Michelle writes:

Help, AB! Just moved into a small apartment in Philadelphia with ginormous ceilings and south-facing windows (after living in a cave in Brooklyn -- hooray for sunlight). These photos are of the main living/dining/working area, and the counter on the left side leads to the open kitchen. Have no idea what to do with the walls, but I'm loath to paint since (1) it's a rental and I think we have to paint it all back again before moving out and (2) I love the lightbox-y effect the morning sun makes. I'd love to hear any ideas you might have to make this space feel cozier and more interesting. I have some chinese watercolor paintings from my aunt, a sweet fabric map of the Hetch Hetchy before the dam was built, lots of photos of different moods/places/colors taken over the years that could be put to use.

Hi Michelle,

What an amazing space! Those windows are awesome. So the way I see it, your biggest issue is one of scale. You have these huge windows, and crazy high ceilings, but everything in the room is itty bitty, except for your big light. If you have the budget, I'd start with the furniture: maybe a bigger, longer sofa, and a fabulous chair.

Crate & Barrel

This chair from Crate & Barrel is pretty awesome. Or you could find a fabric you like and have your existing chair re-covered.

If that's not in the cards for now, here is what I would do first: take every single accessory out of the room and only bring back a) prized pieces and b) BIG items. So, your little plant pots for example. Why not get one big pot and a HUGE plant that can sit on the floor near one of your awesome windows? Or better yet, a pair?

Jonathan Adler

They don't have to be as big as this. I've heard tell that you can get nice-sized fiddle leaf plants from Home Depot for a great price. You don't have a great colorful pot? How about two of these?

The way I see it, you have way too many tiny things happening and not enough big things happening. That enormous wall is BEGGING to be filled with pictures, or a giant painting, or something you love. Think big:

Nicole Copko

This is not big enough, but you get the idea. The trick here is that all the frames are exactly the same, and hung in a symmetrical fashion. IKEA is great for this -- you can buy 12 identical frames for like $100. The work of hanging them all is a pain, but it is so worth the trouble. On that huge wall, I would do 20. You heard me. 4 by 5, or 5 by 4, all hung evenly.

You can do this very inexpensively: frame pages of your favorite book, a calendar you like, sheet music you bought at a thrift store, or even old magazine covers hung from bulldog clips as the great Martha Stewart once did. Just make sure it's similar, and symmetrical.

Do not, I repeat, do not start the hangings too high. This is an amateur mistake. It will look crazy to you at first, but trust me, I am right. A good rule of thumb is 60 inches from the floor. This is easy for me as I am five feet-ish tall, so I usually just hang things at my eye level. You giants will have to bust out the measuring tape. If you are hanging over a piece of furniture, I'd say start around 9 inches from the highest point of the piece. Quit looking at me like I'm crazy.

The next thing I would tackle is my all-time decorating theory: old, new, fluffy, shiny. You've got old and new. Now you need something fluffy; something with some texture. A sheepskin, a cozy throw, or a big old antique rug. (I would personally do all three.)

IKEA has the best and most inexpensive sheepskins. West Elm will cover you for throws. And you can find great antique rugs on eBay or jute rugs on overstock.com. I can't believe I'm giving away my secret spot, but my favorite eBay store for huge and cheap rugs is Pakobel. It might take a while, but you'll find one.

Also, let's get rid of the baby pillows and buy some new, awesome, graphic ones. Down inserts only, please. If your pillow does not come with a down insert, order a new one from Pottery Barn. It will cost you $12 and their shipping is FAST. You and your furniture will be so much happier, and down is infinitely easier to zhuzh.

How about 4 of the yellow, 2 of the black, and 1 of the multi-colored? All from CB2.com.

Now for shiny. Instead of guitars on the wall, how about a mirror? Or line your sills with mercury glass cups that each hold a flower, or a tea light. I have been known to buy disco balls and randomly place them about the room. Put those guitars on a stand.

If it were my space I would definitely replace those blinds with a fun, inexpensive fabric made into roman shades (they don't have to be made to the length of your window -- who will know, anyway?). Any seamstress can whip up a roman shade for around $100. (This may be only in Louisiana, but I bet you'd be surprised.) Here are some fabric options.

1. New Orleans Toile 2. Premier, Candy Yellow/White 3. Sanderson, Dandelion Clocks

Then I'd spray that coffee table a high-gloss color of your choice and set an enormous bowl full of...whatever on top. Something ridiculous. Lemons, fake artichokes, pool balls, sock monkeys from the drugstore? Yes. Then go to Walmart or wherever and buy 6 baskets to fill with stuff you want hidden: remotes, old magazines, desk paraphernalia, etc. You need it, yes, but no one has to see it. Hide it in a basket.

You can't paint? That's no big deal. White goes with everything, but your everything has to be fabulous. So go out and be fabulous. You can do it! Please report back.

AuthorAB Chao