Living Room: Before & After

Friday is a tough act to follow, but I am going to try to give you some insight and pearls into the process with our living room.

So, here is our living room in Chicago:Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 8.07.08 PM

Which I show you because I re-used 90% of this room in our current living room, and yet, to me, it looks totally different.Β I drew up the tufted sofa and had it made to fit the Chicago living room, and found the wing-backs on ebay and recovered them. The lamb was adopted while we were in this house off of 1st Dibs. The consoles were some cheepies from overstock or something, that we repainted. The lamps are furbish. The ottoman was Ballard upholstered in tiger velvet.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 8.06.53 PM

Then this is how it looked in Austin. From Chicago to Austin we switched the coffee table/ottomans between the living room/playroom. We added in two lamps, moving the side table lamps in Chicago onto the consoles in Austin. We also added a new rug and ottoman in Austin, and moved the monkey painting that was in the kitchen in Chicago to the living room. And, the pink. Colonial Rose by Fine Paints of Europe. Otherwise the sofa, side tables, lambs, consoles, and chairs are the same in both rooms.Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 8.16.04 PM

And now. I think it is kind of helpful seeing them all in a row like that. Same look, three ways, ya know? Trying to illustrate my point that if you invest in one really superb piece like our couch, you can use it anywhere/everywhere as your tastes change.

So here is the before.hr2924042-17

It is an awkward room because it is kind of long and narrow. 13×24. And there you see a pathway at one end connecting our staircase/powder room/kitchen to our den/library. The wall space where the fiddle fig was above is 5’4″ to the corner. Just enough space to be awkward when empty and not enough for pretty much anything.Β At the other side is our entrance hall, obviously another major pathway. So the layout is trixie.

The previous owners had dealt with the situation by floating all of the furniture in the middle of the room, and I don’t know if that was for staging or if that was how they really lived in the room. It just seemed like a really formal room that would never be used. Everywhere we have lived, Pete and I try to live in each room. Which means giving each room its time to shine. We did this the best in Chicago where our living room had a fireplace but no TV, and our playroom had a TV and no fireplace. We entertained a lot in our living room, or read by the fire. And watched TV and hung out at night in the playroom.

If you want to live in all areas of your house, try to save some activities for each space. If you have multiple living spaces, make one room the game room, or the TV room, or the music room. To me a house feels homier when there is life in each room, and you can’t really fake that. Don’t leave your room lonely, if you know you won’t use your formal living room then make it your office. Nothing makes a house feel spooky like abandoned rooms.

photo 1

So this is basically the same angle after. As you can see we dealt with the awkward space by filling it up with good stuff.

No stuff or wee stuff or not enough stuff makes you look outward at your surroundings, and here that means the weird dimensions and walkways. So we filled the most awkward of corners with a piano. Space planning can be hard. And putting the piano there was a big gamble. The piano was Pete’s great-aunts who he shares a middle-name with. And it meant SO much to Pete. When his parents told us they were passing it down to us it was really important that we find a place of honor for it.

It fits in that space with not even an inch to spare. I measured it out and put painters tape on the floor to make sure it would work. It is tight, but it gives that corner a purpose and visual interest. It is a total myth that small furniture fits small rooms. Bigger pieces anchor it and give the illusion of a bigger space. It’s like when Old Navy sells some of its size 12 pants as a 6 and you feel super skinny. Big ass furniture in tiny pants rooms makes everyone feel/look better. Sometimes. I’m not sure that analogy works, but a few bigger pieces can make a small room feel bigger.Β hr2924042-16

Lots of tiny furniture in the middle of a skinny room. Pure, but it feels to me like you would have to have really good posture to hang out in here.


