The first time I walked through the first floor of my house, it struck me that the house was built in 1924, yet the first floor had a beautiful flow to it, and an open floorplan. The kitchen is separated from the rest of the rooms by a swinging door and a half-stairwell that leads to the basement and the backyard. This was fine with me - I'm not crazy about the contemporary floorplans that slam the kitchen right in the middle of the 'living space'. I don't really want my dirty dishes, and cooking chaos to be exposed to the rest of the house, particularly if I have guests.
However, the remaining three rooms - dining room, living room and sitting room - are all open to each other with two sets of oak columns, oak floors, large windows and leaded glass. Each room has its own particular feature that makes it interesting, and all three rooms flow one into the next so easily. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to finish these rooms without interrupting the flow.
One given was what to do with the woodwork. We stripped, stained and urethaned all the oak woodwork. It had been waxed in the distant past, and in an effort to freshen or update the rooms, the woodwork had been coated with urethane, but no one cleaned it first, so the wax and dirt made the top finish crackle and alligator. Even though the woodwork hadn't been painted, we had to strip and refinish it. Joy. But the hard work was totally worth the investment of time and delay in my move-in date.
The floors also needed a great deal of work to take care of the damage done by the previous owner's dog. 'Nuff said. The leaded glass windows were in surprisingly good shape, so all I did to them was to refinish the woodwork around them and have new storm windows made to protect them from the weather since the existing storms were in pretty bad shape.
After more than a year of work on the house, I still had no idea what colors I was going to use in these rooms. I knew I wanted it to flow, but I didn't want to paint all the rooms the same color. What to do?
One of the guides I used in picking the bedroom colors was the set of Alphonse Mucha posters that I had framed with the plan to hang them in the living room. I loved the palettes in these pieces - depicting the four seasons, and since they would be a focal point for the first floor, I went to them to guide me when choosing my wall colors, even upstairs. The more I saw the colors I had used in the master bedroom and the guest room, the more I liked them (Tucson Tan and Roxbury Caramel - Benjamin Moore). The light played nicely off the paint, changing the perception of color in interesting ways - far less subtle changes than I had ever noticed with other interior colors I had used in other projects.
Once I noticed the way these two colors worked with light, I decided to use them downstairs. I put the Tucson Tan in the dining room - both walls and ceilings. I had wanted a soft color in that room that wasn't too powerful because of the 5-foot oak wainscoting and plate rail that surrounds the room. I also wanted to paint the walls and ceiling the same color so it wouldn't begin looking like a racetrack with a big, horizontal stripe of color around the room and a classic white ceiling (which I am allergic to anyway!!)
After I made that decision, It was easier to sort out the living room and sitting room. Since the sitting room is at the bottom of the stairs, I continued the light gold color (Concord White - Benjamin Moore) down the stairs and into the sitting room. I used the Roxbury Caramel - a peaceful cocoa color - on the living room walls. To connect all these rooms together, I used the dining room color (Tucson Tan) on all the ceilings.
While we were working on the new electrical in the house, my dad wired for ceiling fans in all the rooms since I don't have air conditioning. Since the summers here aren't normally too brutal, having ceiling fans should keep things comfortable.
The large windows on the first floor face west, giving lots of sunlight and warmth in the winter - a good things - but these windows needed to be dressed with insulated drapes to keep this same warmth out in the summertime. This was quite the challenge to do on a tight budget. I finally found the gorgeous blue draw drapes on sale at JC Penney - still a great place for window treatments on a budget. The drapes pick up the blues in the Mucha posters in the living room. I still needed sheers of some description, and double traverse rods to make the draw drapes happen.
I found the lace sheers in a catalog called Touch of Class. I chose a wheat gold color which I thought would help integrate the blue drapes with the more earthy tones in these rooms. I couldn't find pinch pleated sheers, so I adapted rod pocket sheers by making my own curtain hooks from earring wire and rose quartz beads. After much searching, I found the traverse rods online. This was one place were it simply wasn't possible to save much money. Traverse rods are just expensive. Period. So it was fortunate that I was able to spend so little on the window treatments for the rest of the house. However, I really love these curtain rods, and they will definitely last a lifetime, so the investment was worth it.
