Q: We have a tiny living room, and I don't have a clue about decorating it. There's a large window alcove that takes up almost one whole wall. I've always heard that the sofa should face the window, but there's really no room. What do I do?
A: That's a good way to begin a furniture arrangement when you don't have a fireplace as a natural focal point, but the first rule about decorating is, there are no fixed-in-amber rules.
ZTC Each room is different; each requires a custom solution.
As to yours, the solution might come straight from New York interior designer T. Keller Donovan, who faced much the same quandary in the small sitting room we show here.
Mr. Donovan has all but turned the room's back on that window, dressing it to form an attractive background for a clever furniture arrangement that makes the sofa look almost built-in. It's wedged cozily into the alcove, so cozily, in fact, there's no room for the usual end tables. No matter; Mr. Donovan's design includes a handy ledge behind the sofa and wall-mounted swivel lamps on each side.
A few other points worth borrowing from this pro:
Artworks are hung inside the alcove to help frame the seating area.
Armless slipper chairs offer less cumbersome-looking comfort than ordinary easy chairs with arms.
Dramatic rug laid on an angle visually pushes the walls apart and makes the small room look more spacious. In this case, it's an arresting faux zebra skin, done in needlepoint.
Q: We don't have a proper breakfast room in our new house, something I miss badly from the old since I'm a morning person and like for us all to sit down to breakfast together.
There are four of us, so I have been setting the dining room table, but it's large and feels so formal. Short of remodeling the kitchen, do you have any ideas?
A: Yes, a good one, stolen from internationally known designer Bunny Williams, who advocates two tables in the dining room, dinner-size and a smaller one you can use for more intimate meals, like breakfast. A second table never hurts, either, when you're serving dinner or buffets.
Q: I have one wonderful single canopy bed I inherited from my mother's side of the family. I'd like to use it in the guest room, but I need sleeping space for two. What can I do?
A: Consider having the antique bed copied. If you can't find a local furniture craftsman, contact a professional interior designer your area. They always have secret resources for such projects.
Q: I love sisal carpeting and want to put it in the sitting room that is just off our living room. My husband thinks it will look too casual. What do you think?
A: Sisal is showing up on some pretty stylish floors these days, and with good reason. It's tough, attractive and relatively inexpensive. I would suggest that you toss a few formal-feeling area rugs over the sisal carpeting so it relates to your living room.
You might also take a look at some of the new sisals that come stenciled in simple designs -- openwork treillage, intertwined ribbons and such.
One caveat: Sisal is a natural product that is especially susceptible to stains like grease and water. Check before you buy to see if your carpet has been treated with a protective finish.
Rose Bennett Gilbert is the author of five books on interior design and a contributing writer to other publications in the field. Send questions to Inside Advice, Maryland Living, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.