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Decorating My Home

The Difference between Sad and Happy; Before & After

By 04/11/2011January 27th, 201730 Comments

When you live in a space full of large windows and wonderful, south facing light (like my last house), you start taking it for granted. You have a couple lamps for the evening, you don’t need much, because you live in this great, light filled space. The memory of the daytime light carries you through the evening.  If you don’t have lights in every corner of the living room in your house, no big deal.

Then you move into a north facing suite.  Everything about it worked for us except the lack of light.  The space was twice the size of what we had before, the location and the price was right. And it has taken me some time to decorate.  One full year in fact.  By the middle of May when we’ll have been here a year is when I expect my living room to be complete.  That’s how long it has taken me to make decisions, so much longer than if I was decorating for a client.

I had left the pink feather wreath up from Christmas on an old mirror from my last place.  What did not work about the mirror on this mantle was that it looked like I was trying to repeat the same shape as the fireplace cover and failed.  I tried many different combinations of mirrors and artwork before I finally found this one that happened to match the wall colour (below), and it stopped visually competing with the fireplace cover which I painted black.

After – Fireplace grate painted with BM Flat Black Rust Inhibitive Primer or Top Coat

You know when I fell in love with my living room? Last Wednesday night at 7:45 pm.  I arrived home with the mirror and 2 lamps I had bought that day and installed them on my mantle. Suddenly that dark corner mantle, the bane of my existence, the worst place ever to have a fireplace, so wrong and dated on so many levels, came to life.

The mirror (which I installed leaning 3 inches away the wall) reflects my yellow sofa which faces the window so you can’t see it unless you walk right into the living room, and the 2 candlestick lamps on either side (with 25 watt bulbs) bathe that corner with the best ambient light there ever was (I’m ignoring the peach tiles at this current moment, it is a rental after all).

I told a great story about a designer who called himself a ‘lamp tramp’ in my April Newsletter last year, click here to subscribe if you haven’t read it. Basically you must have lighting–especially in your living room–in a minimum of 3 – 4 corners. And if it’s dark or large, you need lighting in the middle, like the one on my sofa table, and every 4-5 feet all around the room, like I do in this space.

My living and dining room are combined and so far I have 12 lights which includes the chandelier and 5 puck lights in the corner bookshelves, and when I’m done I’ll have added 2 more for a total of 14 ways to bring atmosphere to the room I spend the most time in when I’m at home (besides my office of course which happens to be on the South side of the house).

Photos by Maria Killam

Even if your living room does not have the look and feel that you want in terms of the right pieces of furniture, you can always get some new lighting, or even lampshades to give your old bases a complete makeover!

Light is Happy.

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Related posts:

Happiness is. . . Light
A Light Colour will Never come to Life in a Dark Room
The Enchanting World of Atmosphere
Atmosphere; The One Thing you Cannot Buy
Mirrors = Magic + Dazzle

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  • Kathysue says:

    Bravo and Kudos to you for sharing your discovery. I am such a lamp person and probably have too many or at least according to my hubby. Maria I did a post that talks about how many lights an average room should have and I have a little formula that I read years ago on how to figure out how much light is needed in your room. It goes right along with what you are telling us in this post.

    I love your mantels new look and the reflection of your sofa is so pretty in the mirror. Kudos to YOU!! Kathysue

  • Donna Frasca says:

    My two must haves in a room – up lighting and dimmers. Proper lighting really makes such a difference. Do you have dimmers? Talk about mood lighting!

  • Alana in Canada says:

    Wowzers, that's a lot of light. I thought I was doing well with six sources in my 14 x 20 foot living room!

  • Alana in Canada says:

    Oh, and I meant to say, that corner is looking fantastic! I love the reflection of your sofa.

  • Karena says:

    Looks great Maria! I love the mantle; the mirror and lamps make a huge difference!

