Friday, July 3, 2015

Decorating a Beige Living Room

Happy Friday, and happy 3rd of July!!  I am gearing up for a mellow weekend celebrating the 4th - BBQs, swimming, and fireworks of course - but before we get the long weekend started, I wanted to check in with you all!

As you know, my best friend just moved into a new apartment, and as she fills the new space with furniture, I'm here to help out and give advice where needed. I woke up this morning to a text from her saying that she doesn't love the couch she ordered, and everything just looks really blah and monotone (beige sofa, beige rug, beige walls).

PERFECT timing, because I'd started this post earlier in the week.  Let's talk about what do do when your room is all one color... beige.  I was going to title this "Decorating a Neutral Space", but let's call a spade a spade... everything in her apartment is beige, so it's now "Decorating a Beige Living Room".  This is a big problem a lot of people run into but it's actually a really easy fix.  Sometimes it's a case of the person being scared of color.  Sometimes it's a case of them gravitating to the same color for everything they own.

Here's the room as it stands right now:

The good news is, the room has good bones.  Not a bad "before"... am I right?!

The light in here is awesome... it gets really good exposure!  I mean, a full wall of windows, and adjacent sliding doors to the deck.  It doesn't get much better! And, the sofa looks SOOO good - it's the perfect size for this room.  So excited to get started.

Ok so, with good light, open layout, lots of windows, and fabulous core pieces to build out from, it's just about adding some pizazz to all the beige (the walls, the rug, the sofa the console table).  So let's talk about creating a calm, beautiful room based around neutrals, without it ending up being bland, beige, and boring.

Step One: start with a color palette
The key is to choose a color that you love.  Look at your wardrobe - what do you wear?  Do you look good in rosy colors?  Does green make your eyes pop?  Also what makes you happy - are you your best self near the ocean? In the woods?  I happen to love blue, so that's the color I went with for this exercise, and based on Kira's pinned spaces (take a look at some of those here) these rooms are a mix of preppy, beachy, and rustic, and I think blue lends itself well to that aesthetic.  Once you've decided what colors you're into, then move onto step two...

Step Two: Decide where to bring in color
I'm a HUGE proponent of keeping the most expensive things you own neutral, so that you don't tire of them as easily, and so you can change out the accessories when you get bored.  If you had a big green sofa, it sort of limits your color options.  But if we do colorful accessories (rug, pillows, curtains, throw blankets, art) on a neutral sofa, it's easy, and quite a bit more cost-efficient to get new pillow covers than to replace the big ticket items).

Step Three: Bring in live plants
The emphasis here is on the word "live" - we are not talking silk flowers.  A room feels dead without anything in it that is "living".  For a space like a living room, I'd recommend one larger green plant and one smaller plant (I like orchids - they stay alive for several months, saving you money on cut flowers every week, and they're just so pretty, what's not to love?!)  Trust me - a plant or two in a all beige space really brightens things up - even without changing anything else.

So with all that said, I put together four variations of the same room.

The things that stayed the same in each room:
     - The sofa (this is the exact sofa she bought)
     - The side table (which she already owns)
     - The art (similar to the gold leaf art she owns)
     - The wall color (a very pale grey).

Ok, let's get to it....

Room One: Here, we brought in color through the navy curtains, navy stools, and patterned blue and white throw pillows.  The rest of the room is very neutral, with a natural fiber rug under the oatmeal colored sofa she bought. 

The key to pairing a neutral rug next to a neutral sofa... they need to be different shades (one warmer and one cooler perhaps), and different tones (one lighter and one darker), and very different textures to ensure one doesn't visually run into the next.

Room Two: Here I kept the blue curtains, but swapped out the natural fiber rug for one with a bold pattern and color, and exchanged the navy stools for a ivory bench.  

If I had to guess, I'd guess this would be Kira's least favorite of all the rooms, because there more color in it than there are neutral tones, but I thought it was still important to see it.

Room Three: This will be the hardest to get right in real life because it's the most neutral of all four options.

I swapped the navy curtains for white, brought back the natural fiber rug, which means that the stools and pillows are the only source of color here.  In real life, I think I'd recommend moving the gold leaf art to another room, and bringing in art with more color because the risk is still there of ending up with a borderline drab room.

BUT, maybe not... I'd just have to see it as it came together........

Room number four - this is really a combination of rooms two and three.  Here, I kept the white curtains, and brought back the blue rug.

I like this one, but something about it seems a bit off - like it's bottom heavy. Having everything at eye level so neutral, and then the dark rug, I think the walls need something with substance as well. Maybe even having art in a black frame, or a really large wall mirror propped up against the wall behind the sofa with a big black frame.  Just something to anchor the upper half of the room a bit more.

So anyway, this is really just a jumping off point to get the ideas started.

