Designing a Great Room Designing a Great Room

Q: I am in the midst of building a new house and am very frustrated because of the Great Room. We designed a fireplace and framed it in with plasterboard. We also have room for cabinets on either side of the fireplace. We are going to have an artist make the fireplace look like stone. What material should the cabinets be on either side of the fireplace? Should they be stained or enameled, and if they are to be stained, what kind of wood? The floors are oak with knots in them. We aren't too sure what material to make our kitchen cabinets. The kitchen is very visible to the greatroom. We are trying to create a rather rustic but sophisticated look. The trim will be enameled.

A: Personally, it's always the Great Room that makes me anxious. I start imagining the Queen coming in, or at least some Lady-Somebody-or-Other, and my heart starts beating like crazy.

But here, I do see your dilemma: you have too many rooms going on in one.

The first thing to consider is whether you really need cabinets on either side of that fireplace. Chances are, in a house with enough room for a Great Room, you have plenty of storage space elsewhere. Won't fireplace-bracketing cabinets only detract from the gorgeous, artist-hewn fireplace?

In designing any room, you want to consider what the focal point of the room is. It might be a 6-foot square painting on the largest wall in the room, or it could be a wall of windows, or it could be a fabulous, imposing piece of furniture. Even in a small room, there is a focal point: a small piece of artwork, a special antique rocking chair, a small fireplace.

Here, you've got a great focal point, which you're clearly putting a lot of effort and money into - the fireplace. Don't detract from all your hard work by framing it with cabinets; instead, let it stand on its own.

If for some reason you haven't mentioned you really must have cabinets on either side of the fireplace, I'd recommend you pick up the oak from the floor, and try to make the cabinets as similar as you can. Presumably you'll have a cabinet maker build these, and you can play with a mix of closed cabinets and open shelves to hold videos or books, or a collection of collectibles.

Precisely because the kitchen is visible from the Great Room, I'd opt for cabinets in the kitchen that are a little different, because you don't want the kitchen to seem just an extension of the Great Room.

Instead of more stained oak, what about oak with a slightly transparent, colored stain? A little color in all that wood would really stand out, but if you used a matte color, it could blend in quite nicely without disrupting the harmony of the overall layout of this floor. Cabinets painted in a color will also give a cozier tone to the kitchen.

Since you're having the artist make the fireplace "look like stone," one possibility is to have the cabinets in the kitchen painted in trompe l'oeil fashion to look like stone as well. Or marble. This would continue the theme from the living room without being overwhelming.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!