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Mix It Up

You walk through the room 15, maybe 20 times a day, and you don't see a thing. There is furniture, pictures on the wall, keepsakes on a coffee table. But you rarely notice. You're on automatic pilot.

Then one day you stop. You look around and it dawns on you: Your living room is a bore.

But a major decorating project is not within your budget. If only you could create a fresh look by using what's already in the room. Maybe shift things around a bit, change a few accessories, anything to produce that pleasant little shock of "newness" when you walk in.

To explore that idea, we asked an interior designer and a homeowner to participate in an experiment. Take this living room, we told Greg Lewis of Burdines Interiors. Imagine you live here. Don't spend any money. Don't bring in anything that's not already in the house. Just move things around. Make it look Fresh & Original.

To the homeowner, Victoria Holloway, we gave even simpler instructions: Stand back and let the expert work.

We didn't limit Lewis' time on the project, but in one hour he accomplished what he thought needed to be done. We didn't pay Lewis, but he said most designers would charge $65 to $75 per hour. (Some, he added, won't dispense advice at any price if the customer doesn't plan to buy furniture or fabric from them.)

As it turned out, Lewis tackled the job much like any of us would if we had a Saturday morning to rearrange the living room. First, he pondered where to put the big sofa that dominated one end of the room. When he solved that problem, he moved on to the chairs and tables, considering their colors, patterns and weight _ as well as how traffic moved through the room _ before he chose new places for each piece. Finally, he traded many of the accessories for items he found in other parts of the house. He didn't move any of the artwork on the walls because Holloway didn't want new nails driven.

What's the room do?

Holloway's living room, even before Lewis began work, was more eccentric than problematic. She lives with her husband John Berglund and daughter Majken, 7, in a 1940s-vintage bungalow in north St. Petersburg.

Holloway and Berglund are directors of American Stage, St. Petersburg's resident professional theater company. Their home is full of sculpture, paintings and photographs by artist friends. The living room is furnished with antiques they've received from cast members or that Holloway has found in local shops.

The room's ceiling is sponge-painted a rosy color. A dress form clothed in a period velvet gown stands in one corner, opposite a stained-glass window that throws chunks of colored light onto the oak floor. An arched doorway leading to the kitchen is a throbbing purple.

Good starting points, Lewis said, when he previewed the room. "You've built a tertiary color scheme of orange, purple and green," he told Holloway. "And that's perfect with your coloring."

Lewis admitted he didn't have a game plan as he began removing accessories from the room. "Generally, I'll work up floor plans with a client," he said, "but in this case I just want to play it as I go.

"Anybody who's going to rearrange their living room should consider several things: how they live in that area, to begin with. Victoria has told me this is a room for reading and conversation. They don't watch TV in here. So I want to arrange the furniture with that in mind."

Color balance is another element to consider, he said. "If you're really having a problem working with your colors, take a black and white picture of the room," he said. "You can see the tonal changes. You should have black, white and gray in there. You want those contrasts to make your eye bounce."

Let the moving begin

Lewis then headed for the queen-size sleeper sofa against one wall. The piece was too heavy for the room, he surmised. Lewis and Holloway hauled it out of the room and replaced it with a smaller antique couch with scrolled iron legs.

"Well, guys, I've decided I don't like that sofa in here either," Lewis said. "It's too leggy, plus the pattern against that orange wall in the back hallway is just horrendous. We need the skirt on the other sofa. That brings a more solid feel to the room, especially when all the other pieces are up on legs."

The sleeper returned. But this time, it got pushed into the corner at an angle. Holloway's eyes widened. "I wanted to do that," she said, "But I thought it would eat too much space."

Then, Lewis announced, he wanted to add some warmth to the room. He lugged in a terra cotta area rug from his car (breaking the rules of this game slightly) and unrolled it _ upside down. "It looks like a needlepoint that way," he said. Holloway was all for it. "I've been looking for a rug I can afford," she said wistfully.

Next, he turned his attention to a cream brocade armchair with corded fringe and matching hassock. "John likes it because it's scaled for a man," Holloway said. "But it infuriates me, it's so big."

"It's oversized for the room," Lewis said, "but that's good."

He moved the armchair to the opposite corner, having it change places with a purple wing chair. He did that to create a color sweep across the room, he said. "You pick up that purple as soon as you walk in the door. It pulls you into the room immediately."

Next, he considered a leggy Louis XV console table in front of the stained glass window. He squinted, paused, then decided to leave it where it was. "There are appropriate pieces for appropriate places," he said. "Sometimes a piece may have already found its most comfortable place."

Getting crazy

Midway through the hour, Lewis sat down to ponder. "I'm looking for some color balance in here," he said. "That green striped chair is my problem." The chair stayed where it was, but Lewis moved a tasseled shawl draped over it to the white armchair.

He moved a tall pedestal table that had been beside the armchair behind the purple wing chair. He found a deep purple pot and placed it on the table.

Then, he said, "Let's try something crazy." From the mantle, he took several small raku pots with a crumbly black finish and grouped them alongside a delicate golden art deco vase on the console table.

"You need to break up groupings of like items," Lewis explained. "Here we have a textural contrast, plus the old next to the new."

Then his gaze wandered outside the living room to a hallway leading to the kitchen. The wall is painted in a multicolored design, with a large shadow-box art piece in front of it.

"I want that wall to stand out and draw your eye through the living room," he said as he moved the shadow box, one of Holloway's favorite pieces. "Just because you love something doesn't mean you have to use it. It's really better not to have your whole collection out at once. That way, you have a back-up supply so you can rotate things."

"Rules can be broken'

Finally, Lewis turned his attention to the finishing touches. He found a long needlepoint pillow in the sun room and moved it to the sleeper sofa. He rearranged the paisley mantilla that had covered the back of the sofa, draping it over one corner. He brought in a potted fig tree from the back yard and placed it behind the sofa.

Then he fussed with the hassock of the white chair, finally placing it in front of the chair, half on, half off the carpet.

"That's a no-no," he said. "But rug rules can be broken in some instances. For example, if you have an L-shaped grouping of two couches or a couch and a chair in one corner, you might want to turn that rug diagonally to help make the room look wider."

Then, he said, "we need some solid color in here." From his car he brought in a purple silk throw pillow for the armchair and two rose pillows for the sofa (again, technically, breaking the rules).

Standing back to take a look, Lewis analyzed the changes: "It's a much warmer room now, and you have a better color flow. With the sofa on the angle, the room is more conducive to conversation. And it's perfect for the traffic flow, too. Plus, the whole room is extremely movable for entertaining."

Holloway's analysis? "It's fabulous."

Here's help for a problem room

Need help with your living room, or is there another decorating dilemma that needs an expert eye? Send us a clear color snapshot of your problem room, and we'll run it in a future edition of At Home, along with suggestions from an interior designer on what you can do. Photos cannot be returned. Send them, along with your name, address and phone number, to At Home, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg 33731.

If money were no object

What would interior designer Greg Lewis do to this living room if money were no object? Here are a few of his ideas, plus some general advice:

Glaze the other walls to match the one behind the sofa.

Put a white shade on the floor lamp or buy a more contemporary fixture.

Reupholster some of the furniture to make a better balance of colors and patterns. He would recover the green striped chair in a small lavender and rose pattern. He would recover the big white armchair in a ribbon stripe.

Remove the bookshelf next to the orange wall in the hallway. Replace it with a built-in with glass shelves and lighting for display of artwork. Put a baseboard along the bottom that matches the baseboard on the orange wall.

"And, if I were going to be real funky..." paint the top edge of the crown molding deep plum or coral.