DEAR GAIL: We have two large niches in our entry and are just stumped on what to do with them. They are about 42 inches wide by 55 inches high and right next to each other. We have a very open floor plan and they are directly across from our dining room and can be seen from our great room. We know we have to do something nice in them since they are so visual in the house, but what? -- Gayle R.
DEAR GAYLE: You do have a large area to address with your niches because you're looking at an area that is visually 7 feet long with the two of them together.
Since they are right next to each other, my first thought is to decorate them in a symmetrical layout. Symmetrical design is where you decorate in a mirror image style. An example would be a fireplace mantel. You would have a piece of artwork in the middle and then on each side of the artwork you place a pair of candlesticks. Then, next to each one of the candlesticks, place a decorative vase with a trailing green plant next to each vase. What you place on one side, you place the identical item on the other, hence a mirror image.
I normally strive for asymmetrical arrangements as they are more interesting. Asymmetrical arrangements are a grouping of items. On the mantel, for example, you would place just a pair of the candlesticks on the right of the artwork and then maybe the vase with the greenery on the left. The items on one side are different from the other, but still visually balanced.
One thought to fill the space is to purchase coordinating pieces of artwork that are fairly large. This is something you will probably need to have custom framed as you could drive yourself crazy looking for it in a store. It doesn't need to completely fill the space since you can paint the back of the niches a bold accent color from your color scheme.
You've probably seen me write about this many times. This is a great place to be bold with your color because, in the end, you don't actually see that much of it. The pieces need to be the same size, versus doing a large piece in one and two smaller pieces in the other. Since the niches are so large and next to each other, two different sizes would feel off balanced for me.
In the front you can place your greens and accessories off center to the outer sides of the niches. This gives an asymmetric feel while still being symmetrical.
Another thought is to find two poster images that are diptichs. A diptich is where you have one image that has been broken into two pieces. Think of a poster that has been cut in half. This would be interesting as you would be continuing the image from one niche to the other.
If you can't find a diptich that you like, you can take any poster and have it blown up oversized and then cut it in half. You also could do this with a custom mural painted on the back of the niche or have an image printed or painted on a canvas.
Another interesting treatment would be to make what's in front the focal point, versus the back. An idea is to paint a backdrop for a pair of great sculptures. Again, I would be symmetrical in the accessories, so I wouldn't place a sculpture in one and a floral in the other. The back should be more than just straight paint; it could be a faux finish, a harlequin design or, depending upon your style, large blocks of color. You also could easily do this with wallpaper and get a great look for very little money.
Now if your dining room is very dramatic, you could mirror the backs and place a wonderful sculpture in front. But with mirrors you always have to look at what it's reflecting. Since the niches are so large, you wouldn't want to reflect blank walls.
One last thought is to put fabric on the back of the niches. Cut a piece of plywood, pad it like a cornice box, cover it with fabric and crisscross ribbon, using upholstery tacks where they cross. This could be dressed up or down depending upon your style. If you have a more glamorous theme, use silk, satin ribbons and small mirrors or pearls. For something more rustic, cover it with burlap, leather strings and hammered tacks.
I hope I got your creating juices going. Send me a picture when you're done.
Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: www.GMJinteriors.com.