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Living and Dining Room Makeover



A lot of you have been begging for new makeovers, understandably. Makeovers are the most fun to do, shoot, and blog about. But, I put a break on the quick ones while I was on maternity leave, and most of our large design projects are mid-project – and we are getting a lot of “stop dragging out the project posts” comments. We have some posts coming up, and I’m scrambling to pull together a few, but meanwhile I realized that I never blogged about the Lake House project. We started the project 4 years ago and finished it about a year later, so it’s kinda old (and the client has since sold the house), but there is some good information in here so lets get into it.

It was a massive renovation with a not-so-massive budget. It was meant to feel like a really casual, fun, easy weekend home, for a pretty adorable family. The client and I were very much aligned in styles and she was just as happy with thrift store finds (like that wicker elephant) as she was splurging on a sofa. There were some challenges, of course, but generally it was a lovely project with a super happy ending.

Here is where we started (Note – these are the real estate photos):


Those photos make it look REALLY GOOD compared to how it actually looked. But it had potential, certainly with those huge windows and open layout. The floor was really bad laminate, the kitchen was bad granite, and dated cheap maple (see the makeover of that here), and the beams were painted brown. Plus, there were dated heaters everywhere, and that brick wasn’t the good kind of brick. ALSO, WHY THE GREEK PILLAR????

These photos are more accurate


We started by ripping out that flooring because it was cheap and ugly, but also because we wanted to put radiant heating underneath it (which is basically a grid of coils that heats your floor equally so you don’t have to have those baseboard heaters). As you can assume, this isn’t my area of expertise, so I had to do some research and heavily rely on our contractor to execute. There were problems. Keep Reading.

We painted out the brick and the brown/black beams, which made it instantly feel fresher.



Here she is – clean and white before we installed the furniture and accessories.


We used bamboo flooring because a.) it’s really affordable, b.) the space had a slight Japanese vibe, and c.) it was meant to not expand or contract with the weather, which was rather extreme in upstate New York, and really moist since it was on a lake. While the look of it was ok, and it looked pretty in the space, I wouldn’t do it again. There are too many other good options out there and we ran into a super fun disaster, which was unpredictable: The radiant heating bubbled up the glue that was in the flooring every time you turned the heat on (at least for the first few months). It was a wonderful phone call to get, and I felt so stupid and terrible. The contractor had never seen this happen before, and we were all befuddled. I think that we ended up getting it professionally cleaned a few times after the heat was on and then it eventually stopped bubbling. I’m going to write a whole article soon about who pays for these kinda of mistakes because I find it so interesting (and controversial, and you KNOW how I love to blog about anything that can create a friendly comment war these days).

We installed the furniture, which was a mix of vintage/thrift and some more serious pieces (the dining table and sofa). But the renovation had cost so much more than predicted (per usual), so we cut back the furniture and accessory budget by A LOT. Luckily these people weren’t fancy people, and didn’t want expensive things since they had 2 twin, 3 year old boys, which we referred to as “drunk raccoons, ” because of their ability to get into, and destroy any space in a matter of seconds. This house had to be “drunk-raccoon” friendly.


This post is a combo of makeover and also “analyzing my past work” because, since this was 4 years ago, there are already some things that I would change. DON’T WORRY, the client has since sold the house and moved to LA, and is a friend who understands trends, and is also now an interior designer. If I were to do it again I would remove those green pads from the seats and get rid of the hot pink – it is just too glaring and FUNKY. I’m still into hot pink, but less as a one-hit accent color. I think it needed to be more integrated in the color palette.

But I still love this super casual and easy living room. The kids LOVED that swing. The picture below is before we got the coffee tables (from Serena and Lily – and I REALLY wished they still sold them).


Here is how the living room was shot for Country Living a couple years ago. They didn’t change too much, styling-wise, EXCEPT for the black chair. That chair was in another room, and instead was a large upholstered linen chair from Dwell that I loved. They felt that it looked too heavy and while I disagreed, it’s their magazine so they won 🙂 I felt (and still feel) that the two wicker chairs and the coffee tables were a bit busy and felt unbalanced.


That rug was actually in the master bedroom, although I like it here, too. The original one was a simple cream rug from West Elm (which was probably not as “drunk-racoon” proof as it should have been anyway).


Let’s check out the dining room. I don’t think that I have a before photo, but this was taken after we demo’d, started painting, and installed the mirror.