    Art by Karena

  • Tamara Nicole says:

    I love lots of light, and the more natural light the better (yayyy big windows!) but as for lighting I do love our dimmers . . . just the right amount of light for the time.

    Great post!

  • Hi Maria, I love the way the mantel looks!!!! It's so warm, inviting, pretty, classic, modern, chic, and I could go on. It's so many things at once, most of all, fabulous. I'm inspired! I'm committed to working out my mantel by next Christmas!

  • Babsbussey says:

    Night and day difference! You must have been dancing in the street! Great job!

  • Naturally Carol says:

    Thank you for talking about the mirror and the fireplace, I learned something there. I was just peeking in your mirror and noticed your lovely green cushions on the the yellow and that particular green together..very calming.

  • Linda in AZ * says:

    *** Terrific posting here, Maria! And your mantel looks downright FABULOUS!!!

    Linda in AZ *
    [email protected]

  • Mary says:

    Hi maria,
    Who would have thought to put lamps on a mantel? Genius!
    You are lucky to have a place to plug them in.

  • Kristie at The says:

    i never cease to be amazed when i go into a new client's home and find that they only have 2-3 lamps in their entire house. lamps and accent lighting make all the difference, don't they? i have hated overhead lighting since i was a child. love how you mounted your mirror to reflect something GOOD. how did you hang it to do that?

  • Tammy@InStitches says:

    You're right, it needed lamps. It looks so good now ! I was turning into a little lamp tramp myself years ago so I stopped. Now it's been way too long and I'm itching to get some new ones….

  • Carol says:

    It looks beautiful! Where did you plug your lamps in? I don't see outlets.

  • Donna says:

    Maria..that mantle is just darling!! It's absolutely spectacular! You are right..the lighting is everything. I noticed the same thing on my piano. I brought two lamps from the bedroom..tall thin ones and put them on either end..and suddenly, my focal point was perfect. We have LOTS of lights in the livingroom. But then our house is so dark.

    I did that because of reading one of your older posts. I remember you saying how important lighting was in a dark room. Ours looks so much better because of the extra lamps.

    Your mantle just POPS!

    PS. I've done something on my posts that I think almost no bloggers have ever done. I had to go to a weekly post at least until the first week of June, starting today. I wanted a weekly newsletter format with open out multiple summaries. What an html coding nightmare! Hubby and I searched everywhere and then I had to figure out some geeky guy's quick suggestion for a fix (thank you geeky guy). It makes for a pretty stunning effect for what would otherwise be a long post. I can't wait for you to see it. :o) Living on the edge over here. LoL!

    Gorgeous photos Maria..I just can't get over that mantle. You are amazing!

  • lisa says:

    Very nice! I do believe the candlestick lamps should be 8-12" shorter…they are a bit disproportionate to the mantel and when sitting on that lovely sofa the light bulbs will be in your eyes. I do love to put lamps on my clients mantels as they wash the stone work with a glow and bring dimension to an otherwisw neglected area of the room, but I do caution about the overwhelming nature of the statement.

  • Donna says:

    Maria, Thanks so much for the comment. I'm so glad you liked the ballgown. :o) I treasure your visits and you always make me smile. :o)

    BTW, all of my READ MORE links were disabled! Half of every single topic..was missing. I must have tweaked one too many things. And I checked it so carefully so many times. Can't believe I did that.

    I'd love for you to see how it works. The summaries pop open or expand right in the middle of the post.

    I just fixed it. It really is as amazing of a blogging feature as the photo album feature. Why didn't I ever try WL's album option before now? It's such a great idea and you can resize the display as you like.

    I'd email you but my computer died. I'm using the kids' right now. So fun!

    You don't have to come right over, I just want you to know about it in case you would ever like to try it..or pay someone to do it for your blog. It has so much potential!


  • Cindy says:

    so inspirational! Our LR has one small window facing the woods – all of it facing north. So dark that I can't figure out what I want to do with it. But your fireplace looks so beautiful and you've given me a kick to rework mine! Mirror magic! Thank you!

