Dark Wood Living Room; First Apartment Struggles

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    Cassidy Bruen

      Hi Mr. Kate!

      I just started renting my first apartment, and everything is great about it except the living room. ¬†The living room walls are a very dark wood (which I am not a big fan of), and one entire wall is a giant cabinet/shelving unit with glass doors. ¬†The room is also already very dark because it is the basement apartment in the complex, and I don’t have much natural lighting coming in to help brighten up the room. ¬†Do you have any suggestions on how I can make this room look brighter, and maybe do something with the walls without painting over it? ¬†I would say my style is simple, clean and modern, and I would love to try and find a way to somehow incorporate that into this room!

      Thank you!!




      Alexandra Moorshead

        As this is your first apartment I am assuming that you’re on a budget and have tailored my recommendations with that in mind:

        1. I’d place a removable light-refelecting material over the wood paneling of the glass-fronted shelving units. (The shelves will sit in front of the material.) This will brighten the room greatly, and if done properly, will upgrade the look of the shelving unit. Amazon sells a product called mirror on a roll (it would be¬†under $100 for your whole unit I would think). Alternatively, WalMart sells a product called Hygloss mirror board.¬†The boards are the size of a standard sheet of printer paper so you’d have to tile this to fill your glass-fronted units but for about $1 per board it wouldn’t be hard to make it look great for virtually next to nothing. I’d also check at your local hardware store to see what they offer in the way of thin mirror-like material (as they may trim the material to size for you, which is a great bonus). Neither of the products I’ve recommended are true mirrors but that is fine for what you require because real mirrors would likely be¬†too thick to sit behind the shelves – and are expensive.¬†The products I suggested will be thin enough that you¬†won’t need to trim the depth of the shelves. If the shelves are removable, of course, you could have your local hardware store cut glass shelves to fit your cupboards (and you can simply store the wooden shelves until you move). You should be able to attach¬†the reflective material to the wood paneling behind the shelves with decorative push pins or those¬†3M adhesive tabs that are designed to not damage surfaces. For extra brightening, you may want to¬†also cover the shelving interior sides with the same material (cutting it to fit between each shelf). If the mirror idea doesn’t do it for you,¬†a roll of light coloured paper in a great pattern¬†(perhaps with a touch of metallic) would¬†work too.

        2. If it’s removable, I’d remove the shelf from the¬†middle shelving unit that is¬†not glass-fronted. It will visually open the unit and create better balance. You could pop¬†the shelf in a drawer or even just lay it¬†above the¬†bottom shelf so it’s easy to replace when you move.¬†I’d apply the same material you used¬†to cover the other wood panels.¬†By removing the shelf the space could be filled with large- and medium-sized picture frames of different sizes layered in portrait and landscape orientation for visual interest. The frames could rest on the lower shelf rather than be mounted so you’re not nailing into the paneling.¬†Another option would be to¬†find one very large art piece that fills almost the entire open space, or,¬†for maximum brightening, a framed mirror,¬†and layer some items of interest in front of it.

        3. Finally, I’d place something in front of the fire (which I’m assuming is decorative, not functional, as my suggestions aren’t fireproof). A mass of pillar candles of varying heights would hide the antique fire insert. You could DIY pillar candle bases out of various heights of empty upside-down food tins covered with bright or metallic paper (Pringles cardboard containers are perfect for this because they’re so tall and thin).¬†Covering tins in a variety of colours pulled from your room decor and the fire surround tile would¬†look fun and modern or simply go further with the light reflecting idea with a variety of metallics (mixed metals are very fashionable).¬†Of course, if you‚Äôve got the money, you could invest in beautiful pillar candles holders as this is something you can use in all of your future homes, but be prepared that creating a dense “screen” of candles this way will be costly. Another option¬†for hiding the fire insert would be to create a “screen” of tall glass vases filled with plain metallic Christmas balls¬†or spray painted pine cones (baked before to ensure they aren’t¬†harbouring bugs) or billiard balls or just about anything that gives a “collected” look. One final option would be to DIY a screen from a presentation board (a flat board that is free standing on two folding¬†sides like kids use for science fair projects). White ones are sold in many places (which you could paint). Staples (I think you have that store in the US) sells one made of black foam board by Geographics for about $15. A black foam board will stay fresh-looking longer than white if it’s sitting on the floor. A presentation board should be about the right size for a faux fire¬†surround but it’s¬†easy enough to trim to size with an exacto knife if not. You could do anything artistic on this board. I think a collage of photos covering the three panels (some or all printed with white boarders) would look¬†great.

        Have fun with your decorating!

        • This reply was modified 7 years ago by Alexandra Moorshead. Reason: HTML code was added when I pasted my original message so I edited it to move the code
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