Our retro FAIL living room

I have a confession.

But first, I wanted to thank you all so much for your delightful comments on my Knit it in Flag colors pullover! I was really tickled. I think it’s going to be really great this autumn, and I think it needs a nice pair of wide-legged trousers to wear with it! Hopefully this autumn I’ll be back in sewing mode, but right now I’m in knitting and decorating mode. πŸ™‚

Now, onto the confession. You’re dying to know, right?

Readers, our living room is one big, huge, FAIL. There, I said it.

As I’ve mentioned, we’re only just starting now, after five months in the Golly Ranch House, to really think about painting and decorating. We’ve made a few furniture purchases since we’ve moved that we thought would work out, and we’ve been trying to make our previous furnishings work since of course we can’t go out and buy all new (or old) stuff.

Our living room is long, and much more sizeable than the living room in our condo was. When we moved in, it was a catch-all room for things that didn’t fit elsewhere. We setup our television in the den, and first talked about doing a more “formal” sitting room for the living room with no television.

Five months in, we realized this was a stupid idea. This was not us. We can only comfortably sit three adults in the den. So friends over for a movie? Difficult. Not to mention it’s a small room, so setting up our Wii (which we don’t use a ton, but we’d like to be able to when we do want to) or our turntable isn’t possible. Dumb.

We considered swapping the t.v. into the living room, but the fact remains that it’s the coldest room in the house (a fact that will not change, though will hopefully eventually be improved by lined pinch pleat drapes). In winter I want the option to be able to cozy up in the warm den to watch a movie. This meant a new t.v. for the living room. We struggled for a bit with being a two television household but whatever. We got over it.

But something else was bugging us about the living room, other than the lack of a t.v. and inability to play any music whatsoever, since of course we didn’t bother setting up music in a room we never seemed to use. We were trying to cobble together too many things that didn’t work. For awhile, we thought “oh no, art and color on the walls will perk it up”. That wasn’t it.

Eventually, we faced the fact: our living room is a retro fail. So here I am, airing my dirty retro decorating laundry. This is the living room that we hate.

It’s not horrifying, no. Sure, any of the pieces on their own are pretty fabulous. But all together? It doesn’t work. For us. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. It doesn’t make us want to hang out in it. Here’s why.

  • The vintage two-piece sofa. It’s a great (dare I say downright stunning) shape, but needs to be reupholstered as the color is faded and gross (a fact that wasn’t apparent of course until it was bought and put in the living room). We could get it reupholstered for this room, but it won’t change the fact that it’s just not the comfy couch we really craved in the living room. We want to love it in our living room… and we don’t.
  • A rug that doesn’t work. It’s a lovely rug, but not our style. Let’s call it a family heirloom (so it’s not going anywhere), but it just doesn’t work in this room, so it needs to go elsewhere. (Sorry it’s rumpled in this photo, you can tell by that and the painter’s tape, tape measure, IKEA catalog and laptop what we’ve been doing in this room lately.)
  • Floral Danish modern chair. I love this chair, but hate the upholstery. It seems to bring everything down around it and doesn’t match anything we have possibly come up with for ideas, plus the fabric is not in very good shape in the first place and already worn through in one corner. We bought it this summer with the idea to eventually get it reupholstered. Eventually is now.

And the other half:

The awkwardness continues:

  • Red/green chair we’ve had forever. It’s comfy, but could also stand to be reupholstered, and having had this chair for at least 12 years, I’m just sick of the fabric.
  • Mirrored walls. Okay, this is easy to resolve. We actually like these gold-flecked mirrored wall panels that came with the house, but it’s another awkward spot right now for sure. The length of them makes designing around them weird.

(And in fairness, the chartreuse Eames repro chair is only next to the other chair for color inspiration purposes, so it looks awkward where I put it but it’s not an actual design issue in the room.)

Like I said, we thought getting some paint up on the walls would help, so we diligently went through two rounds of paint samples, initially staying with lighter greens because of all the green we already have in the furniture and our two lamps, and then trying some darker greens and greys in a second round.

But wait, that photo needs a caption.

Yeah. Yesterday, I came to terms with the fact that I don’t want another green living room. I don’t want the green lamps in the living room. I don’t want the green pillows in the living room. I don’t want green walls in the living room. And Mel was in complete agreement.

