Working With Challenging Architectural Details

wall panel beveled accent molding

Architectural details are just delightful. There’s something beautiful about getting a home that’s full of interesting corners, details, and add-ons that most places don’t have much of.

But moving in is a reality-check in homes like these. Sometimes, details you originally think are quirky and wonderful turn into a struggle to make “work” in your space. Face it, there’s not a lot you can do sometimes, and then it becomes about accepting the situation and looking at alternatives.

A case study

Last year, a friend and I both moved into really cool character places at the same time and we compared notes as our respective moves took shape. I swooned when I saw her ornamental molding throughout the suite, just like she did when viewing her space. It was the classic framed-out-with-molding panels giving added definition to her high walls and vaulted ceilings. But then reality hit: These built-in paneled accent moldings were now defining what she could and couldn’t do, art-wise — a big problem for a big art collector like her.

With lots of large-format investment art, many of these molded panels were not suited to the pieces she has. And what of the odd smaller framed-out panels just beside windows? Not helping.

She felt defeated as she tried to make her huge canvases make visual sense inside these preset parameters. Finally, she did what everyone needs to do — she stopped working against the design and tried to work with it. Solution? She ordered some custom-size blank canvases, invited her artist friends over, and had a “Painting Party” of an entirely different sort. In the end, she solved her problem and created memories all at once, leaving her happy to store her collection of fine art for a while.

Don’t fight it

Decorating is like quicksand. Don’t fight what you’re working with, and you might just survive. In these kinds of situations where designers are detail-heavy or spaces are oddly planned as if they’re an afterthought, we’re often forced to abandon some design dreams.

Fact is, your space will tell you what it wants to be, or usually it’ll just tell you what it doesn’t want to be.

For instance, my home came with a tiny alcove off my living room. It was suited to very little. Either I relegated it to storage, or I created a useful space that could be functional at 40” by 84”.

It became a secondary office, a little “other” place I can go for brainstorming or use to hide my paperwork, or plug in my laptop for a different writing experience. It took me $25 of lumber and wood oil, and about 2 hours of my time, but the weird little room became a gorgeous little office. Read about that transformation here.

closet office 1

Such a tiny room could also become a wonderful reading nook with some floating shelves installed over a nice beanbag chair, which was another thought I had. It could even have a built-in “day-bed” type scenario to create  both an adult-friendly reading nook and a private little spot for a visiting friend to spend a night.

The common fixes

There are so many architectural details that we think are terrific before we move in, but then can become challenges once furniture hits the space. Think of short feature walls, exposed beams, full-height support pillars, exaggerated moldings, dominant fixed lighting, limited power outlets, huge windows — all of these things are both wonderful accents but choice-limiting features.

The important thing to remember is, if they’re breaking design rules, then so can you. If there’s an odd divisional space where none of your furniture works, it’s crying out to be an art wall or a place to add built-in or floating shelving, or a home for large tropical plants.

If you’re staring at a problem spot, stop staring. Take a photo and some measurements, and plug that into your phone, so you’re always able to jump and check out the space particulars in case you’re out in the world and spot a potential space-saving solution.

Solve it, don’t hate it

It’s frustrating when you move into a new home, super-excited to arrange things, and realize your early vision for the space no longer computes. Relax. That’s just how it goes.

Nearly every space has some shortcomings. Your home is like a one-size-fits-all t-shirt: It’s not appropriate for everyone. It’s close, but you gotta do what you gotta do to make it fit.

The outlets are where they are. The walls are where they are. If your furniture doesn’t fit, consider changing your furniture up. Look for interesting pieces that might fit in weird corners — say a tall vase, an African rain stick, a standing floor lamp. Find art that hides your flaws, like how I’ve covered an expose-but-dead cable with a shadow boxed art piece. Embrace large, bulky features by not trying to hide them, but instead complementing them with other things, like with gorgeous plants, or propping a beanbag or floor cushions against it.

In the end, when you solve these weird design things, you’ll feel even more in love with your home. That’s what happens when you overcome adversity together — a bond forms. You’ll love your home for having shortcomings that work for you, and it’ll be the beginning of a long, affectionate relationship. Hang in there!

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