Ultimately, I really like all these rooms for very different reasons.  I like number one the best because it feels really balanced, but I suspect Kira will want to go with lighter curtains, and with all the light that comes into her apartment, I wouldn't want a dark curtain panel blocking any of that out.

Because of that, I think we need to think carefully about what colors to bring in, what patterns to incorporate, and how to ensure its not only balanced, but that she loves it.

Next up, I want to talk about hanging curtains in a tricky spot...........

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chicago Apartment: Coffee Tables

Adding onto yesterday's post, I wanted to pull together some (affordable) coffee table options that fit within the living room aesthetic.  

Some are more rustic, some more refined.  Some have storage (hello hidden remote controls) while some offer no clutter concealment.  Some have glass tops, some are solid wood.  Some are more beachy, which some are more elegant.  They really run the gamut - hopefully there are some contenders in there for the Chicago apartment.

Which are your favorites?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chicago Apartment: Living Room Inspiration

Now that we've got the layout sort of figured out, it's time to start pulling together inspiration.  

These images came straight from Kira's Pinterest board, and it's pretty clear to see the common themes in what she likes:

Clean lines.

Traditional core pieces.

A little preppy.

A little nautical.

Light colors.

Gold accents.

Soft upholstered furniture.

Warm wood tones.

A few rustic pieces.

Based on things she has, and things she plans to buy along with her Pinterest pages, I pulled in a few benches, a coffee table, and a few table lamps that go with the look and feel of what she likes.

She already has the white console table, gold bar cart, and gold side table, (numbers 2, 4, and 7) and plans to buy this sofa from Pottery Barn (number 1).

What I like (and what I think she will like) about the other things I've pulled in (the coffee table, the lamps, and the benches), is that they are all within the neutral palate that she likes, and will serve as a canvas to bring in more color through additional accessories (pillows, curtains, art, table accessories, books, and perhaps the rug).

A few things to be very careful of based on the above pieces...

1. Too much gold.
Yes, there is such a thing.  With the gold side table, the gold bar cart, and a series of gold leaf abstract paintings she has, she already has quite a bit of gold going on.  The gold lamp will only work if she doesn't do the gold ottoman, and if it's placed on the console table at the far end away from the gold side table.  If she does the gold ottoman, it cannot be placed next to the gold side table, and the room will feel more balanced with the wooden table lamp on the console table behind the sofa.

2. Needs color
As I said, these pieces serve as a neutral canvas for color (and the ability to switch accessories out with the seasons for a different look and feel between warmer and cooler months).  If the curtains are neutral, the walls are neutral, the rug is neutral, and the pillows are neutral with all this neutral furniture already going on, this is going to look BORING.  At least two of the three (rug, curtains, pillows) need to have color and pattern going on to bring in interest - my recommendation would be either the rug and pillows, or the pillows and curtains, if she doesn't want to do all three.

So this is the jumping off point... time to source a few more pieces to choose from (coffee table, lamps, and chair / bench options) and then the fun stuff... the accessories and color that will bring life to the living space.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Furnishing a Chicago Apartment: The Layout

Hello friends!  It's been a while (does every post start like that now??)

I just got back from a weekend in Chicago, visiting my best friend, Kira.  She's about to move from a super modern high-rise apartment on the river, to a really charming spot in Gold Coast.

Luckily, the new place has an amazing layout - tons of light (which is essential for those long, dark, Chicago winters), and it is in the most amazing neighborhood.  It's all tree lined streets and darling brownstone walk-ups; a block from the lake, and it's brimming with restaurants, shopping, bars, and coffee shops.

It's amazing.  

The challenge is taking a completely empty apartment, and turning it into something really fabulous. This is where I have been enlisted to help.

This is her first apartment of her own, and while she already has some really good stuff (bedroom furniture, art, occasional furniture and accessories), she's also going to need to invest in some major pieces to complete the main living spaces.  Since she moves in just a few short weeks, we want to get ahead of everything now, and put together a game plan.

The first thing I like to tackle is the layout.  Over the weekend, we brought a measuring tape to the apartment, to get a sense of what can fit, and where everything should go. Each room is BIG, and based on cable hook-ups, doors, windows, and electrical outlets, it's set up for a good floor plan already.

Starting today with the living room, here's the layout we're working with:
The living room is open to the kitchen with a bar - perfect for barstools, and has an entire wall of windows letting in tons of natural light.

She needs this space to function as both living and dining areas so with the cable hook-up running along the left wall, the ideal layout looks something like this:

Since the living space is where she needs the most new furniture, we need to prioritize what she buys first.  Here's what's on the list of essentials and first priorities:
      - New sofa
      - Coffee table
      - TV
      - TV stand

Also on the list, but less essential or decorative are:
      - Dining table for hosting (and chairs)
      - Additional living room seating
      - Lighting (table and floor lamps)
      - Curtains
      - Possibly a rug

With this list of furniture, and a broad layout in place, I put together three layout options that could work for using this space as dual living and dining - good for hosting dinners, and get-togethers.

