Go Big or Go Home

By Kate Riley October 19, 2011

Courtney and I got to talking the other day about how much we love well designed spaces with large scale statement pieces.  While small collections successfully grouped together certainly have their appeal and do help to personalize a home, there is something to be said for the wow factor created by a statement piece that begs to be noticed and takes center stage. 

This month Courtney from Courtney Out Loud is back for his monthly insight, offering his best tips for delivering big impact in spaces which demand large scale décor. 

Let’s hear them Courtney! 

“The 1990s ushered in the concept of the expansive ‘great room’ – a large and often double height room that encapsulated the idea of living without walls. It combined the functionality of formal dining rooms living rooms, dens, and family rooms into one massive space.  The great room proved to be a key selling point for families looking for more open living, however, it has also proved to be a constant source of frustration as how to best decorate such a voluminous space.

When faced with rooms of monumental proportions, I look to the words of a former college classmate whose favorite catchphrase was "Go Big or Go Home." Of course he was referring to drinking when he uttered that phrase but nonetheless, the statement also holds true for home decorating. The key to decorating large spaces lies in utilizing proper scale.

Follow these simple rules and your larger space will end up feeling more like a cozy nook:

1. Define the Space From Below. A complaint I typically hear from my clients is that their great rooms are not functional. Upon hearing that, the first thing I tend to ask is if they have segmented the room by use. Sounds simple but so often home owners neglect to divide their great rooms into smaller areas.

By creating activity zones or communal areas for entertaining, reading, and conversation as well as more utilitarian areas such as an office or craft area, the room begins to feel less overwhelming.

l choose to work a space from the floor up, so a hardworking area rug is a worthwhile and essential investment for a large great room. In great rooms, I like to use multiple rugs to define zones, but I find many people are hesitant to use multiple rugs in one room because to them they appear choppy or island-like.

To counter that notion, I encourage them to consider large rugs (8 x 10 or larger) in different but coordinating designs to create seating areas and to avoid the appearance of a room looking like a fragmented hotel lobby.

Deborah Needleman great room ny mag

Deborah Needleman via NY Mag

If the idea of multiple rugs doesn’t sit well, then consider going having a custom rug created.  While extra-large rugs often run thousands of dollars, a inexpensive alternative is to find a carpet remnant and have it bound.  This way, you can create a custom one-of-a-kind pieces for far less than what a custom woven rug would cost.

Susan Diana Harris great room

Susan Diana Harris


2. Keep Your Head Up – Literally.  While I like to start my designs from the ground up, I next turn my focus my attention to what is up above. I think great rooms need bold lighting – those lighting fixtures with visual weight and heft that allow them to stand on their own. 

Erika Ward, Owner and Principal Designer of Erika Ward Interiors sees over scale lighting as an excellent opportunity to take advantage of soaring ceilings, but also as a way to create tension in a room by slipping modern or rustic elements into a transitional rooms without tipping the overall design scales.

Emily Henderson Design Dining Room

Emily Henderson

Large-scale fixtures like the one pictured below create the illusion of lower ceilings which in turn makes for a more intimate environment. As a general design rule, most people love the idea of cozy nooks which are typically lacking in great rooms, so by using large-scale light fixtures, you create lower sightline which makes most people believe a room to be smaller and cozier.

SB Architects

SB Architects

3. Mirror Magic.  Mirrors are the most versatile piece in a designer’s arsenal. Mirrors reflect light and create a sense of brightness in a room and for many great rooms these are two elements that are sorely lacking. Mirrors promote interaction with a room and they visually draw a person in and across a space. Lastly, mirrors can be made in large proportions at affordable prices making them optimal for creating large-scale impact.

Use the qualities of a large open room to your advantage by using an over scaled mirror.  By using an extra large mirror, you are creating a strong visual focal point within a room.  Just remember that mirrors will reflect whatever is on the other side of the room, so pay attention to that when hanging and make it visually appealing. 

Image 6 elle decor

Elle Décor

Image 7 wanelo_com mirror


4. Change Your Perspective.  Most people see the world as flat since science has proven that most people instinctively view the horizontal plane first when accessing space.  In a large room, you need to create opportunity for the eye to travel up. Personally, I love using floral arrangements on coffee tables and in corner nooks to break the horizontal plane and create a sense of verticality in the room.

