What to do with an off-center roman brick fireplace?

Living-room-roman brick fireplaceReader Lisa is having some trouble figuring out how to make her off-center retro roman brick fireplace work for within her living room design. She initially wanted to paint the bricks white to match the built in bookshelf next to it, but her husband is a purist and prefers his brick au natural. How can Lisa make the room more aesthetically pleasing to her and still keep the natural brick for her husband? I’m thinking she was on the right track — but needs to reverse her thinking.


Lisa writes:

Hi Pam and Kate-

I love reading your blog – it’s definitely made me appreciate my 1954 rancher so much more.

Roman brick retro fireplaceI have a retro design dilemma though, and need your help!  We have a Roman brick (as I understand) fireplace that sits asymmetrically at the end of our living room with a built-in shelf next to it. Previously, there was a 1980’s fireplace insert covering the fireplace, which we just removed (yay!), but now I’m not sure where to go. All the neighborhood houses have had the brick painted white or tan over the years – I initially lobbied for that option, but my husband is very anti-paint on original brick. I also read the blog on your site about staining brick, but I’m not sure if that’s the right solution for me either (is my brick too dark for that?)  We recently painted the grey on the walls, which helps ‘tone down’ the red, so I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should just live with the brick the way it is – you know, ‘love the house I’m in.’ And beyond the bricks, I’m not sure what to do to the structure of the fireplace – does the asymmetrical thing work?  We could cut the bricks off the side to make it centered in the space and with the hearth, add a traditional mantle and drywall above, remove the built-in in the corner – I’ve reached the point where I’m totally stuck. Help!

Built-in bookshelvesOur style is definitely artsy/eclectic with a little splash of collected random collected furniture thrown in (and a couple things left over from college that need to be thrown out!) Hubby is an arts and crafts furniture builder on the side, so there’s a lot of that influence in our home (I’m still waiting on a few key pieces for this room, clearly).  We also have a family/extended family of artists, so we do our best to incorporate their work into our home – which is wonderful, but challenging at the same time.

Roman-bricks-retroI’m so hoping that you pick my room to help with – I’d love – no wait, I NEED a fresh perspective!  And I’d love to do my rancher justice – I didn’t even realize how great it is until I started reading your blog (which I stumbled across while researching shingle colors last summer).  Thank you!


My key tip: Paint the built-in bookshelves to blend with the brick wall

Lisa — I think your fireplace is related to my house. I have probably the exact same roman brick covering 3/4 of the exterior of my retro ranch. That being said, I agree with your husband — I wouldn’t paint this brick — it is really beautiful just the way it is. Instead of painting the brick to match the bookshelf, why not paint the bookshelf to blend with the brick. By painting the bookshelf a medium brown that coordinates with your fireplace — it makes the whole wall on seem like one piece — thus reducing the off-center look. To further “center” the fireplace opening, try getting a tall plant (real or fake if you have a black thumb) to put on the other side of the room. The plant will occupy some of the “extra space” on that side of the fireplace and make the opening feel more centered.

Living-room-warm-creamy-wallsI asked Lisa — even though she just painted the walls grey — if she would be game for Pam and me to each suggest a wall color for her living room for fun. Lisa says she is always open to suggestions, so Pam and I both set out to pick a color and also a rug for the space, keeping in mind Lisa and her husband’s love for Arts and Crafts style furniture and wanting to tone down the brick. I chose a warm creamy color for their walls (similar to Sherwin Williams Inviting Ivory) to tie in the color of the brick without bringing out the red tones. The rug I chose — found on Overstock.com — coordinates with what is already in the room and also has an Arts and Crafts feel to it.


Pam noticed that Lisa had green curtains and suggested a green from a story she wrote about Arts and Crafts paint colors — from California Paints called Jukebox. I found the green rug to coordinate with this color scheme from Shaw.

Living-room-grey-rugEven if Lisa didn’t want to change the grey walls, adding a rug to the room would help pull it together and make it feel more finished. This hand tufted grey wool rug from Overstock.com would be a good option.

UPDATE– After several suggestions from readers wondering how the wall color would look wrapped around onto the bookshelf, some further “digital painting” was done and the following shows how each wall color would look if it were carried onto the bookshelf.




Lisa, I hope I’ve given you a few ideas on how to make your space feel more symmetrical — without painting your brick fireplace.

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  1. says

    I really dig this fireplace.
    I say embrace the asymmetry. Paint the bookcase white to SHOW OFF the uniqueness of the design.
    Also, there seems to be a lot of furniture in this room. If there is a way to cull a few pieces and open it up a bit it would allow for showing off this really great fireplace. I know that can be difficult if this is a family room.
    Use the architecture as part of the design rather than disguising it.
    I vote NEVER paint original brick. (Unless damaged)
    Looking forward to seeing the solution you come up with.

