Off-center wooden beam in a room - how do I decorate around this?
August 2, 2014 12:46 PM   Subscribe

We're in the slow process of stripping back the rooms in our house, and have discovered that the ugly white beam in the middle of our room is actually a wooden beam - great! The only problem is, it's still just one beam in the room, and off-center. I've uploaded a picture here. How can I make this room look less wonky?

I love that there's now a lovely wooden beam in my ceiling, but the lack of symmetry drives me crazy, especially since we'll have a dining room table in the centre of the room. I'm trying to figure out how to work around it to make the room feel more balanced. I've considered adding another fake beam on the other side to balance it out, but wonder if that's too cheesy. I don't want to lower the ceilings to cover it. I've had a quick Google but can't find anyone else talking about this kind of problem online. I'm also happy to embrace the wonkiness but have no idea how to actually pull off that "delightfully unsymmetrical" look and can't find any examples online.

Everyone else seems to have nice, tidy, equidistant beams on their ceilings. Has anyone had this issue before? How did you decorate it to look awesome? Thanks everyone!
posted by ukdanae to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think the fake beam idea is cheesy at all, provided you don't see that it's fake.

On the other hand:
The idea that a room needs symmetry is something that does not occur to me at all. I think that if you strip off the paint and let the beam just be a beam there won't be anything special you'll need to do in order to embrace anything, balance things out or pull anything off. It's a beam, it supports the ceiling, it's fine. I really believe that you will come to love it over time.

If that doesn't happen... then there is always the option of the fake beam.

Oh, and you could hang something from it, maybe not in the middle (because of the table) but at the ends. That would make it look more functional, if that's your thing.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:57 PM on August 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would definitely consider adding one or more purely ornamental beams to give you symmetry. It's not cheesy at all. The key is just to make sure that you either match the appearance of the first beam or maybe put some veneers or something on both or some kind of paint treatment that make them identical.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:57 PM on August 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I wonder if you can do something interesting with paint in that room that will make the lack of symmetry more intentional looking. I am no expert at this but you've also got that little wall that cuts into the room to the left of the door, and the beam lines up with the right side of the door. All of these things contribute to the asymmetry. To me, the door being squished up against that wall on the left is more of a contributor to the awkwardness of the room than the beam, and so matching the beam with another won't help much. In a room that small, too, I'd be worried about breaking up the ceiling more and making the room feel cramped if a second beam was added.

But I wonder if there are other ways to think of the room than as a symmetrical rectangle, and to decorate in a way that makes the room seem intentional and interesting rather than "off." I can imagine something like the room being one color to the right of the beam and another to the left, or not a beam but a matching color stripe on the ceiling, or instead of having a centered ceiling lamp, the beam being the place where a run of cool track lighting goes, focused on the table. Or imagining "turning" the room mentally so that instead of the view you're looking at being the axis of the room, which emphasizes the asymmetry, you've got a focus that crosses the room. If it's wide enough, for instance, a rectangular dining table that is perpendicular to the beam and the door, so that the impression is that the door is off to the "side." Think about whether the focus can be pulled away from that long axis with color and furniture placement.

I'm no expert at this stuff and my own home is pretty much undecorated. But I have friends who are really good at this kind of thing so I've seen them be really creative second-hand.
posted by not that girl at 1:10 PM on August 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

It doesn't bother me at all -- I find it charming (especially if you strip/treat it to look like it's natural wood). It also looks to me as if it is almost right in the center of the part of the wall that doesn't have the "cut in" (not sure what the technical term would be). Or it pretty much tracks with the door jamb. These two reasons alone would be enough for me to leave it. I don't like the idea of a fake beam to balance it out (a lot of beams in a fairly small room). Chacun à son goût, of course.
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:23 PM on August 2, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'd try to work in the assymetry. Maybe get rid of the lighting fixture, because it's going, 'hey I am a middle here, you need a middle', and it's competing with the beam.

Instead, you could affix some kind of track lighting to the beam itself, and use the lighting to create new diagonal lines that might offset the imbalance, by angling some of the pots/bulbs to illuminate sets of framed (photos or paintings or textiles) on either wall, each lined up at a height so the angles of light are at 45 degrees. Is that a fireplace mantle on the left wall? That'd be a good place to put some photos or something.

I'm not sure how clear I've been; I'm basically suggesting 45 degree lines of light from the beam to cut the room up into a different kind of balance.

(If it's a dining room (looks it) and you need to illuminate your table, some bulbs could still be pointed downwards at the table so you could see the food you're eating.)

on preview what not that girl is saying
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:25 PM on August 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

The asymmetry bugs me too. Any chance you could remove the beam and replace it with a series of smaller beams that go the other way?
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:39 PM on August 2, 2014

Paint can be used to either trick the eye or play up the architectural details.


Color pops and blocking

I was searching for terms like "color blocking interiors" and "color blocking architectural details."
posted by Michele in California at 1:47 PM on August 2, 2014

Personally, I'd just paint it the same color as the ceiling, use a different light fixture that blends with it, rather than contrasting, and find another focal point for the room. Third photo down shows a beam that looks like yours, somewhat.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The room doesn't look that big, so another beam might look weird, but if asymmetry really bothers you, go for it.