We did that in the condo, why do we have to do that in the house?!

But if not green, what? How do we incorporate the furniture and decor we own and mix in new things? What needs to get reupholstered, and what just needs to leave the room already?

This has been our struggle for the last few days. And finally, we hit on it. I’m not going to go into details yet, but we’re comforted in seeing some examples after countless hours of trolling the Internet for images and ideas to prove that our ideas aren’t completely crazy, nor completely out of touch for our modest vintage ranch.

All I’ll say now is we’re going to mix a bit of contemporary with a bit of vintage. We’re going to breathe new life into our older comfy sofa (the green one above) in three ways, and get the Danish modern (don’t know if it’s exactly Danish modern) chair reupholstered in a nice, bright color. Actually the shape is so cool, it’s worth a closer look…

We now know the piece of furniture (once we find one) that will make the mirrored wall work, and how we’ll use it to make a second focal point in the room, instead of the strange space it is now. My dad will be in town briefly over Labor Day weekend, so we’re enlisting him in installing our new t.v. on the paint samples wall and fleshing out the idea we have for an entertainment center, inspired by a suggestion he made.

In the end, you can see the only things that will actually remain in the room from the two photos I showed above.

Newly purchased plants will get vintage planters. The Danish modern chair will get reupholstered. The Eames repro rocker will stay. My grandpa’s painting that’s between the mirrored panels (it’s only up there currently so it’s not sitting on the floor) will be reframed. The bamboo end table and coffee table set will stay for some months most likely, eventually to be sent to their original intended location in the basement (where they will hang with the pink sofa), to be replaced by other solid wood vintage pieces. Everything else shown will get re-purposed in other rooms.

After weeks and months of having no idea what to do with this room, we finally have a shared goal in sight. We have struggled and struggled in this room. Seriously, dear readers, I was growing to hate my own living room! Not now. I can envision almost every single thing I want to happen in this room. I’m so excited, I’m about ready to pop. (I promise I won’t.) Slowly over time, I’ll share our plans as they develop.

First up? Painting next week. A color I would never in a thousand years have thought I’d paint on the walls in my home, until we made a joke in the paint department of Home Depot and realized we may actually have hit on a good idea: grey. It’ll be our neutral palette to bounce off of. Somehow freeing ourselves of color on the walls opened up a world of possibilities for us (who knew?). It’ll work, it’ll rock with our other colorful plans, it’ll be awesome.

And when we’re done with it all, hopefully we’ll have transformed this retro fail into a retro win. Stay tuned to find out if we can pull it off. I have plans to share every step along the way!

Filed: The Golly Ranch House

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Golly, 53 Comments!

  • I can’t wait to see what y’all do! I have to admit that I think that what you’ve already got going is a couple of art pieces short of perfect but in the end, it’s how YOU two feel in your room. And I know from experience that sometimes, rooms can look great in photos but in real life, they just don’t feel right at all. I may have overlooked it but are you keeping those great mirrors ?

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    • Thanks! I think you’re right, because when I was prepping the photos I thought, “Damn, that really doesn’t look nearly as bad as it feels in real life!” Ha ha!

      And oh yes, we sure are keeping those mirrors! We just had to come up with the right way of highlighting them but still utilizing that wall. Once we realized we can have a piece of furniture or two in front of it and it doesn’t ‘ruin’ them, we felt much better. The previous owner left an extra box of those gold-flecked mirrors in the basement, too! πŸ™‚

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  • I love that couch!! It would look great reupholstered. If you don’t want pink I think aqua would be really nice. I am currently hunting for a vintage couch that will fit in my tiny living room. Its hard to find an inexpensive one here in Cali.

    I think you are doing the right thing painting the walls gray. It will bring a touch of modern design into the room and will look really sleek.

    Make sure and post all the updates. I love home decorating!

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  • So glad you guys are sharing this! We’re going through the same thing right now and it’s good to know we’re not alone. The couch is a fabulous shape but I get the wanting to have guests for movies. We have a 12 x 12 living room and just ripped out a 1940’s (?) electric fireplace to make room for a new but retro inspired giant red velvet monster of a sofa……
    It arrives in four weeks….
    I’m nervous…..
    So nerve wracking…. this retro decorating thing.