      • says

        Something else I was thinking about, the focal point is around the TV. These houses from the 1950s were designed before everyone had TVs. With our house we tried to make the fireplace the focal point that the furniture is designed around. So maybe the furniture could face the fireplace with the TV in the corner by the bookcase.
        This is a tough one.

      • says

        I was initially confused, also. My suggestion would have been to, if the bookcase were to remain white, put white frames on the pictures, or put in an artificial plant/tree with white leaves on the left.

        But I like several of the other ideas as well.

    • sarahjaneb says

      I agree with embracing the asymmetry, but I would paint the bookcase a bright contrasting color rather than leave it white.

  2. puddletowncheryl says

    I agree with Kate. Asymmetry doesn’t sit well with everyone. I love it, but it can be offputting to some. Most people prefer one over the other. So paint the shelves to unify the wall and add a rug and rearrange the furniture like James suggests. You’re so lucky to have a fireplace, so make it your focal point.

    • Kate says

      Exactly puddletowncheryl. I am fine with asymmetry myself, but Lisa specifically wanted a solution to make the room look more symmetrical.

      • pam kueber says

        You are right, Kate. Lisa: Take my suggestion to paint the bookcase the wall colors with a grain of salt — as you wanted “symmetry”! There is not right or wrong on this – just a preference. Also, there is such a thing as “balanced asymmetry” — a term I learned from a reader in this 10-second poll we did a while back — http://retrorenovation.com/2009/04/08/symmetry-or-asymmetry-you-choose/ — and I have adopted it as an important design idea/concept now!

  3. Carrie says

    I have the exact same issue with my fireplace, it is way to one side of the room. I ended up putting a flat screen TV above the fireplace, since the fireplace was the off center! focal point anyway. We have some kind of program that can rotate family pictures/landscapes on the tv, so it is rather like having an ever changing picture above the fireplace. I thought I would hate it, but now I think it is fine.

    • Olivia says

      Yes, I think putting the tv above the fireplace, or to the left of it, and focusing the furniture in that direction would help the fireplace feel less out of place.

  4. pam kueber says

    Kate and I talked about the furniture position and where to put the TV, etc. In the end, I suggested we leave things as is. I recognize that there is no “right” answer on such questions, but my personal view is:

    Yes, our old house living rooms were not designed with the idea of big screen TVs in mind. But, we have them now. I have one. I personally believe: Just deal and arrange the furniture to face the TV as best it makes sense to really watch the TV. It’s a form vs. function thing, and I personally choose function — because we love to watch TV and want to be as comfortable as possible doing so.

    Also, I don’t really ascribe to the “above the fireplace” placement — for the same basic reason: TVs are best viewed when they are at about eye level.

    If you turn all the furniture toward the fireplace and put the TV cater-corner (sp?) in front of the bookcase, I think the room is really too narrow to arrange TV-viewing seating comfortably and still have entry/egress. In addition, I don’t think that aesthetically it would look all that pleasing to have a big fireplace hole next to a big TV hole.

    One thing I *would* consider and might try, if it were my house: Put the furniture on the wall, put the TV in front of the window. Add sheer curtains under the draperies. In this way, the TV would not be reflecting window light when you watch it. And furniture sits so nicely on a hard wall. And in this case, it seems like the fireplace is a little closer to the window, so you’d buy a few inches of depth where the sofa would sit. Yes, you would have a big TV in your window. But the situation is what it is: We love our bigscreens, and they are only getting bigger. Lisa looks like she ain’t even at 50″ yet. She’ll be there soon enough, I bet!

    Or, keep the TV where it is. You still need to block the light coming in from that window when the TV is on….

    TV stories:



    One more thought re possibly better integrating the asymmetry: Paint the bookcase the same color as the wall color, not while, not brown…. but “wrap that wall around”. In this way, I think the asymmetry of the design could make even more sense.

    Again, just my two cents….

  5. says

    In one of our houses (built in 1955) we had a fireplace just like that and it bothered me no end. We hardly ever sat in that room. I love how this room looks with the book case there, and painted to coordinate with the fireplace. RE: The furniture, I would switch the loveseat and the recliner. It seems to me that would balance the room nicely.

  6. Andreas Jordahl Rhude says

    Good grief, do NOT paint the brick. You and every future resident will curse the day it was painted. Embrace the beauty of it. It is the focal point of the room. Have a small seating area facing the fireplace.

    If ya really hate it so much, hang floor to ceiling curtain panels to cover it up. Go wall to wall. This way you don’t see but if you want to see it and/or use it, just pull the curtains back.

    • Jocelyn W. says

      I agree, Tamara. I would:

      – Paint the bookshelf the same color as the walls.
      – In order to balance out the asymmetry, I’d have the main piece of furniture in the room be an l-shaped sectional (or sofa and love seat), with the long side on the window wall and the short side looking toward the fireplace.
      – Then the TV could be placed opposite the window wall, either mounted or on a credenza.
      – I’d also get a bigger piece of art to mount above the fireplace, probably metalwork (and wide rather than tall), which would both blend and contrast slightly with the brick and existing furnishings.
      – Instead of mounting the art centered above the fireplace opening, I’d place it slightly to the left to improve the room’s balance that way.
      – And I think the suggestion of a plant in that corner is a good one.

