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3 Design Agonies, 1 Post: Tricky Lighting, Big Empty Walls & Foyer Styling

An old friend is back in town and her name is Agony…Design Agony. This time, we are planning for her to embark on a more permanent residency both on Instagram and here on the blog. If you follow Emily on Instagram, she started answering followers’ design agony questions on stories. It’s been awesome and so far you guys are really into which we love. One of the aspects all of you responded to was getting real product resources. I mean, who doesn’t love that?! So for today’s post, we thought we would recap some of the more product-focused agonies that Em has already tackled but with even more resources. PLUS, so there is something new for everyone, we chose one new agony we think could be helpful to more people. Shall we just get into solving the world’s (design) problems? Yes, I think we should.

The Agony: How to Avoid Harsh Lighting

For our first Instagram Design Agony, we chose Jenny who was having an issue with her floor task lamp next to her sofa. In her own words, “it’s like looking into the center of the sun.”

Emily Henderson Design Agony Harsh Lighting Living Room 1

We get it, directional lamps don’t give off the best light and can be harsh on the eyeballs (yet seem to be everywhere as they’re pretty on trend right now). Why not just use a drum shade lamp? Well, on the other side of her sofa, she already has a lamp with a drum shade and didn’t like the look-alike look. There wasn’t enough contrast and visual interest for her taste. See what she means??

Emily Henderson Design Agony Harsh Lighting Living Room 2

Emily’s Four Solutions

1. Start simple. Try a lower wattage bulb like a soft white 40 watt. We get why people opt for a super bright LED bulb: bright spaces make you happy, right? Well, in the wrong lamp, it can be too harsh for the eyes. Here are three options:

Emily Henderson Design Agony Harsh Lighting Bulbs

1. EcoSmart 40W Equivalent Dimmable LED Light Bulb | 2. GE Lighting Soft White Long Life | 3. AmazonBasics 40W Equivalent

2. Double arms. To keep the super sculptural look of the task lamp Jenny already has, she could replace it with a double-armed directional lamp. That will help distribute the light a bit more. We think these could be great:

Emily Henderson Design Agony Harsh Lighting Multi Armed Floor Lamps

1. Avallone | 2. Geneva Multiple Glass Globe | 3. Bruno Double-Arm

3. Opt for color. Jenny didn’t like the two drum shades but we think she shouldn’t give up on the idea because a drum shade will most often give you the softest light diffusion. To break up the “sameness,” she could change the color of the other drum shade so it doesn’t visually compete. These are our picks:

Emily Henderson Design Agony Harsh Lighting Colorful Lamp Shades

1. Black Drum | 2. Natural Burlap Drum | 3. Blue Drum

4. Lastly, she could try a hanging sculptural pendant that gives off ambient light. This way, it still looks architectural and cool but the light isn’t so harsh. We are very into these three:

Emily Henderson Design Agony Harsh Lighting Sculptural Pendants

1. Bonbon | 2. Sphere + Stem | 3. Mater Terho

Jenny, we hope this helps to solve your “sun” problem and you find the perfect light match.

The Agony: What To Do With A Big Empty Wall

This is a VERY common “agony” we get asked about…How do I fill up my big empty wall?? Well, in Emily’s instastory, she went through three great options that will hopefully not only help Kristin but also be useful for anyone else having the same issue. But before we get into the tips, the main thing to remember is that you want to break up the wall to add depth and dimension since it’s, well, a pretty big empty wall. So, if you have a truly large wall, stay away from the “one huge piece.” That’s not to say overscale art never works, it does. It can be powerful and fantastic, but to get anything large enough for a wall-like Kristin’s, it would be VERY overwhelming.

Now onto the issue at hand. Here is Kristin’s living room…

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room 1

She’s got a great foundation here with some beautiful pieces, but the wall definitely needs some love.

