Before & After: One Week Makeover The Living Room

Out of everything we pulled off at Maddie’s townhouse, I am most proud of the living space transformation. Many of you might be familiar with Maddie’s living space floor plan, with living, dining, and kitchen occupying the second floor of her townhouse- a lot of my Chicago clients have the same situation going on. And while an open floor plan makes for convenient living, it can also be daunting to decorate. Especially with the soaring high ceilings a lot of newer builds have.

Maddie's Living Before 2
I have said before, I actually like designing under constraints. It helps me focus and fuels my creativity, and this project had some major ones in that we only had a week, and a reasonable but strict budget.

While I like designing under constraints, something always has to give, and I am going to tell you a design truth: You either need time or money. It is almost impossible create a beautiful, lasting design without either. (Think some of the janky design shows on TV)

If you have the money, you can go out and pay for the convenience of ready-made items at high end design stores. If you have the time, you can search for deals over the long term, and refinish budget vintage items with great high-end results. But in our case, there was just no way we were going to be able to complete the long term makeover in a week in all four spaces, and stay under budget. So we had to borrow a few things.

And I am curious to hear what you think about that- I will pose some questions for discussion at the end of the post after you see how we used our “on-approval” items.

The first thing we did was take inventory of Maddie’s space. In the living room we wanted to keep the couch, but the chairs we had already planned on replacing, and the coffee table and rug were nice hand-me-downs but not really Maddie’s style. There were great architectural details with the arched bookshelves and moldings, but everything was getting lost in a sea of beige. Because of the timeline, we had to choose things that were immediately available so we went around to our favorite Houston stores like Area, Boxwood/B2, and MeCox finding our missing pieces: rug, chairs, and a coffee table.

We had the couch to start from on a furniture plan, and we needed paint. Since the place was so open and lofty, Maddie wanted to make it a bit warmer and cozier. Alligator Alley by Benjamin Moore is one of my all-time favorite go-to colors, it is sophisticated but because it is a slightly off color also brings a bit of an interesting edge. It has an almost layered quality in light, and at night is calm and enveloping.  So we decided to paint everything out in alligator alley, including the bookshelves and fireplace to pull it all together, but leaving the moldings and kitchen cabinetry for contrast. The walls are an eggshell, while the bookshelves and mantel are a high gloss and the contrasting finishes really showcases the colors versatility.

In every space I like to bring at least one major moment. A custom statement that elevates everything else. The bookcases were a huge focal point, and are also just huge, and being a young married couple Maddie and Matt didn’t have the lifetime of treasure to properly fill them. We decided backing them in a fun wallpaper would fill in some of the visual space, and be that special impact for the room. At first we planned to use the tortoiseshell wallpaper I did in our bar- I knew I had one leftover roll and we could order another- but it was discontinued. While we continued brainstorming, we picked out a light pink Madeline Weinrib rug that we thought would be a good balance for the masculine green and neutral colors elsewhere in the space.

Then- when we were searching our storage unit for the leftover tortoiseshell wallpaper, I discovered two rolls of this Cole & Sons library wallpaper I had bought off eBay on major discount a few years ago and it was perfect. Although it meant that the light pink rug we had selected probably wouldn’t work. Luckily I remembered another Madeline Weinrib rug that I had admired awhile back that would be the perfect replacement, and we easily switched them out.

Living Room Before:

Maddie's Living Before 1

And After:

Maddie’s existing couch and side tables, with new rug, art, lamps and borrowed Eames lounge, pillows, lucite coffee table, and brown velvet chairs. New art and bookshelf accessories we brought in got to stay as well.

We adjusted the floor plan a bit, moving back the sofa so that we could fit both chairs by the window.

The TV that used to be over the fireplace was too high up to be properly enjoyed, and now has come to live on the bookshelves where the Native American bust sits in this picture, which Maddie reports is much more comfortable.

How beautiful is that Cole & Sons wallpaper with the alligator alley? I love the magenta with the olivey green. Such a lucky find.


And here is how you can get the look on your own.

Living area
The art above the fireplace is an original oil painting by Diana Hendrix, but you can get a similar feel with this pony piece. Wallpaper, couch, side tables, lamps, rug, coffee table– and an option for less, the actual velvet chairs we used– and a budget option, walls- similar art, and an Eames chair- that one was particularly hard to give back.