Remember the fantastic Mr. Fox Fabric?fd261_v97

Yesss. Curtains in that colorway are coming. I chose it because I love it. And because in every room where I have some bizarre color combinations, there is always one piece- even if it is tiny- that pulls together all of the colors. I did have a hard time deciding between those two color ways. As it is the room kind of has a great monochromatic thing going with the browns/oranges, and the tan color way would have continued that. But in the end I felt like it needed a little bit of contrast that the purple provided. And believe it or not- Pete voted for the purple as well.Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 7.49.52 AM It can be a fabric or a piece of art or a rug. All of the colors come from somewhere. Here you can see the green from the couch, the gray that is in the chairs, the brown in the rug? Then the orange on the walls? AND it brings in some reds/pinks/purples that aren’t in the room that will add a lot, I think. It will give me a place to go from when I add pillows to the couch and reupholster the piano bench.

So here was the thought process that brought this room out of the two previous iterations.photokh 1

It started with..well it started with the furniture. I still love our couch so much. I thought about recovering the chairs and couch in Austin, and bought the fabric and everything, but laziness prevailed and I am so glad I kept it.

I have been obsessed with the Stark Antelope for a long long time, and I can’t remember if something clicked and I was like ‘STARK! You would be GREAT friends with my living room items. Wanna date?’ ORRR if I just thought it was hot and forced it on my living room furniture, but either way, match well made, right?

So then there was the issue of wall color. And that is when I called upon mah ol’ friend I introduced you to in the last post, Mr. Roy G. Biv. Does it make you sad that I am such a simpleton? That RoyGBiv is my secret trick to making weird color combos? So R. Red, No. I like red and pink and that is Valentine’s day, but red and green is Christmas and that is ridiculous. Red is out.

Orange. Or-ahnge. Hmm had never really considered orange. But something about the idea struck my fancy this time on my tour o’Roy. Tagged it. Went through the rest of the colors and none of them turned me on. And so I looked at my House Beautiful color guide and someone suggested Orangery.


Sounds FANCY!

IMG_1409 copyI like how it is almost beige, but not. It is orange as a neutral. Color doesn’t have to be so in your face, there are pinks and lilacs and muddy greens and pale yellows that all read very close to beige without being beige. You don’t have to go full on to get some color in your life.

So here we are going to play Good Cop/Bad Cop. Things that work/Things that make me angry.

Bad news first.

I hate the fireplace. It isn’t even a fireplace. It is a mockery of coziness and love. It is not real and there is no way to make it real. So I shoved a bunch of candles in it and it makes me a lot happier, for now. Good & Bad.

All that stuff on the fireplace? So good. So not mine. Well, like half of it is mine. Half of it is my moms. And half of it is stuff pulled from other places in our home to make some visual impact here. Which is three-halves and how you make abundance. Good cop? Pretty. Bad cop? Temporary.

Good cop? I found something at the very most last minute to hang above the fireplace. DO NOT FILL A SPACE WITH “ART” JUST TO FILL IT. If you don’t have a piece you love, find a mirror. You can always repurpose a mirror, but some last minute reproduction landscape print that you hate, but has the right dimensions? Just…go with a mirror. So I found a mirror. Good. Scale of the mirror, bad. The frame needs to be at least double the thickness that it is.

That’s what she said.

Ok, wanna know what one of my favorite random moments in this room is? Our blue and white stools. I don’t know why, but I rarely use blue. I love blue. But it doesn’t seem to be a major player in my repertoire. I was looking around and thought, this room is so random. It needs a chaperone. Someone kind and Grandmotherly. And I thought of blue and white. And it totally babysits that junk and makes it look so much right-er. To me.

So this was…less focused than the last? But hopefully gave you something you can use?

I think one of my big takeaways is in terms of color scheme: Sometimes I make a bunch of random colors hang out without precedent. But in that case I am always in search of something that has all of those colors in it to bring everything together. Like in the living room. Right now there is not one place all of the colors exist at once, but when the curtains come they will. Even if it is just a tiny little swatch on a pillow, if the colors exist together somewhere else I feel like that legitimizes it. Kind of like citing articles in a paper.