Option I: really good for entertaining - the benches are low to the ground, so they don't block off the view of the living room as you walk in.  They are also really awesome for entertaining when you need extra seating, or if you wanted to tuck them away for more standing room, they could easily go underneath the sofa table behind the couch.

Option II has fewer seating options, but brings in a desk to this space as well.  Since Kira will be working from home several days a week, I thought it might be nice to have a dedicated work space that isn't a) the couch b) her bed.  Having a desk makes for a more productive work day at home, and also helps you unplug - shut the laptop, put it in the desk drawer, and leave your work for the day at your desk when it's time to watch bad reality TV.

In this scenario, I didn't include a desk chair - I figure one of the kitchen table chairs can double as desk chair, and can be brought back over to the table if company is coming over.  The large side chair here could also be substituted with the dual stools.

Which brings me to Option III: the desk is gone, the additional seating is brought back, but the kitchen table has changed.  

I scooched everything in the room a bit closer to the windows to accommodate a slightly larger rectangular table. This can a) seat more people and b) double as a desk during the day while she works from home (whereas I find working at a circular table kind of annoying - there is not enough room on the sides of your laptop for note taking, or an extra mouse).

Each layout obviously has it's pros and cons, but which do you like best?

Side note to all this: There are more posts coming on this apartment - tackling questions like how to hang curtains in a tricky space, and more exciting... a few inspiration boards that detail out what pieces to buy to fill this gorgeous space.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Designing a room around Dark Furniture: Part I

One of my good friends and her husband just bought the most AMAZING dining room table from Restoration Hardware.  It's actually this one (or very very similar to this one), and it's absolutely stunning.

Now that it's been delivered, they are in the process of making room for it in their apartment, and have very cleverly decided to split their huge living room, so that half is for the dining area, and half is for the living room.

The old floor-plan looked something like this:

I only know the general details of how the room is being split up, but I imagine the new floor-plan will look similar to this:

Genius, right?

By flip-flopping the room, you now walk into the "dining room" from the hallway, and in general have a good flow for entertaining.

What else is changing from the old layout?  Well the ottoman is going to be way too big to transfer over to the other side of the room, so that needs to be replaced.  By replacing it with a smaller coffee table, and eventually downsizing the TV stand, they will have room for living and dining spaces in the same room.  I LOVE this. City living at its best.

The challenge?  Designing the rest of the room around dark furniture (ding ding ding, the title of this post!)

The new dining room table is made of reclaimed oak - which is so incredibly gorgeous but the stain on it is a dark brown.  Their existing sofa and club chair that will live on the other half of the room are both made of dark brown leather, which means there is a lot of dark brown happening in this space.

The walls of the room are a very light taupe color, the crown molding is white, and a beautiful bay window that lets in tons of natural light. Oh, and the space still has original hardwood floors.  It doesn't get better than that! The room has good bones, so it will be an easy task to use what they already have, and turn it into a complete and cohesive space.

Here's where the room stood last week after the table was delivered.  Excuse the iPhone picture - it's a little grainy here:

The knee-jerk reaction to having lots of dark furniture is to compensate with lots of light colors everywhere else.  On one hand, yes, bringing in light colors around the dark pieces (ie: light pillows on a dark sofa) do help to lighten the space, but the real magic needs to happen in the space at and above eye level when you walk in a room.  Think about it for a second... dark furniture sits below eye level when you walk into a room, so if you have light walls, and light curtains, and light art (or worse, no art), your eye goes straight down, and visually the space just feels smaller.  Adding interest through color and pattern at and above eye level, creates a feeling of balance, and so the "challenge" of dark furniture, sort of isn't a "challenge" anymore.

Trust me, it will make more sense as you see it come together.

Ok, moving on... so what's the plan in here?  Since the above picture was taken, my friend already ordered a natural fiber rug to go under the dining room table.  Good call girl.

The rug is going to define the dining space, and separate it from the living room.  Also, massive area rugs are SUPER expensive, so to even think of getting a rug to cover this entire room, we're talking serious money.  No thanks.

Why else was it a good idea to go sisal?  It's neutral, it's easy to clean (it's going under a dining table after all) and it's mainly covered  up with the table anyway, so the focus of the room will be elsewhere.  Any pattern would go mainly unseen here with a huge table on top of it.

My friend also said that the curtains need to be replaced because they can't find the same ones anymore, but she likes the blue so isn't opposed to something similar.  

Sweet.  Perfect place to jump right in...

Here's what I think needs to happen on this side of the room:

Minimal changes my friends.  

First, they need chairs.  They obviously know this.

Then, I think that filling that back wall out is priority #2, so that your eye doesn't stop at the table. 

