Before & After: A Multipurpose Living Room Makeover

Lonny executive editor Irene Edwards turns a cluttered interior into an elegant yet family-friendly space

A wealth of seating options—from Arhaus's Clancy Sofa to the Windsor Bench by Land of Nod—fill my revamped living room. Gallery wall custom framing by Framebridge. Tree, Brooklyn Plantology.
A wealth of seating options—from Arhaus's Clancy Sofa to the Windsor Bench by Land of Nod—fill my revamped living room. Gallery wall custom framing by Framebridge. Tree, Brooklyn Plantology.


Makeovers are a funny business. There’s something undeniably romantic about their appeal: the belief that by shedding a few pounds or acquiring a new wardrobe or redecorating a room, life will all of a sudden get a whole lot better. After all, who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story?

Well, I’m here to tell you that I made over my living room and, yes, life did get a whole lot better. Not in a dramatic, I-just-won-the-lottery sort of way, but in a quieter, subtler fashion—the kind of enjoyment you get from turning a little-used space into an environment you want to spend as much time in as possible. And because I’m committed to keeping things real, I’m going to share with you some truly embarrassing “before” images that help document the process in its entirety: the good, the bad, and the really, really ugly. (Check out our new photo slider tool, below, for one example of what I’m talking about.)

So here was the deal with my living room: it needed to fulfill three functions in one. With two toddlers in my household and no dedicated playroom, it had to serve as a place to store toys and the usual kiddie detritus in an attractive and functional way. There was also an existing workstation to one side of the fireplace—basically a makeshift desk with no shelving or any way to organize files or paraphernalia. As home offices go, it was cramped, highly visible, and (how shall I put it) not exactly known for its neatness. Finally, given my apartment’s layout and the fact that the living room flowed right into the dining area, the living area was obviously meant as my home’s hub for entertaining. I nurtured visions of small cocktail parties involving ottomans and trays against a backdrop filled with books and beloved pieces of art. Instead I had two indifferent bookshelves propped against one wall, and various unframed artworks tucked in a portfolio under my bed. Clearly, not anything like the aesthetically pleasing haven of my dreams.

Before & After: A Multipurpose Living Room Makeover

My goals for the makeover were simple. First, I needed to get rid of my uncomfortable sectional and come up with a seating solution that was kid-friendly yet sophisticated. From the start, I was drawn to the classic, generous lines of the Clancy Sofa from Arhaus—and its plush yet forgiving surface in a moody pewter hue. Paired with a vintage color-wash rug from Restoration Hardware, part of Ben Soleimani’s curated collection, the sofa establishes a dominant palette of soft, moody blues and grays. The room’s central elements, however, are the four cube-shaped cowhide ottomans from Arhaus, which also act as cocktail table, footrest, extra seating, and, yes, occasional toddler train. (To the long-suffering neighbors who live below me, all I have to say is Thank you and I’m sorry.)

The Palermo Butterfly Chair from the Citizenry cozies up in a sunny corner next to an antique children's rocking chair handed down by my mother-in-law. 
The Palermo Butterfly Chair from the Citizenry cozies up in a sunny corner next to an antique children's rocking chair handed down by my mother-in-law. 

To the sofa-and-ottoman grouping, I added a piece I’d been deeply coveting—the leather-and-copper Palermo Butterfly Chair from recently launched brand the Citizenry. The site is also the source of a baby alpaca throw that now rests on one of my most unexpectedly stylish discoveries: the Bijou Chaise from La-Z-Boy’s Urban Attitudes collection. If you never thought of yourself as the kind of person who would own a La-Z-Boy, trust me, you’ll want to reconsider.

Joseph Knowles Jr.'s Cello, available through Zoe Bios Creative, is displayed front and center above the fireplace. Morrison Log Holder by Arteriors.
Joseph Knowles Jr.'s Cello, available through Zoe Bios Creative, is displayed front and center above the fireplace. Morrison Log Holder by Arteriors.
The sofa-and-ottoman combination from Arhaus provides maximum versatility for the space—and the surfaces are hardy enough to keep up with the living area's romper-room duality.
The sofa-and-ottoman combination from Arhaus provides maximum versatility for the space—and the surfaces are hardy enough to keep up with the living area's romper-room duality.