Other times I find a fabric or rug or piece of art and pull the color out in unexpected ways. Seeing colors together even in totally different scales and compositions gives me confidence to know that I can make them work.

Finally, I think this room more than any other shows how flexible great pieces can be. Furniture does not have to be neutral to be flexible. I am so sick of people telling everyone to do a neutral couch and mix it up by changing out the pillows. That seems like a great way to constantly spend money. I am not saying that doesn’t work- but I would like to offer another perspective for your consideration.

Our couch is not neutral at all. The style with the tufting is like bam, and it is bright green (bam) and velvet (bam). And yet it has worked equally well in a white room with yellow accents, a pink room, and now in this orange/neutral room. We don’t even usually have pillows on it and it looks great. You do not have to buy a beige couch because it is a neutral and will transition with you. Because if you do that, every time you transition, you are still going to have to buy or create your “moment” in the room. If you make the couch your moment, you have something you can bring with you anywhere that will have visual impact and interest. You could plop our couch in the middle of a dorm room and it would be fabulous.

Finally, a note on art.IMG_1528 copy

This is not one of my strong suits. Our gallery wall here needs work.

I had initially started with the idea of the living room housing portraits only. Our own National Portrait gallery. We had the painting of the gentleman that hung in our bathroom in Chicago, and the gentleman kitty. Pete’s mom gave us that drawing you see up there of her when she was in Paris in the 60’s, and my mom gave us a beautiful sketch/photograph of her from the 70s. Then I found that guy in the striped shirt and loved him. Love him or hate him, you have to admit he belongs with us.

But then it became harder and harder to find the right pieces. And I broke my rule and bought the picture at the top left from and I like but it was an impulse buy because the wall looked lop-sided. I think works best as a way to bring something great that you adore but could never afford into your house. Or something unusual that isn’t immediately identifiable as a reproduction (i.e. not a Picasso like I did).

So then I gave up on the portraits and brought in one of Gray’s pieces. The colors look so good in here. I don’t think all the frames need to match, but these need some work to at least coordinate and not be so distracting. I am planning to gold leaf the frame with Pete’s moms portrait, and paint Gray’s frame black with a gold detail. DIY projects, y’all!

So I think that pretty much exhausts the case of the living room. Sorry I didn’t include any gifs. But was this as helpful? It is time consuming so I want to make sure y’all continue to get something out of it and I am not just talking to hear the sound of my own voice.

As always, questions in the comments I am trying to keep up with and answer as well!

53 thoughts on “Living Room: Before & After

  1. I am wondering what the technique is on the walls that makes it textured? We had a similar technique in our living room that we actually had smoothed out, but I always wondered how it was done.

    the house looks great! totally jeal.

  2. Very helpful. Keep the love coming. I love the evolution of your spaces from Chicago to now. I say stick with that. It will help people re-imagine their pieces instead of wasting money on the latest ‘it’ look. That couch remains the top banana. And don’t get me started on the Stark antelope. me love long time.

  3. You are the best for giving us these peaks inside your brilliant brain! A few random thoughts from me:

    -That fabric is insanely perfect for the space and for you. I can’t wait to see pics of the curtains in the room!

    -Your point about making the couch the statement is SO GOOD. Thank you. I will be quoting you on that one. (Since I am not an interior designer/decorator I have no idea to whom I will be directing said quote, but rest assured that you will be cited.;))

    -I can’t believe you say that arranging art is not one of your strong suits. I’m always, always, always inspired by your art choices!

    -I’ve long obsessed over having my own personal Porttrait Gallery in my home, and I get weird looks when I tell people this. Thank you for legitimizing my dream, even if you ultimately changed your plans. Portraits are like permanantly rad houseguests. I love them.

    Please keep doing these. I recently started a new job, and I’ve had to cut back on reading and commenting on blogs, but I always make time for yours because you are the best.

