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If you have been following, you know that last week I shared my living room and dining room before photos. If not, to recap: our house was builder grade, boring and small. This week I want to share our progress so far and talk about the direction we’re going for the final tweaks to get these rooms done. It’s really happening, people. In fact, I have two boxes that arrived today from Anthropology sitting in my living room as we speak that are filled with some finishing touches for the living room. Wheeeee! Fingers crossed that they are not going back (I return EVERYTHING).

Here is a little before and in-progress side-by-side so you can see how the living room looked after we painted, exposed the brick and revamped the fireplace, did the built-ins, changed the window treatments, and swapped out the ceiling fan for a light fixture:


The new built-ins that flank the fireplace have cabinet doors covering the bottom third so that we have some storage. The cabinet on the left is our mini-office. It houses our shredder, printer, office supplies, and a charging station. On the right, we created a space for the TV and the cabinet underneath hides all of the ugly wires, routers, and other things with blinking lights that I generally try to avoid.

Built-ins can be pricey but we didn’t pay too much relative to some quotes I saw. We paid about $4,800 for these including painting them out (we used Wall to Wall Construction and they are great). Mind you, these built-ins are not the fanciest. They are made of solid birch plywood and pine and the shelves are adjustable and have the metal strips along the inside where the brackets get inserted…not sure I’m describing that very well. But my point is that built-ins can be very expensive and for very good reason if you want beautiful wood finishes and custom carpentry. We did want the fireplace and shelves to be a focal point, but ultimately we mostly needed storage and a place to put the TV and we didn’t want to break the bank. So I think we went middle of the road as far as cost and it worked out well for our needs.


In the living room, we swapped out the ceiling fan for a Nelson pendant lamp, which I do love but sometimes in the spring and summer I do wish we still had the ceiling fan. It’s like going out for the night and realizing that you chose the wrong footwear. The heels clearly look better with your outfit, but you know you should have worn your sensible flats even though they are not as cute. Really nice ceiling fans can be very expensive and so many inexpensive ones are unattractive. As a compromise, we kept all of the ceiling fans upstairs where it tends to get very warm, but went with the cool light fixture in the living room where it really makes a statement and it tends to stay cooler.

I plan to write an entire post about the fireplace renovation, but the executive summary is that we swapped out the electric insert with a salvaged cast iron insert that is the same vintage as the house (1885) that I found online at Urban Remains in Chicago. It is awesome and I love it. It was about $450 and the folks at Urban Remains kindly boxed it up in a crate and shipped it to me. Do I have similar feelings about removing the electric insert (i.e., heat source) as removing the ceiling fan? Yes, I do, but I’m okay with it because I really love how the fireplace turned out. We also tiled the surround and hearth with marble hex tile.


As you can see, some serious styling needs to happen in here to pull everything together. This is where I really tend to get stuck. I can get the big projects done, but then when it comes to selecting art, styling bookshelves, and adding those finishing touches I just run out of steam.

So let’s get into a couple of the areas that have been driving me crazy and where I brought in reinforcements….

The first thing that was driving me nuts was that rug in the dining room. It wasn’t working and it bugged me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why and as a result I was having a hard time getting rid of it. Plus Alberto said he liked it so that made me feel guilty that I wanted to get rid of it. Honestly, I don’t think he cared that much but he just didn’t want to deal with trying to sell it on Craig’s List. No one wants to buy rugs on Craig’s List and you have to sell them super cheap.

Second, I was feeling like we were suffering from the too-small-rug syndrome in the living room. Also why do I have so many pillows on the couch??


Finally we have that huge empty wall in the dining room and I have been struggling with what to put there and don’t wan’t to buy some generic art just to fill the space but I can’t take it any more. Do we do a gallery wall? One large statement piece? Two or three smaller pieces?

I needed some help…

Last year Emily Henderson did some amazing pro bono design work at the San Fernando Rescue Mission family homeless shelter (you can read more about it here). In addition to all of the design work that she was doing for free, she also donated her time to give free 30 minute design consultations for anyone who made a donation to the Mission of $500 or more. I was looking for a good cause to get behind and I needed design advice (um, who couldn’t use some design advice from Emily Henderson?) so I was in.

I emailed Emily’s team photos of my design dilemmas and she and I had a 30 minute phone conversation where she imparted her design wisdom. Here’s what she told me.

First, she confirmed that the dining room rug was definitely NOT working and she gave me permission to let it go. She pointed out that besides the size (clearly too big) the style wasn’t right. It’s transitional, which does not fit with the mid-century vibe in the rest of the house. Looking at it now, this is SO obvious but I was focused on the colors, which I liked, but not the style or the size. Aaaahhhh…A weight lifted from my shoulders. Thanks, Emily for freeing me from my too-big transitional rug! She suggested I move the rug from the living room in the dining room. YES. Clouds parting. Beams of sunlight shining. “But I thought it would be too small?”, I said. “It might be a little small, but I think it will be fine”, she said. I have since moved it and she was right. It’s fine.

For the living room rug, she didn’t think the rug was that bad, which gave me some reassurance after my embarrassment with the obviously bad dining room rug. The challenge that we have in our living room is that it’s narrow and then the fireplace hearth cuts into the space so we don’t have too many options for standard-size rugs. And because I have a tendency to want to follow all of the “how to pick the right size rug” rules that taunt me on Pinterest, I was suffering with the fact that not all my furniture had legs on the rug.  Nor all off the rug. I was somewhere in between. Gasp!


She suggested that we move the rug out from under the couch a bit (obvious but I was too lazy to do this before) and that I check out vintage Turkish Apadana rugs, which were designed for entry halls, which are long. Specifically, she picked this one for our space from Chairish:


This rug is 6’5 by 9’8″ so definitely not a standard size so this was an exciting development. I LOVED this rug and debated buying it but I couldn’t spend $1,200 on a rug while we have a toddler in the house. I want to be able to relax in my house and not stress too much about ground up cheerios on my rug. But she got me thinking so I was on the hunt for something similar but for less…so another win in my book.

Finally. for the big empty wall in the dining room, she suggested doing two prints side by side. Specifically, she suggested that I check out Minted and consider prints because they are available in a range of sizes. She also mentioned that going with framed art with glass (rather than, say, canvas) will reflect the light and help brighten up the space. That part of the room tends to get a bit dark so this was a great suggestion. Again, thank you, Emily for telling me that it’s okay to get two prints, put them side by side and call it a day. I was definitely paralyzed with perfection here and she helped me move past that and explore other options. Below are a couple of the prints at Minted that she picked for me:


A great big thank you to Emily Henderson for all of her wonderful advice for a great cause and to you, devoted readers, who made it through this entire post. You will see what I picked for the final design choices on my “after” tour post, which (I hope!) will be on the blog very soon.

So what do you guys think of these suggestions? Do you have any good resources for large scale art or non-standard size rugs? Please share in the comments – I want to hear your suggestions!

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