Tuesday, January 26, 2016

If You Are Buying, Building, or Renovating a Home in 2016 - Please, PLEASE - AVOID the Following:

Most often posts on my blog are about what-to-do, but today this post is about what-NOT-to-do in order to love your home more.  I have the great privilege of being able to go into many different people's homes and help them out with their spaces.  It seemed like in 2015 I was often called into homes to help address some of the same problems over and over again - which is why I feel the need to speak out now - before it's too late for other homes.  These are problems that are not easy to work around - because the problems lay in the way the space has been constructed - which can not be easily changed.  So please, PLEASE, for the love of all that is good and holy - if you are buying, building or seriously renovating a home in 2016 please AVOID the following 5 things:


The biggest culprit I saw in 2015 was the corner fireplace.  I don't know why, but it seems like a bunch of home-builders decided this was a good idea - it's NOT, and I'll tell you why:  

When designing a space, the first thing you want to determine is a primary point of focus.  That primary focal point is where the attention and direction of the room is focused and everything else falls into place around it.  Focal points should be clearly defined and organized in a hierarchy (primary, secondary, tertiary. . .), and should not compete with each other for dominance.

Primary focal points are almost always the most commanding architectural feature of a space (like a fireplace, or big window, etc).  Thus - when you have a fireplace in a room, it should be the primary point of focus - not a side thought.  If you are going to put a fireplace in a space, it should be centrally located where it will be easy to arrange everything else around it. My favourite is smack-dab in the center of the main wall of the space - not stuffed into a corner.

Being side by side, the TV /fireplace and piano are competing for attention, but because of the corner fireplace there's nowhere else for this piano to go . . . 
I know corner fireplaces can be made to look nice in show-homes - but it's easy to make show homes look nice because they don't have real people living in them with real stuff!  Don't be deceived!  Corner fireplaces limit furniture arrangement possibilities (most often you are limited to a L-shaped arrangement), and eat up wall space (because it impacts the two walls they are attached to instead of 1).  They become really difficult when another element that commands attention needs to be included in the space (like a TV, or a piano - or both in the case of one of my clients!), because the two features when placed side-by-side (which you often have to do because you have no other choice) will compete with each other disrupting the hierarchy and creating confusion!

There are very few ways to pull off a corner fireplace well.  The best is in a very large, open space without much else in it.  This maximizes your options for furniture arrangements.

If you're reading this too late, and you're already stuck with one of these suckers, the best thing to do is to give it more prominence by pulling it up all the way to the ceiling.

If you can't do "best" try for "better."  We couldn't change the position of the fireplace in this home and the piano had to stay in this room - so we cleaned up the decorative arrangement above the piano centralizing attention by using a round mirror and some lamps.  Then we drew the fireplace all the way up to the ceiling, kept the TV above the fireplace and balanced it out with tall drapes on the window.  It's not the best, but it's better.

If you also have a TV in the space, place it above the fireplace, NOT beside it.  This way you are combining these two attention grabbers into a single focal point instead of dividing them into 2 competing ones.

TV & fireplace combined in a single focal Point

Corner fireplace & TV placed side by side in 2 competing focal points.  I don't know where to place my attention - the TV?  Or the fireplace?  


Next to walls, nothing divides space more effectively than flooring.  Chopping up flooring makes space feel smaller and limits options for function and aesthetics (determines what the space can be used for and restricts how furniture can be arranged).  When it comes to flooring - particularly in open and connected spaces - less is always better.  Ultimately if you can be consistent with just 1 flooring type in the space that is ideal, but two can work if they are different mediums and you are using them to specifically and purposely divide spaces with different functional purposes (ie: a tile/carpet or /wood/carpet or tile/wood).  3 different flooring mediums in an open and connected space is pushing it.  It can be skillfully done, but is best avoided, and I would never do more than 3.  DO NOT put different selections of the same medium next to each other (carpet next to a different kind of carpet, tile next to a different type of tile, etc) and don't put fake wood (like laminate or tile wood planks) next to real wood - ever.


Sometimes people will build these in simply to avoid having too many blank walls.  DON'T!  There's nothing wrong with blank walls!  Blank walls give you multiple options - small alcoves limit your options.

Decorative alcoves often draw a lot of attention to whatever is put in them.  They are great for displaying famous pieces of art in European cathedrals - but they most often seem out of place in average homes and the main challenge to residents is: "what the heck am I going to put in there?" Decorative alcoves tend to create a "shrine" effect.  They draw attention and give importance to whatever they display - and most often, average home owners don't really have something of great importance to put in them.  Most often they become cluttered with trinkets or become collecting points for junk.

Large alcoves can be great, and can enhance the function and character of a space - but that is because they are big enough to support different options.  Small alcoves are limiting, and you're better off to just avoid them.


When I see this, I often think to myself that it would have been better just to carry the walls around the closet up to the ceiling.  Maybe the dead space could be turned into clever hidden storage accessible from the other side that would actually be useful.

These seem to be have been a real trend for home-builders at one time and I see them frequently in homes that have been built in the last 20 years.  Again, they can be made to look OK in a show home where there's no real people with real stuff living in them, but often they're a pain in the butt for real home-owners.  Much like the alcove, the question is always what to put on them.  They limit options in the space, and inevitably just get cluttered up with junk that collects dust.   It kills me - because most often something like this is unnecessary, it takes up floor space for no real purpose, takes extra time and money to do, and a lot of time and money to undo.  Save your money and your sanity - just don't do it.

