How I transformed my living room on a shoestring

Have you ever been so completely frustrated and at a loss of what to do with a space that you just pretty much gave up? I have. For years I was frustrated with my living room. The problem I had, was we had two competing focal points - the fireplace wall and the TV cabinet, and they were on adjacent walls. Naturally, the sofa orientation was toward the TV wall, and due to the room layout, this meant that the back of the sofa was pretty much the first thing you saw when you came in the front door, and when you were on the sofa, you had to turn and twist to see who was at the door.  It also cut off the room, making it feel even smaller than it is. But I didn't know what to do, and this frustrated me. I just couldn't see how to make it 'work.' This was years before wall mount TV's were really even an option, which was the tipping point that made re-working the room possible really! I also could not spend much money in this room - so I'm calling it my One Room Challenge. I didn't have a dollar amount I was holding myself to, but I only spent where I deemed necessary, and was as frugal as possible. Did I mention that this was being done after a bathroom renovation, a kitchen renovation, and in the midst of an extensive exterior renovation?? So yeah. :)

I don't have a good full pic of the room before but here's a pic I found that my daughter took randomly...and this was when the room was at an in-between stage. I had painted the walls, arranged the corner by the front door, and removed the shelves that used to be between the two windows, which held mostly kids toys. See how the sofa cuts off the room? The gray microfiber sofa had to be different...somehow....but I couldn't justify a new one and hadn't found one used that I wanted, so I planned to re-cover it. The two ottomans were just placeholder pieces. I liked the vintage one (that I had experimented with re-upholstering and it got weird in the corner) but I didn't like the other one, plus the scale wasn't right and they took up a lot of floor space. 

This room took a LONG time to come together, from the wall colors I tried, to the various furniture that's been in and out of here, to the too-short curtains (I can never find ready made curtains long enough because I have super tall windows...). Across from the sofa (which you can't see) was the TV cabinet.

LR before

Here are the items that I kept (all but pillows and ottomans). Sofa is covered farther down):

White wood dresser in background - 5.00 at a garage sale

Wood bowls - thrift stores - 10.00

Tall thrift store buffet lamp that I spray painted and added a shade to: 15.00

Mirror that I found in the basement and added a frame to: 25.00

I've since added some plants here: 10.00

Total: 65.00


So here's pictures of the in progress project...I painted the Fireplace wall in Sherwin Williams Peppercorn to help the TV not stick out so much, and we had it mounted on the wall and wires run through the wall to the left. The tape on the walls is where I was marking my shiplap and shelf lines to visualize (tip: marking with tape is so great to get a feel for layout. You can mark outlines of furniture on the floor, too, to get a feel for layout and whether or not it will work in your space).


Add here are some after shots. We did a custom built in cabinet to house the electronics, movies, and misc. I installed some faux shiplap and shelves, and carried the brass from the fireplace surround to the hardware. I spray painted the hardware on the picture and the shelf brackets (detailed above).


Breakdown of above...

White round mirror off FB: 15.00

Shelves and brackets from home depot (that I painted/spray painted): 25.00

Frame and L brackets that I made: 5.00, print cost 3.00

Books and misc decor (mostly thrifted, again): 50.00

Cabinet with pulls and contact paper top (guessing here but cabinet is made with the 1/2 in Purebond Plywood from Home Depot). One sheet is 40.00, plus about 15.00 for three pulls: 55.00

Three thrifted white vases: 10.00

TV mounting: 225.00

Electrician to wire in two outlets in cabinet area: 195.00

Cost of TV- I don't want to know ;)

Pair of thrifted MCM chairs: 30.00

Thrifted Magazine rack: 5.00

Plank for faux shiplap wall: 15.00

Paint: 60.00

Total cost: 693.00 


So this custom cabinet, I covered the top in marble contact paper - love it. I got the brass pulls from home depot I think, and same with the brackets and picture hardware. In fact, I made the frame so I got the wood (just 1 by 2 wood) from HD too. I installed the shiplap wall and shelves (also painted Peppercorn).

Finally, here's the other side of the room....

sofa wall.jpg

The sofa now is directly across from the fireplace wall, which is the main focal point now, and the curtains are longer and now kiss the floor- YES. And YES, I had to custom make them. By the way, hang curtains high! Some like to hang the rods up by the ceiling, but I like to split the difference and hang them halfway between the casing and the ceiling. I used electrical conduit to make the rods - super inexpensive. 

Most of my furniture is thrifted - there is so much awesome stuff out there for good prices. But you have to be patient and know where to look. :)

I'm so glad this room has finally come together. There's nothing better than hanging out here with my family, in this room that feels so comfortable and casual. 

