6 Amazing Room Makeovers
Jill & Max’s Family Room: Before
The location: Irvington, New York
The “before” story: A year ago, Jill Bannister, a nurse, and Selwyn “Max” Maxwell, a hospital administrative assistant, bought a small converted gatehouse whose charm was exceeded only by its repair needs: “The wiring, the roof, the gutters, the chimney—all had to be redone,” says Jill.
Why Jill and Max stalled: “After we painted the walls, we had no money left for anything else.” The sunny family room featured huge bare windows and a handful of motley pieces, including a massive armoire for the TV.
What they hoped for: Jill longed to make the space cozy for homework (daughter Zoe is 12), watching sports, and entertaining friends.
Jill & Max’s Family Room: After
Surround-seating. A sectional sofa creates instant togetherness, and a reupholstered flame-stitch chair adds a reading nook. Comfort reigns, with pops of teal, green, and orange bringing the casual space to life.
Campfire coffee table. Low and round, this centerpiece invites closeness as it softens the angles of the larger furniture. The foot-friendly furry rug makes the floor exciting. (Money-saving tip: Use a large, inexpensive sisal rug as a base, and layer it with a small version of the pricier rug you love.)
Windows with wow factor. Embroidered Roman shades add warmth and contrast—and function as art against understated blue walls.
TV pride. Unapologetic placement on the wall celebrates family viewing. The armoire, turned on its side and rehabbed, better complements the proportions of the low-ceilinged space. (A carpenter reconfigured the shelves and tweaked the doors so it would work horizontally.) The armoire’s generous width makes the big screen (60 inches!) look right-sized.
Light touches. Two out-of-the-way lamps—located behind the sofa and the upholstered chair—illuminate the whole room after dark. (“You couldn’t read in here before,” says Jill.) A mobile side table can be pulled up to the sofa for snacking or laptop work.
Get where-to-buy information.
Amy & David’s Kitchen: Before
The location: Rye Brook, New York
The “before” story: Amy and David Low moved into their split-level home last year with their children, Alli, now three, and Seth, six. “The kitchen looked like it hadn’t been touched since 1959, when the house was built,” says Amy, a stay-at-home mom. Weary wallpaper, countertops, and cabinets overwhelmed the room.
Why they stalled: “It just seemed like too much to take on,” says Amy, so the couple “kind of ignored the kitchen” while David, a partner at an ad agency (who also happens to be handy), renovated other rooms.
What they hoped for: Amy envisioned a “light, bright” update that would make the kitchen a cheery center of family life.
Amy & David’s Kitchen: After
Patterns, patterns everywhere. Fancy but fun wallpaper juxtaposed with green “fish scale” banquette upholstery and an oversize industrial pendant deliver eclectic cool. Eliminating the overhead exhaust (a downdraft vent on the cooktop replaced it) makes the room seem bigger and airier.
Cabinet about-face. New flush-mount doors on old painted cabinet frames feel fresh and sophisticated. Rich bronze handles are an earthy, distinguished touch; hardware is a worthy splurge in the kitchen, where it has such a strong visual presence.
Floors benefit from the company. The new palette—especially the play of gray countertops against white wood—makes the throwback linoleum tiles seem intentional.
Decked-out dining. Colorful, curvy chairs and a clean-lined wooden table are a nod to the kitchen’s midcentury roots. The banquette, tricked out with hidden storage and vibrant, wipeable outdoor fabric, is space-efficient, crisp, and neater than having chairs on all sides of the table.
Glow without glare. Sleek sheer shades banish vertical blinds. Now plenty of filtered light comes through, and the less-than-stellar view can be muted at will.
Susan & Joe’s Bedroom: Before
The location: Bordentown, New Jersey
The “before” story: Susan Nyzio, a stay-at-home mom, and her husband, Joe, an Iraq War veteran who works for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, say decorating their room perpetually dropped to the bottom of their to-do list. After moving into their center-hall Colonial three years ago, “we bought a bedroom set, and that was kind of it,” explains Susan.
