My 1970s house has a step down into the living room that has me confused as to how to arrange my furniture. I hope you can help. There is about three feet of wood floor along the walls, and the middle section is about 16 feet wide. There is a fireplace at one part, which blocks the view from the front door. Can I fill in the floor somehow to make the room feel bigger?

- S.S.
A: What you have is often called a sunken living room, and became a trend in some upscale midcentury houses. A lot of people think this style is dated now, but sometimes you'll still see a newer house with this feature, especially on a sloped lot or on terraced outdoor spaces.

When well-designed, a sunken floor is architectural and adds even more drama to a very large living room. The lower floor nicely defines a space for conversation, but in smaller homes can feel constricting because there is a step in the way. I'd also be worried about the potential for somebody tripping.

Building up the floor may be an option. Match the flooring at the edges of the room or replace it all for a continuous look. Or add an accent border and choose a coordinating wood in a different tone or a carpet inset. Stone tile might be nice, too, as an inset, if you replace the entire floor.

You didn't say if the fireplace opening is raised or is at the same level as the lower section, as that would affect the design quite a bit. Taking out or rebuilding the fireplace could be expensive. Ask a licensed contractor for other options to decommission or modify it in other ways.

I like using big area rugs to anchor a room and create a strong seating arrangement. Furniture can be centered on the rug, or with two legs on and two off, depending on the rug's size and the size of the room.

Keep me posted, and send in before and after photos.


Jennifer Adams is a designer, author, and TV personality.