  • Marlo says:

    That is just gorgeous! It feels so happy and inviting and makes me want to sit back and just take it all in.
    Great idea with the lamps and tilting the mirror to capture the beautiful colours of your sofa and painting. The mirror almost becomes a painting of your room.
    Love it.

  • kao says:

    I always wondered how people with multiple lamps like this actually use them.

    I mean, if you have 7 or 8 lamps in a room, it's not like you run around turning on every one each time you enter that room.

    Or… do you?

    I have recessed lights in my whole house, so I wouldn't know.

    In my next place, I would love to make use of beautiful lamps instead of "built in lighting" to give a room some glowing ambiance….
    but I'm afraid that if I create a room whose ambiance is dependent on having lots of lights, then I'll simply end up with a room that's ugly 90% of the time, because 90% of the time when I enter that room I am NOT going to run to 14 different lamps to turn them all on.

    That's a depressing thought.

    Also, how do people deal with the cords?

    I want to do this, but I just don't know how people make it work in real life!

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Kao,
    That is a really good question. In my living room, the bottom of each outlet is wired to a light switch, so when I walk into the room, the 5 puck lights in my bookshelves, 2 lights on the mantle and a corner up-light beside my entertainment unit all go on with one flick of a switch. So that's 8 lights all at once. You are right, it would be a pain to turn on that many lights but as a designer and someone that understands the power of ambient lighting, if anyone reading this just installed 3 lights into their living room and turned them on each night, that would go a long way into creating a happy space.

    Those lights most definitely do not shine into my eyes when sitting anywhere in the room, yikes, that would be brutal. Whether they should be shorter is a personal aesthetic opinion and they work perfectly for me.

    I have an outlet right behind the drape and an extension cord that is hidden behind the mirror for the lamp on the left and the cords go around a small hook on the edge of the mantle which is hidden by the drape.

    I agree, this would be very hard to do with a regular mantle and only works in this case because it goes from end to end.


  • Tara Dillard says:

    Painting the fireplace brass 'thing' could make your career ALONE.

    Girl, you got "it".

    Then you do the rest of your magic.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  • The SilverLyne says:

    Maria, Love the mantle, love the room, as always… thanks for sharing!

  • Wanda says:

    I have been adding more lights to each of rooms. It makes such a difference. Your mantel is looks great! Wanda

  • Luciane at says:

    Nothing better than start with something that you don't know how much you'll love some day and achieve it by putting your knowledge and personality into a space.

    I'm happy that you're happy where you are. 🙂

    Have a wonderful day!


    Luciane at

  • LaJuana says:

    As usual love everything you've done.

    I wonder if you've written anything about painting brick fireplaces and mantles….It's such a huge decision, one of the few things you can never go back on…

  • Grace @ Sense and Simplicity says:

    Fantastic job on the mantel. You are so right (of course) about the mirror and the soft light looks cozy and homey.

  • Sherri Cassara says:

    What a great before and after. Painting the fireplace grate was genius. Leaning the mirror is a trick I had not thought of – good job! The way it reflects the sofa and your pretty pillows makes the room come alive. That solves the dilemma of a mirror that reflects the ceiling or some other unsightly view. That alone made my day!!!
    I love the lamps on the mantle too.
    Happy weekend.

  • mary says:

    I really enjoyed this article – i have 2 very big slider windows in my den which let in tons of light during the day, but my nighttime lighting is lacking. I have a series of hi-hats on a dinner and one lamp in the corner but it's a very large room and the corners get lost. You mentioned about putting light in the center of a very large room – how do you do that? I can't hide my lamp cords, and sadly candles aren't a great everyday option because i have small children…By the way – LOVE the fireplace : )

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Mary,
    I have a light on a sofa table right behind my sofa which sits in the middle of the room but to the side so there is also a coffee table that I can run the cord under. . . you gotta get creative with a dark room!
    Hope this helps!

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