So, now knowing that the chairs and coffee table were temporary for the shoot- what do you think?

Almost every magazine I know of takes advantage of stores’ willingness to lend items on approval for editorial spreads- there is a whole industry of stylists that are hired by magazines to spruce things up for shoots- sometimes that means adding a few flowers, others that means rearranging furniture and replacing lighting fixtures. Having been on both sides of the situation now, I wonder how y’all feel about that as readers.

Does it take away from the value of the project to you if you know some of what you are looking at was brought in just for the shoot? Or are you more of the mind that they should do whatever it takes to produce the eye-candy, who cares if it is an illusion?

And, as always, if you have any questions about the design I am happy to help

43 thoughts on “Before & After: One Week Makeover The Living Room

  1. I think the first time I found out how much “styling” occurs, I was sad/annoyed. Mostly ’cause I sit around and wonder why my house doesn’t look like an Elle Decor spread. But now that I’m older and wiser, its cool. Actually, I LOVE that you mentioned it! For someone toiling away in an office, it is nice to know that reality was suspended a little (‘cuz that is a sweet pad for a girl who works at a bedding shop)–the pics are still nice and inspiring, but its nice to know how it happened. Regardless of what furniture had to leave after the shoot–it is still AMAZING that you got all that done in a week!

  2. this room makes me so happy! since you’re asking, i actually don’t mind that items were borrowed for the sake of the shoot. AND i admire you for getting real with us (as you so often do!). the outcome of the room is perfection, and without the borrowed pieces, we may have missed out!

    my one question would be, what are the next steps to finish out the room (if any)?

  3. I really love this series of blog posts! It doesn’t bother me that some of the pieces are borrowed – especially given the very valid explanation for it. Great job – Maddie is a lucky girl!

  4. This is my favorite makeover from you, Bailey! I love the paint & the rug and the brown velvet chairs, but I especially love the hot pink velvet pillows and the awesome table cloth in the dining room. Did you have the pillows made? If so, where is that beautiful pink velvet from!?

    Thanks for the explanation about the “on approval” policy. I think it’s great to borrow for the sake of the shoot, because it provides a lot of inspiration to the reader and that’s a lot of what this is – inspiration! I would love to see how Maddie finishes out the room.. maybe a follow up in 6-12 months?

    Loving this series!

    xx, Hannah

  5. I actually lean more towards being disappointed, because so many people do find inspiration from magazine spreads, but then lament the fact that they can’t have x,y,z, when not even the home they envy has all of it. I feel that it would be better to see how the home is really lived in, instead of stuff that is borrowed to make it look more magazine appropriate.

  6. i don’t mind that the items were borrowed. when reading any magazine and looking at a beautifully decorated room, i assume that the owners have a kabillion dollars to spend on beautiful pieces and i look at it more for inspiration, rather than – i want to replicate this exactly and can’t because i don’t have the $$.

    however, since i read at the top of your post that you were working with a “reasonable but strict budget”…and then saw the eames chair and $4k coffee table (before i read that those were borrowed), i was like WHAAAAT?! so knowing that those were borrowed items made everything make sense.

  7. abo- next steps will be/have been to regularly check vintage stores, ebay, craiglist etc to see if we can find a treasure like the coffee table. We will have similar chairs made when the $$$ is refilled a bit. They are also selling a few of the pieces we didn’t use, and funds from that will go to finishing off this room.

    Hannah- The pillows were on approval from B2 here in Houston, I thought Maddie kept them so I will edit the post in a sec, BUT they are, I believe, gainsborough velvet from Schumacher. We will have similar ones made when $$$ allows.

    Jess- Totally get it. I had never done it before this shoot- but a designer friend of mine did a spread for a big magazine and they replaced the dining chairs she had designed that were GORGEOUS with some boring ol’ wooden pieces, and then used that as the main shot and it was like…am I even excited to be featured now? That isn’t my design? It’s a tricky thing for sure.

    That said, it doesn’t so much bother me when I know things have been changed for the shoot, I think it is interesting to know what was changed and why to make it more editorial. I always love when Curbed or other real estate blogs show the listing photos of places that have been in magazines, and picking out the differences in how the house was shown for both purposes.

