Living Room

A Living Room with Personality for My Sister


I'm baaaaaaaaack. I didn't mean to go into hiding for a year, but there was a wedding (future post on that later, but YAY for being a Mrs.), a job that has become pretty all-consuming, and you know - life in all its messy glory.

So why did I come back from my extended hiatus? Because I got a really fun job from the toughest client ever - my littlest sister.

Haley is starting medical school in the fall in Madison (whoop whoop) and just purchased her first condo. She doesn't want it to feel like a dorm room, but doesn't know much else beyond that. The only descriptors of her style that she's given me are "happy, colorful, and clean lines". Soo.. I'm pretty much starting from scratch.

Because I know my sister, I have established a few ground rules for the design of this place.

1) There's a time to be rustic, but this ain't it. This is a walk-up condo in a city, for a twenty something. I love Joanna Gaines as much as the next person, but a bunch of shiplap and milk crates just isn't gonna happen here.

2) There's a time for all white and sleek and museum-like, but this ain't it. There is only one person better at spontaneous napping and most-of-the-day couch sessions than me, and that is Haley. So a place that feels cold and too sleek isn't gonna work.

3) Haley's gotta feel happy there.

With all that in mind I put together 3 different looks for her living room... which when it was listed looked like this.


Because this is an open space to her dining room, kitchen, and hallway, the walls will be a light, happy neutral. No matter what, I think I want to do some floating cabinets or a long credenza along the wall to the left of the fireplace. I think this will square-off the room and make that inset space more functional. We (meaning me and my expert design and installation team - the fam) are going to wall-mount her TV where that too-small art hangs now (like the Homepolish image below). A couch will be where the current owners have their couch, but we'll put 2 chairs in front of the fireplace to make it one cohesive room.

Ok, so design plans - the fun part. I put together these mood boards so she could have a better idea of how stuff works together and the general feel of the space. Not every accessory is included, obviously, but I tried to make sure the major pieces were working together well.

Option 1

Rug | Couch | Chair | Coffee Table | Lamp | Curtains | Art | Poufs

For all of these spaces, I want to take the flimsy white framing off the current fireplace and have my dad (the furniture-maker extraordinaire and handyman of this operation) put in a chunkier wood mantle to make it feel more finished. I don't want to say too much about my thoughts on each design, because I want to hear what you (and of course Haley) thinks first.

While we're talking about family roles in this endeavor, let me try to draw some HGTV parallels for you so you understand the dynamics. Here's our cast of characters for Dysfunctional Design:

Carrie (me): The designer (I still cringe every time I call myself that) with lots of ideas and plans. Mostly concerned with look and feel of spaces, not so concerned with logistics, budgets, how to make things happen, etc. You know who I really miss on HGTV? Genevieve. She was a classic.

Haley: The client, obviously. She's not nearly as annoying as those people on House Hunters that only care about granite countertops and paint colors, but she's also not real decisive. Anything to make her happy!

Mom - Jaci: My mom is like that semi-annoying design assistant that doesn't get much camera time, but does most of the actual work. (shout out to Dessa on Love It or List It!) She's chief list-maker, budget watcher, painter, installer, problem-solver, etc. etc. I'd be lost without her.

Dad - Dan: Ty Pennington, Chip Gaines, take your pick for ruggedly handsome man wielding a hammer and saw. That's my dad. He makes beautiful furniture (like these built-ins - still love them!) does what needs to be done, and in this case does all the real life-saving work that helps to fund these little endeavors for his girls. His only fault is that he's not always real quick to concede that something needs to be done by a pro...

Andy: Super helpful, but not super handy. He's great at holding the dog when it gets scared of the air compressor, running to store for that thing we forgot when we were there the first 8 times, holding and carrying stuff... He really is pretty helpful, but we like to give him a hard time. Love you, hubs, but this is real talk.

Rachel and Andrew: The sister and her hubs in Milwaukee may make an appearance and get a spot on the "show", but they're probably smart just to skype every now and then, give a critique, and then go back to their sane lives and leave us to figure out what to do next. Actually, now that I think about it, they're like the subcontractor that walks in half-way through the demo says "this isn't gonna work, here's my bill, see ya." That's the sweet life right there.

That was an odd little tangent...back to the design.

Option 2

Rug | Couch | Chair | Coffee Table | Lamp | Curtains | Mirror | Poufs

My mom the budget watcher might hate me for suggesting we tile the fireplace, but seriously... how great would that look with a pretty cement tile? The patterns would probably be a slightly smaller scale than this, but I think this space could use a showstopper focal point, especially if we keep the rest fairly neutral.

Option 3

Rug | Couch | Chair | Coffee Table | Lamp | Curtains | Mirror | Poufs

This is definitely the girliest option, but if Haley and a potential roommate have this bachelorette pad for awhile, why not girl it up a little bit? This fireplace is tiled again, but this could easily be a geometric patterned wallpaper too.