Sofa (that I recovered): 205.00

Pillows & blankets: 60.00

IKEA side tables: 40.00

West Elm Emmerson waterfall coffee table (FB): 75.00

Accessories: 75.00

Fiddle leaf fig & monstera plants (not shown): 65.00

Curtains (IKEA and hobby lobby) with hardware from Home Depot: 150.00

Frame for silhouette (mine from preschool): 8.00

Sconce repurposed from another room: 0

Blankets/wood bead garland already on hand: 0

Total: 678.00

Not really shown (just a little in the above photo, to the left) is the piano and gallery wall above, which I didn't total here.

Grand totals:




$1,436.00 - for mostly ALL thrifted stuff. NOTE that no labor at all is included, except for the 2 pros hired - the TV mount installer and the electrician. No design fees are included either. :) Many times, people have unrealistic $$ amounts in mind when wanting to re-do rooms. I get it, I really do. It adds up, fast! The retail price for that West Elm coffee table? 499.00. Tax not included. That right there would be 40% of what I actually ending up spending. I love quality and I'm willing to pay for quality, I just have to pick and choose what to spend on and what to save on. I also don't have a rug in the LR, or my totals would be at least 600.00 higher. And I am not a high-end designer by any means, but don't get me wrong. I like to work with people like me, who want personality, beauty, and a pretty room but need help pulling it together without sacrificing their retirement! 

This took lots of time to come together, and patience for sure. I probably even underestimated costs, but I recalled everything as best I could and I think it's pretty accurate. I kept better track of expenses on my kitchen and bathroom renovations, which I'll cover in future posts!


Hate the microwave above the stove? Check this out

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Maybe you’ve noticed (if you’ve been looking at kitchens) that lately we are seeing many, many gorgeous hood vents in lieu of microwaves mounted over ranges. 

That’s good news to me, and many others who much prefer not having a microwave mounted over the stove. I have lots of reasons for not liking it – based on pure aesthetics, which one looks better? 

Maybe some people really DO like the look of micro over the range, but I think the reality is more along the lines of not wanting to use countertop space for it, so that's where it ends up. Plus, everyone else is (was) doing it, so no one thought otherwise. If you have a small kitchen and that's what you've got and you don't have other options, so be it! BUT...maybe there's another spot for it. Maybe?  

                                                                           classic range hood

                                                                          classic range hood

                                                                          Micro above range

                                                                         Micro above range

Here are the cons of having the microwave over the stove: it’s not fun to lift hot and/or heavy dishes of food high up, microwaves are notorious for not having great exhaust systems, it’s very difficult for someone to cook and someone to use the microwave at the same time, and aesthetically, a hood just looks awesome.

I’ve been lucky enough to NOT have a microwave mounted about my range the whole time I’ve been a homeowner, and so I want to share with you how I solved the dilemma of where to put the microwave, in both my own house and in the house of a client where we did a small kitchen renovation. Both projects turned out wonderfully, and it’s great to realize that there are other options!

OK, so here’s the ‘before’ photo of a client that wanted to free up counterspace as well as create additional storage in their kitchen. They wanted to replace their countertops, too, which was good because they needed to with what I wanted to do. They love to cook and we wanted to make the kitchen as functional as possible, within the limitations. Enlarging the kitchen was not an option, because on one side was the doorway to a small hall leading to a front door, a half bath, and a sitting room (you can see it on the below pic) and on the other was an office, so there was nowhere to expand to. Also, they had vintage, gorgeous upper cabinets (pre-dating microwaves) over their stovetop anyway, so the idea of mounting it there wasn’t an option either. 

                                                                                           client KITCHEN before

                                                                                          client KITCHEN before

Looking at the space, I decided to build out another cabinet to create more storage AND countertop space, and leave an opening that would fit their microwave.  It worked out perfectly, and with new countertops installed they have way more space in their cozy little kitchen. I love it, and so do they! (You can see their neat upper cabinets here. Check out the tin punched doors!)

                                                                                                            client after

                                                                                                           client after

Now, in my kitchen, I did an undercabinet shelf, kind of similar to the next photo, except my shelf is open on all sides (below). I like both of these, they get the microwave off the counter, yet it’s not showcased either. Plus? All these examples of shelf or cabinet mounting have microwaves on the smaller side, as opposed to ones over the stove which, by default, have to be bigger. I think that’s a bonus!

undercabinet mount
                                     Microwave shelf

                                    Microwave shelf

What do YOU think?

Is your preference – over the stove, or elsewhere? I’d love to hear!

Also, are you dreaming up any home design/decorating projects? There is SO MUCH info and products out there. Maybe you're overwhelmed trying to find the best option. Maybe you don't know how to pull it all together. Maybe you can envision what you want, but are frustrated at spending time and money and it STILL not looking like you hoped. I can help - check out the more info button below and read more, or click the questionnaire info to tell me more about your project!

Is Subway tile outdated?