Oversize art will help... like OVERSIZE.  I always find that it's hard to find large scale art... it seems so big when you buy it, but once you get it on an empty wall like this one, it's like an island in the middle of an ocean.  My point?  We need to find massive, beautiful, and not ridiculously expensive art.  

What else?  A bigger lamp that takes up more visual real estate will help.  And plants.  I LOVE bringing in larger house plants to wake up an empty corner.

I started playing around to test out different looks, and at first, I went more "traditional".  I think the table is so amazing - it's a little rustic.... a little french-y feeling......... I loved the idea of adding Louis XIV chairs with it.  

Here's the first look I came up with:

I love love LOVE these chairs - that dusty blue linen is so pretty, and I was thrilled to see it on two complimentary sets of Louis XIV chairs.  The blue fabric and lighter wood on the chairs surrounding the table will immediately bring life into the space.


I also thought it was nice to have the taller rectangular chairs at the head of the table, and mix in the round backs in the middle, but again if you like the look of one over the other, you could certainly stick with one type of chair.

I should also take the time now to call out the fact that the wood on the chairs is NOT the same color (or even same type) as the wood on the table. 

That's on purpose my friends.  

Some people are weird about mixing woods, but it doesn't bother me!  I like the look of different woods in a space, because it looks "collected" instead of "we bought the set".  If it will drive you nuts, the good thing about wood is that you can stain it, but I like the different wood tones.

Moving onto the art, I am SO into botanical art right now - you literally see it everywhere, from shelter magazines to the blog world.  These oversize prints from Ballard are SO GOOD.  They are massive - each one is 42" high, by 27" wide.  With prints this large, the frames should get pretty close to meeting the picture molding that runs around the walls, which will naturally draw the eye up, while taking up almost 5' across that wall. Mission accomplished - these would meet the goal of filling the blank space out, without making it feel super busy (the way that a gallery wall can sometimes do).

The floor lamp has a bent bronze neck (shaft? stem? base? what IS that called??) and I like that this also helps fill out the space on that wall.  I also like that having the bent shaft makes it different than a standard floor lamp.  If the wall was still feeling empty once all of this was in the room, my recommendation would be to have two identical floor lamps similar to this flanking either side of the buffet.  I also can't remember the overhead lighting situation in here, so they might actually need the extra light.  Boom. Kill two birds with one stone.

The fiddle leaf fig stands on the other side of the buffet in this mock up, but really any sizeable green houseplant would do in the corner.

And finally, the curtains... I thought that with the blue linen chairs, blue curtains might be a bit much, so I mocked this up with grey linen.  I think I like it.  The lightweight fabric will feel visually light (as opposed to a heavy fabric like velvet), while the grey still has enough of a color presence to draw the eye up to the ceiling.

Overall I like how this all came together, but I didn't stop there... I swapped a few things out and came up with another version of this room:

What changed?  Well the chairs are a slight variation of those first ones, this time in a sandy linen.  With the sisal rug and all the wood, it feels like a lot of brown on brown, and so the accessories need to change.  I did a dark blue (almost navy) curtain, and swapped out the art, for a symmetrical gallery wall of... wait... what is that... more botanical prints!  Holla!

I told you I'm crazy for botanical prints right now.

These ones have a super saturated inky blue background with that green... I love it.  I think with the navy curtains, it looks awesome.  I'm still half and half on the chairs though... is it too much brown or are they ok with the art and curtains?  I think I need to see the color of the linen in person to tell if its more brown than cream.

My friend mentioned that they do like the vibe of West Elm, so I wen on to put together a third, less traditional, more modern version of this space... another mock-up was born:

The starting point for me in here was the curtains.  I think these are so cool, and the pattern will definitely succeed in drawing the eye up, and bringing some color to the room.  The floor lamp also got switched up for an aged bronze pharmacy lamp.  I like alternative floor lamps, and these just look cool, although take up less visual real estate than the floor lamp with the drum shade.

I'm loving the color that these chairs bring to the space - I also love the detail of the individually hammered nail heads around the edges.  It just makes it a little more special.

Some of you might be thinking... If you're trying to lighten up the space, why are you putting dark blue chairs with already dark furniture??  And I totally hear you... but the point I'm trying to drive home is the need for balance.  

The challenge is not how to bring as much light colored "stuff" as possible around the dark furniture, but rather in balancing the darkness with other rich colors at or above eye level.  So while these chairs are upholstered in a darker peacock colored fabric, the shock of color paired with similar colors in the art, and yet another variation of the color echoed in the curtains balances things out.

Even if none of these ideas make it off the cutting room floor and into real life, this is a good starting point for visualizing this half of the room...

Next up, I'll be tackling some ideas for the other side of the room... the living room side.  Working on integrating accessories that accent their dark leather sofa, club chair, and some ideas on how to style a cohesive space to pair with their new dining room...