    P.S.: I’ll be getting that tutorial up on the retro tiered lampshade you helped me figure out sometime before our new sofa arrives.
    Thanks again for letting us in on your adventure. I don’t feel quite so alone now.

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    • You’re very welcome, and it also helps me to hear about other people going through similar things. As I said in another comment, sometimes, at least for me, I see so many examples online of perfect decor and it makes me feel like I’ll never achieve it myself. It’s both inspiring and intimidating! That’s why I feel like I want to really share this process, because I’m starting at the ground up. It’ll take awhile, but hopefully it’ll work out in the end.

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  • I’m so excited to see what you guys come up with. Only I’m a little impatient and want to know all the details now. Good luck with everything; it’s so exciting when inspiration strikes and you get a clear direction. I’ll be staying tuned!

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    • Hee hee! I’ll share the details as we start in on things, which will be very soon! πŸ˜‰

      Exciting indeed. It feels so freeing now that we have a direction and we can move forward. I’ve never had such a clear vision about any room we’ve ever had, so I feel like jumping and clicking my heels in the air!

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  • Ugh, I’m having the same problem too. My house is a mix-match of vintage proportions. Everything is just clutter and unintelligent interior design. The house we have doesn’t have half the cabinets as does my neighbors (I suppose they ran out of them when they got to ours!) we don’t have nearly the amount of windows I wish we had. Everything is dark, brown, shag, and orange and I hate it! I actually have the same type of color green in my room, it’s cute and I never get sick of it, but the carpet, oh the carpet. I absolutely loathe it!

    Here’s the hard part. I’m trying not to, but it’s really, really hard. I know I won’t have the apartment I want unless I appreciate the one I have, so I’m trying to minimize and arrange the space I have so I can make it as I want. Pintrest’s home decor catagory is my main inspiration. So many ideas that are cheap and probably easy for us crafters to even improve on! Much luck!

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    • “clutter and unintelligent interior design” I love this phrase! β™₯ And best of luck to you too, it’s not to know when you’re not the only one out there struggling with similar home dec ideas! It’s hard when you see so many pictures of PERFECT rooms. I know for me, it makes me think I’ll never have a great room myself, like I could never achieve anything nearly as nice.

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  • Funny but we just discussed doing a gray on the walls of our living room. I love that couch
    too bad it isn’t comfy. We have a very crappy 40s couch in our living room that just gets worse each month as our kids live on it. We finally decided we should just bite the bullet and purchase the leather ikea couch recommended for kids. Not our ideal couch but we hope it will get us through the rough on furniture years the we can move our 50s sectional out of storage. I think you are making some wise decisions can’t wait to see the end results.

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  • Oh, i know this debate! I brought a modern blue ikea chair and a bright orange ikea footstool into our living room. Lisa brought a fabulous rust velvet vintage armchair and together we got a very fussy long skinny lime green silk couch that looks very uncomfortable but isn’t. what color could we possibly paint the walls with all that going on? I hate beiges and oatmeals and off whites, so it had to be grey and we found a really nice dark one called volcanic agate that is really cool and light color in sunlight and becomes positively purple and cozy in artificial light. the fireplace/french doors/tv/10 foot couch/living on clark st means no right angles problem is harder to solve, but i guess we don’t need to rearrange the furniture if we find the only way it fits….

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    • Yes, beiges and oatmeal and white, yuck. When we started talking about neutrals I knew those options were out the window before we started!

      10′ couch, you can almost both nap on it! πŸ™‚

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  • that’s what we did! it was called volcanic agate and it was perfect!

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  • I adore colour, both for home decor and in my wardrobe, but am the first to admit that often opting for a neutral wall (which certainly doesn’t have to read as boring) is an excellent choice. When we moved in to our new place earlier this year we went with neutrals in some areas (especially high traffic ones) and bolder hues in other areas (for example our bedroom is a sumptuous shade of garnet-burgundy that the mister and I both adore). It sounds like you’ve got a terrific plan in the works and I can hardly wait to see the revamped living room!

    β™₯ Jessica

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  • I feel your pain – Jakk and I are trying to figure out to combine my 50s kitsch stuff with her love of darker 1940s/1930s stuff.
    Not to forget an amazing 60s Danish lounge suite to boot.

    Argh.

