By Lauren Ramirez
As an interior stylist and a contributor to national magazines, including Better Homes & Gardens, HGTV Magazine and Southern Living, I am always hunting down well-decorated rooms and perfecting spaces that have good bones but need a face-lift. Friends often ask for advice to help transform their homes into places they love coming home to, and I have come up with a few simple steps as I am now in the process of revamping my own home.
When we bought our house three years ago, it had been flipped by a builder and everything was beige: beige carpet, beige walls, beige countertops, beige tile. It was basically a big beige box. We couldn’t possibly tackle it all at once, so I had to prioritize which room to spruce up first. I chose to focus on the living room because it is the first impression as you enter.
Step 1: Edit away
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the only way to get the space you want is to start by clearing out the stuff that doesn’t speak to you. To quote Marie “KonMari” Kondo, “Discard anything that doesn’t spark joy.” So be brutally honest with yourself: Do you really love that overstuffed recliner? Does the art hanging on the walls inspire you or is it just filler? If you don’t love something, take it to the garage and put it in a pile. You don’t have to toss it, but you do need to move it out of the room to give your eye a rest and to inspire you to see your space in a new way.
The author’s living room before the makeover. (See the after, above.)
Step 2: Play favorites
Now that the space is less cluttered, choose your favorite thing in the room—this is going to be your “launch pad.” It can be anything: grandma’s antique chair, a brightly colored duvet, a piece of your child’s artwork. Just make sure you love it. If you don’t have anything left in the room after the great purge, make this your first purchase.
I didn’t have a lot of editing to do in our living room because we had just moved back from overseas. We basically had nothing, so my launch pad purchase was art. I found four bright Otomi embroidered pieces of fabric, and I framed them in thick black Ikea frames. If you don’t want to break the bank on a large work of art, get a few small pieces and frame them in matching or coordinating frames. Then hang them close together, so that your eye processes them as one piece of art.
Step 3: Keep it balanced
My launch pad piece is bold and very colorful, but I didn’t want my entire room to feel like a Mexican fiesta; I needed some balance in the room. The next step was to purchase a rug that anchored the sitting area and brought balance to the loud art. I chose a West Elm Kasbah rug because it’s neutral and it plays up my graphic black wall frames. Maybe your gray mid-century sofa is understated and it needs some punchy throw pillows to liven it up. Or maybe your gilded chandelier is so glam that you need a cowhide rug to ground it. One other stylist note here: juxtaposition is good. You don’t have to go matchy matchy to have a room that works; what will help you love your space is if you love the pieces you choose.
Step 4: Pick a color, any color
I could write pages on paint, but that’s for another post. Look at your room: Do you love the paint job? Yes? Great—then you don’t have to change a thing. No? Take a look at your launch pad piece and write down a couple of words about how it makes you feel. Energized? Calm? Cozy? Inspired? Comforted? It’s important that your room reflects your desired feeling. If you want to feel relaxed, go with a soft, cool paint color like light blue, green or gray. If you want to feel cozy and thoughtful, consider darker colors like charcoal gray, navy or even black. If you want to feel alive, go for a brighter color like yellow or coral. And if you want a good neutral that will maximize natural light, go for white or ivory. Make sure you get sample cans and try out your color, checking it at different times of the day because ambient light will change the way the color looks as the day progresses.
My living room only has one window letting in natural light and I wanted a bright, airy space, so I knew a cool white was ideal. Any bit of color, even beige, would absorb light and make the room feel dark. I went with Benjamin Moore Decorators White, and it brightened the space without feeling sterile.
Step 5: Take your time
As you put the finishing touches on your room, be patient. If you really want to love your space, don’t give in and buy, borrow or trade for random things to fill it up. And definitely don’t go back out to the garage to get the stuff you edited. Hold out for more pieces that you love.
We have been in our house for three years, and I finally feel satisfied with my living room’s collected look. We have Moroccan poufs sourced on Etsy, hand-sewn pillows from a trip to Zanzibar, a pair of my grandma’s Queen Anne chairs and a vintage Victrola case where my husband proudly displays his whiskey. These items didn’t waltz into our house one day from the pages of a catalog: it took time, patience and several fun adventures to round out an eclectic room that I simply love coming home to.