More Ways to Waste Time reader Heather writes, "My fiance and I recently moved to Los Angeles, where I'm attending grad school. We scored a beautiful apartment in a 1928 building that has all the original fixtures and details. It was so gorgeous I almost didn't want to put anything in it -- except I did, and now I have a problem.
See, I bought this desk. It's a great desk, and it looks great in the living room. But now it needs a chair. As I discovered upon bringing the desk home, along with the TV cabinet below, the finish is very close to the finish of the window frames, beamed ceilings, and other woodwork. So to add a chair in a dark finish would be putting another piece of heavy-feeling furniture in a room that doesn't have much else (aside from a white sofa). I worry that the space is beginning to veer dangerously close to 'stodgy.'
Can you suggest a desk chair that will keep the vintage spirit of this room alive, or something that will liven up the place without looking, well, out of place? We're also agonizing over what to do about a bookcase. All of my books need to get off the floor!
I absolutely love this apartment, but it's got a very specific look and I'm not sure how to maintain that and still make it young and fun. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!"
First, Heather, the apartment is gorgeous! You totally lucked out on that one. Still, it's a tough nut to crack in terms of decorating.
Like you, I love vintage architecture -- and I especially love vintage homes that maintain their original features but are decorated with modern furnishings. But that dark stain on all the woodwork makes it a little tricky. In magazine spreads featuring modern interiors housed within classic spaces, all of the woodwork is usually painted the same chalky white or charcoal gray as the walls. I wouldn't recommend doing that here -- not just because you're renting, but because it disrespects the wonderful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of your new home.
The way I see it, you have two options for decorating in a way that will make the space feel younger and a bit more lively: Go with the old-world vibe of the place but take it in a sort of rich, bohemian, "souk-chic" direction -- using white and jewel-toned furnishings as a base and layering on lots of details like filigreed metal and exotically patterned textiles.
Or go for contrast and keep everything but the woodwork light, bright, and a bit more modern -- which would provide a clean palette that lets the dramatic woodwork be the star of the show.
Your white couch is a great start for the light-and-bright option. Follow suit by swapping out the desk for a white one, painting it (if you don't think that would ruin the piece), or leaving it as is but partnering it with a light-colored chair. You could give a nod to the historic style of the room in a surprising way, for instance, by splurging on Philippe Starck's Louis Ghost Chair ($410 at Design Within Reach). It has a simplified Rococo form but is rendered in crystal clear plastic, so it won't add an ounce of visual weigh to the space.
Alternately, Restoration Hardware's Martine Chair in white linen ($495) has more unabashedly traditional styling, but the light upholstery keeps the look from getting too heavy and old-fashioned. For a less-expensive option, pick up a traditional-style occasional chair at a thrift store or garage sale and spray paint it glossy white.
As for a place to stash those books, you can't go wrong with IKEA's white Expedit Bookshelves ($199) in any kind of space -- modern or classic -- because they're simple, clean-lined, and affordable, but have tons of storage and display space.
Finish off the room with simple, creamy curtains (I love IKEA's Aina Curtain Panels, $50 a pair, in white or unbleached linen); a light-colored rug (a sisal, white flokati or felted shag, or even a graphic cowhide would be great); and possibly some streamlined modern light fixtures. (Just be sure to carefully disconnect and store the original ones you have now so you can reinstall them before you move out.)
Readers, any other thoughts on how Heather can honor the vintage architecture of her apartment without veering into the realm of heavy, dark decor -- as well as specific desk chair or bookcase suggestions? If so, please post a comment and share them!
(P.S. Have a Design Dilemma of your own? Send it in, along with a snapshot or two showing what you're dealing with, and I'll put it up here for a communal brainstorming session.)