Why they stalled: Paint swatches adorned the walls ever since, as life with their boys (Joey, almost three, and Grady, 10 months) went on.
What they hoped for: We didn’t even really know what we wanted—we never got that far,” says Susan. “But we thought it would be nice to have something serene and grown-up, because the rest of our house looks like Romper Room.”
Susan & Joe’s Bedroom: After
Cocooning color. Moody walls in grayish lilac (gray-lac!) bring sophistication and drama without being too extreme. “We wouldn’t have thought of this color, but we love it,” says Susan. Framed family photos hung salon-style over the dresser add smiles (literally) as Susan and Joe enter the room.
Flipped floor plan. A new arrangement takes the bed to the opposite wall. (It’s nicer to face windows than to have them at your back.) A big space like this one needs to be filled to look complete, hence the addition of a desk and a chaise, covered in a durable cotton for the kids.
A perfect (un)match. Breaking up the bedroom set is more modern than having every piece match. The nightstands and dresser stay, but an oversize upholstered headboard replaces the old bed. It makes the largest item in the room a style statement and decorates a wall that would otherwise demand art.
Sparkle for spirit. Brass, silver, and glass add livable glamour and keep quiet colors from feeling blah; sateen curtains hung high make windows seem grand and luxurious.
Stripes, circles, and diamonds. A mix of similar-palette prints (rug, sheets, bed skirt) brings personality to an elegant space, so it feels like home, not a hotel. Shells on the hanging fixture form an organic design of their own and cast dappled light when lit.
Erin’s Bedroom: Before
Ridgewood, New Jersey
The “before” story: After a whole-house renovation was completed in October 2009, stay-at-home mom Erin Pruitt (her boys are Alexander, 11, Nicholas, 8, and William, 6) began decorating the bedroom. “We bought the bed and the custom window treatments—the Schumacher fabric is by designer Celerie Kemble, whom I love—and I got the armoire from my mother’s basement,” she says.
Why Erin stalled: The following March, the family was hit by tragedy: Erin’s husband passed away suddenly. Understandably, work on the house completely stopped. “I didn’t do anything after that,” she says.
What she hoped for: “The room is big—20 by 20 feet. I wanted to make it feel cozier and be a comfortable place where my kids and I could hang out.”
Erin’s Bedroom: After
Let the viney chandelier and the floral curtains serve as a jumping-off point for a glamorous but understated magic-garden vibe.
Moss green walls make the room cocoonlike. Dark colors can be risky, but those from nature tend to be less so. This shade is inspired by the leaves in the curtains. A pale pink ceiling is a pretty surprise, and more restful than white.
White lacquer on the bed and armoire creates a feminine feel despite dark walls and keeps the space from looking gloomy. (Hire a pro, or do it yourself by applying several layers of high-gloss oil-based paint to a sanded piece.)
Space fillers make a giant room cozier. Forget function and attack square footage. A folding screen eats up a corner, a writing desk fills a window nook, and a tufted bench, just right for the boys to watch TV on, anchors the bed.
Luxurious touches, like a satin duvet, a cloisonné lamp, wall art that looks like alliums in bloom, a framed butterfly, and a wild topiary, offer smatterings of enchantment. The result is peaceful, with plenty to engage the senses.
Shanta’s Living Room: Before
The location: Forest Hills, New York
The “before” story: After changing apartments abruptly (only months after settling into her previous space, which was burglarized), Shanta Speller, a Web project manager, outfitted the living room of her prewar one-bedroom apartment with a sofa and a love seat. “I tend to play it safe, buying matched sets of furniture and making sure all the woods go together. I like color but don’t feel confident about using it,” she explains.
Why Shanta stalled: Moving twice in six months made money tight, and she was simply worn-out: “I wasn’t quite up to the task of decorating.”
What she hoped for: “I wanted it to feel like a real home—lived-in and with plenty of style and character.”
