Michael Del Piero:
Replace sofa with two smaller ones, facing each other. Hang a drape in front of the room divider, with artwork or a large mirror. Michael Abrams: Close opening over fireplace, remove painting, mount flat-screen TV. Clad wall with multi-sized quartz tile in a neutral color.

A. Problems like this (and we’ve all had them) can drive a layman mad. We asked three experts what they’d advise. Michael Del Piero, of Michael Del Piero Good Design  (1914 N. Damen Ave., 773-772-3000) suggested using two sofas facing each other in front of the fireplace so that it does become a focal point and the long, narrow space looks more square.

She also likes the idea of having the room divider house a monochromatic collection of objects—vases, boxes, works of art. Another thought: Hang a drape in front of the divider with an oversized mirror or large piece of art in front of it. "With this kind of drama the room has two focal points—the fireplace and the ‘back wall,’" she says. Finally, she suggests painting your walls with "muted non-colors" (she likes Drab, by Farrow and Ball) to bring an element of sophistication to the space. "That would allow the eye to take in the entire room and eliminate the need for one focal point," she says.

Designer Michael Abrams (773-248-3039) says he would close the opening above the fireplace, eliminate the painting that currently hangs high on the wall, and mount a flat-screen TV there. [Note that the operation and life of a plasma flat-screen TV can be affected by the heat of a ventless fireplace, some experts say. An LCD flat-screen TV is less likely to be affected, but even so, you might want to add a mantel to deflect the heat, says Antonio Garcia, a TV installer for Abt Electronics and Appliances (1200 N. Milwaukee Ave., Glenview, 847-967-8830).

"Clad the wall from floor to ceiling and wrap the sides with a neutral, natural-looking stone tile," Abrams suggests. He likes multi-sized quartz tile such as Caesar Tile, "a horizontal, staggered pattern of tiles in different lengths and heights." It comes in six neutral colors and costs $21 a square foot at Rexx Rug (3312 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-281-8800). "Choose either Sinatra, which is an off-white, or Pietra di Cogne, which has hints of blue and gray and would complement the blue walls," he says. "This would make the wall one cohesive element."

Tim Fox, of Fox-Wahls Interior Design in Chicago (773-227-3250) recommends a drastic overhaul. "Remove the room divider and replace it with a six-and-a-half-foot-high dividing wall," he says. "That would create a more defined private sleeping niche and a solid wall for a flat-screen TV on a hinged panel that swings toward the couch. In the sleeping area, build in nightstands and keep the bed low to make the area seem larger."

Tim Fox: Remove flueless fireplace and surrounding structure. Use doors with no moldings on either side of LCD TV; paint wall and doors all one color.

In the living area, he’d do some rearranging, moving the casual chair to the other end of the coffee table, and also work on wall color. "Paint the bathroom door and wall, fireplace wall, and laundry room door and wall, including woodwork, all one dark color," he suggests. "Select a color that continues the fabric tones—perhaps black-green, espresso brown, midnight blue, or dark wine red."

As far as finishes on the fireplace wall go, he’d change the marble tile surround and hearth to slab granite or marble in the same color range. As a finishing touch, he’d put in shelves for books and other accessories in the space where the TV used to be. "The object is to make the fireplace recede and the room seem larger and less cluttered," he says.

But mostly he thinks the fireplace, which is flueless, is more trouble than it’s worth. "The developer only added it because it is on the punch list of requirements that buyers look for," he says. Unless you’re madly in love with it, he thinks you should remove it and take the wall back to the door wall. Then repair the floor, replace the bathroom and laundry doors and moldings with blind doors (doors with no moldings that appear to be part of the wall when they are closed), paint the doors and walls the new color, and hang a large LCD TV on the wall, with a console, low chest, or bookcase below it.

"This will add a large amount of space to the room, both visual and actual," he says. You’ll gain "not just the footprint of the fireplace but also the small halls to the two service rooms, which will now become part of the living area."


Illustrations: John Kenzie