Decorating Help

So I am in need of some serious decorating help! Paul and I moved into our new townhouse almost three months ago. We like it, but to be honest, the living room feels so... empty and sterile. This is where you come in! I need some decorating ideas. First, here are pictures of the living room now.

(I was going to tidy up before taking the picture, but then I decided the before/after effect would be more dramatic with the clutter!)

The desire:
The stipulations:
  • I'm not allowed to buy any new furniture (although I can mix and match with furniture we already own).
  • Since we most likely will be moving in a year or two, I don't want to buy things so specific that I can't reuse it in a new house.
  • I am already planning on painting the bottom half of the wall (from the chair rail down), but I don't want to paint the whole wall
  • I am planning to buy or make curtains, but I need to decide what color and style (as you see, the windows are quite narrow... about 2 ft.)
  • I am willing to buy a sofa/loveseat slipcovers if I can find them for a good price and the color I want. I really hate the sofa but I'm stuck with it for now, so covering it up would be good. :-)
  • I'd love to have some greenery but I'm HORRIBLE with live plants... so fake plants perhaps?
Okay, feel free to pelt me with your ideas! I think the biggest thing I want is a clear theme or color scheme... I can go from there usually, but right now I just feel so frustrated and at a loss with where to start. So any help you can give will be very appreciated! :-)

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  1. Beth said...
    I like the star quilt you have over your couch. It's cute. ;-)

    Anyway, Hubby and I just bought a new couch, and so we don't need our slipcover anymore. If you want it I can ship it to you. (If you don't remember what it looks like, I can post pictures later on my blog.) Let me know if you're interested!
    Joanna said...
    I don't know all the furniture you have and the sizes, but you could do a plan-o-gram of all the things you have at the Room Planner and base the rooms you design on your floorplan. It'll be easier to see your furniture-placing options without pushing couches around. We used something like this before we moved in, and it was helpful. Also, when we were deciding to paint, I played with this widget: Behr Colorsmart, but I probably needed it worse than you did. You're pretty good with colors. It lets you choose colors as main or accent colors, and shows you coordinating palettes.

    Good luck!
    Nichole said...
    You're great at coming up with color schemes, silly! It's your job!

    I used a bunch of sites to create new schemes for our home, since I didn't stick with all the orignal ones and I liked what some of the rooms morphed into.

    I found my favorite site at

    You can really choose anything as you have all neutral colors right now!

    BTW, yes, I did get a package in the mail. I planned on getting a detailed thank-you out to you, but I got the package a few days ago! I was very excited. Thank you!
    Anna J said...
    I'm not really artsy or great at decorating, but I think that painting the bottom half of the wall will have a huge effect, even if you don't do anything else. Hanging pictures (either a few big ones or several smaller ones) will be another huge thing. Slipcovers also make a really big difference. So you're set with the ideas you have already!
    Your furniture layout right now seems really well-thought out and practical. It would be nice to have something taller to put your tv and speakers on, but that's not a big deal. I would move the cat pedestal thingy to the corner with their food, if that wouldn't mess with their minds. (I don't really know much about cat psychology...) That would open up the window and fill up the other empty corner. It would also give you a great spot for some easy or fake greenery. One plant that's really hard to kill, but that looks nice and green, is aloe vera. Also nice for burns. :)
    There's a few ideas. I'm not good with curtains, so I'm not going to suggest anything in that regard. Have fun decorating!
    Ashley said...
    Well after playing around a lot with Behr Colorsmart (what a COOL program!) I decided that what I really, really want is to paint the walls dark red. I think that will look so nice with the white, and I'm trying to figure out how to work everything else in with that.

    I see what you mean about the cat condo, Anna. I had it by the window so the cats could look out, but I wonder if it would be better to free up the window and perhaps put a plant there. Hmm... I'll have to think about it.

    So, how to make the sofa work with dark red walls? Can you get slipcovers for pillow backs like this sofa?
    Anonymous said...
    I think the red walls is a good idea. Another idea is to stain your furniture black. It looks like your coffee table is oak; using black lacquer (not paint) looks so good on Oak because you can still see the wood grain. It would tie your furniture together (i.e. with the black TV stand, etc.) and would give a look somewhat like the one in the picture you posted. You can use black wood lacquer on any kind of wood (though oak is most striking) and it will even work over hinges, etc. if necessary. It's very easy to apply (use a nylon brush). You do not need to sand first, either, and it's reversible: if you ever want to change it, just sand it off.

