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A Center Hall = Living Central

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Q: We are moving from our l960s ranch house into our family's "old manse," a mid-l9th-century Georgian-style house that's been handed down to us from a great-great-aunt. It's quite a change! For one thing, there's a wide (15 feet) center hall that runs from the front porch to the back door. What's the appropriate way to furnish such a space?

A: First, appreciate it! You've been blessed with the l9th-century version of air-conditioning. The flow-through hall is a brilliant example of what we think of today as eco-friendly architecture — that is, building to harness nature to your advantage. Your "manse" is no doubt oriented to the prevailing breezes so they could blow in one end of the house and out the other.

My grandparents' Virginia farmhouse has such a wide, graceful hall. I used to think as a child that it's big enough to hold a wedding reception. Indeed, Grandmother Bennett treated it like an extra sitting room and furnished it with a sofa, side chairs, lamps and a runner rug. (I'd have added a drop-leaf table just in case a wedding reception was called for.)

In l916, Corinne and Gari Melchers also furnished their wide front hall for living when they bought Belmont, the elegant old l8th-century estate near Fredericksburg, Va., whose front hall we show here. If you know your art history — or frequent vintage saloons — you may recognize Melchers as an eminent artist who hung with the likes of Childe Hassam and Paul Manship and helped found the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art in Washington.

At the height of his career, Melchers painted murals for the Chicago Exposition and Library of Congress,and took commissions from Vanderbilts, Roosevelts and Mellons.

He was also fond of painting the kind of lovely nudes that often hang over bars in toney clubs and pubs.

Eclipsed for a time by changing tastes, Melchers is back on the art charts and drawing admirers to Belmont, where his studio and their house are open to the public (including this very week, the 80th Historic Garden Week in Virginia, when houses both historic and private are on tour all across the state; vagardenweek.org).

Learn more about both Melchers, the artist and Belmont, the estate, now overseen by the University of Mary Washington, just across the Rappahannock River (mwc.edu/Belmont).

Q: There's this small, odd room in our apartment. The real estate agent called it "the maid's room" (there's a tiny bath, too). We're trying to turn it into a TV room. What color should we paint to make it look larger?

A: Two thoughts here: 1.) Conventional wisdom says light colors will make spaces look larger; 2.) Being unconventional can work special magic in small spaces.

I vote that you be unconventional and forget paint: Find a fab, over-scaled, even outrageous, wallpaper and watch how it blows out the walls in a tiny room. For starters, click on yorkwall.com and look up a stunner of a wallpaper called "Great Expectations."

It's a drop-dead cityscape — all tall buildings — done up in black, gray, white, metallics and more on eco-friendly recycled paper. The monotone palette and super-scale of the high-rise architecture will turn your tiny space into a huge hit!

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Manhattan Style" and six other books on interior design. To find out more about Rose Bennett Gilbert and read features by Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at CREATORS.com.

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