Courtesy of Sherry Scott Design Pairing a neutral-colored fireplace surround with wood paneling painted a glossy red color that’s brought up and onto the ceiling takes the space from dull to dramatic.

While we are in month 11 of staying at home because of the pandemic, at least we can expect restrictions to ease sometime this year. In the meantime, here are answers to some questions I get about simple ways to improve outdated or dull designs in your home.

Q: Our fireplace surround design is not bothersome – just boring. We may be moving in the near term and would rather not change it out. Is there something simple we can do to give it more of a wow factor?

A: Fireplaces can make or break a room. Over the past few years, clients have asked us to help them achieve a more modern fireplace design by removing the original brick surround and hearth that is typical in many local ranch-style homes. Replacing the brick with more refined slabs of stone or porcelain is a good design plan. Make sure to assess the structural integrity of the fireplace before removing the bricks, to make sure they are not tied to the structural supports of the fireplace flue.

A wood or cast-stone surround may not necessitate removal – just enhancement. Changing the paint color is a smart starting point. Follow up with a more commanding piece of art above the fireplace for a quick transformation. For a more dramatic result, keep a neutral-colored fireplace surround, then add a bold architectural element on the wall, bringing it up and onto the ceiling. Wood paneling painted in a glossy red color takes a fireplace from dull to dramatic. Going from zero to 100, that will be the star of the room. The other elements should be the supporting players.

Q: Is wallcovering coming back into favor, and if so, where can I put it without making a big commitment?

A: One outstanding feature of wallcovering is that a small amount can reap big rewards. For this reason, a space such as a powder room is often a place where a favorite pattern or color can be used. Wrapping the four walls of a smaller room is not a big commitment when the door can be closed to separate it from a more serene adjacent room.

Another option is to make a “feature wall” by covering just one wall. An entry foyer wall or a walk-in closet wall behind open shelves provides an opportunity for personalization and can tie a space together. There is one best practice to keep in mind when selecting the wall to paper: Walls with inside corners work the best. Stopping a wallcovering on an outside corner will make it prone to rubbing and possibly delamination. An outside corner does not look as finished, so the aesthetics and the function could be compromised.

Always sand the wall smooth and prime it. As for the type of wallcovering and design, in addition to papers and fabrics designed for residential use, there are hundreds of thousands of patterns, textures and colors designed for commercial use, which are more durable by design. Self-stick options are also available. There are no rules to break when it comes to selection, so be creative and have fun with it.

Q: There is an outdated built-in bookcase design in a home I just moved into. Rather than tear it out and start over, is there a way to improve its appearance?

A: Bookcases are always worth having in a home – as we’ve seen on endless Zoom calls this past year. They can say a lot about you and your family. Older styles often have a curved top board. Usually, this isn’t harmonious with the cleaner straight lines employed in modern interiors.

A simple update is to cut away the curved portion of the top, then sand it to prepare for painting. To create the appearance of more depth, the back wall of the open shelves can be left in its existing shade, with the rest of the bookcase painted a contrasting color. A good option for a color to harmonize with most interior finishes is Sherwin Williams Perfect Greige, as shown in the photo above.

When repopulating the bookcase shelves, it is important to keep at least 20% of the space open. This is called “negative space,” and it’s a good way to showcase specific items by making them either a focal point or easier to see. Placing books in different positions – on an angle, lying flat or underneath an accessory – is a way to create more visual interest. You can also display collections of your prized possessions, special photographs or items from travel.

Sherry Scott is a Certified Interior Designer in California, professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers and proprietor of Sherry Scott Design in downtown Los Altos, 169 Main St.

To submit a question, email design@sherryscottdesign.com.