    If you do choose to go with dark furniture, another economical idea that gives big results is to buy cheap oak frames from arts stores, garage sales, etc. and use the lacquer on them, too. It could look great to frame one of your posters over your couch in a dark frame. Just my two cents:)

    Anonymous said...
    Another idea would be to get new some new lighting. You could buy some thrift-store lamps and mix and match the lampshades, or you could stain or decorate some you already own. Lighting is a quick way to make a big difference!

    -Charlotte again
    Anonymous said...
    Okay, last comment, I promise. Another way to add color and comfort would be to get some big, pretty, rich pillows for your couches, especially once they are slipcovered. Nothing can spruce up a couch more quickly and easily. Get contrasting fabrics in the same color (red?) or similar fabrics in different colors (all shades of red... brown, black and red ... etc.).

    Also, another almost "unkillable" plant that grows quickly is a philodendrum. Water once every other week or so ... or whenever you remember. This one's a fighter!

    Lesley said...
    You say you want a mix of traditional and contemporary. I have found that going with earth tones and adding either dark brown or black accents not only hits both requirements perfectly, it is also a fairly timeless and versatile base to work with. Personally, I especailly like shades of green - when you get the right shade/family, it's almost impossible to run across a color that doesn't work with it.

    2 cents from a stranger who nevertheless loves her own house. :)
    Kara said...
    This is funny, becuase Matt and I were just registering for gifts about a week ago and trying to figure out what colors we wanted in our apartment. I would have been totally lost without my interior designer mother there to help me (I guess that I inherited my dad's lack of design intuition).

    One thing my mom said was that you should find one piece (picture, rug, fabric, whatever) that you LOVE that ties all of your colors together, then match all of your colors to that one thing. (It doesn't have to be an exact match.) So, since you have those pictures that you like, I'm guessing that you can pick a color scheme from one (or two) of those, and that one picture will, as my mom says, "pull everything together."

    I hope that helps some. Like I said, I'm clueless, so I can only tell you what she tells me. (I guess she knows what she's talking about since people used to pay her money to tell them how to decorate their homes.)

    Keziah said...
    I am going to have to move house in the next few months, so I am enjoying getting these tips! I'll need to share my house with you for advice when I move.

    I was wondering about a terracota colour on the walls with a big warm looking rug on the floor. (I'll see if I can spot anything nice in Morocco!) That would add warmth while keeping to contrasting colours and making it nice and cosy. I don't like clutter either, but it is hard not to make it look sterile.
    Ashley said...
    Charlotte: Your comments made me smile. :-) The throw pillows are a great idea! I mentioned to Paul about painting the wood black, and he immediately shot that idea down. Oh well! I like the idea of getting black frames for the pictures on the wall.

    Ya'll are giving me great advice! I stood in the room today and thought about it long and hard. Here's what I'm thinking: a deep red color for the walls; red curtains with a black rod for the windows. Dark brown slipcovers for the couch and loveseat. (What color is yours, Beth? Isn't it brown?) Since both the couch and the loveseat have pillowbacks, I'll have to come up with something for that. Seep red and/or tan throw pillows for the couch and loveseat. Move the cat condo to the other side of the room; get some nice full plants for the front of the windows. Right now, I'm thinking of rearranging the room; while it works now, I really don't like how the TV is. I think I'll hang my black & white Ansel Adams in a prominent place and perhaps some other black and white photography.

    Okay this is getting long. I'll be sure to post updates about this redesign project. :-)

    (Oh and Lesley, I like green too! We did our bedroom in greens and pastel blue.)
    Anonymous said...
    Check with your apartment complex before you do any painting, especially red. That would be very hard to cover & they may take a dim view of it. If they don't have any restrictions, go for it!
    Karla said...
    Well, I'm not sure of all the furniture you have, but I can give you some ideas. I started reading the comments, and it looks like you already have some good input, but I didn't feel like reading everything so sorry if this is redundant.

    I LOVE the idea of red - I was considering using that color in the addition, maybe the bedroom. I'm thinking of doing a colorwash, and in your case that would work nicely with the picture. I would probably paint the bottom one color, and the top another; Or paint the whole thing but leave the rail in the middle white.

    You could always get a couple throw pillows, instead of a whole slipcover - pillows make a huge difference in the look of a couch.

