Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Swanky DIY Living Room

I don’t like the idea of a “formal” living room.  It’s outdated and, well, just too stuffy.  But when we remodeled our house, we planned for a living room for my husband’s  piano.  (He happens to be a very talented professional musician and singer, in additional to being a lawyer!)

Anyway, our living room, while not “formal,” is significantly “dressier” than the rest of the house.  It’s the room that’s ready for a night on the town.  If it were an invitation, it would say “Festive Attire.”  Ironically, it is also the room in our house that contains more of my do-it-yourself makeover projects than any other single room in the place.  I crackle-painted used furniture, made my own lampshades, and refurbished and rewired an old crystal chandelier.  I think the room looks elegant, and it's very satisfying knowing I made those things myself. 

It all started years ago, in a previous, more traditional house, when I blew the living room budget on a pair of chairs and a little “divan” loveseat.  I went over the top with the chairs – gold paint with a black crackle finish, three different fabrics, with double piping, etc.  Well, I just loved those chairs -- still do -- even though they're a lot flashier and more detailed than my usual modern aesthetic.

But then what?  I couldn’t find other furniture pieces for the room that weren’t out of my budget and/or even more over the top.  So I got the idea to check out the local used furniture shops.  Next thing I know I was buying a beat-up dark mahogany coffee table and two even more beat-up traditional side tables.  I painted them gold and then crackle painted them black. Voila!  I had matching furniture.   Adding the harlequin detail on the coffee table gave it even more of a vintage feel and made it a little less matchy.  (I should explain how I did all the math, measuring and masking to create the harlequin pattern, but I have so much to say about hand-painting furniture -- I did it as a business years ago -- that I think it’s better left to a whole other blog entry.  If anyone needs to know now, just leave a comment to let me know.)

Now for the lamps:  I found a couple of lamps I liked at Home Goods, or someplace like that, but I hated the lampshades.  The shapes were wrong, and the off-white linen did nothing for the room.  I looked around and didn't find anything better.  So, even though I had no idea how to do it, I decided to make my own lampshades.  I found a website (www.lampshop.com) that offered instructions and supplies for making lampshades.  Yay!  I ordered a couple of wire frames I liked, an instruction manual, and some special glue.  Then, I headed to the local fabric store.  I bought a taupe silk to match my loveseat, some muslin backing, and then the fun stuff -- soutach trim and sparkly beaded dangly trims. 

This was probably eight or nine years ago, but I still remember being petrified that I was going to muck it up and ruin all that lovely silk and trim.  But then, it turned out to be fairly easy.  The lampshades came with templates and instructions.  And the soutach trim hid all the glued seams and messy edges.  They’re far from perfect (don’t look too closely), but I think these lampshades really work in this room. 

Lastly, when it came time to choose a hanging light fixture for our remodeled living room in our new modern house, it just didn’t seem right to use a really contemporary stainless steel number like we have in the rest of the house.  The living room needed something more bohemian, a little sparkly, a little vintage … Well, it just so happens that back before I had my modern house, I went though a phase where I was collecting antique wedding-cake style tiered crystal chandeliers, all purchased on ebay.  I had two dainty little ones, one huge one that we had professionally refurbished and hung in the entry of our last house, and one medium-sized one that was a complete and utter disaster.  I knew that last one was perfect for my new living room!  It was an old corroded hunk of junk …  but it had really “good bones,” and I saw potential. 

            The brass was rusted, the light sockets were corroded out, and it had many missing or damaged crystals.  (Oh, how I wish I had before photos for all of this!)  I could have had this chandelier professionally refurbished (for a bunch of money), but I decided to tackle it myself. I took all the crystals off, leaving just the metal frame.  I even took all of the light sockets and wiring out – it was useless.  Then, I sanded down the metal frame with steel wool and painted it with a silver leaf.  (Yes, I know that the furniture has gold paint, but I’m a big believer in mixing my metal tones.  Sometimes, it just works.)  Next, I found instructions, again on the internet (gotta love the internet!), and headed out to the Home Depot to get supplies.  I needed four new light sockets, wire, end caps, chain for hanging, and some other stuff.  (Hey, I’m no expert on this.  I’m just telling you, if I can do it, so can you!)  I completely rewired the thing, and it worked! Lastly, I found replacement crystals on the internet, put all the crystals back on, and installed my glorious “new” revamped vintage chandelier.  I was a proud little do-it-myselfer!  (I couldn’t find the exact instructions I used, but this one and this other one seem like good resources.)

So, that’s it. It was all a lot of work, but it was totally worth it to create my unique, swanky living room. If you’re willing to put in some effort and get creative, it is possible to create a stylish, high-end room without spending a fortune.  And doing it yourself means that it will be uniquely you.  After all, you’re decorating for yourself, not for the rest of the world.  My living room is very me – the particular side of me that likes to get dressed up for a night on the town -- but still me.


  1. Great post. I loved this passage especially: "I went though a phase where I was collecting antique wedding-cake style tiered crystal chandeliers . . ."

    Very funny, and very you!

  2. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. -- Jill