Creative solutions for problem spaces


April 24, 1994|By Joe Surkiewicz

The goal: transforming a living area into a place that's not only warm and inviting, but also reflects the owners' personality. It's a challenge that interior designers relish.

Yet even the best concede that some spaces resist standard decorating schemes and require an extra dose of ingenuity. For lack of a better term, call them "problem" rooms:

* A den in a high-traffic area.

* A girl's bedroom with a serious lack of storage.

* A powder room that needs a character implant.

"The most recurring problems are the result of the poor proportions found in new construction," says Ted Pearson, vice president of Rita St. Clair Associates. "Ceilings are too low, rooms are too small and windows and corners are oddly placed."

Solving these design problems can test the skills of professionals as well as amateurs. These are challenges that call for the right choice of furniture and fabrics; inventive details applied with wit and imagination; and a creative use of color that can turn white-bread architecture into designer chic.

How do the pros tackle the problem rooms for which there are no easy solutions? To find out, we asked some of the Baltimore area's top interior designers to tell us how they solved their thorniest decorating problems.


For Jay Jenkins of Alexander Baer Associates, the great room of an Owings Mills home presented a challenge. The proportions of the room were nearly overpowering.

"The room is terrifically scaled with high windows that are awkwardly placed," Mr. Jenkins explains. "So I designed custom cabinetry below the windows that brought the whole room to a human scale."

The wall of red oak built-ins rising from the floor to the bottoms of the triangular windows also accomplishes another design goal: It provides an entertainment center that includes a bar, a 45-inch television and storage space.

The house's three-story foyer also was overpowering. Accessories scaled to the room's size, however, made it feel more comfortable.

"I used an over-scaled console table placed against the wall and a pair of big custom lamps to complement the large walls and high ceilings," Mr. Jenkins says.


Randi Goldstein recently was hired to decorate a girl's room in a Hunt Valley house: a very, very small bedroom in desperate need of storage space.

The designer's solution? Custom furniture and a layout that maximizes storage.

"The room had nothing very interesting going for it, so I designed the furniture to wrap around the room and added a window seat and headboard with storage," says the Owings Mills-based Ms. Goldstein. "I built dressers and a desk area covered in a white laminate because I wanted to keep the room light and airy."

For contrast, she added shades of turquoise, pink and lavender.

"I picked up the colors in the custom comforter, draperies, the window seat, wallpaper and crown molding," Ms. Goldstein says. "Even the artwork has the colors."

She adds, "Not only does the room work, everything fit! The design maximizes the amount of space -- and the child loves it."


The dilemma: a ho-hum powder room.

The solution: a touch of whimsy.

"The problem is that most powder rooms have nothing to look at except a sink and a toilet," sighs Ginny Burns, a senior designer at Papier Interiors. "But it's a room that most guests visit."

So she borrowed the interior decorating scheme used in the rest of the Cockeysville house and mirrored it in the powder room.

"This house is full of niches full of books and accessories, so I painted trompe l'oeil bookcases on the powder room walls," Ms. Burns recalls. "The fun part was putting personal things on the books that mean something to the family -- names of children and the dog, wedding dates, birthdays. The clock is painted at 5 o'clock, so it's OK to drink [cocktails] any time. People come out the powder room chuckling."

More ideas to perk up a blah powder room:

"People with wine cellars could do a grape arbor on the walls," Ms. Burns suggests. "The idea is to give a little nothing room a theme that's fun. Why not paint the ceiling to look like a circus tent?"


Richard Taylor, of Taylor/Siegmeister Associates in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood, faced this frustrating decorating problem: a den situated in a high-traffic area between the living room and the master bedroom suite of a large Baltimore County contemporary.

"People spend 80 percent of their time in smaller rooms like studies and dens, not the living room," Mr. Taylor points out. "So they want the TV and stereo there. But they often end up cramming too much stuff into it."

To solve the potential clutter problem, Mr. Taylor had bookshelves built behind the sofa and found an armoire to hold the entertainment system.

"The armoire is made of attractive French walnut and opens up for when you want to watch TV, but hides it when you're not [using it]," he says. The armoire also holds the stereo and videocassette recorder.


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