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    • It’s so hard to make things cohesive! That has been a big stumbling block for us. Our den is still a total mess in that department, but at least we’re tackling the living room.

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  • We had grey walls in our previous home and this week have finished the decorating in our living room in our current home. The walls are a pebble colour apart from one which has a large retro pattern wallpaper but in neutral tones.
    I really like the idea of a neutral “base” that you can add pops of colour to. Makes it easier to change things up in the future too!
    Am also painting existing furniture and reupholstering a chair, lol! Snap!
    Looking forward to seeing your room come together! It will be fabulous I am SURE!
    Px

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  • I’m not really interested in home decoration, but posts like this make me wonder if I’m missing something…

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  • Wow, I can so identify with this! Decorating my old house was just like this, many times over – design elements/ideas that seem to be in conflict, or just don’t add up to a cohesive whole. And I totally get what you mean about how a neutral wall can free you up – we moved into a house that’s all light wood inside (floors, walls, ceilings) and having that as a backdrop for everything has really made me feel like we can have more colorful rugs, drapes, furniture etc. It’s great!

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  • I would paint it an orange color, not orange orange but a persimmon color. I think Martha Stewart has a really nice retro color. All that furniture would go with that color and it’s not green.

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  • I love seeing how others come up with ways to surmount decorating problems! I love the sound of your plans thus far; and they grey walls sound surprisingly lovely with your style. I know I would have never contemplated grey myself until recently–I’ve been toying with the idea of using a light, cool grey along the wall that connects the dining and living rooms (just to add a bit of color to the blah, chalk white walls that our landlord painted–which after only 9 months of normal wear and tear need to be repainted. I hate the cheap flat paint they use in these places! :p). It’s such a great color for adding a bit of tonality, but more of a backdrop than a color. Can’t wait to see how the room turns out!

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  • I definitely love all the pieces (especially that sofa! swoon!), but someone just isn’t quite right. I’m excited to see how the place looks when you’re finished! XO.

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  • Love your pieces. I adore 50s lamps – and the modern chairs as well… I think you need a taller, more substantial piece of furniture in the room to anchor it. It feels like it is all floating – lots of smalls. Also – just to share a rug idea we have used. We couldn’t afford the more modern graphic rugs we loved, so we bought a plan 8 X 12 piece of carpet and cut a wavy line through the middle (top to bottom) and pulled it about two inches apart. Anyway – it creates a very cool graphic look with a simple bold colored piece of rug. Then, you anchor it with carpet tape.

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    • That’s a really neat idea! We actually did managed to find a rug we both liked and have already ordered. Although I am not kidding, we must have looked at 10,000 rugs online and found ONE we both agreed on. ONE. So that’s the one we bought. In the end, it helped us design up from the floor and built the rest of the plans!

      Our plans will definitely balance the room more, so it won’t be a room of smalls. Very astute point, I’m sure that was one of the things that annoyed us about it!

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  • Ooh ooh ooh, I cannot WAIT to see what y’all do with this room! I think it has a lot of potential, and I definitely love your sense of decor from what I’ve seen… this room is going to be a win for sure. I do love that couch but I understand exactly where you’re coming from when you say it’s uncomfortable… and a comfortable couch is key for a good living space (esp if you’re like me & love to fall asleep on the couch… all the time πŸ˜‰ lol). I’d love to get a retro couch eventually when I have the funds – but that is one thing that has made me nervous. Oh, and that chair? THAT CHAIR IS AMAZING. Every time I see pictures of your place, I find a new piece of furniture to be super jealous of hahahahaaa

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    • Exactly– you can’t nap or lounge on that couch! All it can offer is looking great. So it’s amazing but just doesn’t fit our desired comfy living room lifestyle. The sofa that will be replacing it isn’t retro per se…it’s actually our old IKEA sofa, but we have some ideas to retro-fy it a bit more. And I already know it’s super great to lounge and nap on! πŸ˜‰

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  • Gosh, I am so curious to see what this will look like. You certainly have some gems in there.

    This post reminds me of the three (or four) times I painted my living room until I found the right colour. I will forever paint large colour tests before I settle on a colour now. It also reminds me of how much I want to help other people with their mid century decorating projects.