I saw someone write somewhere that they were so tired of seeing subway tile EVERYWHERE. Not just in different houses, but the SAME EXACT tile in the kitchen as in the bathroom(s). And it made me think - huh - is that so bad? Is that BORING?  And I don't think it's either bad OR boring. I love subway tile, and I love that it's 'en vogue' again, so in my mind, it can't really be overused (maybe I shouldn't say that and jinx myself).

But for real. It's timeless. It's classic. It's not outdated (aka a trend). And here's how to tell if it's a trend or timeless.

pencil tile.png



Let's take a look at two recent tile types that you have probably seen in a house (or have yourself).

Most recently, the pencil tile. You'll see this as either a dizzying kitchen backsplash, or a stripe in a shower or tub tile surround.

mosiac tile


And before that was the mosaic tile. Same thing- either a backsplash or a strip in a tub surround.




K, so what do you think? Do those look fresh and current, or trendy? I'm guessing the latter. What do you think?


Now take a look at this bathroom:

classic tiled bathroom.png

With the hex tile and subway tile...both CLASSICS...we absolutely can't tell the age of this bathroom. It could have been done last week or last century! And that's the key to a classic.

Like a white blouse or a little black dress, it won't ever go out of style. And you know what else I love about that? It's MEANT to stick around. Which means you're not going to rip it out and replace it when the next wave (trend) comes along. And that's the biggest bummer about these trends. They are so wasteful. UGH. TRUTH: There is hella too much tile out there to choose from, and most of it is terrible. Think of how much better our spaces would look if terrible tile wasn't even picked to begin with. Am I right?

Here's an example from MY bathroom. Check out this floor tile. Trendy. I'm guessing it's early 90's and I will be replacing it someday soon with white penny tile, which is classic and should have been in it all along.

bathroom w:old tile.png


I've been seeing a lot of painted ceilings lately, and let me tell you, I am intrigued! Which means...I've been looking at ALL my ceilings and considering which I can paint!

Now - I do love white. And 99.9% of ceilings in every house are white. But sometimes...a space calls for some extra. And that might come in the form of a painted (other than white) ceiling...let's check out some inspiration pics!

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When I first started thinking about painted ceilings, I figured you could only really do it in a room with crown molding, but the middle pic doesn't have crown and I've seen others without crown that look good, so I changed my mind on that. (BTW, I sourced these images from pinterest, which you can see more of here.

So where would be a good place to do painted ceilings? A bathroom would be a great place to start! I'd also consider a dining room or bedroom. Now here's the thing...for me, some of my ceilings are smooth but most are textured. UGH. I wouldn't paint textured ceilings a color. I don't think the texture should be highlighted (and I would LOVE to rid my house of textured ceilings. That's on my list of things to look into doing - not even sure how or what that involves). 

What do you think of painted ceilings? Would it be something you'd like to try? 

PS-Click the button below to join a private fb group for those of us that want a house to be a be thoughtful, collected, and to be a place that inspires and renews. I'll be sharing my blog posts, advice, projects, and mistakes I've made. I hope to make this a collaborative space where you can share your mistakes and triumphs too!

And the survey says...(your answers to design challenges questions)

I sent out a quick survey - only 2 questions - to my email list recently, because I am so interested in what people's home decor/design challenges are.

The questions were: 

1) What are your BIGGEST challenges in design/decorating?

and 2) There's a TON of info out there - what would help you with your challenges?

I got back so many fascinating, good answers. Answers like:

Designing wall space

Envisioning creative layouts on a budget in odd shaped historic homes

Finding what I love and tying it all together

What to put on my walls - I'm at a total loss about how to decorate my walls

Making rooms flow together

Spatial Organization

What furniture to keep and/or what furniture to buy - I want a new look for my __ room

My room doesn't feel 'finished' and I don't know what to do

I need my small space/room/house to have maximum storage and function, and I don't know how.

How to downsize/get rid of sentimental items we don't need.

And for question 2, answers like:

Design magazines and pinterest, I suppose

More time and more sized pieces and local examples of setting the decorating bar higher, paired with how they accomplished that on a smaller budget

There is a ton of info but I don't have the time to sift through it, locate what I want, or often, have the ability to do it. EX: I want floating shelves. Even after I locate it, it will take me forever to get it on the wall.

Someone taking me through combining some older decor I love with new pieces so it all blends with the style I've created.

Guides based on color palette (how to used a color palette to create a flow from room to room)

Knowing what would help me and where to get it, affordably.

Having a plan or guide to follow, otherwise I don't know where to start or ever get to the point where I feel like I've 'finished' a room.


If you didn't answer the survey, what would you add?  I would love to hear! And if you did do the survey, do these other answers resonate with you? I know SO many people have these challenges, and I've been trying to come up with a hybrid of DIY/design advice that can help get a project going! Thank you for your answers!