    I think Hannah’s suggestion of showing spaces in juxtaposition to how they are shown for the shoot is a great idea, especially for blogs. I understand the need for things to be perfect for a magazine, but blogs can keep it more real. I will follow up on Maddie’s in a couple of months to show how we finished everything off.

  8. I definitely don’t mind knowing those pieces were temporary for the shoot but it makes me want to see what it looks like without them, like what is maddies real living space look like, with the tv up and the lack of the chairs etc. I think it would be cool to see both sides of things

  9. I think it is a big disappointment for sure!! I didn’t know mags or blogs did this. Does it even really count? If most of us were given the green light to go into high end stores and have our pick of fab items to borrow for a pic, then had stylists there to fluff it up… Couldn’t we all have amazing (fake!) rooms? It’s the same as when a magazine takes a model, airbrushes her flaws, then photoshops her to make her even more thin, fuller lips- etc. It’s not real. I’m not inspired by fake beauty in models, and now rooms that I know are similarly staged and fake-ified. Thanks for keeping it real, even knowing it will be a let down for some!

  10. That’s the big not-so-secret secret of the “Domino” look–it was all trucked in for shoots. Not every magazine does it to that extent, but yeah. Lonny was pretty good at shooting homes as-is though, for a comparison of what that looks like vs. Domino.

  11. I really don’t mind the borrowed items in magazine spreads. For me it almost makes the featured interior more real, because when looking through magazines you sometimes get the feeling that those beautiful interiors are only for those who have a lot to spend.. So knowing that special, eye-catching, expensive pieces are sometimes not actually theirs, is not disappointing at all. I actually never heard about this before, so thanks for being honest and open about it!

    I AM disappointed to hear the tortoiseshell wallpaper is discontinued. I loved it from the first time I saw it. I work as a conservator in historic interiors, and tortoiseshell (either real or a painted imitation) is one of the most special and beautiful finishes you can come across. Over the years I have developed a sort of tortoiseshell obsession. I took tortoiseshell painting classes once but it is a very time-consuming, difficult, layered technique and the best result you get from working on a gilded (!) surface. It was very fascinating to learn, but not so practical.. and almost as expensive as the real thing.

    Anyway.. I was planning to use the wallpaper at some point in my home, like the way you used it in your bar (brilliant!), I just started saving up… If you have any tips for scoring leftover stock when something gets discontinued, or if you might consider selling your leftover roll, please let me know!

  12. I really only get bothered when things like the TV aren’t pictured/included. It becomes too unrealistic and takes away from the design. I believe design should be both livable and beautiful and when it is only beautiful its not as successful.

  13. Depends on the magazine/blog. Elle decor I think yes, I expect that its not all real, or even if it is real I know that its not “real life” for 99% of people but in blogs and online magazines like Rue/Lonny I am let down by showing “real” people’s homes that have staged or borrowed big ticket items. I love your transparency and would def expect some borrowed styling elements on shelves, pillows, etc but big ticket furniture lending for shoots makes me disappointed.

  14. I’m happy you “admitted” there was some borrowing going on, because I agree with a lot of the other commenters that I stare at pictures and wonder “why oh whyyy do I not have $686,000 to spend on furniture!?!?”, but if they weren’t there I’d be like, that room is so sad. The point is to show the beauty of the room and girllllll, you nailed it. But now the fun part for Maddie is searching and saving and making it “her own” with some awesome guidance! I love the room, great job. clap clap clap

    Surrounded by Pretty

  15. I am obsessed with that wall color and pic above the fire place, so gorg!

    I totally get the need and desire to borrow furniture/accessories/etc. but I feel like it should be noted in the editorial what items are borrowed and what actually belongs to the homeowners.

  16. I love what you did with maddie’s living room in such a short time and while I think its really helpful sometimes to show what the room could look like with borrowed pieces, lately I feel like there is a bit too much aspirational decorating stuff out there- and there is so much available at lots of different price points a lot of times I feel like borrowing (i’m speaking in more general terms here- I think what you guys did for Rue was fine since you had ONLY A WEEK ps seriously do you sleep my friend?!? yes I know we’re not real life friends) feels not exactly lazy, but less helpful than aspirational. The reality is, and you’ve been super open and honest about it, is that unless you have unlimited resources you’re going to have a budget, and most people are mixing high-low anyway. I have increasingly started wishing that there were less available “aspirational” décor blogs and a few more that showed how people actually live- crumbs on the floor and all. because speaking from experience, the dark ebony wood floors show all the dog hair, the zebra cowhide rug has to be vacuumed a certain way so the cow’s cowlicks don’t show, and I don’t use my china unless i’m feeling fancypants…ok rant over. amazing as well. you’re making me want to redo my built ins in high gloss…love it.

