Monday, June 8, 2009

renter's reality

My longtime friend Amanda has been hinting for a while now, that when she and her husband finally have their own place, that she’d love my design advice.

Finally, she decided she couldn’t and shouldn’t wait any longer!

For those of us in our 20s, renting is our reality, and may remain so for a while. I am a true believer in working with what you’ve got and trying not to wait and wait for your “own” place to go ahead and make the place where you are, yours.

Obviously, there are limits to how much of a transformation can be done, and nobody wants to spend huge amounts of money on furniture that you don’t know will fit into your next move.

So, here is the low-down… Amanda and her husband, Jeff, are preppy and low-key, all about comfortable-living (I lovingly call AH my LLBean friend) and family. Amanda loves to cook, entertain and may have a slight addiction to Netflix while knitting. But, she also needs a place that she can meet with clients to discuss their photography needs for weddings and special occasions. So she needs to find the balance of making this living/dining space both a presentation area that is easy to clean up and looks professional, but is as appealing for Jeff to have his buddies over for football and beer.

I have been reassuring her…it CAN be done without spending the entire nest egg!

Here are the before shots, and a run-down of what I would do…Amanda, I know how you love lists!



  • We need some fresh color here! This will take some time, but hey, that’s why you have friends. All the trim, molding and chair rails in Decorator’s White- fresh and clean. On the bottom (beadboard) I love Benjamin Moore's Britannia Blue (1623) and on the upper part of the wall and into the entire living space, Brittany Blue. This is a beautiful grey-blue color that will change with the seasons and time of day and be a wonderful backdrop for your gorgeous art and photographs
  • Turn the dining table the long way along the window and center in that space
  • Amanda inherited the dining set from her Grandmother. No, not her style, but, FREE is! Let’s recover the seat cushions with something a little more fun, bright and modern. My favorite standbys ("beads" from Hable Construction) would be fantastic... two chairs in eachLose the tablecloth and, to give the table a new look, let’s paint the legs of the table in a high gloss (the Brittany Blue would be great). A runner would be perfect table-topper, and some hurricanes down the center of the table with lake rocks from your favorite places and pillar candles. This fresh surface is a great place to layout your albums samples when couples come over to discuss options!
  • As a way to designate the space as it’s own “room” lets put a nice rug under the table (i'd recommend the indoor/outdoor version which is stain-resistant and easy to clean)
  • On the left-hand wall (if you are looking out the window) let’s center the four photos horizontally, lower a bit and spread out. One thing I am noticing in general, is that your pictures are hung too high. This is a common occurrence in my apartment as well… That’s the trouble when you have a tall husband who is good with a hammer!
  • Underneath those pictures, and again, centered on that wall, lets move in the beautiful chest of drawers. I’d love to see a collection of easy-to-care-for succulents of varied heights here, maybe on a vintage crocheted table scarf. This will add beautiful green tones and to pull from the photos. Otherwise, keep this surface free of clutter.
  • Sweetie, those sconces have GOT to go…good lord! These are modern and white will add a nice contrast on the blue/grey wall.Yes, these are existing, and hardwired, but Jeff just happens to be a bit handy. Thank goodness. Be sure to turn off the circuit breaker before he tackles this, but, these can be unscrewed from the wall and wires detached and replaced with something a little more pleasing to the eye. When it is time to turn in the keys, the original beauties can be put back up!
  • I am a huge fan of matchstick blinds COMBINED with long curtains. I’d love to see some floor-length curtains in oatmeal linen that have wide color-blocking of royal blue velvet and a green... again, mix the formality and fun
  • Because this may be a meeting-contract signing spot, no one wants to see your dirty breakfast dishes. Let’s make a simple curtain that we will hang above the doorway on the kitchen side that you can pull closed when company is over. A fun print would be a great way to bring in a pop of color
  • Pink chair moves to guest room