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  • I know what you mean about trying to pull all of your different vintage furniture and items together into one cohesive look – it is hard sometimes isn’t it. I have the same problem too, and we are slowly whittling it down and trying to bring it all into one nice look. Our main problem right now is that we want to move soon, so we do not want to do any painting or move too much around the house because it will all be moving again anyway…..hopefully soon!

    For what it’s worth I think your existing living room looks really nice – and your little couch is adorable! I can’t wait to see what y’all do though!!!

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  • Sounds like you have a plan πŸ™‚
    I actually like grey walls. They remind me of the plaster walls you see in the French Country look- the advantage of which is the colour comes from all your furnishings.
    I can’t wait to see how it ends up!

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  • Ohh, I’m excited! I totally agree about the couch thing! That one is lovely, but even reupholstered, it’ll just not be right for flouncing on. I do actually like the danish chair, even with that fabric.

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  • This is a really interesting post, and very topical for me….I’m about to embark upon the very same thing myself when my house sells and we move (hopefully in about 6 wks time!). We have a brown/orange themed retro living room at the moment but I want a complete change as well in the new house – I want it to feel different, not the exact same as I have in my current place. We have been looking at retro wallpaper for a feature wall, and then maybe look at taking colors from that paper to accessorise with. I will look forward to seeing what you come up with, and hopefully it will give me some inspiration too! πŸ™‚

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  • Hi! I just had to comment (1st time) πŸ™‚ I recently painted my living room grey and I LOVE IT. I chose Behr’s Anonymous, a medium neutral grey, and I’d go even a shade or two deeper if I painted again since I get a lot of western sunlight. The grey makes my furniture and artwork POP! At night, it lends a cozy/sexy mood. I’m excited to see how your makeover turns out. I bet the grey will be beautiful with your vintage finds!

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  • It’s funny-when I was looking at your LR pictures, I thought “they should paint the walls light grey, then the green lamps and other furniture colors would pop”. And I would put furniture against the wall with the mirrors and not worry about seeing the entire mirror. That Danish modern chair is cool though I’m not crazy about the fabric. I would recover it too. Can’t wait to see what you come up with. How exciting to now have a plan!

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  • I think you’ve hit a light bulb moment Tash! When there’s so much interesting retro and colourful pieces in a space I find that any bright wall colours just overshadow the amazing furniture. I used to have bright walls, but now I have almost an entire home ith white walls so I can let all my furniture and vintage fabrics do the talking.

    Cant wait to see the grey! All that green will look amazing in front of it! X

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  • Can’t wait to see what you decide to do πŸ™‚

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  • I used to do faux paint for a living, so I’ll throw in my two cents. You need to look at the existing hardscape in your room first, as this is not easily changed. Your floors and most of your furniture are an orange based brown. I’d use a dark espresso bean/bitter chocolate color. Look for one with an orange or green undertone. Beware of colors with a red or purple undertone, as they will look bad. Then, I’d put a lime green on the ceiling. Use the Eames chair as your color guide here. Don’t worry about it being too dark. With good lighting and bright accessories, it won’t be. My favorite dark browns are ICI Dulux/Glidden Stockbridge Brown, Slate Brown, Pebble Mosaic, and Dark Cavern. ICI has the best modern dark browns. If you are in Chicago, there is a store at 1243 W. Madison Street. Roll up that rug and put it away, then find yourself a bright modern one using orange or lime as the dominant color. Your furniture’s great! Let us know what you end up with!

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  • Oh redecorating can be sooo much fun! I simply cannot wait to redo our home and repaint it but we are waiting until our youngest child is at least three. We have so much crayon and pen marks on the walls-its driving me nutts but kids will be kids right? Ideally I would love to add some vintage/retro look into my home and after reading this post I think I am inspired to start doing some research-on colors, furniture, accessories etc. Great post hun and I think the grey will be fab!! xox

    http://www.themusingsandadventuresofapinupmama.blogspot.com/

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  • How about painting the mirror wall orange and the room grey and use your green accents. Recover the couch in a neutral yet bold color. Maybe find a mcm desk move the yellow chair to it. I love your blog by the way Miss Bunny Moreno sent me!

