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  • Writer's pictureSusie

Getting the proportions wrong in a large room rips out its soul

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Our family lounge is particularly large and so getting the proportions right is vital because if you get it wrong, there's simply nowhere to hide! Ours was SO wrong before we renovated, and now it feels so right! It's been a long slog to fix it, but we feel like we're almost there now.

When I say it's a large room, I mean it is 6metres (19ft 6inch) in length, 3.6metres (11feet 8inch) in width with 3.4metre (11ft 15inch) ceilings, as it's two rooms knocked together.

Cavernous, right? Sadly, no - it's always felt dark, cold, cave-like and, dare I say, small. Yes, our 21.6m2 (232sq ft) room felt small.

This is despite having 3x double-sash windows in a bay, and 1x other double-sash window, and 1x regular door, 1x overwide opening to a bright North-facing dining area. So this should be a bright, happy, welcoming space but it just wasn't.

Down here in Middle Earth we are in the Southern Hemisphere, so for us North faces the sun

I'm concentrating this post on the chimney wall, as that is where the proportions needed the most attention. It's also the wall where we've done the most work by replacing this wood-burner with an instant gas fire and a new, simplified mantle. Here's the before photo:

Examples of the living room issues before renovation

You can see that the major problem is the unpainted wood-panelled ceiling. It was so so dark, absorbing every last inch of light from the room. Figuratively, it bought the ceiling crashing down.

Many New Zealand weatherboard houses built in the 1910s enjoy soaring 3+ metre high ceilings. Made of native woods, usually Matai or Rimu, the wood panels vary in design, but all are a real talent of craftsmanship
We deliberated for months about whether to paint these ceilings. Now they're painted, we've fallen more in love with them than ever and will never, ever regret doing it

I'd already addressed one of the issues - painting out all the original wood in the skirting board, frames and windows. The 1980s decor with the green carpet and green slate tiling also had to go, as did the mantlepiece which was not original. It was very fussy with shelves and corbels and painting it white had not hidden any of that.

As I mentioned, the proportions were so off, like in the original shelving that flanks the chimney - it's really small compared to the wall, and the gaps between shelves were small so nothing substantial could be put on them. When you look at the line with the bay window ceiling, it stands out even more.

Like the firebox (Kiwi name for an enclosed wood fire), which sat at floor height so you had to get onto hands and knees to throw in some more wood. Like the mantlepiece that seemed to have been squashed around the fire, with odd, unequal spacing at the sides compared to the top. Like the mirror, inherited with the house and hung to look like it rested on the mantle, leaving a large gap of nothing above it.

The flow of the room was weird too, mainly because the hallway door sat in an awkward spot, presumably a left-over from joining the two rooms. It forced any furniture on that wall to be squashed right into the corner on top of the shelves and nearly in the fireplace.

This photo taken halfway through renovations shows you what we did. That's the fireplace installer working hard!

Obviously the painted ceiling made a huge difference, as did changing the old downlights for modern LEDs that can throw enough light down despite the height. Good lighting makes for such a difference.

We replaced the shelving with custom-built modern units that our kitchen company installed at the same time as our kitchen reno. Note how we finished them at the same height as the bay window ceiling. We also added hidden strip lighting above them that throws light upwards.

The carpet has gone, but sadly these original floorboards are in a terrible state from where two rooms became one, so we'll be replacing with new carpet.

We deliberated for a long time about hanging the TV above the fireplace, but decided against this for a number of reasons 1) the new fire is going to sit higher on the wall with equal space around it, which pushes the new mantle up, which would push the TV to a neck-aching height 2) our ceilings are so high that we'd be left with a large gap above the TV that would be strange with nothing filling it, but also strange with a picture filling it 3) building a recess for the TV would require drilling into ancient, crumbly bricks which would affect the integrity of the 1910 chimney.

It doesn't look as asthetically pleasing, sure, but as it's wall-hung, at least it's not taking up floor space and it's at a good height. If we sell, we'll just remove it to show off the shelving by pretending we not slovenly enough to watch TV...

The fire has since been replaced by an instant gas fire which is an absolute delight. This is how the room looks so far. The fire now has equal space around it and sits in proportion to the wall height. The simple mantle is reclaimed timber we found (NZ$40!) and the mirror has been re-hung higher so it also has equal clearance around it.

We've also moved the hallway entrance along its wall - here's Blue wondering what's going on!

Pick a door, any door!

It looks crazy that it's moved such a short distance, but it's had a dramatic effect on the flow and feel of the room: 1) When you enter, you now come in at the back corner, so you can immediately view the sheer size of the room - before, you entered halfway in and had to look both ways to take it all in. 2) Now you step into the room behind the sofas which again shows off the space. 3) The sofa can come away from being squashed in at the shelves and sit properly within the room. Before, the end was almost in the fireplace. 4) The shelves can now be properly admired.

I'll update once we've cleaned and tidied up, and painted, carpeted, added a stone hearth, changed those lampshades...phew! Sometimes renovations seem never-ending, especially when we're living around them.

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