      I know this is a lot of changes, but I think it’d all go a long way to making the room fit together in a way that looks deliberate.

  7. Paula says


    I think your idea of moving the tv in front of the window and the furniture against the wall is spot on. If nothing else, those sitting on the sofa or in the recliner would not have the bookcase in their line of vision. It would be to their side and not as obvious. It doesn’t look like the tv is overly big so it shouldn’t block the window that much. I put mine in front of a double window and changed out the furniture it was on for a shorter piece to minimize the blockage.

  8. John says

    Hi all,
    I’d address several design issues. 1) either paint the bookcase to match the brick or wrap the wall color onto the bookcase as Cheryl suggest. I’d never paint brick but use an erasure pad on the soot marks..

    2) move the couch away from the fireplace, it’s too heavy. Place the heavy furniture against the wall so if your not watching TV you can look out the window. Placing the TV in front of the window would block the view so you might try placing TV kitty corner by the fireplace or on the other side of the window. I actually used one of my bedrooms as a TV room that way when you have friends over you can enjoy conversation in the living room.

    3) gray or green works well for wall color and accessorize rug and curtains accordingly.

    It might help to remove all the furniture and bring pieces back in one at a time starting with the heavy pieces and profess to lighter pieces till you have it down. You might fine one or two chairs fewer works better.

    Good luck and have fun!!

    Warmly, AtomicHipster aka John

  9. Saundra says

    I agree with Elaine, that switching the love seat and recliner would balance things visually. Another easy way to further balance the book case after painting is to put brown and tan spined books in the case. Or at least move the books with white spines toward the floor and therefore behind the furniture. Then what you see is the same color as the brick.

  10. lynda says

    To me the cream/yellow walls and the arts and crafts rug look nice. I don’t mind the fireplace to one side of the room. The bookcase may look best painted the same color as the walls so it does not stand out but makes the end wall not look so heavy. I would remove the furniture in front of the bookcase and instead put a very long a more substantial looking credenza for the tv. I think the tv should be mounted on the wall and since the credenza will be wide, decorative items can go on the sides and even in front (under) the tv. Balancing pictures on either side of the tv would give more weight to that side of the room so the fireplace does not dominate. I agree that the loveseat and chair should be switched out. If there is money, I think I would look for Morris chairs for tv watching. I think they are very comfortable. They can often be found on Craigslist. This would fit in with the craftsman look that she seems to be going for. I would not prefer a tv in front of the window because when you wanted to open the drapes for light, the back of the tv would be exposed to the outside, and I do not like the way that looks. I agree that the tv above the fireplace is awkward. Maybe a metal sculpture above the fireplace would lighten up the look too.

    • Lisa says

      It’s funny that you mention a Morris chair – hubby is refurbing one for this room as we speak. Hopefully it’ll be done soon! I agree – it’ll look much better than the overstuffed recliner.

  11. John says

    Ps I hadn’t seen the brick shelf under the fireplace so the TV won’t work in that corner. Under the window seems like the best place.


  12. Nancy says

    Rather than a tall plant in the corner, how about stacking art work vertically, floor to ceiling, to balance the bookcase?

  13. TappanTrailerTami says

    I’m with both Kate and Pam, and then myself! I’d paint the bookcase…I also want the fireplace to be more of a focal point…..you have a husband who is woodworking friendly….so:

    I’d paint it for now….but I would have your husband make a floor to ceiling bookcase, but instead of being flat, have it angle on to the other wall, and my TV would go on it (like clear out shelf two/three and put your tv there), and then I would have a mantle that went over the fireplace and carried clear across the bookcase. Essentially, I’d end up with a partial bookcase, entertainment center at that end of the fireplace (better with a semi angled cabinet) and then arrange furniture to focus on the fireplace/tv cabinet/bookshelf combo since they are on the same wall.

    PS – I like the green scheme!

  14. Meredith R. says

    Lisa, I love your brick wall and fireplace, asymmetry and all! So I agree with not painting the brick. But what I’m really interested in is the shape/layout of your living room, which looks very similar to the living room in my 1950 colonial. It spans the entire front of the house, with the fireplace at a short end, like Lisa’s but centered. There is also a picture window similarly placed, i.e. closer to the fireplace end. What I can’t tell is where the doors are in Lisa’s room. In our house, the front door opens in what would be the left immediate foreground of the photos here; directly opposite it is a doorway to the kitchen. Then down at the other end of the room, near the fireplace and lining up roughly with the far half of the window, is a double door to the dining room. I have really been wracking my brain about how the furniture was intended to be arranged in this room. You can’t make the fireplace the focal point without blocking the dining room door and leaving a big old empty space at the other end. Likewise, if you put the tv in front of the window, the couch would block the dining room doorway. (The tv is not our main concern; it’s not big, but it’s there and the kids watch it.) To complicate matters further, there is no hallway between the front door and the kitchen — the room is fully open to the stairway on the other end, but with an implicit hallway there. I feel like there are supposed to be two seating areas – one on each end of this long room. But I don’t know quite how to do that, given the restrictions noted! Does anyone else have this issue and what have you done about it?