Shanta’s Living Room: After
Energize the muted space with color, and bring a happier, more intimate feel to the large seating area.
Patterned curtains with solid furniture (or vice versa) is a simple formula for making a room feel alive but not frenetic. Extended an extra foot on either side of the window, the graphic print sets a playful mood, masks plain white walls, and gives the space a clear focal point.
Mixing a TV with art is a smart solution to a standard challenge. Here, the frames are all dark to blend with the screen but slightly varied. Map your plan on the floor before hanging, using a large sheet of paper to represent the television.
Layered rugs bring dimension to the room and make it feel cozier. Inexpen-sive, solid broadloom frames a neutral pattern, which adds spice without being overwhelming. (Buy broadloom cut to length and ask to have the edges “bound to match.”)
Orange and turquoise is a youthful, beachy combo that makes a room feel spirited and fun.
Light, leggy pieces, like glass side tables, delicate lamps, and a floaty book-shelf, counter the weight of the hefty sofa and love seat, giving the room much needed buoyancy.
A dash of symmetry brings order to a space with lots of pattern. But in a casual room, the odd-ball pieces that shake up symmetry (here, the drum table and the orange stool) are just as important.
Get where-to-buy information.
Tami’s Dining Room: Before
The “before” story: Tami Shaw and her husband, Ken, renovated their 1983 Spanish Colonial a few years back. “We gutted the house, but when we redecorated, the dining room was last on the list,” she says.
Why Tami stalled: The budget ran out. So Tami and Ken painted the dining room themselves, using a leftover brown. “In the bedroom, it was cozy, but here it felt dark,” says Tami. She threw in random pieces of furniture “to fill up space.” With a vaulted ceiling and stone floors, the room was echoey—“too loud for conversation,” says Tami. “Ken used it occasionally as an office, but we never entertained there.”
What she hoped for: “A beautiful, comfortable, uncluttered place to host family holiday meals and dinner parties.”
Tami’s Dining Room: After
Use warm tones and summery textures to create an inviting atmosphere without sacrificing airiness.
Sunny yellow walls take advantage of natural light and balance the coldness of a travertine floor. Bright buttercup works with the home’s Spanish architecture and the earthy colors of its other rooms.
Crisp hacienda curves on the chandelier and the table base pick up on Tami’s chair backs and create drama against the yellow backdrop.
Low art and sconces, plus a mirror, align to visually “lower” an awkward sloped ceiling and make the space feel more intimate. (Candle sconces require no wiring and work just as well.)
A lively rug anchors the table, warms up the floor, and eliminates the echo. Stone is a neutral, so any pattern, like this southwestern stripe, can work with it. A flat weave is smart in a dining room because it lets chairs slide easily. Use a rug pad or tape down the corners to keep the rug in place.
Sheer curtains add softness and show off the arched window by high-lighting its shape. The Shaws are a casual family with three kids, and formal curtains would have clashed with their lifestyle.
A simple sideboard that blends quietly with the decor (but doesn’t match exactly) brings some eclectic cool and adds storage.
Jill & Max’s Family Room: Where-to-Buy Information
Armless sectional sofa (as shown), $1,996, and carved-wood coffee table, $299: westelm.com.
Chevron stripe shag rug, $899 (5 by 8 feet), shadesoflight.com.
Handwoven Weaves natural-colored fine sisal rug, $255 (8 by 10 feet), overstock.com.
Chelsea sectional floor lamp, $349, potterybarn.com.
Esme table lamp by Stray Dog Designs, $430, zincdoor.com.
Stockholm sofa table (behind sofa), $199, ikea.com.
Multifunctional side table, $149, wisteria.com.
Fabric for Roman shades: Home Oriana linen, $230 a yard, leejofa.com for info.
Fabric for chair: China Seas Raffles in Papaya, $98 a yard, Design Professionals, 646-556-7070.
Harvest pouf (green), $650, Stepevi, 212-466-0400.