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  • I think one wall could do with a nice accent, like a vintage wallpaper ! Big circles or flowers, matching the grey walls. I love the bright yellow chair, it gives all the other colours an instant ‘push’, perhaps you could use more yellow as a little accent colour, like for the pots you put the plants in.
    Another great vintage idea is to crochet a beautiful afghan in granny squares, let all your colours come toghether in this afghan, and it will be a cosy and warm room to sit in ! Have a nice time figuring it all out, can’t wait to see the result. Greetz, Rozemie

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  • So fun catching up on the last three posts or so– I LOVE the little Dutch decal girl, I LOVE your sofa, I LOVE your flag sweater, and boy, do I not envy your having to make a color decision! I feel like I’ve bought/arranged more things because they “go with” whatever color the room already is than anything else, so loathe am I to change palettes. Good luck on your deciding. Down with green! Up with whatever comes next! πŸ™‚

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  • Don’t think of it as a fail! It’s a great space after all – it simply takes time to become acquainted with it. I’ve been at my house for four years (!) and only just feel like it’s getting where I’d like it to be.

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  • I’ll take this room in a heartbeat! Gimme!

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  • You’ll work it out, I’m very sure ! Your a wiz, so take your time and you’ll get it.
    I think it’s your carpet that throws things off, but that’s just me.
    Other than that, I think your plans sound great. Looking forward to seeing it all !!
    Sierra Sue

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  • I read this when I was on vacation in San Diego and just realized I forgot to comment!

    I’m relieved to read that you guys are struggling with decorating a new house too. We’ve got our living room and dining room to a pasable place, but it’s really kind of undecorated overall. And our bedroom is an embarrassment. Our mattress still sits on the floor because I still haven’t refinished our bedframe and there are multiple patches of test colors on the wall of paint that has yet to be decided upon. We have a fairly complete furniture bedroom set, so that’s cohesive at least. But we also have two random dressers that don’t match the rest of it. I bought a Balinese painting from a fundraiser a few months back which we decided would be the design inspiration. And now after coming back from Tiki Oasis, we are even more inspired to give our bedroom a tropical theme. But having still not painted the room, I doubt this is gonna happen any time soon.

    In short, why is it so hard to decorate a new house? I think for me, I’m afraid of making bad choices and then feeling cluttered and stuck like we were in our old apartment for 8 years. I am beginning to see why people hire decorators. It’s not for lack of ideas, it for fear of making bad choices!

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  • It sounds like you have some great ideas for creating a space that you love. It takes time, but I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Sad that sometimes when you throw all your favorite thing together, they just don’t work well with each other!

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  • I’m sure it will be lovely! IMHO, grey goes with everything, more so than green anyway. I like the arched mirrors. Not that you asked, but I would incorporate them into your design, like putting a small table in between them putting the chairs closer to that wall. I can’t wait to see what you do.

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    • We are, in fact! We’re aiming to find a credenza to go between them, and feature some nice barware, tikis and a little lamp too. It should really make them pop then!

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  • I just LOVE that you guys are sharing your FAIL photos and cannot WAIT to get the TOTALLY FTW blog post! Exciting! I’m ALWAYS caught between old and new, because our house style seems to shift between vintage/secondhand and industrial/warehouse… and we’ve bought a 1930s (with some darling ceiling and light shades and leadlight windows) house that just is tricky to match!

    Always love your photos!

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  • I know what you’re talking about! I love mid-century modern, but sometimes some other influences too. We’re trying to work out how to make our rooms work and be liveable and realistic, too. πŸ™‚

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  • I loved reading all about this, you go through all the torment I do and it’s nice to share!

    I would love a vintage couch but my husband would just find it too low with his disability so we have compromised and have a modern but very retro looking couch alongside everything else, it fits in just fine!!

    I can’t wait to see the end result. I’m just about to restart some decorating, places that need finishing off, some rooms need a revamp and some have been repurposed and need decorating from scratch!

    Good luck xxx

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  • Great space and beautiful furniture! You know where to find me if you decide to sell that two piece sectional sofa! …. seriously. πŸ™‚

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  • so what color did you paint????

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    • In the end we went with a somewhat light blue-gray (I’ll have to get the color card when I finally post about it). It’ll be a great backdrop for the three mid-century paintings my grandfather did that I have to still get re-framed for that room. I never thought I’d have picked a color like that, but it works– and will work even better when we get some other elements complete in there!

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