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posted: 7/26/2014 6:00 AM

Too much space? Divide to conquer

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  • Groupings of furniture arrangements make an enormous living room feel almost cozy.

    Groupings of furniture arrangements make an enormous living room feel almost cozy.
    Courtesy of Marco Ricca

By Rose Bennet Gilbert

Q. Our great room really lives up to the name -- it's nearly 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. There's a large fireplace on one long wall; the other is all windows. How should we arrange the furniture in such a large space?

A. Find ways to break the space up into more human-scaled activity areas; say, center a seating arrangement (sofa, chairs, coffee and lamp tables) by the fireplace; a desk, game table or dining table at one end of the room, a piano or second seating area at the other.

Your best allies in subdividing space are area rugs and lighting. Use a rug to demarcate each activity area -- coordinate the colors and patterns but forget about making them match.

Lighting is also an effective way to create psychological divisions in open spaces, which is why I suggest lamps and lamp tables for the main seating area. Make it the main bright spot in the room, and everyone will be immediately drawn there. You could use hanging lights or chandeliers for general overall illumination, but a warm circle of light at or below eye level will claim that space as special.

Along with table lamps, consider standing floor lamps, including those ever-chic brass apothecary lamps. The trick is to be sure every seating piece in the grouping is lit well enough for comfortable reading.

Speaking of great rooms, New York designer James Rixner faced an enormous challenge, literally, at this year's Mansion in May, the show house that raises zillions for the Morristown (New Jersey) Hospital. It was staged in Blairsden, a 65,000-square-foot architectural treasure built at the turn of the 20th century for financier and sportsman C. Ledyard Blair, who entertained like royalty -- hence, the 30-by-60-foot grand salon we show here.

Never mind the vanishing-point perspective. Rixner made it livable by creating a pair of mirror-image living spaces, each centered on a fireplace, each lit by a dazzling Baccarat crystal chandelier and anchored on an area rug. By breaking the soaring space into human-sized symmetrical arrangements, the designer managed to make it as suitable for intimate gatherings as for grand, formal occasions. See more of his design magic at

Q. What can we do with our large entry hall? I put the usual table by the door and tucked a daybed under the stairs, but even with a wide runner, it looks too empty and forlorn. Echoes even! I'd appreciate suggestions.

A. Why did you stop furnishing the space? Go on and turn it into a place that invites family and guests to stop and sit a while. Add a table and lamp by your daybed, and you have a nook to curl up and read in. Face the nook with a love seat and/or a couple of upholstered chairs, and you have a place to party!

The front hall at my grandparents country Virginia home was large enough to hold a wedding reception! And my grandmother, who still had an edge of Victorian formality, furnished it as carefully as any other room with chairs, end tables and lamps, an oriental runner, and lots of artwork on the walls. No wonder that -- next to her bountiful farm kitchen -- that hall is the room I can close my eyes and conjure at will.


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