  15. Annie B. says

    Leave the walls gray and paint the bookcase to match the brick of the fireplace. Then, perhaps use a large starburst clock over you mantel.

    I adore Roman brick in any color; quintessentially MCM.

    • Diane in CO says

      Yes! I agree with this post (and some others) I wouldn’t paint the brick, but my first impression in looking at the room was “the sofa is in the wrong spot!” The furniture generally needs to be rearranged, culled, decluttered if they can’t afford to replace for a more MCM look.

      The fireplace is not the problem; the problem is the disorderly arrangement of everything else in the room.

      Remove the turquoise thing from the hearth, remove paintings hanging on brick, add a sunburst, paint the bookcase the most-subdued hue in your bricks, take all the furniture out of the room and add it back one piece at a time, starting with a better placement of the sofa. Find another place for all the items on the furniture surfaces, i.e., de-clutter.

      Good luck! Lots to consider in these comments!

      • Jim says

        I thought the same thing… too many little tables and too many knick-knacks; generally too much clutter. And the sofa isn’t a sofa. There seems to be some attempt at making a long sofa out of a love seat and chair.

  16. says

    I love your suggestions of painting the bookcase to blend in. I would take it a step further and try to have like shade of objects on the shelves to further blend in if the asymmetry distracts you, personally I would embrace it.

    Love the rug idea, it really did unify the different things in the room.

    Painting brick in my book is a sin akin to painting knotty pine, don’t do it! Might as well just have the much cheaper finish of drywall there instead. Embrace the era in which your home was built.

  17. Yasmine says

    I love your fireplace as is! I would paint the walls a similar green to the one that Pam suggested and carry that over to the bookshelf – a matte paint for the walls and gloss in the same colour for the bookshelf to really make the fireplace its own focal point. If you have another bookshelf in another room maybe you could move all of the contents of the bookshelf onto that and keep the one in the living room for period-appropriate figurines, knick knacks, etc. Right now the brown couch and chair are blending into the fireplace, so rearranging those so that the fireplace is not obstructed by anything of the same or similar colour would probably make it pop. I like the suggestion of a plant and I would put one on either side of the fireplace and embrace the asymmetry.

    • pam kueber says

      Yes, I also like the idea of “mixing things up” on that bookcase. We have built-in bookcases in our living room. We need it for books… but also have carved out space here and there for decorative items. It makes a huge difference. On TV they call this styling the bookcase – and it’s a great idea! I also agree: Walls painted flat, trim semigloss.

  18. JKaye says

    Hi. I think I would try adding some more color to this room before doing anything more drastic like painting bookcases, walls or bricks. I already see some little touches of gold, orange and aqua blue in this room, in the painting over the fireplace, the stained glass in the window and in that basket on the hearth. I would start with some colorful pillows on the couches, maybe a few colorful pieces of glass or a couple of colorful pots holding plants on the tables, and a rug with some of those colors. If I wanted to try changing the bookshelf, I would advance to maybe just putting color inside of the shelves, such as burnt orange. The reason I wouldn’t jump right in and paint the entire bookshelf is because it looks like the rest of the trim in the room is white. So I would want to make sure how I felt about two different colors on trimwork in the room before I repainted the white trim of the bookshelf. I would get some paper and cut it to fit in the bookcase niches before actually painting, to see if I like the notion of color in there — try out several different colors.

    The last thing I would do is paint the bricks, because it is the hardest to unchange. We painted over some dirty grungy dark red brick, and I don’t really regret it, but, sometimes I wonder: What if I had just picked a different wall color; maybe the original brick would have been OK.

    As for whether there is too much furniture — I bet that periodically Lisa and her husband have a bunch of people over and they pull out all the chairs from the walls and have a great time together. It looks like a well-used room where people are happy, and it just needs to be tweaked a bit.

    • Kate says

      Painting the inside of the bookshelf is also a good idea. I think a burnt orange would look nice, however — in her letter, Lisa mentioned they painted the room grey to “tone down” the brick. I’m thinking she may not be a fan of reds and oranges in decorating. Perhaps she could try the same suggestion using the green from Pam’s color scheme instead.

  19. Nancy A says

    This is a great fireplace. Don’t paint the brick! Currently, the eye is drawn to the bookcase rather than the hearth. I would simply rework the bookcase into a either a 3 shelf bookcase, or a lower cabinet with simple doors. This would create wall space and allow the eye to rest. The fireplace would feel more centered and you would have some wall space for a nice piece of your art.

