest of the world. You already know the value of reusing a piece of furniture. It is great for the environment and your budget. Just think: that $400 you were saving for a new sideboard – that you no longer need to buy because you refinished that old console table in your basement – can now stay happily in your bank account. Or happily used on a new light fixture. Whatever tickles your fancy.

Being eco-friendly applies to cleaning that old table too. It’s easy to be earth friendly when you have the lovely cleaning products from Method. Most of their products are made from renewable sources. If they can’t make something from a renewable source, they use a safe, man-made version instead. All their products are safe to people and the environment, 100% vegan and never tested on animals. Plus, they smell lovely and they are easy on the wallet. Go get ’em at Target!

So before you start your spring clean, think green. These days it’s easy to do.