My second goal was related to organization. The toy situation was easily solved by stacking two Crate and Barrel Ascend open storage units and filling each with a row of Serena & Lily’s Pandan Bins. But the biggest desire I had for this makeover was for floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that were high-impact yet affordable—and allowed me to put my collection of books and ephemera on display. An online search turned up a genius IKEA hack by design blogger Jenny Komenda. But who could take on something like this? (Not me.) After a few unsuccessful attempts to find a local handyman or contractor who was willing to do the job, I turned to service-networking site TaskRabbit—and struck gold with their recommendation of Adam Bierton. Every design-loving homeowner needs an Adam Bierton: a guy who not only carves competition-worthy pumpkins and runs his own mustache-related business but also specializes in creative, high-quality yet accessible fabrication ideas, including IKEA hacks. (See this behind-the-scenes slideshow for how he brought the bookshelves and a new and improved built-in desk area to life.) Also worthy of a shout out—Kartell’s Masters Chair in gold, which elevates a home office to an entirely different level.

Before & After: A Multipurpose Living Room Makeover
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM THIS MAKEOVER

Given the intensity of my daily exposure to great interiors, you’d think a makeover would be par for the course, right? Wrong. Read on for the rookie mistake I made—and the valuable tips I gleaned—from even a relatively small-scale revamp such as this one.

  • MEASURE YOUR DOORWAY

     Which I did, obviously—but didn’t account for my new sofa’s high armrests, the fact that its legs didn’t unscrew, and the sloped and super-narrow shape of my entryway. See how the heroic delivery guys from Arhaus finally got the beautiful beast into my apartment.

  • PARE BACK YOUR BOOKS

    As much as I love each and every high-school volume of Milan Kundera or falling-apart flea-market find, a bookshelf looks a lot better when it isn’t overstuffed. I prefer an airy look broken up with a mix of horizontals and verticals, and with the addition of textural ephemera scattered throughout.

  • PUT A TREE IN IT

    That lonely corner? It’s calling out for a tree. And while I adore a fiddle-leaf fig as much as anybody, I was happy to find another option that worked for me.

  • CREATE A FREEFORM GALLERY WALL

    I love the planned-out look of my colleague Cat Dash’s version, but for my own, Framebridge's Tessa Wolf and I just started with one central image and went for it. And it unexpectedly works—both in the lighthearted grouping and in the more serious array of black-and-white photography.

  • DITCH THE TV

    True-confession time: The flat-screen is currently on the floor of my bedroom. Check back soon for an update on where it ends up.

My final goal: a thoughtful way to display art. In place of the soft and surreal Inez & Vinoodh fashion photograph above my fireplace, I hung a bold and graphic print by artist Joseph Knowles Jr. that I found on Zoe Bios Creative. The framing job was a pretty penny—if only I had known beforehand about Framebridge, a new website and app that promises to revolutionize the custom framing business. Inspired by its ease of use (upload an image from your Instagram feed! Preview your pieces on your wall!) and comparative affordability (we’re talking free shipping and prices at 50 to 70 percent less than retail frame shops), I anchored one side of the entire room with two gallery walls: one of black-and-white photography framed in blacks and golds, and another of lighthearted animal prints and kids’ art framed in clean, Scandinavian-esque whites and light woods. (The Inez & Vinoodh fashion photograph now looks amazingly at home next to works from Stampa, Sharon Montrose, and Coral & Tusk.)

Before & After: A Multipurpose Living Room Makeover

Obviously, a lovely new living room doesn’t mean all is perfect, even from a decorating point of view. The floor lamp (which I keep mostly because it reminds me of one my parents used to own during my childhood) looms too large and looks a bit unwieldy in my space. The vintage Eames chairs around my dining table are badly scratched. And although the Serena & Lily bins are valiantly holding on, it’s only a matter of time before my son’s ever-burgeoning train sets spill over, and my toy storage situation will have to be reassessed yet again. But I’m quibbling here. What I really want to say is, this was totally, one hundred percent worth it.   

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