If you can live with it, but just want to make it look better, then cotton dress sock is right and you have to ditch the light fixture. It draws all your attention to the middle of the room and how that beam is not in it.

Track lighting would work, or maybe you get several smaller lights and arrange them in a way that balances the room more. I would also suggest having more shelves and wall art on the left side of the room and leaving the right side a bit more empty to counteract how much bigger that space is.
posted by ohisee at 1:58 PM on August 2, 2014

You could bevel the beam so it looks more like a kind of crown molding.

Then one side of your dining room table could be bench-styled, and placed underneath the small half of the ceiling.

You could paint the beam dark brown to make the room a little rustic. Then use that brown color elsewhere in the room (wicker baskets or wooden table).

I don't think adding a 2nd beam would look cheesy provided the room maintains a classy feel with the rest of the decorations.

You could make the RHS wall your accent wall.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:08 PM on August 2, 2014

I don't think it's off-balance, it lines up with the edge of the door, which has another wall-line thing on its other side. Think of it like a zig-zag, and the way the room looks it seems like the beam kind of marks "the sunny side." However, if you want to work the asymmetrical angle, maybe a rectangular dining table with different chairs on either side.
posted by rhizome at 2:15 PM on August 2, 2014

Oh, and if that side of the door jamb is really buried into the wall the way it looks, I might switch the door to open the other way.
posted by rhizome at 2:18 PM on August 2, 2014

Divide the room into two unequal parts under the beam. The larger side would be the side with your dining room table. Put the dining room table against the wall to anchor it. You can always grab it at the short ends and pull it out into the centre of the room when you need to fit everyone around it, but if it is against the wall you'll have a single aisle which will be nearly under the beam.

Put something completely different into the other side of the room. If it has a window I would play that up and put in a bunch of plants or sun catchers or something that works with the light. You could put a sideboard along that side. If you do put in a sideboard it should be the same proportion in ratio to your table as the smaller side of the room is to the bigger side. The smaller side should be slightly differently coloured than the larger side of the room, so for example no dark wood tones if your dining table set is dark wood, but the same accessory colours in both. Or else you might only have green plants on the small side of the room.

If you have six chairs to go with your dining table put one at the head, one at the food and two pushed in under the table with their backs to the centre of the room. The remaining two chairs should go in the small half of the room with their backs to the wall, perhaps one on either side of the sideboard or of a bookcase.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:22 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for the help guys, please keep it coming! Just to add a detail that I forgot, the door you see is actually a door to a cupboard, not the entrance door (i'm standing in front of the entrance to take the picture). I'm planning to remove the doorframe and replace it with a thinner one so it's all even, or just remove it altogether. I'm either going to paint that door the same colour as the walls to hide it away, or maybe even turn it into a super-awesome hidden door bookshelf thingie.

Your comments are so helpful. Thank you!
posted by ukdanae at 2:24 PM on August 2, 2014

I'd center the table under the beam w a linear chandelier on the beam. Then put a sideboard against the wall on the side with more "ceiling" space.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:27 PM on August 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Paint it the exact same white as the ceiling and don't let it bother you. No one will even notice it.
posted by amaire at 2:36 PM on August 2, 2014

Nthing that the best thing to do is go with the asymmetry. Definitely remove the big light in the centre of the room. Don't centre the dining room table exactly either.
posted by ssg at 2:44 PM on August 2, 2014

Asymmetry is your friend, and the room is already asymmetrical. Here's what I'd do with enough time:

Cover the area from the door to the right wall (as viewed in the photo) wiht one big built-in bookshelf, going from floor to ceiling, maybe even continuing it around the corner a little.. Make your awesome hidden bookshelf entrance to the cupboard part of that. You could even remove the cupboard door and doorframe entirely and make that area part of the shelf (depending on the wall infrastructure of course).

This shelf should be in wood tones that go with the wood tone of the beam. (I'm not saying "match exactly", but pay attention to how the different finishes make the beam look).

Move the lighting fixture so that it works well _with_ the beam. I might be tempted to move it to the right side of the beam, or even to put in two smaller, vintage-like fixtures, or track lighting, in that area, leaving the larger area of the ceiling pristine (once you cover over the old hole and paint it). You could have the larger area of the ceiling be much more beautiful that most modern hardware-covered ceilings.
posted by amtho at 2:51 PM on August 2, 2014

If that cupboard door is across from the entrance, then is the room actually symmetrical along the other axis?
posted by lucidium at 3:48 PM on August 2, 2014

Just to tackle one of your concerns, I think a fake beam would indeed be cheesy.
Let things be what they are.
There's nothing wrong with asymmetrical, either. Maybe place a dining table under the beam but perpendicular to it rather than trying to line it up under something that isn't really there. Then center a tasty pendant light above the table? Or hang it from the beam such that it dangles above one end of the table, embracing the notion of asymmetry.
The room looks rather small, and that's maybe a bigger challenge than the beam. Keep furnishings small and simple, let the room be as open as possible. Light colors help the walls recede and make the room seem larger.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:55 PM on August 2, 2014

