Too Much Space? Divide to Conquer


By Rose Bennett Gilbert

Photo courtesy of Marco Ricca

Q: Our great room really lives up to the name—it’s nearly 30 feet long and 20 wide. There’s a large fireplace on one long wall; the other is all windows. How should we arrange the furniture in such a large space?

A: Find ways to break the space up into more human-scaled activity areas; say, center a seating arrangement (sofa, chairs, coffee and lamp tables) by the fireplace; a desk, game table or dining table at one end of the room, a piano or second seating area at the other.

Your best allies in subdividing space are area rugs and lighting. Use a rug to demarcate each activity area—coordinate the colors and patterns but forget about making them match.

Lighting is also an effective way to create psychological divisions in open spaces—why I suggested lamps and lamp tables for the main seating area. Make it the main bright spot in the room, and everyone will be immediately drawn there. You could use hanging lights or chandeliers for general overall illumination, but a warm circle of light at or below eye level will claim that space as special.

Along with table lamps, consider standing floor lamps, including those ever-chic brass apothecary lamps. The trick is to be sure that every seating piece in the grouping is lit well enough for comfortable reading.

Speaking of great rooms, New York designer James Rixner faced an enormous challenge, literally, in this 65,000-square-foot architectural treasure built at the turn of the 20th century for financier/sportsman C. Ledyard Blair, who entertained like royalty—hence, the 30-by-60-foot grand salon we show here.

Never mind the vanishing-point perspective. Rixner made it livable by creating a pair of mirror-image living spaces, each centered on a fireplace, each lit by a dazzling Baccarat crystal chandelier and anchored on an area rug. By breaking the soaring space into human-sized symmetrical arrangements, the designer managed to make it as suitable for intimate gatherings as for grand, formal occasions.  See more of his design magic at



Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of “Manhattan Style” and six other books on interior design.

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