Just a simple, lightweight mirror that only required completely reinforcing the wall and 19 men to hang. She looks good, though.



After we decorated, I took a few photos (literally like 18 months before the magazine shot it). Check me out in the reflection . . .


I kinda wish we had splurged more on chairs – those are like $50 from overstock and they are simple and classic, but they were uncomfortable, which is why we added the pads, but I think they brought the space down a bit. The table from Crate and Barrel is super lovely, and they still sell it. I liked it when I took off the brass deer thing, and when you can’t see the hot pink. Again, there is something about it in this setting that felt too jarring. I think that had there not been bright green and bright blue, then the bright pink would be fine, but all three were just a bit much.




When Country Living shot it they got rid of the seat pads, which I think looked better.

So there you have it. The Lake house from 4 years ago. Most of it I absolutely love, still. Just the hot pink and bright green I’d probably edit back a bit, and throw in more blues, replace the chairs with something more stylish, and add a bit more texture and softness.

What do you all think? Four years later (maybe even 5!) are you into it?



1. Sofa | 2. Coffee Table | 3. Hanging Chair | 4. Wave Throw Pillow | 5. Striped Rug | 6. Bamboo Side Table | 7. Circle Print Throw Pillow | 8. Pendant Light | 9. Wicker Elephant Table | 10. Magic Stones Print by Amy Lighthall | 11. Black Rattan Chair | 12. Heart Print | 13. Mirror | 14. Tripod Floor Lamp | 15. White Tabouret Chair | 16. Dining Table | 17. Rattan Chair

*Photos by Björn Wallander for Country Living.

To see the Lake House project from the beginning take a look here: Lake House Post #1 | Lake House Post #2 | Lake House Post #3 | Lake House Post #4 | Lake House Post #5 | Lake House Post #6 | Lake House Feature in Country Living | The Lake House Makeover – Kitchen Edition

Fin Mark


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I really love the result and you made the most of the potential!
xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

Man, I love those wicker coffee tables. I’ve been looking for something like that literally for years, because I really need it – round, because otherwise I smash my knee/shin on the corners, and lightweight because I keep hitting my toes on it. So something like that would be perfect! 😀

Ditto on those two round wicker coffee tables. I have a “drunk raccoon” of my own (and another on the way) and those look like just about the only way I might be able to have a coffee table in my lifetime again.


I agree about the hot pink and green. The simplified color palette makes the space more unified and serene. Beautiful project!
So fresh!


So agree about the dining chairs. They are perfect for an outdoor setting, but not inside.
Curious…. are their any feeling when you finish a project and the client sells the house soon afterwards? Feel that would be an interesting post.

Suzanne Baumann

I agree! When you finish these massive projects, you must feel invested in the home. Does it stink when they make changes? Or sell?

Luisa Browning

I really like these posts where you point out what you would do differently. Hearing the reasoning behind your suggested tweaks is really helpful to me in training my eye to recognize what’s off about my own rooms (e.g., too much wicker!).

I agree! I appreciate the analytical side of these posts. This kind of analysis is what separates the pros from the amateurs and what has brought me to this blog for so long.


Yes, more analysis. Helpful!


I love the analysis. I’ve started looking at the photos first to see what I might pick up on myself. With this I had problems with most of what Emily mentioned and agree with Luisa that there’s too much wicker.


I love the room! It’s classic Emily Henderson, and I agree with you that the black chair looks better. But the real, important issue of the day is this: when are we gonna get to see your baby girl’s nursery??? I’m dying over here waiting to see it. It’s like you’re Zoolander and you’re withholding Blue Steel.


Been waiting ages for the final reveal of the Lake House! It was worth it! I agree with the edits you’d make today, but it overall it is one of my favorites! (And love the bathroom and stairs too!)

Totally agree with your assessment! I love the overall vibe. I would’ve loved to see the room with the upholstered chair. I really like the look of the Country Living shoot but it does feel a little like an Ikea ad. I’m also looking forward to the post on who pays for mistakes. I think it’s 1) helpful for people that are doing a renovation and 2) interesting for others in the design biz (and I’m assuming plenty of your readers are designers themselves).


yes, Ikea ad or BH&G. It’s fresh and bright, but also feels like a beach rental, (which it is a weekend home). I’m also not seeing much that looks vintage. I love Emily because of the mix of new and old.