  20. Robin says

    I actually like Lisa’s original layout best. I think the grey works great with the color of the fireplace and I’m not a fan of grey walls. But unlike Lisa, I love the asymmetry of the fireplace. The living room reminds me a lot of my own with the big fireplace (although mine is centered) and picture window. Mine is also a long rectangle with a fireplace at one end. The only things I would suggest would be to:

    1) Remove a few pieces of furniture, it’s too cluttered in the room. I love Lisa’s antiques but they make the room feel small and crowded. The scale of the furniture is also wrong – big fluffy upholstered furniture and Arts and Crafts tables and chairs look a little awkward together. I struggle with the same problem because most of my pieces were purchased second hand or were cast offs from friends and family. At some point, replace the sofa and recliner with matched pieces with clean lines to mimic the tidiness of the fireplace (something I still can’t afford to do in my own home, sigh). This is a living room that begs for some clean and airy mid-century furniture.
    2) Definitely add an area rug to pull the room’s colors together.
    3) If you really hate the asymmetry, paint the bookcase to match the walls.
    4) Of Pam and Kate’s suggested color schemes, I like the lime green the best. But I still think the grey looks nice.
    5) DO NOT mount the TV above the fireplace. It’s a look I really don’t care for – somehow it makes the TV seem like a trophy, like a deer head. At the very least, it makes a big, loomy black square on the wall.

    • Robin says

      I guess what I should have said was – paint the bookcase to match the fireplace if you don’t like the asymmetry. Personally, I’m jealous that you have an asymmetrical fireplace but do what makes you happy.

  21. pam kueber says

    I am really into this one, haha. I just had another idea. Lisa says her husband makes arts and crafts style furniture. How about: Rip out the bookcase, and rebuild it with quarter sawn oak in the classic A&C finish. This would “blend” with the bricks similar to brown or brownish red paint. Use period appropriate hardware if you want to add doors on the bottom of the bookcase. Match the hardware to whatever screen you put in the fireplace.

  22. pam kueber says

    Here is what the commenter said:

    “Symmetry is an illusion. Balanced asymmetry makes for good design, good living spaces (architecture and gardens), relaxation and tranquility.I think more people need to learn about Wabi Sabi.

    We talk a bit about wabi sabi in my collage class. My very minimal understanding was that is was sort of “the imperfect is perfect.” I need to learn more. I think I will luv wabi sabi.

    • tammyCA says

      When I took Japanese Art History in college and learned all about the asymmetry, but balanced concept they are known for…it was an a-ha type of moment for me…it clicked that what I was drawn to was asymmetry in design/art (also, I always feel off kilter anyway..lol.)

  23. lisa says

    I think she should extend the grey color to the bookcase, but paint the back (behind the books) olive to match the curtains, and tie it all together with an area rug. Also, I think it would look best to have only one art piece hung on the fireplace brick. Something a little larger might be better than what is there, but at least remove the smaller painting.

    You’ve already gotten decluttering suggestions, but I will be specific: remove the lamp table and chair that are near the tile floor area and replace with a narrow table/chest OR with a large piece of art. Hang the TV on the wall approximately where it is and get rid of the piece it is sitting on OR if you need that to store DVD player & other stuff paint it to match the walls so it blends in and disappears. All your other furniture looks fine to me, but you might consider a larger, square-shaped ottoman and some colorful throw pillows.

    Finally, consider hanging your art so the top line is the same height for all pieces around the room, and arrange each group into a grid-like pattern. I think that arrangement can help traditional-looking wall art meld nicely with a more modern setting.

  24. Sara says

    I love the fireplace! My fireplace has the same brick, but mine has pink mortar. I am so glad you’re not going to paint the brick! I love the idea of painting the bookcase to “match” the brick and I like all of the wall color options, especially the green. I love love love arts & crafts style and I think green really sets off the wood tones. So many great comments above…I’ll just say you have a beautiful room and good luck/have fun!

  25. Kelly Wittenauer says

    You have a gorgeous mid-century modern fireplace! Instead of trying to traditionalize it with paint or, worse yet, a mantle – try embracing the modern. It cries out for a star burst clock or some metal & wood artwork instead of the paintings that hang there now. I like the asymmetry, but if you prefer to minimize that, painting it to match the brick seems to do that best. Remove the soot stain from above the fireplace if possible. I like the idea of a swag light to the left of the fireplace. And agree with Pam about swapping the furniture layout. Your window sits high enough to get away with the TV in front of it, especially if you put it on a slightly lower stand. I also agree with those who’ve said the room needs a bit less furniture.

    Meredith R.
    Our last house had a difficult to furnish living room. I found that not limiting myself to furniture placed against walls helped. For example, where you mentioned the implied hall from front door to kitchen – an L-shaped sofa with one leg along a wall & the other extending along part of one side of that “hall” might work. Perhaps with a credenza or sofa table behind.

