before & after: living room

Home ownership is weird. It’s so awesome, and then I look at something like the kitchen and the sheer overwhelm of what it will take to renovate and repair blows my mind.  So, baby steps. We decided to tackle the living room first as it seemed like the least amount of work of all the rooms, and it’s a room we spend a lot of time in. By the time we returned from vacation, my brother  (aka our in-house contractor, and yes, I owe him a new website) had already put 2 days of work in sanding, smoothing, and adding 10 lbs of mud to the walls to try to both shore up the plaster and get rid of the horrible frosting texture. Our first day back, we got in on a 6am flight, drove 3 hours home, and then I spent 5 hours priming and sanding with my brother.

Because the Greek Revival trim in this room is so over the top & the ceilings are so low I decided to paint it the same color and finish as the walls – it’s original to the house so I don’t want to remove it, but it can really dominate the room, so this works really well. I can’t believe the difference smooth white walls make, it’s like a whole new room.

There’s still work to do and moving in to happen, but it’s a good start in making the house ours.

So far
-Smoothed the walls. You can’t see how thick the “frosting” texture was, but it was bad, and hadn’t been repainted in at least a decade. Yuck.
-Primed and painted the walls (Benjamin Moore Natura paint in Eggshell finish, color is Steam)
-Primed and painted the ceiling
-Built bookshelves (five 2″ x 12′ x 14′ fir boards)
-Added a new light fixture (Nelson Criss Cross Saucer)

To do
-Reupholster the couch (And then make the cats wear mittens? I’m not sure what to do here. Some kind of fabric they don’t like to rip up as much as 60s tweed.)
-Add another board to the bottom of the bookcase 
-Find a coffee table that’s better suited. Also I found this one in the street and then ACCEPTED A RIDE IN A WINDOWLESS VAN FROM STRANGERS TO GET IT HOME. IN OAKLAND.
-Find a giant painting for the wall (like a huge floral still life? in my dreams.)
-Find a much bigger rug?
-Find window treatments (some sort of light-letting-in roman shades?)
-Mend & paint the window-doors when it’s warm out
-Make nice screens for the window-doors for summer breezes
-Oil the woodstove
-Live in it and bring home treasures for the next 50 years


  1. I love it being all white! It’s so bright and fresh! Also love that a TV isn’t the focal point in the room. That wood stove is wonderful!
    When you find a fabric that cats won’t destroy… let me know!

    1. We have a projector & my parent’s old slideshow screen when we want to watch movies from the laptop, but otherwise, no TV. I didn’t grow up with one and haven’t ever had one, so when I do watch a stretch of TV (like on planes) I get really emotionally exhausted, it’s weird.

  2. Wow, that is a lovely transformation. Those moldings are fantastic but … yes, a bit overwhelming, what a good idea to paint it all the same color. Those bookcases are wonderful, what a dream to have a whole wall of books! Nelson lamp! Exclamation!
    PS I’ve never had cats, but a friend of mine puts these little rubber (?) caps on their front claws – I guess they don’t mind them. Otherwise, my mom had a heavy duty duck slipcover made when she reupholstered her sofa to protect it from the dogs (who like to sneak on the couch when she’s gone).

    1. When we were unpacking books, I kept thinking about how when I was a little kid I was super jealous of people who’s parents had walls of built ins filled with books and VOWED that I one day would. WHooo, it only took 36 years!

      The cat’s claws are actually quite useful in catching old Vermont farmhouse mice, so we have to live with them! I think I nice thick cotton duck would work for sure!

      1. Bookshelves are always the first thing I build when moving to a new place. I’m so glad my husband agrees with the books as the focal point of the room concept. Your place is coming along so nicely. Since we’re renting for the foreseeable future, I am going to live vicariously through your renos.

  3. 1) i like how marmalade cat is asleep in the same spot in the before & after photos. :)

    2) these are the rubber claw caps that amy is referring to above: you might also try a scratch pad with kitty hooch (–my cat LOVED the stuff. they also carry something called “scratch no more”, which i haven’t personally tried, but might be worth a shot!

    3) tiny iron stove dragons! whaaat!

  4. Wow, so far everything you’ve done looks great! I’m in awe of that incredible bookcase you built! I can see some of the texture that was on the walls and making them smooth really improves the room. Painting the trim all the same color was a great idea too. It’s definitely not so over the top looking now. Love those floors.