Pillows (from left):
D.L. Rhein Basket Weave pillow, $120, and D.L. Rhein Honeycomb pillow, $110: amazon.com. Maharam pillows in Agency, $150 (square) and $250 (rectangular; right of Jill): dwr.com.
Tutti Colori throw, $55, companyc.com.
Custom carpentry for armoire, tjpbuilders.com for info.
Amy & David’s Kitchen: Where-to-Buy Information
- Brocade 3209 wallpaper, $255 a roll, us.farrow-ball.com.
- Eames molded plastic chairs, $349 each, and Adams dining table, $1,599: roomandboard.com.
- Fabric for banquette cushions: Swagger Spring, $83 a yard, linkoutdoor.com for info.
- Large Eugene pendant, $483, circalighting.com.
- Custom flat Roman shades in Sheer Elegance Silver, $1,330 (as shown), theshadestore.com.
- Silestone countertops, from $62 a square foot, silestoneusa.com for stores.
- La Defense cabinet pulls, $10 each, schoolhouseelectric.com.
- GE Profile 30-inch four-burner gas cooktop, $1,709, lowes.com.
- Paint: Aura Semigloss Crisp Linen No. CSP-305 (on cabinets and trim) and Aura Eggshell Stone Harbor No. 2111-50 (on walls), from $36 a gallon: benjaminmoore.com.
- Custom banquet and cabinetry fabrication, tjpbuilders.com for info.
- Not shown: Kohler sink, kohler.com for stores. Kohler faucet, GE oven, and semiflush-mount ceiling fixture: lowes.com.
Susan & Joe’s Bedroom: Where-to-Buy Information
Erin’s Bedroom: Where-to-Buy Information
Paint: DKC-65 (walls) and DKC-27 (ceiling), $100 a gallon, donaldkaufmancolor.com for stores.
Directoire table (next to armoire), $619, globalviews.com for stores.
Hargate screen, from $399, ballarddesigns.com.
Lancaster floor lamp, $525, circalighting.com.
Oliver chair (by floor lamp), $399, westelm.com.
Writing desk, $2,055, bakerfurniture.com for stores.
Bubble Sphere lamp (on desk), $99, shadesoflight.com for stores.
Daphne dining chair (at desk), $425, Kumi Kookoon classic queen duvet cover, $662; Woodgrain silk-velvet pillow by Kevin O’Brien (on chair), $225: abchome.com for stores.
John Derian Furniture Collection Field bench, $3,675, ciscobrothers.com for stores.
Alexandra lamp (on night-stand), $513, bungalow5.com for info.
Wall urchins (left of bed), $100 for three, elizabethbauerdesign.com for info.
Plain Tin Ivory wool hooked rug, $1,375 (10 by 14 feet), dashandalbert.com for info.
Shanta’s Living Room: Where-to-Buy Information
Hidden Tab custom drapery, smithandnoble.com for info.
Martini stool, $129, westelm.com.
Kamal side table (wood), $1,350, arteriorshome.com for info.
Egg lamp, $230; shade (orange), $200: jamieyoung.com for stores.
Frames, from $14 each, larsonjuhl.com for stores.
Tami’s Dining Room: Where-to-Buy Information
Paint: Aura in Morning Sunshine No. 2018-50, $60 a gallon, benjaminmoore.com for stores.
Arvada tabletop, $1,399; Italian rectangle table base, $1,000, arhaus.com for stores.
Cylinder thin-rod finials, $23 each, westelm.com.
Patron Saint, by Krista Harris (art above buffet), $1,200, zatista.com for more work by this artist.
Ceramic vessels by Nicholas Bernard (on buffet), $65 (small) and $275 (large), horizonart.com for stores.
Morandi white bottle vases (on table, from left), $78, $48, and $56, canvashomestore.com; Syrian lowball and highball glasses, $11 and 14, canvashomestore.com, Bamboo table runner, $26, canvashomestore.com.