Moving lighting to the edges of the room instead of having one central fixture will make a big difference. It's the contrast with the centered light that bothers my eye the most.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:56 PM on August 2, 2014

lucidium - the entrance door is on the leftmost wall in the picture, so you would walk in the door, then turn left to get the photo's perspective.
posted by ukdanae at 3:57 PM on August 2, 2014

I'm someone who likes things symmetrical, so I feel your pain. But in this case I agree with the suggestions to embrace the asymmetry, either with paint, decoration, or even (if the interior structure of the ceiling allowed and you felt like tackling a larger project) creating a negative space inset where the matching beam would go.

It's also not usually very expensive to have a structural engineer come by to look at it and discuss -- people don't always put beams where they should be or where they are needed, so there may be a way to relocate the beam to a more visually pleasing location. Beams are cheap, but the other work that this could cause could easily make it a bad idea -- I'd want to first just have someone look at the underlying structure and loads and see what the options are.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:40 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote against any sort of fake beam. The room is already a bit busy-looking with the bumped-out wall and abbreviated door trim on that side. But keep in mind that it's a side view and far less important than how the room appears from or through the entry.

I really would not consider touching the beam unless you're having other structural work done. My guess is that this room is part of an extension of the house and at one time this was actually an exterior wall. I assume that beam is doing some work, and in particular:

You could bevel the beam so it looks more like a kind of crown molding.

Do not cut this beam or alter it in any way unless you get a structural engineer's OK and it is absolutely not load-bearing. Bevels won't be as bad as, say, cutting through for ductwork or plumbing or electrical (that was done to our 1858 Greek Revival, alas, and meant a steel reinforcement and jacking, which cracked half of the plaster walls above). But this is probably holding up at least the floor above.

Any chance you could remove the beam and replace it with a series of smaller beams that go the other way?

Floor systems generally do not lend themselves to this sort of jiggery-pokery. The beam is probably already holding up a series of floor joists for the second floor, all running the other way. They need to transfer that load to something. That something is this beam, and if I'm right that it was once an exterior wall, then the beam is replacing direct support from some sort of stud wall.

So it comes down to esthetics. I like the bookshelf-in-the-nook idea as a way of balancing that side of the room a bit; it's the sort of thing that would have been done in the Victorian era (I'm just guessing -- this is UK architecture, but you don't give us much about the context). The doorway is typical enough, although I worry that it looks like a replacement and the panel and mullion style seems off to me. From a taste perspective (sue me), I don't like the corner cabinet -- although I might try it on the other side of that door and see how things balance then. The light also seems a little too muscular for a dining room of this particular era -- both too modern and too ancient. A lighter piece, or moving lighting to wall sconces or something, might help.

But definitely with a room this cramped to begin with I would use a light touch in general. Don't add anything that's too dark, too heavy, or too busy, or it will make the room seem smaller. But really, part of the charm of restoring old houses is embracing their imperfections instead of trying to erase or fix them.
posted by dhartung at 5:13 PM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

2nding/nthing hang chandelier from beam, center table under chandelier.

Ooh! I think it would look great with a few simple matching pendant lights hung in a row off of the beam, over a rectangular dining table lined up with the beam the long way. you could do either 3 spaced out in the center of the room off the bottom of the beam, or 3 on one side and 3 on the other. Like this but I'm envisioning it more spaced out and utilizing your lovely beam.

if you end up keeping the two-tone look of the room, you should totally paint the beam to match the dark brown color. you could do white or clear pendant lights hanging off + a light wood table + dark brown wall and beam, or if the walls are a light solid match the door frame, beam and table a darker color so it looks intentional. I really like that room, beam and all!
posted by ghostbikes at 6:23 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The jog in the wall to the left of the cupboard door answers the ceiling beam on the right. The cupboard door looks centered, with the beam and the jog same distance from interior and exteriors walls respectively. I'm pretty sure it was planned this way.

If you put the shelving we can see in the photo or another piece of furniture against the section of wall to left of the cupboard door, and center the dining room table between the exterior and interior walls (which you almost have to do given the shape of the room), you'll end up creating an implied line defined by furniture on the floor that balances the beam on the ceiling, and it won't look unbalanced anymore. The room looks unbalanced when it's empty, but it won't look unbalanced when you install furniture in it arranged in logical manner.
posted by nangar at 1:58 PM on August 3, 2014

I think it's the hanging light fixture that is causing the beam to look so off. I'd ditch the fixture and replace it with wall sconces. Four sconces, two each on each long wall, each one spaced about one-third of the way from the adjacent wall. Something that hugs the wall and throws the light up so that it bounces softly off your white ceiling illuminating the whole room. Roughly something like this. And I'd put them all on a dimmer switch.
posted by marsha56 at 3:55 PM on August 3, 2014

« Older Another reason to not buy groceries when you're...   |   What is going on with my mom's liver? Her fatigue... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.