The leaded glass window in the sitting room is divided into four sections. The sides and top are leaded glass and the bottom center is just clear window pane glass. I didn't want to cover up this window - it is too beautiful. The previous owner had wood valances and draw drapes over all these first floor windows, so their beauty was camouflaged. I just picked up a couple tension rods and found some sheer material that I had rod pockets sewn into and I installed the rods and panel on the clear pane, leaving the rest of the window, and that beautiful oak woodwork exposed.
The dining room window has particular requirements since the triple double-hung windows grace a roomy window seat, and this is flanked on the left side by a radiator. Given this configuration, I chose not to put curtains directly on the windows; rather, I put a 12-foot long, double traverse rod across the face of this window nook and made it a one-way pull to the right, so all the fabric gathers on the right side of the window seat and balances the radiator (sporting a new cover) on the left side of the window. I had a cushion made for the window seat, and I look forward to spending some quality time lazing in this window once the weather warms up in the spring.
While we were at it with the electrical, I asked for a box in the window seat so I could hang a light there - the nook was hardly noticeable before in all the darkness that was the dining room. We also put recessed lights in the corners of the dining room - these are on the same dimmer switch as the window seat light. I found a really cool dimmer switch on the Classic Accents website, so it looks like a vintage push button switch, but is really a push on/off and dimmer. Way nifty! All of this accent lighting really brings the dining room to life and counteracts the dark wood. I also chose a carpet with a light background, and used upholstered parsons chairs instead of wood dining chairs to reduce the amount of wood in that room. I didn't want to detract from the gorgeous wainscoting, and I didn't want the room to feel like a dark cave.
I didn't have a 'grown-up' dining table, and when the room spoke to me, it said 'give me a trestle table.' So I was on a mission for a nice trestle table. I found a couple in catalogs, and they were OK, but if I was going to spend any kind of money on a dining table, I wanted to get the nicest table possible, and I hoped I could get something that would be heirloom quality. On one of my many and various web searches, I found a site that represented many Amish furniture builders. They had so many trestle designs it took me months to decide what to get. Their primary wood was oak, but since the room is super saturated with oak, I spent a little more and had the table made from cherry. The table is absolutely stunning! I had a piece of glass cut to protect the top - wise $200.00 investment to protect my 'heirloom'.
Furnishing the living room also required new purchases. There was really only one full wall in this room, and it is open on two sides - one side opens to the dining room and the other side opens to the sitting room. So the traditional sofa/chair/loveseat wasn't a good option. I found a 3-piece mirrored cabinet set from Home Decorator's - I ordered a pair of them, put them together to make one 12-foot long cabinet set and hung 'the Mucha girls' above them. This gave me a great deal of closed storage for my books.
I chose a rug with a simple pattern for the floor so it wouldn't fight with the upholstery or the girls. Then I found a round cocktail table online (of course!) for a very reasonable price. The only thing left was upholstery. I had decided to do a grouping of four chairs - two of one style and fabric and two of another style and fabric. I ordered these chairs from a local furniture store, and the solid fabric that you see on two of the chairs was my third fabric pick. I kept selecting fabric, and then I'd get a call saying that the one I picked had been discontinued. Any of the fabrics would have worked beautifully, but I really do think third time's a charm. I love these fabrics together. The best part is that the rooms still flow beautifully from one to the next - the patterns, designs and colors all work well together, and my Mucha girls keep it all focused.
The sitting room was even more of a challenge to put together because it is the connection between upstairs and down, and it has no full walls. I decided to use one upholstered chair, and an ottoman in one corner, put a curio beside the door that leads to the storefront, and tucked a reproduction Duncan-Phyfe table and a cabbage rose lamp (both having belonged to my grandmother) in another corner. The floorlamp I found on Overstock.com, and the carpet is Home Decorator's - again.
I filled in the spaces with things that I have had and loved for years (my Wizard of Oz collection populates the curio), and I cannot even describe the pride and satisfaction I feel every time I spend time in these rooms. I am looking forward to cuddling with my dog in the window seat, running agility with her in the backyard, and then coming in to relax in the living room. I am looking forward to having dinner with friends at my new dining table, and most of all, curling up with a book in the sitting room.