If you want something to decorate with - use shelves.  Shelves can be nice and they give you options. If you don't like them in 5 years you can easily take them down and do something different.  Built in ledges leave you stuck with only 1 option or a major renovation.


Again, a popular trend among home builders that is often a thorn in my side.  These can add more softness and flow to a space, and are often more resistant to chipping than conventional 90* corners - however they are a pain because they again they limit options.  How so you ask?

Well, let's say I want to use more than 1 colour on the walls in a space.  Rounded exterior corners are great for flow, but not so great for separation.  If I want one colour on just one side of the wall It's really hard to know how and where to divide one colour from the other on a rounded corner, whereas it is clearly defined with a 90* corner.

Unless you are a master finisher - they also make the application of trim and moldings difficult because there's no easy-to-cut right angle.  This can limit you from being able to apply any kind of paneling effect that you may want to add to a space.

This just hurts me . . .
There are probably a couple of other things that I could add to this list of do-nots, but these are the main 5.  The trait that they all have in common is that they limit the options of what can be done with your space.  When creating a space, I like to have as many options available to me as possible, which is why the restrictions imposed by these things bother me so much!

For most people, the purchase of their homes will be the biggest investment they will ever make, and I hate to see people spend money on things that will only be headaches for them later.  I want you to love your home - to love being there.  Avoiding these things will help!


  1. My home has all but the alcoves, and that is because it is only 1100 sq feet. And we have a cutout/ high bar to look out from the kitchen into the living room instead of a peninsula/ island. Our fireplace has a window on the wall next to it, so we will need to fill in the window before we can take the fireplace all the way to the ceiling. Thank you for the ideas with the piano and fireplace. That is how I have mine. I sadly also have the computer in the room and get to figure that out- with the high bar and sliding glass door. :)

  2. Rounded drywall corners....arrrrgggggghhhhh for all the reasons you said. I also have the niches, ledges and a corner fireplace. This home is driving me batty lol

  3. Like the last photo :)
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    Maria V.

  4. Building your own home is great because it allows you to have exactly what you want in it. I have noticed that working with a local custom home builder has helped tremendously and allows me to get my own interests across while they can help to tie that into the home that is going to be built for me on my land.

    Van Lucas @ JPC Custom Homes

  5. I wish to thank you for your excellent advice in this post. My hubby and I had been considering building a corner fireplace and a small alcove into our new place. Now, your in-depth post has me at least reconsidering the fireplace, and we will definitely go for a bigger alcove that offers more function.

    Carry Scanlon @ Chim Chimney

  6. I have a corner fireplace. We are total electric in the house and the gas fireplace gives us heat in a power outage. Its not easy to decorate because its wide and deep. And we have a large entertainment center alcove on the other wall. I also have rounded corners in the living room. Its not that big of a deal to me.

  7. Thank you for your advicdes in this article.They are very helpfull and inspiring for people who want built or rebuilt their house.I have many years experience at making furniture and decoration: https://sofa.gr and i loved the article and the informations that you gave.

  8. I bought a house that was really run down and got it for a great price. I learned something from my dad that really has fared well. If you are buying to eventually flip, always buy the worst house in the best neighborhood. As soon as you own it, the value increases just because of the local fair market value of the surrounding houses.

    Troy Fleming @ Don Mills Builders

  9. We are renovating and decided rather than paint this time, we spent the extra money on siding. I recommend it to all your readers. Not only does it create instant curb appeal, no more touch ups all year, it insulated the house, it can easily be washed with a hose, and it really holds its look for a very long time.

    Joshua Reynolds @ Bullseye Siding

  10. Nice blog. Really much more helpful for those people who are going to buy, build or renovate their home. Here 5 things describe to avoid these. Also, you have to keep the furniture at the right place so that the room looks attractive. Recently I built a new home and also but some furniture from Mrfurniture.co. It is a trusted furniture store of Tampa Bay Area. Thanks a lot.

  11. Ahhh, the memories! We had a corner gas fireplace in our living room when we bought our house 5 years ago, it was hideous! I grudgingly agreed to live with it for a bit - I wanted it gone but my husband thought it would be cozy. I painted it out white (it was oak with a flagstone veneer) and it looked marginally better but a year later, we ripped it out with no regrets. So I completely agree with your assessment - corner fireplaces are a bad idea.

    Now the curved corners, that is interesting - my husband renovated our basement and used curved corners. They look terrific, it gives a nice soft feel & we get many compliments on them. But the entire basement is one shade of white so that is probably why the curved corners work well.

    I am grateful our house has no alcoves or decorative ledges, never understood the appeal of them.

    I so enjoy your blog. Thanks for posting the couch re-upholstery tutorial, I am going to scrutinize it when I attempt to redo a couple of old 50's armchairs.

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  13. Thank you for making this astounding article, informative and knowledgeable!! We have so much to learn from this. Anyway, If you are interested and looking for
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  14. Curved corners look really nice in my opinion. I don't care to have 4 multiple color walls in my main living space so it's not an issue for me.