Q: My living room is large and square, with a fireplace at one end and windows down the front wall. I can't seem to make the furniture -- basically a sofa, chairs and a desk -- fit so they look comfortable. I have to put the sofa against the far wall, where it seems too far from the fireplace. What can I do?
A: Listen to interior designer Margot Gunther on the subject of square rooms. She did the one we show here for the Edith Wharton Showhouse in the Berkshire Mountains. It measured 16 by 16 feet and offered some of the same challenges you face. Here's how the pro handled them:
*With colors. Ms. Gunther had the walls glazed in two colors -- apricot and pink -- to make them look old and mellowed, and "take the edge off" their alikeness, she explains.
*With illusion. The designer stood a painted screen in the fireplace corner "to destroy the squareness of the room."
*With new angles. She has angled the two fireplace chairs into the room, set the writing desk on an angle to parallel the screen, and laid the richly patterned petit-point rug diagonally across the wall-to-wall sisal carpeting.
The point, says Ms. Gunther: "You don't want a roomful of little pieces of furniture, all marching across the floor like regimented soldiers. You should introduce some irregularities and eccentricities to catch the eye."
Among her "eccentricities" is the column-cum-hat rack by the fireplace, and the coffee table, which is actually a small doghouse, upholstered to pamper any house pooch.
A do-good venture like most designer show houses around the country, the Edith Wharton Showhouse helped raise funds to restore the author's home, the Mount, built in Lenox, Mass., in 1902, and which embodies many of Wharton's well-defined ideas about interior design.
Q: I am redecorating the walls in my bedroom with black and white photographs of various sizes and scenes, ranging from animals to deteriorating buildings. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea of how to arrange them. Would you give me some desperately needed advice?
A: Lay all your photos out on a floor space that matches the exact size and shape of each wall. Move things around until you're satisfied with the arrangement, then make a mini blueprint, including spacing between frames.
Hang your photos, one at a time, following your guide and these general guidelines: Maintain at least one vertical and one horizontal straight line to give the arrangement form, keep spacing minimal between frames, distribute visual "weight" (dark mats, heavy frames) throughout the arrangement, and include a variety of shapes, if possible.