Emily’s Three Solutions

1. Create a personalized gallery wall with an articulating sconce like we did in the Atlanta living room we did earlier this year. Also, adding a little sculpture in a wall display box adds a ton of depth and will really make your wall three-dimensional and pop.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room Inspo 1
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for EHD | From: Reveal: A Budget and Rental-Friendly Living and Dining Room (With 80% Thrifted Finds)

Here are some sconces we think would look great.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room Articulating Sconce

1. Envoy Swing | 2. Alto | 3. Nymane

These are the kind of display boxes we are talking about. Box #1 was the one we used in the photo above.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room Display Boxes

1. Bjoernarp | 2. Black Metal Cube (set of 3) | 3. Barkhyttan

2. Another option is to make a grid of art with two matching flanking sconces. In the photo below, the sconces aren’t technically flanking since they are above but it’s the same principle.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room Inspo 3
Photo by Geneieve Garruppo | From: A 120 Year Old Barn Makeover With The Frame TV + Shop The Look

These are some great options.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room Flanking Sconces

1. Simon Adjustable | 2. Savannah Single | 3. Perry

3. The last suggestion was to hang a large diptych (two corresponding pieces) or triptych (three corresponding pieces) with an added sconces or two to fill and make the space more dimensional. For Kristin’s particular space, if she wants to do just one sconce, we recommend something really sculptural, articulating and placed on the right side of the room (if you are standing in front of the sofa). Two would also be great but wouldn’t need to go so sculptural because it wouldn’t overwhelm the room.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room Inspo 2
Photo by Zeke Ruelas for EHD | From: Silver Lake Hills Living Room Reveal

Here are some diptychs and a triptych we think would work in Kristin’s space…

Emily Henderson Design Agony Empty Wall Living Room Wall Art

1. Reticent 2pc Printed Tinted Gel Canvas | 2. The Line No 12The Line No 16The Line No 13 | 3. Calm Forest No. 20Calm Forest No. 18

(Pssst…For Emily’s IGTV on how to create a gallery wall, click here!)

The (NEW) Agony: An Unstyled Entryway

This is a NEVER before shared Design Agony from a reader named Sara. Sara messaged Emily asking if there was styling hope for her entry or if she should just rip it out and start over. Start over??? No need! This is a very cute entry that just needs a bit of styling to bring it to its full potential. The design team has four solutions for Sara…

Emily Henderson Design Agony Entryway 1

EHD’s Four Solutions:

1. Put some leaning art on the shelf. It will help to draw your eye up and add visual interest to that empty space above the hook ledge. Here’s a good example from Erin Francois’ home tour we shared on the blog last year:

Emily Henderson Design Agony Entryway Inspo
Photo and Design by Erin Francois | From: House Tour: A Home Crush A Year In The Making

We really like these combos below. Go with only two pieces so it doesn’t feel cluttered, one larger in scale (by at least 4 or 5 inches where they overlap) and the other a bit smaller.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Entryway Leaning Art

1. Folded Lines + The Chiton | 2. Landscape 151 + Shade | 3. 2:54 AMCactus Line Drawing

2. Next up is adding a bud vase on the shelf with a little greenery (it’s a little detail that’s instantly inviting).

Emily Henderson Design Agony Entryway Bud Vases

1. Bud Vase | 2. Clear Glass Mini Vase | 3. Small Ceramic Vase

3. Mix in a couple of pillows on the bench to add warmth and texture.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Entryway 2
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD | From: My House Tour From Good Housekeeping

It might seem silly to some to add something like pillows (or a throw) to an area of the home that seems like it could benefit mostly from utility, but hear us out. Some softness goes a long way to making a vignette feel purposeful and not forgotten. Plus, you know…a little lumbar support for when you’re grunting your way through pulling on your boots. Here are a few combos we are very into.

Emily Henderson Design Agony Entryway Pillow Combos

1. Anchal Crescent + Rebecca Atwood Waterfall Stripe | 2. Liana Fringe + Tweed Lumbar | 3. Woven Stripe with Fringe Lumbar + Cable-knit Cushion Cover

4. Spray paint! The last solution we suggest to Sara is to spray paint the woven bins she already has black. Having a contrasting color will create some more dimension. It’s also budget-friendly. (Take a look at the below entry—it’s my house!—where I spray painted the peg rail black to set it visually apart from the “blonder” tones below.)

Jesslivingroom8 1
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for EHD | From: Makeover Takeover: Jess’ Long Awaited (Small Space) Living Room Reveal

Alright, that’s it for today’s agonies. Hopefully, some of you have found some inner design peace on this fine October Tuesday and are feeling empowered to conquer your problem areas. For the rest of you, don’t worry because this is just the beginning. We will still be covering agonies with Emily on her stories (we’ll be running those every Tuesday, so be sure to check back) and then every now and again, diving into them a bit further here with more product resources.

If you have any design agonies of your own, feel free to DM Em on Instagram (be sure to write DESIGN AGONY in the prompt so it stands out) and check out the Design Agony highlight on her profile to see what we’ve covered already. For an issue you’re having that might be a deeper dive, be sure to email us at

Love you, mean it.