  17. I love it. It is great to be introduced to a variety of products (especially when the sources are given) it allows the reader to see the complete vision. Wouldn’t you be bothered if half a thought was floating around?

  18. Oh- clarification on my earlier comment- I do see the need in a one-week turnaround to borrow some things and I’m so glad you are always so real with us about the process!

  19. I really love how this came together. Bravo!
    I am interested in how you transitioned the color
    into the kitchen and halls…When using bold colors
    that always seems to be my challenge.

    Amanda Rogers

  20. I LOVE what you did with this space and am in awe at how quickly you were able to pull it off.
    I personally don’t mind shoots like this being spruced up for editorials. I pretty much assume that happens anyways so it doesn’t bother me. Plus I love the inspirations. But, for a blog, I think it would be great to follow up with Maddie in a month or two to see how she’s adapted the space for her personal day to day living. I’d love to see how the tv placement works and what other little changes she’s made to the space to really make it beautiful and livable.

  21. Hi Biscuit ladies! Great work. Did you carry the color up/down the staircase? You mentioned it was on the 2nd floor and I see a banister in the pic. That’s what I got confused about when we were doing our dining, living & kitchen combo – if the color went up the staircase. I’m still thinking of doing BM Gentleman’s Gray in there everyday…

  22. As always, your honosty keeps us all reading! Great post! Can’t wait to see more like it. Like others, I’m wondering where the green paint began/ended in this open second floor. Keep on keepin on. xo

  23. Love it all! Well…regardless of what stays and what goes back, it’s nice to see WHAT COULD BE!! I always appreciate designers who “keep it real!!” Lets face it….most of us reading these publications can’t afford a lot of these high end items (at least not all at once!)…but the inspiration to make our own abodes beautiful and cozy is priceless! Thank you so much for showing a “cheaper” version of some items, that is always very helpful!!
    P.s. love your blog!!!!! we have very similar taste and I’m giddy to see your designs! yay!! ~ Carolyn

  24. Hi Bailey, I was just wondering what program you use to do your layouts?

    PS I lovvvvve how bold you are with paint colors, it is so transforming !


  25. Hellloooo! Can we say GORGEOUS! This room has me drooling! I don’t agree with some comments, I love a room styled up! STYLE IT UP, girl! I love the honesty in letting your readers know, that way you get the best of both worlds. You can see it taken to a whole other level, but also know that it doesn’t look that way always.

    Don’t stop doing what you are doing because it’s amazing!

  26. First of all, I love this room. Second of all, I have mixed feelings about the borrowing. When I first interned for an interior designer I remember being naive and shocked that people borrowed items for photo shoots. As a designer it makes sense, and I don’t really have a problem with it. The only thing that I find misleading is when you are looking at decorating yourself and trying to budget, it’s a bit misleading to see a home of a young couple with an Eames chair…makes sense if it’s borrowed or inherited…makes less sense if they are trying to stick to a budget. Like I said, in general I have no problem with it, but when you’re trying to figure out budgeting in your own it can be kind of confusing. Overall though, room is killer, great work! xx

  27. Thank you for showing the prices of the items in this room- THAT’S what bothers me in magazines. Not knowing if a rug is $10,000 or $800.
    It would help me be more realistic in designing my own rooms and help me know what I need to get an item right away b/c it’s an amazing find/bargain!

  28. The room is awesome, and I really love it. I have come to terms with the fact that most design and fashion content in the blogosphere is being produced by either very rich or very well connected people. Anyway, I think if this room was just being shot because it’s awesome and nothing else, it would not be a disappointment at all… It would be purely fun to look at. But the “one week makeover” angle, I feel, sends more of a message of “here’s how YOU can change your home in one week!” Maybe that wasn’t really your intent, but it has more of a interactive feeling rather than an inspirational one. People that can afford an Eames chair are most likely not in the “one week makeover” demographic.

