Century-old living room gets modern twist

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Real Estate

Katarina and Tom love the character and charm of their 100-year-old house, but they admit that adapting the century home to modern-day living was a bit of a challenge. Back when the house was built, one common living room was all anyone ever needed.

Fast forward to 2012, and it's a totally different story. Katarina, Tom and their two rambunctious boys have just one space in which to live, play, work and entertain. The family's attempt to introduce the trappings of modern living into this stately old space resulted in a jumble of multipurpose furniture and a mishmash of electronic equipment, with wires and cables snaking everywhere across the floor.

There's no doubt this room presented several design challenges -- among them, a lack of usable wall space, which was broken up by windows, doors, radiators and a nonfunctioning fireplace. I definitely had my work cut out for me, but I do enjoy a challenge. So I devised a plan that merges old with new, and tradition with technology.

First, we tackled the fireplace. It hadn't been used in 50 years, so we expected it would need work -- we just didn't realize how much. We had to call in a chimney expert to repair and insulate the exterior brickwork and insert a stainless-steel liner down the entire length of the chimney. Just when we thought we were done, we discovered that the hearth was not structurally sound. In fact, it was ready to fall into the basement. Major repairs were needed before we could even contemplate bringing in the brand-new gas-log set I had ordered.

As you would expect, Katarina and Tom's living room featured a plaster ceiling and walls. The room had only one dim ceiling light, and I wanted to brighten things up by installing recessed lights and a couple of elegant wall sconces, along with state-of-the-art, ceiling-mounted speakers. We replaced the old ceiling with a more modern equivalent, but applied molding to give it a traditional look. The walls were covered in elegant, glass-beaded striped wallpaper, which is the perfect backdrop to this multitasking space.

One of the things that Katarina and Tom love about their century home is the radiator heating system, but the heating elements took up quite a bit of space. The solution was to construct customized covers, which conceal the heating elements behind a stylish screen while creating much-needed display surfaces.

Throughout this project, the emphasis was on using each and every square inch of space, and the custom cabinetry I designed for the perimeter of the room is no exception. The cabinets house the family's audio and video equipment and provide a surface to display lamps, pictures and accessories. Katarina's desk is flanked by lots of shelving, providing plenty of storage for files and books. Best of all, the cabinets hide the unsightly wires and cables from all the modern gizmos and gadgets.

I positioned a rich brown sectional sofa directly across from the now-functional fireplace and added a couple of comfortable yet classy chairs and an ottoman to round out the room's seating. The thin legs and open bottoms of the antique-mirror coffee table and side tables help create a feeling of spaciousness. The traditional shape of the mirror over the mantle evokes the room's historical roots, while the woven wooden window shades work to transition the eye from the beautiful gardens outside to the elegance inside.

Katarina and Tom had become bogged down by the challenge of introducing modern technology into the living room of their stately old home. The space was full of promise, but also full of problems. A multitasking theme was central to this design. Space-saving solutions and cutting-edge equipment, combined with just the right emphasis on tradition, brought this living room into the modern age without sacrificing any of its classic style.

(Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV's "Candice Tells All." For more ideas, information and show times visit hgtv.com/candice-tells-all/show/index.html.)

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