A room without a fireplace needs another focal point. The substitute should be tall, to provide the necessary vertical element. And it should serve a useful purpose. Here are some suggestions:
A ceiling-to-floor panel, 4 or 5 feet wide, can be brought a few inches out from a plain, chimneyless wall, covered with a textured fabric or paper, or simply painted in a stucco finish to match the color of the surrounding smooth walls.
A pair of floor-based floodlights concealed behind this panel, and plugged into a baseboard receptacle, illuminate it from behind and make it into an enormous lamp. If you can wash the face of it with light, the panel can also be a great spot on which to hang a work of art. It can also be a handy storage place for folding snack tables or chairs.
A large painting or tapestry can have the same focal effect, provided it is front-lighted with wall-washers. Arranging the furniture around it as you would if it were a fireplace gives a strong focal point to the room.
The same arrangement can be made with a storage wall that holds books, stereo, a bar and perhaps your television set.
Pieces of furniture can also be substitute fireplaces. An antique baker's rack, or a sleek chromeetagere with built-in lighting can hold a collection of plates or small sculptures and become the center of interest.
In a room I worked on a fireplace was noticeably absent, particularly because it had a beamed ceiling and a hardwood floor that seemed to call for a fireplace. Although the rest of the room was furnished in contemporary style, with vertical blinds at the picture window and modular, squishy seating, I found a handsome old armoire, in terrible condition, for my "substitute fireplace."
With a lot of elbow grease and love, the armoire was reduced to its natural wood and, despite many imperfections, it looked super with white paint rubbed into the open grain. The inside was fitted with shelves to accommodate a small bare and a television set, as well as plenty of storage.