Image 8 veranda


Arrangements need not be expensive to have big impact. A bunch of curly willow or manzanita branches in vase can provide visual impact and require only occasional maintenance.


5. Make It Larger Than Life.  Great rooms typically have ample wall space, so take advantage of it!  Go for larger than life art pieces to fill the space to add a sense of fun and whimsy.  If large-scale pieces are out of your budget, consider grouping collections of enlarged photographs on one wall. To ensure that collection reads as one cohesive unit, use the same size and color frame.

Southern Living large framed envelope

Southern Living

Image 11 Erika Ward

Ericka Ward Interiors

6. Group Furniture Strategically.  Furniture doesn’t necessarily need to be oversized in order to be effective in great rooms. While over scaled pieces can anchor a space, regular scaled pieces when grouped together and combined with the other rules can easily outfit a room.

The key is pulling furniture away from the walls and creating furniture vignettes. In doing so, the furniture vignettes create pockets for activity and conversation while ensuring that the furniture doesn’t recede into the walls making the room feel empty.

Image 12 Dwell Magazine

Using these simple rules as guidelines, decorating your great room is no different from tackling any other room in your home.”

Wow, thank you Courtney!  I love seeing the difficulties of decorating large spaces addressed and broken down in such simple points, don’t you? Hop on over to visit Courtney at his blog Courtney Out Loud to say hello, or to hire him to solve your design dilemmas.

Do any of you have a ‘great room’?  Have you employed any of these techniques, using large accessories in scale with your room, or do you struggle with pulling it all together into one cohesive space? 





  1. How did you know that I’ve been searching for info on how to set up my great room?! I have struggled with it’s design for 10 years. Vaulted ceiling, huge space, floor to ceiling/roof brick fireplace, loft-style upstairs hallway overlooking the room and lots of wall angles have left me lost on how to tackle it.
    I have only recently come to the conclusion that I need to create activity zones just as mentioned in rule #1. Thank you for the breakdown, I’m looking forward to tackling the challenge!

  2. Interesting post. As someone who lives in a home with two story walls and almost no walls my biggest issue is how to address the height of the walls I do have. I’ve spent the past year and a half looking for art but can’t find an affordable piece. Unless I want to go with the very overdone gallery wall I feel like I’m out of options.

  3. I don’t have a great room (someday!), and what I do have is not-so-great right now, but Courtney’s tips gave me something to think about. I think “Go Big or Go Home” definitely applies–I want to have a few key pieces that leave visitors with a pleasant reaction. Great post!

  4. Great post, Courtney! My little 1952 ranch doesn’t have any great rooms… we’re on a small scale!… but I love some of the ideas you’ve got here. Designing a great room can be a big challenge, so these are some great ideas to put in my arsenal! xo

  5. Good tips to ponder. Courtney. We have a very open floor plan with a great room, and I definitely struggle with how to arrange the spaces. I haven’t been successful with making the vignettes work – maybe I’ll get it someday!

  6. My problem with my great room is that the whole thing was one shade of washed out beige when we moved in (walls, carpet and tile–all the same color. Blech!). I want to incorporate different colors but there’s no real starting or stopping point. It really is easier to decorate small rooms!

  7. This is great – I LOVE so many of the featured designs! Our issue is that our great room walls are primarily windows, with very little wall space to decorate! I guess it’s dramatic window treatments for us!

  8. The problem with my great room isn’t that I’m overwhelmed by it’s size – I’m overwhelmed by it’s ridiculous placement of doors and obvious areas that people will walk through all of the time. It’s technically 24’10 x 17’10, and I’ve got a clear TV area sectioned off (About 16′ of the length) but the remaining space is bisected by 3 doorways and a fireplace – I don’t even know where to start!

  9. This was a great post. As someone with a main floor that is 1200 sq ft, all open, with only one wall separating the kitchen… I have serious issues on how to make it seem like seprate spaces. This gave me some great ideas.