  4. 1) This must take a squillion hours. You are Mother Teresa-Bailey.
    2) The side by sides of all three versions using the same pieces accomplishing totally different feelings is SO helpful. Excellent thinking.
    3) Your thoughts on the neutral couch being tarted up over and over again vs. letting the couch BE the moment you need in the room to give it its jazz-hands is GROUNDBREAKING. Thank you for changing my entire design-brain with that single paragraph.
    4) You’re a stah.

  5. I’m loving these helpful and insightful posts. I especially love your tip today on finding one item to pull all the colors together. I’m in the midst of decorating my living room and nobody is understanding my vision of the colors I’ve brought in so far, but I think when I include an item with them all it will all start to make sense (to people that can’t see inside my brain)! Thanks for all the advice you’re giving!

  6. The non-neutral couch is such a life-changer. Thank you for this post, and your blog in general! It is so so so so so helpful.

  7. Love the room! But I can’t help but ask about the rug-it’s great. Can you let us know where you got it??

  8. I love love love that you mentioned things that you plan to change. Often in house tours owners will talk about how unfinished their home is, but as an outsider everything looks so perfect to me so it’s hard to imagine what could be improved upon. So it’s nice when you talk about changing the frames, etc, because then I can picture what it will look like eventually and get more inspiration for details in my home to improve! Another great post πŸ™‚

  9. I LOVE that you talked about things you want to change. So often in house tours you owners say their house is a work in progress, but to me it already looks perfect so it’s hard to picture what changes they plan to make. I loved the ideas of changing the frames, etc, because then I can picture how it will look in the future and get ideas on how to improve my own home! πŸ™‚

    Side note, every time I try to leave a comment I get an error message and my comments only go through sometimes? Just FYI…

  10. Thanks for all of the work you put into this. House #3 blows me away! Esp. LOVE the curtain fabric choice and can’t wait to see them up!

  11. I LOVE that you talked about things you want to change, because it already all looks so perfect to me! It’s fun to picture how it will look in the future and get ideas on how to improve my own home! πŸ™‚

  12. Thank you for your thoughts on the couch. The insight on punch vs. neutral is just what I needed to think about.

    Where did the monkey/girl painting come from? I could swear I have seen it somewhere other than your blog. Where? It is driving me crazy.

    Love, love your french sailor painting. Do you ever name your pieces?

  13. I am loving these post! Seeing your process really helps us novices work with our own spaces. We bought a 60’s curved back nine footer couch a few months ago and have been debating the color of velvet to reupholster. Your green beauty has sold us on green! I’ve been nervous to make too much of a STATEMENT but you show how you can really make it work in a variety of spaces.

  14. Love seeing inside your mind and the process. Fascinating and just so good. Thanks so much for taking your time to inform us!

    And I’m definitely with you on the whole neutral sofa thing. I’m wanting to reupholster our vintage channel back sofa with velvet goodness – yellow, pink, or navy/cobalt!

  15. Inspiring as always…you have no idea how great this is- the first reno that breaks it down into the nitty gritty for us non-professional- you have a fan forever! I know you told us back when Mr. Banks was featured (and probably when Clifford was as well) but where did you find a place to “create your own” couch? I have not found any good resources and the couch in my head is so much better than what I’ve been able to find in real life…YOU ARE AMAZING OK NOW I’M OFFICIALLY A CREEPSTER BYE

  16. Thanks for taking the time to do these posts! I loved your thoughts on making a couch the WOW piece and bringing the room together around it. I am about to invest my first piece of big-girl furniture and have a dark purple velvet couch that is screaming my name. This post was exactly what I needed to pull the trigger on that!

  17. Bailey,

    1. next time you do one of these posts, start a stop watch from when you start until right before you hit post. I am assuming this took over 90 minutes to put together. Bailey the magnanimous!

    2. Green is the ultimate neutral. At least that is what I’m thinking God was thinking. I also prefer a mix of green.

    3. That fox fabric is so fantastic.

    4. This is my fav. rendition yet of your stuff.

    5. The blue stools are amazing with that orangery wall paint. Filed that away in my head movies.

    6. I mean this as a true compliment… this house looks like it has evolved over time. Not decorated at all. This room is my favorite.

