Home Decor

Ask Virginie: Decorating advice from Chatelaine's home editor

In this regular feature, Virginie Martocq, finds solutions to all your decorating quandaries.

Michael Graydon

Dear Virginie, What’s your take on decorative (non-functional) fireplace mantels? Is it silly to have a fireplace mantel without a fireplace? Thanks, Sam

A: Tough question. My general rule of thumb is that I don’t like anything fake. Don’t like fake brick, don’t like fake wood, don’t like fake silk. But sometimes you don’t really have a choice. Such is the case for non- functional fireplace mantels. In older homes, the living room often has an elaborate mantel, but the fireplace is no longer working, and often city bylaws make it impossible to put a wood-burning fireplace back in.

The first choice would be to put in a gas insert. If that’s not in the cards though, for whatever reason, a beautiful stack of birch logs looks great in a fireplace, as does an assortment of pillar candles.

If you’re starting from scratch, fireplace mantels and electric insert units are a great way to give a room a focal point. And these fake-fire solutions are getting more sophisticated by the minute: I don’t think they would ever fool anyone, but they give a pleasant atmosphere to a room. Then again, so does the fireplace channel.

Dear Virginie, What’s your advice on rugs under dining tables? Should you always have one? And how do you choose the right size? Thanks, Rachel

A: If you have small kids, avoid rugs at all cost, unless you want to spend your days with a carpet cleaner trying to remove smeared blueberries. One solution is carpet tiles, like these ones Flor makes. They are actually industrial carpeting, but come in beautiful colours and patterns. You can lift heavily soiled tiles and scrub them under the sink. And because they are modular, if one really really gets abused, you can always replace it with a new tile.

Once your kids are beyond the chew-and-spit age, it’s time to invest in a rug under the dining room table. It really anchors a dining room- especially in a contemporary home that doesn’t have a formal room. The general rule of thumb is that the rug should be big enough so that you can slide your chair back and get out without the chair coming off the rug- that means 9×12 is usually the minimum size. Also think of rugs with patterns to hide debris, and a low pile to make it easier to slide chairs.


Dear Virginie, I  would like to get some big art for above my couch. Something old and beautiful but also affordable. Original art such as that is out of my price range, what do you recommend? Thanks, Sarah

A: Easy! I recommend stretching fabric over a frame and hanging that. Find a beautiful piece of fabric, with a large repeat (size of the pattern). You’ll need a yard or two, depending on what you want to do. Then head to an art supply store and buy canvas stretchers. Assemble and then staple the fabric around the frame. Voila,  custom art, any size and colour you like!

If you’re not into that, a long wooden shelf (maybe even something made out of reclaimed wood) with a series of smaller, framed items might look fun – think of what type of art you might want to collect and start shopping the flea markets. Maybe old paint by numbers? Maybe still lifes? A collection of smaller framed pieces will be cheaper than one large one.

Lastly, you could try a whole bunch of old frames, without the paintings. These are also available at second hand stores and flea markets, and you can place them on the wall in an interesting grouping, It’s a tongue in cheek reference to art!

Dear Virginie, What’s the easiest way to change the look of my house from winter to summer?

A: Come summer, I always have an unshakable urge to throw most of my things away. That nesting, cocooning urge that prompted me to put candles everywhere and warm blankets over the sofa is gone and I crave clean lines and minimal “stuff.” So my first suggestion is to take a good hard look around and start putting things away. Once you have a cleaner palette, consider buying new cushion covers for your throw cushions. A casual white linen tablecloth over a dark table does wonder to lighting a room. Finally, bring in as many fresh cut flowers as you can stand!

If you have a decorating question for Virginie, please leave it in the comment space below or you can email her at: askvirginie@chatelaine.rogers.com