Decorating Dilemmas: Mary’s Lake Cabin

Mary's lake house has pine paneled walls, so we're helping her lighten them up and create a cozy family room

Decorating Dilemmas is a weekly column in which our stylists answer your design questions, so you can tackle your home decorating project with complete confidence.

Dear How to Decorate,

We purchased a 1950 knotty pine cabin on a lake. I would like to keep the original character of the house but update from a cabin to a cottage. It came with some nice antique pieces that I would like to incorporate. Due to the musty smell we had the crawl space lined, pulled out the carpeting and had hardwood laid (which helped tremendously.)

It has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, family room, game room, kitchen, and dining area. It’s basically a blank canvas. The kitchen, eating area, and family room have knotty pine walls of the original medium stain. I have read many of your blogs, which have given very good advice, and have thought about introducing mirrors and small crystal sconces to the knotty pine walls. Other than that, I don’t know where to go.

Anything you have to offer would be much appreciated.



Dear Mary,

“A 1950’s cabin on a lake” sounds so charming!  Decorating your space with a cottage feel is definitely right up our alley at Ballard Designs.  We are so happy that the floors are now hardwood as they will take most any of our rugs. The Jute Braided in Driftwood or Natural are durable and give a natural feel to the room.

The brick mantle could be whitewashed and take on a whole new look. Place our Dubois Mirror above the mantle, perhaps a few of our olive topiaries and the room will begin to transform.  Your vintage dresser will look nice along the wall with the Luisa White Ceramic Vase used for seasonal flowers.

Two Vintage Vogue slipcovered sofas in Danish Linen Natural facing each other creates a cozy conversation area in the central room. Our Larkin Swivel Glider in the Wheat Buffalo Check can flank the loveseats. The Piccola Cabinet – our small side cabinet – doubles as end tables is fun in the sage color.  Here is the perfect spot to use your antique lamps here or take a look at our Luciana Table Lamp in sage. A great center piece for this space is the Tufted Storage Ottoman in Beatrice Floral.

For the dining area, the Messina Table, with its rustic finish and zinc top, is a perfect mate to the Brook Wicker Dining Chairs (maybe add a few pillows for more color).  You can change the hanging light fixture to our new Linear Chandelier in brass. 

We definitely can go on and on with the art work to give you a cottage look in the cabin but we think the Red Rhodadendrum prints are a good start and they come in several sizes so you can decide where they fit best.

We are confident that you can achieve the look for your cabin with many of our pieces. Keep it simple and have fun with pretty color and pattern in pillows and art and mirrors on the wall. Adding interest will keep the knotty pine from making the room look too dark.

Happy Decorating!

The Design Team

Mary's lake house has pine paneled walls, so we're helping her lighten them up and create a cozy family room

Do you have a decorating dilemma? Send us your own questions here.

How to Decorate Team

We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.