Ok - if you've managed to hang in there through this much of rambling, you get a reward! Vote below and let Haley know which option you would pick. Or - leave a comment and let me know what you love or hate about any of them. Ready, go!

Before and After: My Bright and Comfy Family Room


When I moved in to my shiny new house a little more than a year ago I had two primary feelings. First off, I was insanely grateful to my family and friends that helped me get there, both literally and figuratively. I had moved 4 times in 5 years, and bought and sold 2 houses during that time. I knew this would be a more permanent locale (God willing) and moving in felt like one big giant sigh of relief. But like after most sighs of relief, the overwhelming weight of what you've just done sets in. Where on earth was I supposed to start? I hardly had enough furniture to fill 3 rooms, let alone the whole house.

Fortunately, the answer to "where to start" came fairly quickly, because I didn't own a couch. In fact, one of Andy and my first dates involved sitting on approximately 3947 couches and Andy filling his manly role by extolling the virtues of leather reclining couches with built-in cup holders and speakers. Unfortunately for Andy, it wasn't his house, and he wasn't buying the couch, so there was no man-cave special purchased.

I did, however, put my big girl pants on and bought a giant sectional that is perfect for sitting on and sinking into. It's what my giant living room needed. When you have a giant living room with just a couch, a too-small TV on the floor, and an 80s brick fireplace, that's where you focus your attention first.

Here's the before shot from when the house was listed. Please note: this is not the couch I purchased.

To start with, I knew that fireplace needed some TLC. I gave it a good scrubbing (seriously, ew. Bricks are dirty.) and then whitewashed it with watered down white paint. I toyed with the idea of painting it white-white, but in the end I still wanted to see some of the variation in the brick and the texture come through. It's amazing what the effect of lightening up that big heavy fireplace had.

I knew I didn't want to mount the TV above the fireplace because it's one of my personal pet peeves. Lucky for me, my dad had built a giant buffet for my previous house that I knew would actually work super well as a TV stand. It has lots of great storage and provided some punch to the room. Now I know that most people wouldn't decide to design a room around a large piece of orange furniture, but I am an unapologetic color person, and I still love this thing and its color.

My dad had also previously built me a large, beautiful coffee table that was meant to look like one from a higher-end furniture store that rhymes with Lottery Yarn. My dad is really the MVP of my house, big time.

After that, I said a little prayer for my bank account, bit the bullet, and bought a BIG rug that I knew would tie the space together. I think I rant in almost every post about how expensive rugs are, but in this space it was SO SO important to get the big 10x14' rug to cozy up the space.

I wish I had more progress photos to show you, but at that point in time I was really just trying to remember my zipcode and unpack boxes. The thought of taking pictures of rooms mid-disaster didn't even occur to me.

Anyway, you'll have to live with the after photos.

I'll point out some special things on these shelves that either Andy or I really love, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the single most contested decor item in my home. Enter the fuzzy green ball.

If you look on the left side of the shelving toward the top, there is a fake turf-covered ball. Andy has a completely irrational hatred of the fuzzy green ball. In fact, when we have friends over it's not unusual for Andy to say "Yeah, Carrie did a great job in here except for that stupid ugly green ball. What the heck is the point of it?! I don't get it.... blah blah." Dear Andy, I love you, but please get over the green ball. But I digress....

Andy's most prized possessions in this room are the 3 baseballs on the right hand shelves. They all have to be on that side (drives me nuts) because otherwise the direct sunlight will fade the treasured signatures of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron.

The awesome orange and gray bud vases are done by my uber-talented brother-in-law, Andrew. And yes, my sister is married to an Andrew and I'm dating an Andy. If Haley doesn't find a Drew to settle down with pretty quickly everything will just feel out of whack. But AndREW is a chemistry teacher and potter, and I love displaying and using his work in my home. Find him on instagram @ALpottery.

The adorable dog on the mantle is my parents dog/the family dog, Trooper. He's freaking adorable, and I miss him, so it didn't strike as weird to put his picture on the mantle. That is, until everyone started asking in hushed tones when my dog had passed away, or where the dog is now. Picture of dog on mantle, and no dog in house = assumptions of dead dog. But hey - no worries. Troopy is alive and well and living out his ridiculously spoiled life at my parents house.

Please excuse the basketball game on TV. Me photographing the room for the blog was not a good enough reason to turn the game off for Andy. But honestly, this room is a long way from perfect or magazine worthy. But I love it, because it was the first room that was done, and it's where all the best stuff happens in our house.

It's where Andy's posse of cable-mooching friends gather to watch football on Sunday, and where some intensely competitive board games are played. It's where Game of Thrones gets watched with friends, and where I convinced Andy to binge watch all of The West Wing with me. Living rooms are the best, and here's my favorite view of mine.