    Okay - looking at the top picture in the post, it might be neat to put the couch on the left wall (where the tv is), and the loveseat directly across from it, creating a conversation area, with the coffee table in the middle (if you put all the clutter on TOP of the table away, or on the bottom, that would be SWELL!). I can't tell how much room you have where the hallways it, but you could create a barrier to the living room by putting the loveseat directly across from where it is now, as well. A nice red vase and some coffee table books, maybe some coasters, on top would look sweet.

    Curtains would make a HUGE difference to those windows. Since they're skinny, I would probably buy two panels and two curtain pulls - one for each window. OR, instead of the curtain pulls, gather each of them in the middle with ribbon, a tassel or - like me - a clear shower curtain hook that I already had. It would be pretty if you had something lacy or sheer underneath, with a color on top (dark red, or a complimentary color - red and sage, red and purple, I dunno.).

    It looks like you have... one side table? It looks like the back wall is pretty long, so it could go next to the couch.

    Hm... see if you can move the cat tower to another room. Fold up the trays... yadda yadda yadda... I'm trying to figure out what other usable furniture you have.

    What is that piece on the lower righthand corner? A low bookshelf or some piece of furniture (something you can put all the entertainment stuff in?) between the windows, with artwork above that (and the couch) and a couple plants in colorful pots and some candles, would be nice.

    Nichole had gotten some cute, I think cheap little bookshelf boxes for one of the walls in her old apt - you could get three and stagger them on one of the walls, to get some stuff off the tv electronics. If they're hung near the windows, you could put a plant on top and a picture inside, something like that. You could stain them, or paint them, whatever.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!
    Cida said...
    This is a though one, since you are very tight on the budget, but I may be able to help. When you have so many restrictions on buying furniture, basically you will have to work on these elements I can think right now:
    1- color (which you are going to do - I have a couple suggestions to achieve the look you are pursuing, i.e. contemporary/cozy)
    2 - light
    3 - getting rid of all the small pieces that are cluttering your living room, and keep less (and bigger) key-pieces
    4 - dressing up the walls with some of your art work
    5 - dressing up the room with the right curtains, to cozy it up!

    I know you are not buying furniture, but here is a suggestion for you to think: if you really need storage or a key piece, you may be able to buy an unfinished piece of furniture (I know one store in Alpharetta that only sells unfinished furniture, and is not expensive) and paint it yourself (I can give you the guidance, if you wish)
    Ashley said...
    Karla: My plan is to paint the bottom and leave the top white. I think it will be too much work to paint the whole wall, especially for a place we are renting. I love the idea of painting the whole wall and leaving the rail white, though!! Perhaps if whatever house we eventually own has a rail, I will do that.

    There is a lot of room, so it would be easy to create a barrier with the couch or loveseat. I love your suggestion about the red vase on the coffee table because guess what? I OWN a beautiful red vase that is just the color I want to paint my walls! I never thought of putting that on the coffee table.

    I also like your idea of gathering the curtains in the the middle of the window. I agree that something lacy or sheer would be beautiful but my experience is that those don't last long after coming in contact with little kitty claws, and a few rips make the whole thing look a little ragged. :-) Perhaps at a window that is not the prime viewing spot for squirrels!

    The piece on the lower righthand corner is a media rack/bookcase which is filled with CDs and DVDs.

    There really isn't anything in the TV area except for the TV, DVD player, stereo, 2 speakers, and the bunny ears. I don't like to keep clutter there (i.e. DVDs, etc). There are a ton of wires in the back which make it look messy. :-( I am trying to think of a good way to clean that whole area up.

    I like the idea of the bookshelf boxes for the walls. It would give me a place to display knick-knacks without making it look cluttered.

    Thanks for all your ideas. :-)
    Karla said...
    PS - DON'T do fake plants!
    Ashley said...
    I'm afraid for me it's either no plants or fake ones. I was in a friend's house yesterday, and she had a bunch of fake plants and it looked just fine. Obviously, real is better, but not only do I not want to have to worry about watering them, but I always get sad when they start dying. Soo..... I think everyone is just going to have to get over fake plants. :-)
    Nichole said...
    With red walls, you can keep the cream and tan slipcovers you have and go with an earthy color scheme. :) I think red is a great choice to work with what you've already got.
    麻辣火鍋Fay said...

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