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57 thoughts on “3 Design Agonies, 1 Post: Tricky Lighting, Big Empty Walls & Foyer Styling

  1. Love this! And great selection of “agonies,” as I’ve struggled with all these scenarios at some point in my life.

  2. I really like this post – not so “professional-looking which is refreshing for a blog these days, basic and applicable to so many of us. Thank you!

      1. sorry it felt “meaningless” to you. we feel that it adds value just in the advice and resources from a design team with experience and can’t control our readers timelines and finances. “Afters” would be awesome but feel that it doesn’t negate the process and still adds value in advice.

        1. I think this is the opposite of meaningless! It’s super helpful to be given several suggestions to a problem so the homeowners can choose the solution they like best. These are issues that many of us have and it helps get the wheels turning on how to solve them. Thanks for this series – it’s awesome!

        2. In any advice column, there are no afters. People get by just fine with special columns a few times a year where previous letter writers update the Agony Aunt with what they ended up doing. Perhaps just putting the blurb at the bottom of the post with pschologically redirect anyone who finds the advice alone “meaningless”. Plus, it would be hopefully seeding the idea of the letter writers helping you with content for the future.
          Laineygossip (I know, a gossip site) has a great name-the-baby column that does updates every few months when they have a handful of previous letter writers who’ve told them what they did end up naming their baby.
          The new Dear Prudence lady does once a week live advice posts and the questioners from that usually show up in the following weeks letting everyone know what advice they ended up taking and how it worked out.
          I think anyone should be happy with something like that.

      2. I don’t think these are meaningless at all! Really helpful and real world. These ideas are easily usable for the average person!

        1. Seconded! The descriptions really help paint a picture in my mind. I actually find it really inspiring. Love this series!

  3. LOVE this series and really love the budget friendly, beautiful options you provided! Thank you!!

  4. I haven’t commented in a long long time, but have been around since Secrets of a Stylist days. Just wanted to say thank you for bringing back some basic design advice. I love to see images of renovations and beautiful homes and boots and whatnot, but have missed the EH content that I can apply to my own home. More like this please!

  5. This is the kind of blog content we’ve (I’ve) been waiting for! Practical advice that can be applied instantly. More please!!

  6. OK, you just gave me a good reason to follow you on IG too… I’ve been reading the blog since, I don’t know? 2013? But I can’t miss out on these. Besides I have so many design agonies myself I just need to find a way to narrow it down to one.

  7. Couple of thoughts.

    Light bulbs. When replacing an incandescent bulb with LED, go for these specs to make the light look better (more like the old incandescent bulb). Look for a CRI of 90 or better. This is the color rendering index, which ranges from 0-100. The higher the better, and anything less than 80 will not look good. Also, the color temperature should give a warm light in a living area, so 2700-3000k. Anything higher than 3000 will look too cool. I find it hard to find bulbs with the better CRI score at stores I regularly visit. I can find them at Often, the CRI isn’t even listed on the site or the packaging. When that is the case, it’s probably because it is a poor rating- when I have asked at Home Depot, that has been the case, once the number was found from the manufacturer.

    In the big wall situation, I would move the sectional out from the window side a bit and put in a floor lamp or small table with a lamp on or over it. There doesn’t seem to be any lighting in this area, other than that which looks like it’s coming from the kitchen.

    Thanks for the tips/lessons! I’m sure we all have a few design agonies hanging around.

  8. I could read these all day! I love the budget-conscious options, too. Fave new series, for sure!

  9. Loved this! I quit instagram so I’ll miss out on that, but I can’t wait for more when it makes it to the blog!

  10. For the too-bright light situation, how about a lamp with 3-way switch or dimmer? Then it can be low for soft ambient light, or a bit brighter when needed for task/reading.

  11. For the entryway bench, I think one of the small lambskin throws from IKEA would lighten up and soften the bench. Put it to one side and put the pillow in the corner on top of it, sort of like in the inspiration photo above, only I don’t like the lambskin hanging off the bench.

    FWIW, I think it’s fine not having the afters, especially since reader afters are not going to live up to EH afters.

    1. I think it might be fun if when the readers who were featured here are ready they could send in their afters to the EH team, and EH could do a fun post featuring those and linking back to this. They could share their sources as well, and that way it would be a really fun way to see how the EH readers are applying the advice and being creative on their own without EH team help. Even if it wouldn’t be as fancy as what EH would do, I think it would still be a really fun thing for all of us.

