Play all the angles when it comes to corners

January 24, 1993|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Contributing Writer/ Universal Press Syndicate

Corners can sometimes seem like leftover spaces: empty, awkward and less than accommodating. Sometimes the challenge of what to do with them is so confounding that often the only solution is no solution at all.

Still, beyond pretending that room corners don't exist, there are options.

If a room is big enough so that obliterating a corner still leaves ample space, consider "building" a diagonal soft wall -- a floor-to-ceiling curtain shirred on one rod at the ceiling and another at the floor. A curtain wall not only camouflages a corner but makes a dramatic backdrop for a bed or a sofa.

Select a fabric that duplicates as closely as possible the color of the paint on the walls so that the visual transition between wall and curtain is as smooth as possible. How much fabric you need depends on how much fullness you want the folds in the curtain to have. Typically, though, you'll need an amount of fabric that is three to four times the width of the area you wish to cover.

Another option is a folding screen. Set diagonally in front of a corner, a three- or four-panel screen is an effective way to deal with an awkward corner. Decorative Chinese folding screens are widely available at furniture and import stores. Japanese shoji screens, typically consisting of rice paper affixed to a simple pine frame, can be found at the same sources. Or, you can make your own screen out of three or four panels of 3/4 -inch plywood. Using a staple gun, cover the panels first with a polyester batting and then with the fabric of your choice before hinging them together. Or, you can cover a homemade screen with decorative wallpaper.

Folding screens work best when used as a background for other furnishings. So don't be afraid of composing a furniture arrangement in front of one.

Probably the easiest and least expensive antidote for a corner is a potted plant. But think big. Knee-high varieties won't help much. Buy a palm or ficus tree that's at least 5 or 6 feet tall. Alternatively, put a 3-foot plant in a decorative planter on a tall pedestal. In either case, because even large tropical plants are fairly inexpensive, plan on splurging on attractive, over-scale terra-cotta, ceramic or even concrete pots from the garden store.

To make sure a potted plant works as well at night as it does during the day, position an up-lighting can light on the floor so that the light beams up through the branches to cast overlapping shadows on the walls and ceilings.

Though more costly, a corner cupboard is one of the best solutions for awkward room corners. Although it hasn't gotten nearly as much press in recent years as the armoire, the corner cupboard has been an American favorite since Colonial times. And for good reason: It makes the most of limited space and it does so with grace and style.

More than just a cover-up, a corner cupboard is a hard-working piece of furniture. Traditionally, it was a dining room fixture, particularly in the South, used to store table linens behind a closed-door lower section and china, silver or pewter pieces behind a glass-doored upper section. But it is such a genteel and flexible piece of furniture that it is at home in any room in the house. The bottom area is often spacious enough for a television set or stereo equipment. The top section, especially when lighted from within, can exhibit collectibles or even books.

In addition to providing storage and display space and a solution to the problem of an empty corner, a corner cupboard can also bring a healthy dose of style and architecture to an otherwise featureless room. In humble pine or haughty mahogany, many corner cupboards have raised panel doors below and windowpane doors above and may be ornamented with pilaster, pediments, inlays, carved moldings and finials. As for style, name a furniture period -- Colonial, Queen Anne, Chippendale, Federal, even Victorian -- and a corner cupboard represents it.

Corner cupboards are still relatively plentiful on the antiques market and often turn up at auctions and estate sales in addition to antiques shops. Also, reproductions of vintage styles are still made by manufacturers of traditional-style furniture and are available through retail furniture stores.

Position a corner cupboard in one corner of your room and you may surprised to discover that you haven't just filled a corner, you've made it a focal point.

If, on the other hand, a focal point is not what the room needs, the other options -- a curtain, folding screen or large-scale plant -- can camouflage a corner and turn a negative space into a positive one.

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