Marianne and Mike live in a gorgeous century home with all the advantages that come with an older house -- high ceilings, character and charm aplenty. But there are drawbacks to older homes, too, and their living room had most of them -- poor lighting, uneven walls and intrusive radiators, to name just a few.
The couple was constantly moving furniture around in an effort to come up with a functional layout, trying to compensate for the room's two warring focal points: an ugly wood stove and the television screen.
While Mike preferred a more modern decor plan, Marianne wanted to pay homage to the room's traditional roots. Throw in a tight budget and you have the perfect recipe for an old-fashioned design dilemma.
Fortunately, we were able to conquer this challenging living room with some ingenuity, flexibility and a workable Plan B.
The old wood stove was absolutely hideous, so it was the first thing to go. We brought in a sleek new gas insert and updated the fireplace with a new custom mantel with white marble tile on the surround and slate on the hearth.
Sometimes, with old houses, it's better to conceal than reveal. We covered up the old radiators with white radiator boxes, effectively transforming them into useful pieces of furniture instead of obstacles to work around. We also covered up the bumpy, uneven ceiling with a paintable wallpaper resembling the tin ceilings of yesteryear.
Molding added architectural interest to the ceiling and the walls, while a stunning silvery chandelier, positioned within a ceiling medallion, takes center stage. A couple of wall sconces, some track lighting over the fireplace and a few table lamps completed our lighting upgrade, and a large sectional sofa solves the room's seating dilemma.
The color palette for this century-old living room was inspired by our selection of an elegant area rug, rich with shades of dark plum and gray. Gray is repeated on the walls, while the ceiling, radiator boxes and trim work is painted a crisp white. Dark mahogany furniture is just what the designer ordered, with matching tables flanking the fireplace and a sofa table, coffee table and glass-fronted display case rounding out the new furnishings.
Finally, a comfortable linen wing chair positioned in the corner by the window and offset by a shaggy white rug offers a quiet place to curl up with a good book.
As with all large spaces, my plan for Marianne and Mike's living room called for the creation of distinct zones. The area rug and sectional sofa create a place for the homeowners to relax, either alone or with friends. Behind the sofa we have a sort of cocktail lounge area, where a radiator cover can serve as a buffet or bar surface. Custom floor-length drapery panels frame the room's large window, picking up on the warm beiges and grays in our palette.
Using every inch of available space to maximum advantage, we made Marianne and Mike's dream of a functional living room come true. This space seems twice as big as it did before the renovation, and there is a purpose to every single corner.
Warm and inviting, this 100-year-old living room is ready to take on a whole new life during this century.
• Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV's "Candice Tells All."