    7. Pete’s piano is beautiful. Teach gracie heart and soul and chopsticks before she’s three, and she will be declared the next Elton John

    8. I agree that the console doesn’t exactly work in the window. what about your gun chair? Did you try that?

    9. You are better at this than me, so likely ignore my silly opinion.

    10. You are going to be so famous!! Can I please have your autograph?


  18. Thank you for this post! I love what you said about your green couch and how the couch doesn’t have to be beige and neutral. I am in the process of trying to figure out if I should reupholster my cranberry couch. Not so “neutral” as your deep green, but I’m trying to work around it and was going back and forth between recovering and embracing it. You’re helping me make up my mind. Also, your Ballard ottoman is great. Just what I’ve been looking for.

  19. Another great post…you’re going to get me commenting regularly!!!
    The fox is amazing, can’t wait for them to go in.
    I never would have put those blue and white stools in there but you’re right they’re pefect, I think I spend too much effort with colours although I hate the matchy matchy I often get worried about a clash even though I love the outcome.
    My favourite colour is green, been trying to pursuade my husband for a green sofa (we’ve not bought our first yet!) but might be even harder than pursuading for a dog, even though I’m a vet so I obviously should have a dog.
    Having seen your photos I’m back on the green sofa mission once again…very inspiring πŸ™‚

  20. I love your green couch and the advice you give on not having to get a neutral couch. I don’t see the need for a neutral couch ever! πŸ™‚
    I’m still so amazed at how fantastic the green couch looked in the pink living room in Austin. It’s so unexpected and so perfect at the same time. The new living room looks great as well.

  21. These posts are your bread & buttah–thanks for sharing the statement couch wisdom. I love how you talk about the fact that a neutral couch does nothing for the room’s “moment”… geen!

  22. Bailey – you are truly amaze-balls, girl. LOVE LOVE LOVE your style! Ever since I saw your couch I’ve been itching for the same piece for our home. Are you able to pass along the info of the company where you had it made? Or would I be able to go through Biscuit for this type of custom piece? ALL of your homes have been equally gorgeous – thank you for sharing all of your insight, knowledge and learnings! xx

  23. thank you. so amaze.

    question/thoughts: the stark carpet. i love it, and have too been coveting for ages. we are at the tip top beginning of a remodel and want to use it. i have no idea the cost, but guessing high. would your recommend having it bound or use it in a whole room? options are a den/tv room or living room under couch in front a fire…. please note we have two boys under four and two huge hairy dogs.


  24. Thank you again! Another thought provoking post. For real.

    My favorite was your comment about having a purpose for each room- well said. I have been mulling that over… I’m paying the mortgage on the house, damnit, I should USE every room, consistently! You should do an entire editorial about this… I’d love to hear more of your thoughts…

    I know these posts must take lots of time, so feel free to break it up a bit. You had A LOT of good stuff in just two posts- stretch that out, and we’d be fine. It would give us a chance to ruminate a bit. πŸ™‚


  25. This is HUGELY helpful! “Make the couch your moment” was exactly what I needed to hear. I am a neutral couch gal from the waaaay back, and I’m terrified to get adventurous with it, but then, like you said, I end up spending all kinds of sweet moolah on all the other pizzazz to make my “moment”. Amen, sister! Thank you so much for taking the time to allow us into your brain for a little bit!

  26. Really enjoyed this. So helpful. Can you give more info on how you mix colours like you do? I’m having a hard time with my love of so many colours, trying to make them all ‘work’! Help!

  27. Love love love it Bailey. One thing though, you must have the patience of a saint. I love that green couch and want one of my own, but am amazed at your persistance to make it work in every house (which it does- so very very well- who woulda thought?!?!) when I move -despite being a poo-ass, I want to eBay my furniture, eat ramon noodles for a month and save money to try something completely new. By keeping your statement peice you are an inspiration! You really push boundaries by keeping it real xox

  28. Love it! I think what’s working really well in these posts is that they feel so very honest and personal, like we’re getting a glimpse inside your head. Keep ’em coming!