  26. Sarah g says

    I painted me fireplace and have never looked back, it looks so much better but mine was a really dark red brick. If you do paint it I would suggest anything BUT white… Too stark! I recommend Manchester tan or bleaker beige by Ben Moore

  27. says

    Since you already have a taste for Arts and Crafts I would suggest you look for inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright. The horizontal lines of the brick fit into the Prairie and Modern style. I’d look at photos of Fallingwater or Usonian homes to get ideas.

    The colors the furniture and brick want are earth colors; greens, Cherokee Red, and warm oranges and ochres and maybe a textured grasscloth on an accent wall.

    You can mix Arts and Crafts and Modern. It doesn’t have to be an either/or.

  28. bux1234567 says

    After reading the owner’s original request and other people’s comments, I’m wondering if balance, simplicity and organization is what the owner really wants, and not strict bi-lateral symmetry.

    If indeed balance is what you’re after, I offer this:

    1. Leave the brick unpainted.

    2. Paint the walls and bookcase the same color. The gray in the last image offers enough contrast in hue to make the fireplace remain a focal point, but the gray’s and the brick’s similarity in weight/darkness still holds the room together. I’m afraid that the cream and green paint schemes disintegrate the room.

    3. A wall-to-wall, textured carpet will also integrate the room, as well as add warmth, without introducing more complicating lines to an already busy room. While adding an area rug might help anchor the furniture, the rug’s perimeter introduces more uneccesary lines..

    4. Place the couch along the wall opposite the window and center the couch on the window. This placement will balance the room side to side, and, because the depth of the couch is also about equal to the width of the bookcase, makes the bookcase make more sense.

    5. Center the television below the window. Consider a console storage unit to contain the TV. This will give the TV some weight to balance the couch, as well as conceal equipment. Also, having the TV away from the fireplace means that these two focal points don’t compete with each other. Keeping the TV low is not only more in keeping with the mid-century period, it also is more natural for viewing. The viewing angle for humans at rest is about 5 degrees below horizontal. Given this, placing a TV up high, like over a fireplace, just creates a strain. Last of all, this placement prevents glare on the TV screen.

    6. Get larger draperies that run floor to ceiling. On the right side of the window, take the draperies all the way to the left corner of the fireplace. I’m not sure what’s happening to the left the window. Ideally, take the draperies to the next left inside corner. This further simplifies the room and will give the window more presence. It also creates a clean back drop for the TV.

    7. Place a square corner table to the right of the couch, and then place an armchair perpendicular to the table. This makes an L-shape arrangement of your couch, table and chair—good for conversation, TV viewing and fireplace viewing.

    8. Getting a slimmer couch and armchair, like Crate & Barrel’s Petrie sofa, would also help. Your existing upholstered pieces, while nice, have much heavier proportions than the sleek, horizontal proportions of your Roman brick.

    Looking forward to seeing what you actually do. Good luck.

      • Bux1234567 says

        Hi, Pam, yes, I’m a contract commercial designer, mostly designing office spaces, but I’ve also designed for restaurants, senior-living communities, and retail.

        What really brings me to Retro Renovation isn’t what I do for a living. I, like so many others on the site, own a mid-century-modest house—in my case, a 1955 split level. Your manifesto expresses my sentiments on mid-century-modest housing exactly, and your site’s a continual resource as I “love the house I’m in”—such great information so well presented with enthusiasm, insight, warmth and wit. You do such a great job. Thanks for the site!

        • pam kueber says

          Awe, thank you, Bux, you made my day! I feel like a rank amateur compared to you when making my suggestions! Glad you are reading — and contributing!!!

    • nina462 says

      Thanks bux! I entered my comment way below, but then forgot to mention that I did purchase a 1960 RCA console tv, that I will be putting in front of my window, and then rearranging my furniture so that my room will be more ‘square’ than ‘rectangle’…and that the tv doesn’t compete with the fireplace.
      In fact, I had an old tv guy come to the house to look at the RCA, and he was amazed at it. He also would install a newer tv in the cabinet if needed, but he managed to get the RCA working with cable. Wow!
      Can’t wait to rearrange my furniture this weekend – thanks to Bux suggestions.

  29. Kate H says

    If it were me, I’d rearrange the furniture, and here’s why:

    This room is full of separate little units – three chair/lamp/tables for reading; sofa and lazy boy for TV watching; fireplace. There’s no focal point. Think of this instead as one unit and don’t arrange the furniture as if it is a great room, which may need separate little areas. Put all the chair/lamp/tables somewhere else where people may want to read. On either wall, center the sofa, with the lazy boy at a right angle facing the fireplace, and a table and light in the L. Maybe get a coffee table, maybe not. Center the TV on the opposite wall. Next time you buy furniture, get it all at one time and all in one color (which is not black or brown) and make sure you can see the feet. That way it doesn’t look like it’s designed for asthmatic giants.

