I’ve got something to hide.
I have struggled in every house we’ve lived in to hide our elliptical machine.
It’s similar to the TV styling quandary: what do you do with a big black mass on the side of the room that ensnares your eye? Samsung propelled TV design forward with the Frame TV (fingers crossed prices come down before our trusty Vizio dies), but no one has prioritized beautifying exercise equipment. And no gallery wall in the world is going to hide your elliptical machine or treadmill.
Last week I was walking through our master bedroom and it occurred to me that I am actually satisfied with the current concealment of our elliptical in there, and I hardly notice it anymore. As I continue to cope in quarantine with nesting, I figure I’ll share my years of excessive pondering about how to hide our elliptical and other workout stuff in our homes. This will focus on how I got to our current set up hiding the elliptical behind a floor screen as a room divider.
Room Dividing With Floor Screens & Furniture Vignettes
In our first house we put our elliptical in the garage. Easiest solution, by far. We had no basement, and only 1100 square feet of living space so it was our best option. We parked our (shared) car in the driveway anyway since we had a garage laundry “room.” Also we needed the garage available for our
hoarding habit hobbies and projects. In both our second house and current house, the elliptical ended up in our master bedroom. I don’t want to see it unless I want to workout, so I needed to figure out how to divide the room lest we find ourselves waking up to its ugliness or feeling mocked at bedtime on the days we were too lazy to use it.
The most affordable, fastest and obvious solution I considered to hide our elliptical machine is a room dividing screen or other piece of furniture dividing the room. But room dividers always irked me historically because it’s only natural to want to see what’s hiding behind them – or is that just me? If I see a floor screen, I know it’s there because there’s either a classic ladies’ changing area or something ugly behind it. And it makes me curious. Still I set out to find the best way to make using a floor screen as a divider work in our current bedroom.
The trick to avert curiosity is to make the folding screen itself an intentional focal point in your living area, so it’s not an afterthought that’s clearly just hiding something beyond it. To really make form surpass function. I set out to find the best ways to do this. I find I’m most convinced by screens that are either 1. very tall to exaggerate scale and create drama, 2. interesting in their own regard, or ideally, both. Think: sculptural, painted, featuring an enchanting wallpaper or tapestry, curved wood edges, caning, weaving. Lots of options to make sure it doesn’t look cheesy.
Let’s look at some examples of artfully integrated dividing screens. Some of them are purely decorative and placed up against the wall, but the lessons to be gleaned about scale and styling in front of the screen are useful whether there’s an elliptical machine hiding behind them or not.
For most equipment, a standard 6 foot screen will be high enough, unless you’re super tall and can see over the top. Peloton bikes are only 5.5 feet tall, our elliptical is a couple inches taller than that, and many treadmills are around 5 feet tall. The thing is, a 6 foot screen can chop up the height of the room if your ceilings aren’t soaring, just like curtains that are hung lower than the top of the wall do. There are ways to work around this, ie. by picking an artistic piece, or drawing the eye upward with surrounding decor.
Take a look at the living area below, which is actually the LA shop of interior designer Nathan Turner, but I’d live there. It looks like this screen might create a hallway to the doorway he’s trying to hide behind that large plant (I see it, Nathan! nice try). This looks like a standard 6 foot screen, but your eye is drawn higher past it by the two mirrors hung above it.
The mirrors are a similar scale and shape to the artwork hung on the screen, and that repetition makes the look cohesive. And this is such a clever way to display artwork in spite of the wall behind it being covered up. Adding artwork like this could take any boring plain screen (though this one looks like it might be a lovely hand painted antique number) and makes it personalized, creating that focal point we’re looking for.
A screen needs to be in a vignette of some kind so it doesn’t look like you’re in an art booth at a bazaar or flea market. Nathan placed his directly behind a cozy seating arrangement, while the living area below anchors its screen with side tables and a basket pouf.
This next space was originally featured on Paloma Contreras’ La Dolce Vita before her new site rolled out, so the link to more room info no longer leads to the original article, sorry! From what I can tell, it was designed by Jeneration Interiors.
The use of symmetry with the screen on the right, opposite a large shelving unit on the left helps to integrate this room division very intentionally, and successfully creates a dividing wall that doesn’t scream “look back here!” That screen looks like it might be a 7 footer, but it also has a high impact on its own with its more contemporary woven panel covering.
