By Lisa Brunette
We just passed the three-year mark here at the Dragon Flower Farmhouse, and I'm excited to announce that the living room is finally 'done.' And it only took us two years!
I realize that timeline flies in the face of every home improvement reality show HGTV has ever aired, not to mention every slick interior design blogger claiming to have completely redone a whole house in one weekend, etc. But this is real reality here, folks, and like us, I'm sure you've done your share of slow reno - the kind that takes place in between things like raising children, launching your own business, or planning a wedding. You know, life.
The work began in earnest in the fall of 2018 when we tackled the living room window frames. They were a muddy brown hue, not wood stain but dark brown paint on top of a faded, cracking stain from a previous era. I'm not sure what the developer who flipped the house was thinking, but trying to amend scuffed-up wooden features with a thin layer of brown paint should never have been the solve. For the whole first year, we lived with a bad curtain job as well, high-water drapes on rods drilled right into the moulding. So much wrong, as you can see. Plus that dirt-colored paint had a dreary, darkening effect.
I know you're thinking that 'before' shots are always dark and out of focus to make sure the 'after' looks great. But seriously, there was just no brightness to the living room between the wood floors (which we love, but they are dark) and all that muddy paint.
Even though it devoured the room's light, and that black box covering the fireplace hole super depressed me, I always thought the mantel, which as far as we know is original to the house, was a stunner.
We chose to go with white to match the trim in other parts of the house. Now I know there are wood purists out there who shudder at the thought of painting wood trim, but we went white with good reason. First of all, the floors. They are original hardwoods, refinished and stained with a deep walnut tint. Natural wood trim paired with them would just seem dull by comparison, and again, together they'd eat the light. White by contrast looks fresh; to use that interior design buzz word, it pops. Second of all, stripping layers of paint over layers of antique stain and then sanding, re-staining, and sealing would have been a nasty, toxic job, and nobody here wanted to do it.
You can see how the white primer already begins to lighten up the room as we transformed the front window frames from dreary to dapper.
By the way, I find Emily Henderson's design blog really helpful when it comes to the right way to hang curtains. Her treatise on the subject, "Hanging Curtains All Wrong" is my repeated go-to. Here's how the windows looked with the fresh coat of paint and new drapes, sized and hung more appropriately.
And that was kind of it for 2018. I founded Brunette Games that year, and going into start-up mode here in middle age proved to be a huge distraction from home improvement. As evidenced by the holiday styling photo below, the mantel was still all chestnut-y for Christmas that year.
It remained brown for most of 2019 as well, along with the rest of the trim in the room. Still, I think I was able to do the best with what we had. Early on, I realized I wanted to base the room decor on two paintings given to us by my late mother-in-law. As I mentioned last week, the main inspiration came from the Marta Gilbert painting of a young woman holding a slice of watermelon. Its vibrant pinks really got my imagination going. The other painting is also from A. Grace - a Georgia O'Keefe-esque bloom closeup by the artist Nance Allison Cheek. Here they are side by side.
At this point I'd decided on a pink-and-green color palette for the room. Green is a complementary color to pink, and it pulls in the green tile fireplace surround. It also for me harkens back to the colors of the bedroom from my childhood, when my mother called the décor shots. The interim green and pink living room, still waiting to be fully transformed, was a work-in-progress.
Obviously, the mantel and trim needed to be painted, but so did that shelf you see on the right in the photo above. That was an antique mall find, and with its redwood stain, it just didn't fit.
In late fall 2019, we had a string of days warm enough to open the windows for ventilation, and we found a pocket of time to complete the painting. We also scored big on some winter clearance sales, so we splurged on half-price bookshelves and chairs. We got everything done in time to host Christmas at our place. But the last piece of the puzzle didn't fall into place until this fall, when we swapped out the curtains - the navy blue arrow pattern didn't mesh with the green-and-pink plan - and painted the vintage swirl lamp pink. Now the room is officially done.
Why does pink work in this living room? It's a good question. First, green is a complementary color, which means it's opposite on the color wheel. That provides great balance to the vivid blushes. Second, I've included a lot of masculine elements so the room doesn't feel too girly. There's a brass cobra candlestick on the mantle, a pair of horse head bookends on a shelf, one of the side tables has pointed arrow feet, there's a shield adorning the fireplace, and we've hung a leather whip on the wall.
I also think the brass, marble, and gold accents ground the room with a little adult luster. It never feels like a kid's space, which is not to say that my six-year-old niece doesn't adore the pink.
Besides the twin chartreuse chairs and bookshelves, which we picked up just before Christmas when no one is buying furniture and everything tends to be redline clearanced, the only thing we purchased for the renovation was the primer and paint. To get a consistent color palette, we drew on those two paintings we already owned, and then it was a matter of pulling from our own collection of items picked up over years. One suggestion I have is to move through your home looking for items by color and not being afraid to repurpose them in a different room. That's how I gathered together most of the green and pink things in the living room now.
To keep the room from feeling matchy-matchy, I brought in hues from across the spectrums for pink and green. And I kept brass, gold, and the white of marble and stone as accent colors. Since the bookshelves we scored were the same walnut shade as the floors, I foregrounded white objects against that background, as in this stone sculpture and ceramic bowl pairing.
All in all, I have to say that spacing out a reno over two years is actually a good way to do this. It allows you to live with your decisions piece by piece, with enough time to edit, alter, and tweak as you go. It's also fun to let your wanderings through junk shops and antique malls inspire you. While everything else came with us from the Pacific Northwest, those horse head bookends are new acquisitions, as are many of the holiday accents you'll see in my next post.