• I want to play with the layout here as well… Let’s put the couch against the large wall, looking at the fireplace. My pet peeve (and maybe because I grew up in a TV-less house) is the focal point of the living room being the TV…especially when there is a fireplace! Yes, we are all television obsessed here in the US, but let’s make this a living, talking, reading, entertaining space FIRST.
• On either side of the couch, those great side tables you have (one shown next to the couch and the other currently serving as the TV stand). Get some woven baskets to fit on the bottom shelves of these side tables to store your knitting projects, remotes, etc to keep tabletops clear and clutter-free. Time to invest in some great lighting. I am totally lamp-obsessed… seriously, can’t control myself. You have the perfect place for a beautiful set of these ceramic gourd lamps (love them in a bright green to again, pull out the greens from your art). In the future, there would be wonderful in a boy’s room, pink + green girl’s room, or stay working wonderfully with the blues and greens you love in your main living space.
  • Throw pillows! Add some color and interest to the couch to break up the huge slab of blue (John Robshaw is amazing for pillows that would look fabulous here... search ebay for Robshaw and Thomas Paul). Also, a cozy cashmere blanket is the BEST investment. Folded nicely across the back of the couch looks totally acceptable (go for a solid color here...garnet hill makes a fantastic ribbed version you can find for fall) for guests and is just as cozy and warm as the down pouf you drag in every time you watch a movie!
  • The photos on that wall that will be behind the couch are way too high. I like the idea of having large canvases here, as that will be the first focal point when people come in. That being said, I think the “lake-house in winter” picture has to move to the office…I know you and Jeff love the house and the memories there, but it doesn’t mean anything to potential clients and is a bit dark for the main wall. Blow up some of the AMAZING honeymoon shots and use the space for those personal-yet-relatable shots... maybe a layout like this:
  • In front of the couch, you need a coffee table…nothing too fussy; you want to be able to put your feet up! I think something round or oblong would be great to break up all the rectangular shapes we are working with! QUICK! Check this steal out...perfect and nearby!
  • On that large window, we are going to do the same thing as in the dining room: matchstick blinds with a nice wooden rod holding floor-length curtains.
  • I would love to see you two invest in a credenza of some sort.
    This will easily move to any home you live in, in the future, and it has a million uses. I would always encourage something vintage over new…so start scouring your local antique stores! A piece like this would be perfect under the windows. This can hold a LIMITED selection of framed family pictures and a tray for keys and cell phones, as it is close to the door.
  • Place the club chairs facing couch as a nice place to sit and meet. These can easily be turned to enjoy the fire (or TV)
  • Let’s delineate this area as well, with a sisal rug…break up the nasty wall-to-wall!

  • If you can remove the screen from the fireplace, do it! Store it someplace safe to be put back on before you leave! Start a collection of brass candlesticks in varied heights (scour antique malls and eBay) add white tapers and fill the fireplace with them… this would create such a simple, beautiful and interesting vignette, whether lit or unlit. For a romantic evening, light them all and cozy up on the couch… just as beautiful as a real fire, without the mess!
  • Again, lower that picture above the mantle. It is large enough to even just sit on the mantle if you’d like. (I am so SO jealous that you have a mantle!) Keep this area free of photos… except maybe the large photo you have hanging on the wall now, to the right of the fireplace. Prop that up on the mantle on the right hand side…don’t be afraid to have the painting and photo overlap a little…I think it can look modern and relaxed. I think you need some height variations here, maybe just on the right hand side…some blue and green pottery vases, etc… I found these lovelies by Jonathan Adler on eBay for a steal!
  • Let’s put the TV to the left of the fireplace. I would buy a relatively inexpensive console to put the TV on (at a slight angle- in towards the fireplace/seating area) and the DVD, wii etc can be stored away. Because it looks like you may have a lot, I would put a nice Japanese paper inside the glass windows to hide everything.
  • Lose the footrest.


Brianna said...

I'm a fan of both spaces. I should totally get something like this done!

Orchard Cove Photography said...

I can't WAIT to get started on this :) I was sitting in the living room tonight just imagining what it will be like.....ahhhhh :) THANK YOU!

Lynn said...

love it. LOVE IT! such fantastic suggestions. and can't wait to see your after shots, amanda. :)

PhotoGirl said...

Great ideas! Thank you both for sharing.