Both Turner’s and Jeneration’s spaces have a cozy eclectic vibe about them, with the screens a focal point but not a total standout. In contrast, you can see the drama created by full height screens in these next few rooms. Screens get much more expensive once you go past 6 feet tall. If it’s a simple screen, the taller the better for sure. All the way to the ceiling if you can to help emphasize ceiling ceiling height. In this bedroom below by Lorenzo Castillo, we have a screen placed in the corner of the room.
The screen is anchored behind a very wide, mirrored side table – possible a console table repurposed – love that. And the scale is necessary. If the table were smaller, he’d likely need to add a chair or basket or other accent. You could easily snake that screen around the corner of the bedroom, and hide an elliptical and other home gym behind it. Here’s a wider shot of the room revealing a matching screen in the opposite corner.
These are clearly just decorative pieces propped against the wall, but I think it would be ingenious deflection to use two screens symmetrically placed but pulled forward, establishing them as a decorative statement, and still allowing them to function as dividers offering some hiding power. (update: see Coco Chanel’s apartment further down for an example of this exact idea)
Same could be said for this next room, a living room with a seating arrangement in front of its screen. Note that this room and the bedroom above have decorative peaks on their screen panels, for added interest that balances the relatively plain backdrop created by the expanse of one texture over their large scale.
This blue living room in the home of Fiona Newell Weeks of Dwelling & Design is styled with a club chair and lamp, accent table, and pedestal with a bust in front of a tonal damask fabric covered floor screen. That pouf might double as the most fabulous dog bed I’ve ever seen (her dog is in other pictures of the feature in The Washington Post Magazine).
Next, another corner screen. Bunny Williams’ living room below shows us a tall, squared edge screen with inset curved mirrors. Notice the top edge lines up with her window trim. Its nested in the corner of the room with a side table in the foreground, but could easily be pulled forward with a bit of rearranging to create a perfect hiding spot for your uglies.
All that’s needed is to pull these screens forward to get an idea of what it would look like to have something behind them.
Here we have another example of using two screens symmetrically in a space, like the bedroom by Lorenzo Castillo from earlier – this is a great way to balance the room. Otherwise your eye would be caught on one side of the room. This way, it plays across the room, invited to notice all the details in between the screens.
What did Coco Chanel have to hide? Let’s see.
These immense Coromandel panels create a passageway at the rear of her large salon in her Paris apartment, without blocking the light from the grand windows. Not the giraffe I was hoping for, but this is probably better for room flow and general carpet upkeep.
The placement of folding screens in front of doorways is used more decoratively than anything else. Coco didn’t need a screen there, but how else would she create such powerful visual impact? These screens are enormous, folding works of art. They also make the expansive room a little more intimate, cocooning the space with the warmth of the dark, gilded panels.
Robert Kime placed a screen in front of an entry to this room in his London flat – you can see the arch of an opening above right of his painted screen. He’s got a conversational area on our side of it, letting the screen create an artistic little wall behind a cozy fireside chatting area. It’s looks to be only a 6 footer, but he’s got a picture rail above and a painting peeking out, whose top edge aligns with the archway on the right so your eye is drawn all the way to the ceiling.
If there weren’t an entrance to the room there, he could hide any number of things and you wouldn’t be suspicious because this room is so layered. Here it is as if we have walked forward and turned right to face the fireplace, with the screen on the left.
Lots of viable furniture arrangements to consider from these examples. But I don’t have soaring ceilings nor thousands of dollars to spend on a screen, so we’d need a shorter option for our room. So the hunt was on for something with pizzazz.
What about a screen with mirrored panels? I considered the potential to create a wow moment while giving us a place to check our reflections in the morning. But we already have an antique vanity with a three-piece mirror in our room, and adding another stretch of mirrors would put us firmly into funhouse territory. It’s a great way to make a room with a standard ceiling height feel bigger and brighter, even as you’re losing some square footage cutting into floor space with it. Just a chair in front of this screen lets the aged glass steal the show and maximize light play.
One could be used for a glamorous dressing area, creating the perfect place to tuck away exercise equipment. Look at those fleur de lis pins above the pleats around the ottoman!
Progress Hiding Our Elliptical
After keeping my eye out online and while out shopping for almost two years, I finally found a screen that would do the job to hide our elliptical machine this past February. It’s a 6 foot tall antique chinoiserie floor screen I spotted hiding at a local thrift store. I had passed by it and was about to leave after a major haul, and decided I might as well check it out just in case. What can I say, I’m a thrifting adrenaline junky. It was folded up with its back side showing, and I had to ask for help to dig it out from behind an old bed against the wall to get a peek. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible squeal when it was unfolded to reveal its hand painted gilt face.
