Reader SOS – Design Tips for Your Decor Dilemmas

We are back with another “DIY Playbook, Save our Space!”. You guys have been emailing us about your Reader SOS and we’ve been able to get a little glimpse into some of the design problems you’re having when it comes to decorating. Our plan for #DIYPlaybookSOS is to take a reader’s space and (virtually) offer design tips & tricks on how to improve it.

Here are some old design problems we’ve solved during this series…

Offering Our Design Tips

DIY Playbook save our space

Today, instead of tackling one large design problem…we’re tackling multiple (smaller) questions that readers have had for us over the past few months.

So let’s get right to our design tips for you!

Decorating Around An Off-Centered Fireplace

I’ve fallen in love with the custom built-ins you have installed in your homes. The problem for me is that my fireplace is not quite centered and I’m unsure where to mount the TV, and how far the built-ins should go to the right of the TV before it crowds the kitchen area. Offering design tips for an off-centered fireplaceThis question is actually from a friend of mine (Hi, Serena!), but I do think it’s a common design dilemma that a lot of people face in their family rooms.  How should you set up your living room when your fireplace is off-center? Off-center fireplace in a living room space

Family Room Built-Ins

Serena mentioned wanting built-ins, so let’s first chat about adding those. We absolutely adore built-ins because they add lots of vertical storage that is hidden. Plus, they increase the value of your home. But, they can definitely be pricey (up to $5,000+) so we understand that they’re not always the right solution for everybody. Symmetrical white built-ins around a fireplaceBecause Serena’s fireplace is off-center, you couldn’t do traditional built-ins (like Bridget’s above). Instead, we would suggest doing a built-in wall unit all the way to the left of the fireplace and including the fireplace, but not to the right of it. Then you could place the TV to the left of the fireplace, instead of on top of the mantle. Here’s an idea from Studio McGee…

Studio McGeePhoto Inspiration via Studio McGee

Or she could still do built-ins on both sides of the fireplace, they just wouldn’t be symmetrical. Here’s more Studio McGee inspiration for that look…Studio McGee
Photo Inspiration via Studio McGee

This is actually a great option if you don’t want to hang the television over your fireplace (because it will be too high or you’re worried about the high heat!). Instead, you can do a mirror or layered art on the mantle and have the TV to either side of the fireplace.

Family Room Without Built-Ins

After discussing with Serena some more, she decided to forego the built-ins for now to save money and she came up with some layout options using Modsy (or favorite way to visualize a room!). Here’s the first layout option…

Using modsy for a living room layoutYou still get some vertical storage with the bookshelf on to the right of the fireplace, yet you don’t crowd the kitchen too much. And on the left, a dresser with some art over it balances it out. Using modsy for a living room layoutHere’s the second option…Using modsy for a living room layoutA long credenza to the left of the fireplace, and a leaning mirror to the right. Using modsy for a living room layoutNot quite as much storage as the first option, but equally as gorgeous! Plus, I’m loving the white and blue hues in the space. Lots of Serena & Lily vibes happening here and I’m obsessed.

Light Fixture Placement

I have a question about light fixtures hanging over tables. I have a pretty good size breakfast nook with cathedral ceilings. The table I have is not too small, but on the smaller side for the room. I really love this one light fixture that is 41” round. If the ceilings are high, is it ok that it’s almost as wide as the table? Also, how high should it hang if it’s in such a high ceiling room? The light fixture we have now came with the house and has been driving me nuts because I think it’s way too small. 

How high to hang a chandelier over a dining room tableFirst of all, what a gorgeous breakfast nook! Those high ceilings and the view of the backyard is absolutely stunning.

I feel like we need to do an entire post about hanging light fixtures because there are definitely “design rules” that we see broken a lot. Maybe our next rookie mistake perhaps?

Anyways, here are our tips when it comes to hanging light fixtures over a table. Our design tips for hanging a chandelier

  • Center the light fixture over the table. Don’t center it in the room. If your junction box isn’t centered over the table, consider a swag light (like Bridget’s!).
  • Choose a chandelier that is about half the width of the table. If you go too big, it will overpower the room.
  • You don’t want to block anyone’s vision when they’re eating, so make sure the bottom of the fixture is 33″-36″ above the table.

However, this situation is a bit different because the ceilings are soooooo high. For a standard room (with 8′ ceilings), the 33″-36″ above the table should work. However, you can bring it up 3″ per extra foot of ceiling. For example, if your ceilings are 10′ tall you might want to hang yours 39″-42″ above your table.

Here are some light fixtures that could look gorgeous in this space…

Painting Wood Trim White

I would LOVE to hear you guys tackle this design question. Wood trim! Our entire house has wood trim. All the doors are wood. I feel like transitioning to white would be insanely overwhelming and expensive. While I don’t love the wood, I almost feel like it’s just the home’s personality because it’s everywhere. So do we just embrace it and kind of go with it as we style the rooms? Wood trim in an older houseThis is a question we get ALL.THE.TIME. And it’s definitely a polarizing topic…some people are horrified at the thought of painting wood, while others don’t really seem to care. We usually fall into the latter camp, but there are some instances when we think it’s a good idea to keep the wood look. Mostly when it’s a historic home and the wood trim has been there for decades and decades (like in Nicole’s gorgeous Victorian).

But for homes built in the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s…we say paint all the wood! The wood trim can often be a bit too orange or red and that will greatly impact the color palette of the rest of the space, especially if you’re trying to modernize things.

Here’s a before and after of our Lowe’s room makeover where we painted the wood trim white…A green bedroom with wood trimPainting wood trim white to upgrade a master bedroomThe baseboards, window casings, and doors all received a fresh coat of white paint and it instantly made the room feel upgraded and bright!

painting white trimBut we also understand that painting trim white is a BIG undertaking, and these thoughts were confirmed when we asked B’s dad to give us the scoop. “Big Mike” is a professional painting contractor and he agreed that it’s doable but A LOT of work, especially taking on an entire house. Outside of sharing the sheer amount of work it is, here’s what he had to say about the dramatic transformation:

  • The first thing you need to do is put a coat of stain blocker, like this one, on all of the trim so that the stain does not bleed through the wood. This is an oil-based product so it has a strong smell, something to consider if you have little ones around!
  • Then you’ll probably have to putty a lot of the nail holes that weren’t visible when the wood was stained dark. The stain blocker (or white primer) will highlight these holes, which will need to be addressed before painting.
  • The wood has probably never been caulked either. After it is transformed into white, you’ll probably need to caulk the finished product.
  • You’ll also have to prime and then paint the trim with at least one or two coats.
  • It’s hard to make a blanket statement on how much a project like this would cost a homeowner to hire out, specifically because everyone’s project needs are so different. But it would definitely run you a few thousand dollars (at least!) to hire a professional.
  • If you do end up DIY-ing this project, most people use a semi-gloss or satin finish on the trim. This way, the trim has a bit of a shine and will contrast against the wall’s sheen.

These are just a few things to consider before you commit to the fresh new look. We think it can be well worth the time and money, but we want everyone to know what they’re getting themselves into before making the commitment! Thanks for the tips, Big Mike!

We Want to Hear From You!

We absolutely love tackling your design problems and think these posts can be really helpful for everyone. If you have a question for us and want our design tips, send us an email at [email protected] with the subject line: Reader SOS.


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.