    If you center everything else, the off-center fireplace will look right. If the fireplace were centered, you’d want to make everything else off-centered (which is what you’ve got now).

    Alternatively: Hire a house stager for a half-day and let her tell you what to do with what you have. And get two teen-aged boys to help move it, it looks heavy. You can pay them in pizza. This is so much easier and cheaper than hacking at your fireplace or buying rugs or repainting.

  30. says

    It’s probably too difficult to do with Photoshop, but I wonder what happens if the back and interior of the bookcase is painted gray, and the face of the bookshelf left white or painted to match the bricks.

    I think a gray interior would add depth.

  31. Larry says

    I hope I’m not repeating a suggestion already posted, I’m throwing this in on my lunch hour and didn’t have the chance to read them all. How about building a matching bookcase on the left of the fireplace? It would of course be a bit skinnier than the one on the right but maybe it would visually ‘scoot’ the brick section toward the center just a bit. You could even leave the brick there but just sort of cover it with the new bookcase. That way if you decide you don’t like it, you could take the bookcase down and the original brick would still be there.

    • Diane in CO says

      I had that very same thought when considering this design problem a few days ago. I wish Kate could “photoshop” that second bookcase into the room so we could see how it looks!

      Also, I would play with facing the sofa toward the fireplace with a sofa table behind it. (NOT touching any wall) That could separate the room from the main entry, assuming the front door is just off to the left in the picture.

      Also, the color of gray on the walls just misses the mark – it’s too BLUE-gray. Look at the mortar; it is a WARM gray. Just painting the walls the warm gray (paler, lighter tone) of the mortar would help! Look better with green drapes as well. The blue gray against the drapes is not attractive, to my eye. Other wall color options are good as well, but the blue-gray doesn’t seem to go with other elements in the room, which seem to be “taupe-ier.”

      Lisa, hope you aren’t sorry you asked all of us for advice!! :-)

        • Larry says

          Yep, you’re right, the fireplace isn’t really centered but I’m thinking that the second bookcase might sort of trick the eye, and it might ‘appear’ more centered that it does now. But then again it might even draw more attention to the dilemma. I think a photoshop session might indeed give us an idea, but I have no clue how to do that. :)

  32. chase says

    My vote would be to paint the bookshelf either the color of your mortar on the fireplace, or even a deep deep brown or black. Embrace the asymmetrical style.

    If you want an idea of what these colors would look like, I did some mock-ups in Photoshop:

    Seeing as your taste in furniture is a little more traditional, I’d probably also suggest a small piece of moulding between the bookcase and the ceiling. Something VERY simple, however (like the end table you have next to the bookcase and what your lamp is sitting on next to the window.

  33. Kelly M says

    I don’t think the bookshelves are original. If it were me, I’d rip them out. Without them, I think asymmetry of the fireplace would make more sense.

  34. Scott says

    I had the same dilemma in my 1954 ranch… a not too large living room overwhelmed by a massive fireplace that dictated an extremely limited furniture arrangement.

    I probably took the most extreme measure possible, having a false wall installed over it! This may seem like madness but the proportions of the room magically fell into place and now I have a big showcase wall for my Zenith console stereo as well as some of my favorite paintings and lamps. The room feels infinitely more clean and modern now (modern in a 1950s/1960s kind of way) and it literally changed the entire vibe of the house.

    PS And before anyone panics, the fireplace is sitll there, perfectly intact, hidden by some simple framing, drywall, and moldings, waiting for some future owner to rediscover it.

  35. Nancy EC says

    I love grey walls, but not in this room. For me, the grey seems a little cold with that lovely brick. I am a fan of the green walls. But if nothing else, at least get rid of the white on the bookcase. Too harsh and jarring. Either paint to match the walls or the fireplace. Is it original? If not, consider having hubby build a beautiful and ‘arts and crafts -ish’ bookcase in quartersawn oak or go mid-century and have him do something in ’50’s appropriate wood.

  36. nina462 says

    I am having the same dilemma, with an off center fireplace. Someday I’ll send it in. My living room/dining room is one big room, with an off center red brick fireplace in the living room. There is a bookcase to one side (it’s only up to waist level, no top shelving). I used to put my tv on the other side to make some symetry out of it.

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one with a off center fireplace.

  37. Jim says

    I agree with Diane in CO. There is nothing wrong with the fireplace or the bookshelf. The problem is the furniture placement. To begin with, the love seat is too close to the fireplace (WAY too close), and there seems to be an attempt to create a long sofa from the love seat and recliner. If at all possible, get a long sofa and center it in front of the window. Place the love seat to the right of the sofa at a right angle facing the fire place and put the recliner in the corner in front of the bookshelf. I realize that the current arrangement might be the most comfortable for watching TV but it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing and it’s crowding the fireplace.