  5. WOWZA. What a difference all white walls and matching trim makes! After holding out, we painted all our trim in the living and dining rooms white too. Our whole upstairs has textured walls and I wish it wasn’t so daunting to change because I prefer the smooth finish, like yours. You’re off to a great start, it’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do.

    1. My brother said for the other parts of the house with texture he thinks we should just tear the walls off and re-sheetrock. I guess it was a HUGE pain in the ass, we only had to deal with the end of the process!

      I don’t mind slightly plastery-lumpy walls, but do not like the swirls and whirls.

  6. looks so bright & cheerful! i love yr bookcase, too.

    i think the cats could still catch mice even with the softpaws, according to a brief google search. they will just save your couch :) we have them on our cat and they’ve been great–3 months, i’ve replaced maybe 5 or 6 nail covers, and our couch is scratch free.

  7. WHOA. I am seriously blown away. It looks like a whole new room! I love it! Such a cozy, calm place. White paint is clearly magical, and those built-in bookcases are amazing. My first apartment had them & they were the best.

  8. Hot.damn. Windowless van in Oakland?? Lady, you crazy. Or ballsy. Both, probably. It’s a cute coffee table though! I love the way the whole room looks.

  9. IT LOOKS SOOOO GOOD!!! Yay! Dragons! The shelves look so nice. My book situation is kind of out of control since I got rid of my giant bookcase that was making me crazy. They are in tall stacks all over the house. Lunatic. I think the cotton duck cover sounds like a good idea for kitty claws.

  10. Wow! It looks so good! The fireplace (stove?) is to die for.

    Also – we use SoftPaws on our cats but they still manage to rip the furniture to shreds, one little exposed nail at a time.

  11. quite an effort already! I can see how hideous the mint swirls are – my childhood home had those (and brown deep shag carpet!) but at least in white. impressed at the change and can’t wait to see what’s next! also, I am in love with your woodstove. they make all the difference…

    1. Thanks! It really does – it’s not just the coat of paint, my brother put so much work into making the walls smooth. I was impressed when I walked in!

      We spent the snowy (!!) weekend curled in front of the fire. Need more wood!

  12. Oh, I love the bookcases! The room looks absolutely lovely and cozy. I so wish that Jason and I had the kind of skills to do this sort of home renovation! (Er, despite the fact that we’ll be apartment rental dwellers for the foreseeable future.)

  13. I love the fir shelves – really pretty – as is the new light fixture on ceiling. I think cotton duck sounds like the perfect fabric to keep cats disinterested. Your new room looks lovely.

  14. tamera!

    this looks beautiful, congratulations. it’s inspiring to see because i am soon to move into a white-walled room (at maximumrocknroll!) that i can’t paint, and have always loved what you’ve done to make white interiors look warm!

    miss you!

    xx francesca

    p.s. i had my surgery & just spent the past month recovering…

  15. Your home looks so great. Love the fresh white walls and the book shelves. I went to an estate sale today where one cozy room was full of beautiful books and I picked up a box full for a song. I asked a friend who upholsters furniture about your sofa/cat issue and she told me that cats don’t like mohair and will stay away from it and it looks beautiful and holds up really well. Sounds like it might do the trick for you! Congratulations on your new home!

  16. Oh man. I like to save up your posts for a month and then come and tackle them, and this one is lovely. Your new house is so lovely that sometimes I look around my apartment and am slightly bummed. Swiping the baby’s breath idea, I didn’t know I “could” use it on its own!

  17. How about those Ikea shades that Ana used on D16? I love them! What paint did you use for the ceiling, and is it glossy? I have been struggling with whether Ill go for glossy or flat.

    1. I keep reading that they changed the hardware on them and they’re not as nice now, but it’s an option. The closest IKEA is about 4 hours away, so we’d have to save up needing a bunch of things! The windows are super narrow (23″) so it’s going to be a pain.

      The ceiling is the same as the walls! It’s just the eggshell finish. I’m not a fan of flat, but I know a lot of people are.

  18. The wall of books looks amazing, as do the white walls and the pendant lamp. What an amazing job you’ve done! New to your blog but hope to keep exploring.
    Ronnie xo

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