Monday, November 9, 2009

Style on A Dime... or Less

So, I've been writing about redoing my home to fit my style. A couple of weekends ago I tackled another room - my living room. Once again, I was able to completely change the feel of the room - without spending a penny.

First let me tell you a little about the room. It is fairly large room, roughly rectangular in shape, and painted an odd sort of gray green. The paint is matte, which was undoubtedly chosen to hide the waves and ripples in my 100+ year old plaster walls. The color reminds me of a Victorian doctor's waiting room - think dull, slighty depressing, grayish olive green. Obviously I did not choose this color, and someday I might change it, but I have to say that despite the fact I am not crazy about the color, they did a good job painting it.

This is the front room of my house. If you imagine a horizontal rectangle, the top line across has windows to my front porch. The front door is in the top right corner and the entryway to the rest of the house is in the bottom right, making an informal hallway. Originally my couch was on the short wall facing that hallway (the left side of the rectangle) and all the furniture was based off that.

The couch, and its matching chair, are incredibly striking, and part of the reason I don't mind the paint color - they make it work. Once again (as with most of my furniture) this was passed on to me by a friend. The couch belonged to my friend Tracey and it is in her rich, decadent, exotic and unforgettable style. First off, both the chair and the couch are huge. That was actually the reason I ended up with it - when she moved, it didn't fit into her new place... literally, they couldn't get it through the front door. So, she ended up storing it in her father's garage. Well, at the time I had an empty living room and offered to at least get it away from the car fumes and garage mice and store it at my place. It barely fit in my house - we had to take off both doors from the house, all the legs and finials off the couch, and then it took three men (one sober, one tipsy, one three sheets to the wind) and a time space continuum to get it through the door. I've always told Tracey that if she wants it back, it is hers... unfortunately I am not sure it is coming out without a saw!

Not only is the furniture big, it is in rich, gorgeous colors. It is deep brilliant red, black and gold in an intricate combination of tapestry fabrics. The back and arms of the couch are very tall, which is why it was so hard to get it through the door. In addition to the couch there is a big overstuffed chair, which is almost a love seat, (except that the lovers would have to be pretty skinny to sit side by side,) and a huge square ottoman. Honestly, this is not furniture I would have chosen, I think I would have been too scared to be that bold! My friend Tracey, however, is fearless when it comes to furniture selection and she has stunning taste. The best part (for me,) is that this furniture works with the room and the paint color. The warm elegant colors of the fabric keep it from being dark and cold. Since this room is kind of a formal parlor room (no tv here), it all works together well.

Also in the room are a few other big pieces, the grandfather clock my father built, a glass coffee table and few other things. This was what I had to work with...

The first step was to clean out the room - everything, except the couch, chair and grandfather clock, had to come out! I pulled, pushed and carried everything from the photos on the walls to the rug on the floor into my dining room. Then I pushed the couch and the chair over against the wall with the windows and got out my trusty Murphy's Oil Soap. After a good sweep I got down on hands and knees and once again washed the hardwood floors. When one side was dry, I pushed the couch and chair over and did the other side. (I did not move the grandfather clock. It is a pain to move and I hate doing it alone. It was fine right where it was.)

Since the couch is the largest piece of furniture in the room, that was the piece I needed to place first. I wanted to do something different with it, but my choices were limited. I was thinking about focal points - what do I want people to look at? I had had it against the wall opposite the doors, which frankly, isn't that much of a view. I don't have a fireplace, tv or piece of great art (common focal points) in there, so what to do? I put it against the windows when I was washing the floor, and could immediately tell that wasn't going to work. As tall as it is, it blocked out half the light. Besides, these are pretty much floor to ceiling windows, I was afraid of sun fading the material. I couldn't put it opposite from where it had been - that would put it directly in the path of anyone entering via the front door... they'd have to somersault over it to get in!

Really, that just left one choice, so I put the couch on the wall opposite the windows. This not only changed the flow of the room, it made the the windows and the grandfather clock into
focal points - perfect! Now it looked like I was trying to make the room make some kind of sense. Next I positioned the rug and the chair. As I did, I noticed another effect that I liked. Because the couch was now on the "long side" of the rectangle, it shrank the room up a bit. In the past, because furniture was on both "short sides," the room felt pretty big and distant. It was fine if I was in there by myself or sitting on the couch with a friend, but when I had people over, I noticed that the furniture made the people sitting on opposites sides of the room really distant from one another. If you were sitting on the couch and someone else was in the chair, with the big distance between you and the ottoman and coffee table in the middle, you almost felt that you had to holler to the other person! Changing the placement made the room a lot more intimate and better for conversation.

As before, I brought in only the furniture that I wanted. Here is something that is crazy to me - changing the way things were arranged made more space... again. Just like in the last room I did. In fact, I actually added one of my chairs that had been in the library (it is gold, so it matches), a large side table that hadn't worked with the new library lay out, and a lamp.

Here's another quirky thing - when I had the furniture how I wanted it, I went to work on the pictures. I have two large framed prints that had been hanging over the couch. All the time, I knew I had hung them too high. It is a fault of mine, I always hang art to high. Recently though, I read something in a design book about figuring how how high you want to hang your art... then lowering it 3". This has been great advice! I've used it a couple of times now, and sure enough, things look better. I was dreading rehanging these pieces - they are so, so heavy and my ex had put them up with big molly bolts. It was going to tear up my walls.

But then something happened... even though the prints were too high behind the couch, that changed now that my gold chair was in front of them. My gold chair also has a tall back - even taller than the couch (it comes up to my shoulders when I am standing next to it.) I put it in front of the prints and a low bookcase nearby and poof! It worked. The prints no longer look like they are hanging in space. Believe me, I wish I could tell you that it was planned, but it wasn't. It just all came together... like magic.

There was only one problem when I got done with the room... now my dining room was full of things I wasn't going to use, from both my living room and my library room!! My next project was to clear that out. I now have a holding area of furniture in my basement that I need to make decisions on. I will either pass it on via the "undeeda" network (you needa chair? I gotta chair.) or sell it in next year's garage sale... or find a new home for it in my own home as I finish up the rest of the rooms in my house.

I am really pleased with this project so far. I am slowly, room by room, making the spaces in my house my own, without spending any money. Now admittedly, I have cleared out some areas that I look at and think, "I need a new _____ for there." but, I am not in any particular rush to go out and buy. I also am rather happy with the deep cleaning each room is getting. It had been awhile since these floors were scrubbed, the furniture vacuumed, the windows washed. I'm also going through each room as I finish with it and making a dream list - writing down everything I would do if I had an unlimited budget. Some things are big and out of my price range, like installing a gas fireplace in the living room, but others are very doable on my budget, like giving the metal register covers a fresh coat of black paint.

My next room will either be the dining room or the bedroom. The dining room will be the easier of the two, so it will depend on how much time I have. The dining room, though, has some potential for big projects, so we'll see if I feel up to tackling it. In the meantime, I have two great rooms that I love and feel very, very comfortable in.

Photo by: Browserd
via flickr

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