  38. Lisa says

    I agree, don’t paint the brick. You may regret it later. Paint the inside of the book shelf the same color as your walls and leave the outside of the bookcase the way it is.
    Also paint your curtain rod the same white color as the outside of the bookcase to bring some cohesion to the room.
    You need some larger elements on the left side of the fireplace. The pictures you are currently using are too small for the space. Something large and eyecatching to also balance the bookcase on the right.

    • bux1234567 says

      About wall art: You may want to consider grouping your individual pieces of art into a proportionally tense, larger composition of perhaps seven or eight pieces that collectively form a large rectangle. This would be in keeping with the symmetry-asymmetry of the fireplace and the original period character of the room. It would also address the fact that your individual pieces are underscaled for the other elements in the room, which is the reason why I do not recommend peppering them as singles and duos throughout the room as they are shown in the photograph. What I’m not quite sure about is where this composition should go and whether the composition should be vertical or horizontal. If you arranged the furniture as I described in an earlier post, to the left of the fireplace opening you would have an open, unobstructed, clean area in which you might place a vertical composition that’s about as wide as the bookcase and which would run from just above the hearth and just below the ceiling. The composition of art to the left of the fireplace opening would be about as tall and wide as the bookcase on the right of the fireplace opening. You may actually like having nothing above the fireplace opening itself. A close example of this approach can be seen in the Stephen’s fireplace from the first two seasons of “Bewitched”. (Their house as originally decorated was a great example of blending traditional with modern and symmetry with asymmetry.) I have pictures of this and would like to share them with you, but I don’t know how to post them here. Good luck! 😉

  39. marta says

    I would not paint the brick. I’d remake the bookcase with better hidden supports, doing away with the vertical stabilizers in the front which cause the eye to stop short when looking at the bookcase. I would then stain or paint the bookcase to match the fireplace emphasizing horizontal lines similar to the bricks. This will make the room seem wider.

    If finances allow, I’d get rid of the overstuffed furniture currently blocking the window, and put two slim/low love seats on the opposite wall, one backed to the wall across from the window, the other at 90 degrees facing the fireplace, with front corners touching to create a space for a square table with a lovely big mcm lamp on it. I’d put another lamp table and big lamp in front of the window centered, with the Morris chair currently being rehabbed on the left of it, angled toward the bookcase corner so whomever sits there is comfortably positioned for conversing with people sitting on the love seats or watching tv. The mission rocker might go on the other side of the table in front of the window if there’s room. If it’s a working fireplace, go with a flat screen above it. If you don’t use the fireplace, put the tv in or in front of it.

    I think you could pain walls whatever you like, bright and cheery, or warm and cozy. I’ve got a long narrow living room, too, with a different set of awkward problems, so am totally relating to yours. Good luck, and truly hope we get the see the final version.

  40. marta says

    Oh, also meant to suggest starting the curtains/drapes at ceiling height to mimic the fireplace height, or mount plates, platters, etc., above the current drapery rod.

    • Marta says

      Darn! I made a much more detailed comment just before this one that said awaiting moderation, but it disappeared!

  41. Sandy says

    I’d paint or stain the bookcase to blend with the fireplace to avoid dueling focal points. The window is big and the room gets a lot of light, so the walls can handle a rich color — Sherwin-Williams Peppery and Ruskin Room green are both beautiful with oak and the tan colors of the sofa, so either would work well. I’m not a fan of the gray walls with all the brown tones. Ruskin-Room Green is from Sherwin-Williams Arts and Crafts collection, and other choices there would be nice as well.

  42. Carl Youngblood says

    That’s a great fireplace. I’m with an earlier post that suggested painting the bookcase black. I say embrace the asymmetry. My second choice would be to strip it and stain the wood similar to the floor. The grey looks terrific but I’d do the baseboards the same as the bookcase (black or stained wood) to tie it all together.

  43. Ruth says

    I know there are two sides to painting the brick, but once its done, it can’t be practically undone. You can try to brighten it up a bit by cleaning the soot stains. We had a fireplace with very porous brick, not gazed at all. Used Oven cleaner and a wire brush and it really perked up. Do you use the fireplace at all? I would look at putting the tv directly in front of it. After all, it’s far more natural and comfortable to look straight or slightly down at a tv, rather than crane your neck up to see one on a mantle.

  44. joanne says

    I have the same thing but no bookcase, just all brick. I do not like it at all, I’ve tried so many variations with decore.

  45. Rebecca says

    I think you should ditch the picture above the fireplace because it draws your eye to that spot and makes it very noticeable that it’s off center. I love the off-center FP, but it’s not for everyone.

    Instead of a single picture above the fireplace, put a collection of three staggered long/tall decorations or pictures above the fireplace. This will make the eye move up and down and not notice what is off-center to the left and right.

    I can’t add a photo, so I mean like this:

    l l

    • Rebecca says

      Wow that didn’t come out like I planned LOL

      I’ll try again, just ignore all the little periods:


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