  29. I like the fact that you are so real and put it all out there. That is what has kept me reading for 3 years! 🙂 It is a tad disappointing because a lot of us strive to have those homes in the magazines and wonder how people truly live that way (and afford to live that way!). I love when bloggers show the styled photos and their everyday photos, kids toys and all, I believe Emily Clark did that. Also, I sort of agree with Lauren above, by the name of your title “one week makeover” I did think this was going to be more of an attainable makeover and budget friendly pieces But regardless, I still enjoy it and her place looks fab!

  30. You are so insanely talented. I adore your transformation of this space. Seriously. Design genius. And I consider myself hard to impress.

  31. I love the room, it is beautiful. I guess put me in the camp with the people who are disappointed that so much was borrowed. I feel that almost anyone can really “decorate” with expensive borrowed furniture. I just think that a true makeover would have utilized the client’s current furnishings if the budget isn’t there for expensive pieces. That is what interior design is in my opinion.

    I am not knocking you at all, as I understand the meaning of the posting. But, knowing that the pieces were borrowed makes me wonder what her place looks like now, without the borrowed pieces. It’s all I can focus on. LOL.

  32. I would like to see the condo in a few weeks, like what they do after a makeover on tv…. “did Michelle Duggar stick with her blown out style or go back to Jim Bob curls?”

    also,….i am OBSESSED with the gemstone artwork and would love if you could share the source. I have been hunting all over the internets with not one hit 🙁

  33. Lauren/Jenny/Jewells- I am sorry you were disappointed, and totally understand where you are coming from.

    I disagree somewhat with the idea that the “one week makeover” should me more attainable, as I said before, time is one of the most valuable assets in design and when you sacrifice that cost goes up on everything- from your ability to search for deals, to having to pay more to tradespeople to have things rushed.

    That is the reality, and I think other expectations come a lot from the makeover TV culture which relies a lot on the unpaid services by the owners of carpenters, designers, and handymen as well as relationships with suppliers that can get them items used at cost at a moments notice.

    I think if you look at the rest of the project as a whole though, it does meet the attainable criteria. The den was done under $5000, the bedroom was about half of that, and in my eyes the most transformative thing in this space was the paint and wallpaper.

    However, I do agree on the eames chair. Looking at the pictures it definitely wasn’t necessary in the space and only makes the design less relatable- it was fun to play with an eames for the day though!

    Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments! xoxo

  34. I just wanted to post that I loved this room and was blown away by the color you chose. It made SUCH a huge impact for such little money. I don’t care a whit about borrowing things for a shoot, who’s to say something similar won’t show up in this space in a few months/years from now? There’s got to be inspiration. Also, I really do appreciate you giving us the high/low alternatives for pieces. Finally, how do you have enough energy to run a business, have a darling family and write such a great blog? Bravo!

  35. I think it’s disappointing to find out things are borrowed. If it were just a spread, and not someone’s real home, it would be different. But in a case like this it turns me off, because it isn’t genuine. Something wasn’t in the budget, or wasn’t able to be found, so it isn’t really the real space.

    That said, I don’t like the borrowed chair anyway, so I think it would have looked even better without the borrowed piece.

  36. You’re right – I watched way too many episodes of Trading Spaces in high school. I am in no way “disappointed” at all! Just wanted to reflect on the question you posed in a general sense. I have thought about it some more, and I think why this project is a little different is because Maddie is a real person and not some anonymous client with a hefty budget (ahem, holly). Maddie seems more relatable TO ME, so I was looking forward to something that felt more like real life or more like my life, specifically. In this case, the room IS transformed without all the extras. So as a PB reader, in a backwards way, it would have been more exciting to see something legitimately attainable from beginning to end. On the other hand… This was photographed to showcase your design talent, not your budgeting talent. You should absolutely call in favors and put your best foot forward when you have the opportunity to promote your work like this! (re: the dining room – I freaking LOVE the chairs)

  37. LOVE the space!!! Where can I find Diana Hendrix’s art? My house needs a piece!! Thank you!

  38. Well of course option 2 is amazing! Bigger, brighter, bolder and I love the idea of adding a non-working fireplace. I agree with you being able to see the pieces to scale in the room before committing is a game changer!

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