So beautiful and fresh! Loved this post so much!


I LOVE the living room, this is one of my favorite projects of you. As someone who sells bamboo and other hardwood flooring, your glue disaster would be my worst nightmare! In my country the person who installs it is responsible. So if the firm I work for would install it or a professional contractor, they would be held accountable for the first 10 years after installation. If someone would come into the store and says that are doing the installation themselves and disaster strikes , it’s on them. We can advise the clients about what type of glue to… Read more »


That’s so interesting about who is responsible. I can’t wait for Emily’s post too. I live in the UK, so I imagine it is different here too.


Kathleen, your comment is so interesting! And it made me wonder: I’m about to install radiant heating under a marble tile floor. Do you know whether it’s OK to put a bathmat on top of that, since the tile will be held down with thinset rather than glue?


SLG, I’m not Kathleen, but I also work in the flooring industry. You’re okay to put a bathmat on marble tile, but I would be careful as to what backing is on the mat. Marble is porous, and even though I’m sure that you’re sealing the marble, it is still susceptible to staining. The thinset will act like concrete, so you wont have any oozing, but beware that if you’re doing a light marble, you will want a white mortar (thinset), as it can show through.



Excellent job!


I always wanted to see more of this one! Thank you! I hope you do the master.


Thanks for a great post. It is beaufiful. And I hadn’t seen the kitchen and loved it as well.


If you could do it again would you still eliminate the baseboard heaters and go for radiant heat in the flooring? Or would you try to find a way to work with the baseboards so as to have more $$ to budget to other things? On pinterest I’ve seen some really nice custom covers for baseboards. (I’m curious partly because I’ve looked at several houses for sale that have those baseboards and wondered what I’d do with them…)


Interesting! I didn’t know there were covers. I once had a artistic boyfriend who ripped them out of his apartment because he couldn’t take how they looked. It was cold. 🙂

You don’t have to have a full-blown professional makeover post to make us happy. You can show low-rent iphone photo ones too.

Emily K

Agreed! Also posting about other designers whose work inspires you. Jenny Komenda does this a lot and I pin so much even though she just posts once a week.

Wow so glad you finally shared this project, I Love everything. So fresh and clean especially in LOVE with the couch


Wow, I guess I HAVE been waiting for you to post the finished product for forever, hah! Thank you for finally sharing it—I was always curious how it turned out! To echo what others have said—I LOVE the constructive criticism of your past work, it’s so helpful. Although you didn’t mention it—how do you feel about the rug sizes? Would you have changed them up or kept them the same? P.S. my mother bought those same dining chairs on overstock (in a different color), and I think the main thing that makes them uncomfortable is that in the overstock version… Read more »

The hanging chair paired with the circle print throw pillows are amazing! Such a great feeling. Well done!

I’m surprised you didn’t call out the size of the rugs since you have an entire post on how too-small rugs are a major no-no, haha.


My thoughts exactly!


Agree! The one under the dining room table would be a nightmare moving the chairs in and out!

I love how you looked back and reviewed your work. It is beautiful! And with such minor tweaks can be updated. Stunning work!

I love the room! It looks totally kid-friendly yet modern! Question, how did you go about paint the fire place? I have read that there is special paint you are suppose to use, and there are special techniques, but I have yet to find an actual article on the best ways to do this. Would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks!!


I’m no expert but I believe you can use any interior house paint on those exterior bricks and probably the special spray paint made for like grills and other high-heat applications for the interior. But your paint store should be able to tell you.


You need a special masonry primer, a very thick roller, as well as a brush. Someone at your local paint store should be able to help you with this. There’s also a good tutorial over on “A Beautiful Mess” …
Hope this helps!


I’ve always liked this space. Thanks for the analysis! I have a question that may be an interesting post (if you haven’t already blogged about it): In retrospect, how do you feel about having all your early (and maybe less than perfect) work “out there” for all to see, forever? I hope to become a designer but I’m afraid of people seeing the trial and error, even though I know that I enjoy seeing other people’s process. It takes a lot of work and time to put one’s aesthetic together: do you wish you would have waited to publish your… Read more »

Yes, I am into it! It is always great to see more/better pictures of your finished spaces. You did actually write several blog posts on this house, but that was at least a year or two ago, and I don’t think the pictures were as plentiful. It is also great to hear what you would change now. The biggest thing I would change are the rugs, which both look too pale for drunk raccoons! Also, the cowhide rug under the dining table looks really small and like it would constantly get pulled up by the chair legs. But it is… Read more »

I agree about the greens and pinks, but overall I love the look of the room. Especially the fireplace and mantel.