It’s soooo beautiful in person. Our bedroom is pretty dark unless it’s a very sunny winter day and light slants just right, and the soft glow reflecting off the gold really creates a beautiful focal point and ambience in the low lighting. So much so that I don’t even notice our elliptical much anymore even though it’s not perfectly hidden.
A bit of research turned up that this is a Coromandel screen, which features a lacquer technique named for the Coromandel Coast in India. These Chinese screens had several coats of shiny black lacquer applied before the designs were hand-carved and then painted. It is thought that screens with large painted areas (not sure if this one is considered “large”, as these screens included up to 12 panels) may have been lacquered around painted sections to conserve the expensive lacquer.
This thing was a steal. I got a good deal because I bought a couple big pieces that day – it was $68!!!! I’ve placed some links below in a roundup to other screens and there are a few coromandel pieces available on Etsy and antique sites, they go for $750 plus! (sorry)
I’m not sure how to date ours, but they were produced from the late 19th century through the mid-90s.
Below you can see how I’ve laid out the furniture. The door into the bedroom is on the left. The screen to hides the elliptical’s handles on the right, but it’s only 4 panels, so the elliptical extends past the screen by a couple of feet.
So, I placed two large chairs we’ve had forever in a little conversational area in front of the screen – these chairs were one of our first furniture purchases after we got married 9 years ago. I placed a basket in between to hold extra bed pillows. Look out, Coco! HA.
I have no idea what the Chinese characters say, and my research shows they’re not on a lot of the ones I see up for sale. Signature? Verse? Phrase? Modern manufacturing mark disguised as a faux-period marking?
If you were to walk to leave the door and turn 90 degrees right, this is what you’d see – the elliptical hiding behind the room divider, narrowly sandwiched in. I placed the screen as close as I could to the elliptical while still being able to access it so we’re only passing it for a split second on the way in. The whole setup is so narrow and shadowed that instead of focusing on that gap in corner of our eye, we look right by it as we walk in, and face our bed on the far wall as the main focal point. We never face it head on unless we’re going to use the elliptical. We do have to do a strategic little waddle to get to the pedals. It’s all at once delightful and irritating.
You can see the back of the elliptical peeking out on a sunny day for sure, but your eye is always drawn to the gold in the screen instead. The first photo at the top of the post shows what it looks like on a typical day passing through the room, without any lights on – and the elliptical is hiding in complete shadow. You can just barely make out one of the screen’s brass-wrapped feet peeking out to the left of the basket.
On the wall to the left of the door to the bedroom, an antique vanity gives us a glimpse of the elliptical for a second as well. So it’s not a total secret it’s there, but it does the job. I also had our bed rotated and placed in front of the window to the right of the screen until last Fall, and will probably move it back at some point to shake things up, so this whole arrangement would move to the other side of the room and we wouldn’t be passing behind the screen at all in that case.
I might break my own suggestion and not hang anything above the screen at this point because I’ll probably be rotating the bed sooner rather than later. And hopefully finally painting away the gray walls if I can make a color choice and order samples to be shipped to us, because we are hunkered down hardcore over here.
This setup definitely isn’t done. I have this nude charcoal sketch picked out – I have it resting on the chair below – to place near the light switches to the right of the door to add another layer to the vignette. I still need to add a mat.
Overall the setup looking a bit too…glamorous for my liking. Or polished? Not sure that’s right word for the vibe I get now, maybe it’s more that it’s just halfway there. I’ll shop around the house and play around with styling it a bit more.
I’ll probably also add artwork to the right of the screen, on the left of the window. Ideally I’d like a lamp in the mix and maybe a table instead of the basket between the chairs, but we are in need of side tables in other rooms more. I’m just not likely to need a place to set down coffee in here, so it can wait.
I’ll update with pics and a floor plan once I’ve got it figured out.
So this is where we’re at. And floor screens are only one way to hide an elliptical. I’ll be doing a post on how I planned to hide it in our second house’s master bedroom soon. Stay tuned!
Scroll down for a roundup of some of the best looking room dividers I’ve found, roughly sorted from most affordable to most expensive, aka newly made vs antiques. There are some great finds on Etsy If I find more I’ll share when I post an update about our screen vignette.
Affiliate links are included for your shopping convenience.
Room Divider Roundup
Click the photos below to link to buying info for each of the floor screens below. These are sorted roughly top to bottom from most affordable to most expensive, and include both new screens and antiques.
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