  29. B:
    Thank you for the time you’re putting into these. My main take away is almost always how clever your brain works – you truly have a gift.
    Neat Freak Alert: How has the velvet held up to babies and pups? Are you constantly brushing lint away, or worrying about spills? I’ve heard mixed opinions, so I’d be curious for yours.

  30. I just started following your blog and I love love it!! Your posts rock and the details are delightful!

  31. Enjoyed reading this, Bailey. Your discussion of a non-neutral couch has me thinking….I also love your idea of bringing in a piece, however small, that pulls all the colors in the room together. And your rug is off the chain.

  32. I never comment on blogs, but I wanted to thank you for the time putting together these last two posts. As a reader, I think it’s so worth your effort – these posts were crazy helpful! I especially loved seeing the evolution of your living room furniture. It’s so helpful to see how the same pieces can work with a variety of backdrops. A tiny suggestion: perhaps some more detail about sourcing custom pieces? How to find a place that makes a couch from a sketch, etc. how to find a tailor for great window treatments, etc. Thanks!

  33. I’m not a huge fan of art…honestly, I just don’t get a lot of it…you’re pieces are so fun and a little funky, where do you find them??

  34. You rock!!! Thank you so much for sharing your brain. You’re my Brittany. I know it’s time comsuming, so thank you! Wish I could hire you because it’s so nice to see someone get out what you have in you’re head. You make it happen.

  35. It was a good post. And yes, helpful to see all the rooms together. I am totally 100% with you on the couch. All those beige Pottery Barn couches are a downer (and not so kid friendly….).

  36. LOVE this room!! Love the couch, the piano, love that you live in all of your rooms, and love all the art! I want a portrait of my mom from paris when she was younger! Such a cool piece!

  37. Twenty three years ago, when my husband and I moved into our then new home, I took a deep breath and ignored the fact that our beige couch was not only brand spanking new but already crazy expensive and had it reupholstered in leopard print velvet.
    It is the only piece of that original furniture outlay that is still in the living room and going strong.
    It’s my big cat with nine lives as that room as gone through every design incarnation:
    shabby chic, mid century hipster, beachy casual, eclectic traditional, etc.
    So I applaud your advice to go for it and make that couch a statement piece! No fear!
    You are so talented and wonderful.
    Thank you for sharing your talent!

  38. I loved every minute of this post! Keep ’em coming! This is my fave iteration of your living room yet. You have awesome taste and an awesome voice!

  39. could you put a fainting couch or some sort of overstuffed bench between those two windows? otherwise, i seriously adore your room. you are my kind of weird.

  40. Sorry it took me so long to get to these!
    Jenna- They are plaster walls and original to the house, probably 1930s
    Jody- I believe the fabric is lee jofa but I can’t find the swatch for the life of me now
    Lorlei- Rug is Stark Antelope
    Sarah- The painting is Rolle Wilson and is with us on a five year loan from my godfather as a wedding present, we had it in our kitchen in Chicago that was featured in Rue
    Steph- I just have researched upholsterers everywhere I go and have found great craftsman
    Sdd- I rec bound, personal preference though.
    CarolAnne- See past post on my ROYGBIV trick and keep reading for more insight πŸ™‚
    Alison- I love the way the velvet has aged, the tufting on the seat is the only cleaning issue as stuff gets down in there and you have to dust bust it out
    Elz- Orangery by Farrow and Ball
    Colleen- A lot of our pieces are hand me downs from family, and then 1st dibs and flea markets! Thank you!
    Allison- Osborne&Little

    Thank you everyone!

  41. Jody-I think the wingchair fabric is Lee Jofa Icelandic Poppies velvet grey….beautiful!

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