      In fact….this could be a really really fun contest. If there are EH readers who are ready timeline wise and budget wise to fix their design agonies, EH team could do a post like this featuring their spaces, and then the readers could go off on their own and try and apply the advice. Then all of us EH readers and EH team could do a vote on the best one? Then whoever wins could win a prize of some sort. I think as the blog is an educational resource for many of us, it would be really nice to see how the EH blog has inspired us (sort of like #showemyourstyled or the #oneroomchallenge). There could be a set budget limit so its more of an even playing field. You could group it into categories like “Entryway design agony,” “harsh lighting” etc. Or you could also do budget limit categories like $500, $1000, etc. That way whoever is competing in the same category can be judged more fairly. There could be smaller prizes for runner’s up and stuff. Anyways, I would love to vote and participate in something like this, as I have a few design agonies myself….

  12. I’ve been wondering about foyer styling as well. I have a staircase that wraps around right when you walk in with 2 story walls to fill… I mean what do you do with all that blank space?? Right now there is literally 20 feet of blank space. I’ve thought about breaking it up with a built-in style locker/mudroom bench on the wall but there would still be a good 14 feet above it. Should I paint the top portion of the room a contrasting color and leave the bottom portion of the room light and airy?? I’ve even played around with the idea of doing a textural wallpaper like grasscloth in a teal color from 8ft and up, but scared of the color commitment. Thoughts?

  13. Wow, those are some really bland beige boring spaces. I think I have a strong reaction due to years of renting. So depressing. All those blank Navajo white walls. Great suggestions to liven them up a little.!

  14. Very helpful!
    My design agony – how to add a ceiling pendant light to a smaller living room with a chandelier. Can it be done, or would it look too choppy on the ceiling? Can you mix styles? Vintage crystal chandelier with a corner mid-century (rose gold) modern pendant?

  15. What do you do if you have two very large walls in the same space that join at a corner? I am working on a room that has a floating sofa, and behind the sofa (4′ back) are two very large walls and I am at a loss on what to do so as not to conflict with one another.

  16. What a fabulous idea for a blog post!! Each of the agonies were so common & the ideas you had to fix them were SO well put!

  17. Good posting series but I think you missed the boat on unstyled entry way by not suggesting they paint out the dark brown wall panel and hooks. The ideas you showcased work because the visual clutter of what is behind the pictures is removed with painted background. The dark bench would look stunning if is sort of floats on a wall with unobtrusive hooks and interesting, colorful or monochromatic pictures.

  18. Good posting series but I think you missed the boat on unstyled entry way by not suggesting they paint out the dark brown wall panel and hooks. The ideas you showcased work because the visual clutter of what is behind the pictures is removed with painted background. The dark bench would look stunning if is sort of floats on a wall with unobtrusive hooks and interesting, colorful or monochromatic pictures.

    1. I’m reading that wall above the hooks as and not possible to stand art against or to accommodate a bud vase

  19. was thrilled to see the big wall dilemma because I have a HUGE wall I have been dumbfounded with for 10 years. Nice to see the real life solutions however I felt all three big wall solutions were very similar and still didnt help me much. Still really love your content just my personal take.

  20. Em and team – first time commenter, long time reader. Loved this post so much!! More please!

  21. Going to look forward to the Agony! Might even find an agony I don’t even know I have! Ha-ha …

    Question: I too updated with the open globe floor lamp and find the light very glaring. Decades ago (maybe the 60’s?) the light bulbs of pole lamps could be fitted with a perforated, white metal diffuser. When clipped on my lightbulb it would not be seen and destroy the “look”. I’ve searched but maybe you or one of the readers has seen such a thing? Thanks!

  22. Juniper Print Shop does huge, I mean really huge, prints that work with ready to assemble ikea frames. I have a “small” one in my dining room-33×42 (approximately). Lightweight and easy to hang.

  23. Finally, something that speaks to me. I’ve had these agonies when I was at my old house and now that I’m moving to a new apartment soon, can’t wait to start all over again.

    1. Can I ask you a question? How can you decorate all of these things in order to look elegant? You know, to make the whole space look good. I don’t know how to do it. Do you have any tips? Please tell me some.

  24. I would also suggest a large vertical leaning mirror on the right side of blank wall with some sizable art above the sofa. Or sculptural art for added dimension. Had an apt like that layout and it opened up the room so much!

    Plus, mirrors can help with odd lighting situations. Love e a good mirror!

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