  10. Great tips! I have a shared living/dining room…but it’s certainly not a great room! Luckily it wasn’t hard to arrange the space since it’s pretty small:)

  11. “The 1990s ushered in the concept of the expansive ‘great room’” I completely agree with that! I used to feel like those rooms in newer homes were a gross misuse of space for the second floor. Now I’ve grown fond of it (sadly).

    I love to add mirrors to increase the size of any room. Must blog about it, tweet, and will continue to follow!

    Great Post Courtney!

  12. Great post and tips, Courtney! I’m on board with the mirrors…I tend to default to them. Much cheaper and more neutral than art. My house has some pretty high ceilings and windows…but everything is bigger in Texas, right? And nice use of the word ‘verticality’ — I’m so adding it to my vocab!

  13. My parents have a great room, but it’s an unusual shape so the layout of the room sort of happened naturally. The dining room is in the open space to the right of the kitchen, and the family room is in the larger area with the picture windows.

    These are great tips to keep in mind, though. I especially like “larger than life.”

  14. Great post! I have a “L” shaped great room. We have a Hi-Ranch and the LR, DR & Kitchen have no walls separating them. We love it too. We have cathderal ceilings in the DR/Kitchen area only. For the blank tall wall in the DR, I bought 4 tall framed mirrors that I thought looked liked windows and put scones on each side. I love how it opened up the room. Since we couldn’t afford to put a real window in it’s place. The one other place I want to put a mirror is on the tall entryway wall. I figure it will make the room feel even bigger. Having a “L” shaped large room isn’t the easiest thing to decorate or to figure out where to put furniture, but I like my “areas” that I have made. You can check out my DR here: http://thedecorscene.blogspot.com/2011/04/house-tour-our-dining-room.html

  15. Love your blog!!! I was wondering where one can find those large horizontal frames that are grouped in six in the Ericka Ward Interiors photo?! I have seen the grouped smaller frames but those are amazing! I do not have a great room, instead I have many, not so stylish, small but wish they were great rooms and try to create the feel of a great room. Thanks again!

  16. This made me look around my room (which is one big kitchen, dining, living area) and realize that other than one semi-large mirror, I really don’t have any big statement pieces. Hmm…something to think about.

  17. I do have a big great room and I have used many of the ideas already. The problem that I have still is my mantel. It is huge and the wall above it is huge so accessories on the mantel seem diminutive even though they are not that small. I have never found anything that I am really happy with. Love the huge ceilings, don’t always love to decorate the volume they create!

  18. My current home, built in 1989, has a great room with lots of doors and windows, that makes furniture placement difficult. It’s also been hard for me to get a cozy feel with 14′ high vaulted ceilings. Not to mention heating and cooling that high space! In my next life, I would opt for 10′ high ceilings and smaller rooms :)

  19. I love this post. It’s amazing because I recently pinned 4 of the pictures you’ve included here. I’m already in the process of making the large wire light….I also just ordered the oversized copperish light from pottery barn last week. We must be reading each others mind. I am obsessed with oversized accessoriess….mirrors especially (I pinned the white one you have here last week). I also love oversized paintings , wreathes, lamps etc. I don’t think you only need an oversized or great room to display large accesories though. I’ve seen smaller rooms where they look so unexpected and amazing. Wow.

  20. We close on new construction home around thanksgiving and what I love about it is the great room – 19 foot ceilings, lots of light, etc…but I also HATE the windows that let in all that light!! The model home shows floor to ceiling 19ft drapes. I hate that idea. I love that it lets in light but i live in Phoenix area…sometimes we have had enough of the sun. The window are tinted and I will have exterior sun screens installed to lessen the impact of the sun. I just wonder how to treat these windows. Do I treat the lower ones as i wish and just let those windows stand alone? I am just at a loss…

  21. I have a great room- well technically it’s only about 16′ by 20′ but the ceilings are 23′. Your post really helps to define the areas of consideration in decorating. One thing that really caught my eye though, was Deborah Needleman’s sofa. I love it! Anybody have any idea where it came from? Haven’t been able to find it around the web (yet).

  22. We have an older raised ranch/split foyer where the upstairs was converted into a great room. While I love the fact that I can interact with people while in the kitchen, it’s resulted in one very long blank wall that spans both the dining area and the living room area. I still struggle with how to decorate this wall! I’ll definitely be referencing this post with my next attempt!

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