Susie Q.

The first thing I noticed was the fake picture of a fire in the real estate photo. How funny is that!
I liked this project. I’d totally love to live there. I remember how heinous the kitchen was (including the Greek column)–ugh!!

Susie Q.

I just had an idea for a future post. You seem to like wicker a lot. I remember wanting wicker in my room as a kid, but my parents were always like, “No, wicker gets dusty and it’s cheap.” (We couldn’t afford McGuire, lol.) My idea is that you discuss wicker, how it’s made, and how you’d separate the good from the bad (or at least make the most of the bad).

Rebecca Vehr

I LOVE how you styled the living room!! Yes to the black chair!! I do not like the white dining room chairs or the rug under the table. The chairs overpower the room………The table is so awesome but you don’t see it because of the chairs…..I love seeing your makeovers and appreciate your critiquing yourself after the fact. You learn, we learn!!

YES PLEASE post about the “controversial” design stuff! I’m a starting out interior design solopreneur and that’s the stuff no one seems to like talking about. AND I would LOVE to hear how you work vintage pieces into client spaces- do you buy them only with the client’s approval or do you buy when you see something then fit it with a client later (and where do you store it all???) 😉


this isn’t new….I know ive seen that living room pic before. It is awesome!!! I loved it then and I still love it now! we miss you Emily come back and be exclusive to your blog. Your my absolute favorite!

Oh em gee. Bamboo floors. We moved into a house that had them. I am counting the days until I can rip them out. For whatever reason, they have a reputation of being super durable? Ours are destroyed, every square inch is scratched and dented and they’re a hideous shade of orange. Why do bamboo floors exist? 🙁


From what I’ve read, it seems to vary greatly. I think carbonized is tougher, but I’m not an expert. Some people seem to have a great experience; others not so much. I’d be wary unless I knew someone who had them and was happy and bought the exact same kind.


Love this post! It’s always fun looking at your past projects and really appreciate your analysis and your honest assessment of how your taste has changed.

I am so bummed you no longer like the chairs. I immediately went to overstock and bought the same ones after you did the Lake House. It didn’t even occur to me how uncomfortable they are until now! Oh well! Good excuse to change things up again.

Here’s an idea for another post – great dining room chairs!

Well, that Murrow is just outstanding. Agree about the chairs and green pad, gold animal, and pink pillow. But the red/pink heart art? -loving lots, then and now! You got an eye girl. Don’t mind all us comment’s 🙂

Gorgeous result! White walls and bamboo flooring make this space sing. My favorite touch are the two Nelson Bubble lamps. Can you tell me what size you used here? I’m thinking of putting one over my dining table too.


So pretty! a few things: First of all, love that you painted the brick. My family has given me such grief about painting my brick walls, but ally that brown and roughness was just too overwhelming to live in. Feel so validated 🙂 Second of all, the radiant heat disaster is unfortunate and I think I’m having a similar experience – I suspect it’s causing black specks to appear in my new tile floor. How frustrating! Finally – is it bad that I like the pink and the green? I’ve noticed that in your recent blogs you tend to regret… Read more »


It’s a beautiful house, and I love your honesty! I agree with your comments–when I looked at all the wicker in the living room (not knowing the background), I was like, I don’t get the black chair, and it doesn’t look comfy (which I know is your thing). Interesting that it was a styling decision. I’m sure your chair worked well!


I love The Lake House and I love these posts! The post-mortem is so insightful. I’m very interested in hearing more about that heated floor issue. Especially since I will be building a cabin in Maine that will not have heat running when we are not at the property. I still would love to see an Emily Henderson design in a small cabin in the woods. My dream to see your take on this idea…or I just might have to hire you long distance.


“Drunk raccoon” may be the best description of toddler boys ever!

Love what you do, but also love how you write about it… thanks for sharing with us!


I love the Hotel Le Mon (something) pillow, you don’t happen to remember where it’s from do you? Thanks, gorgeous as always!


I love this post, as I love all of your posts. However, when I read your writing on this one, I feel like all of the “constructive criticism” over the last few weeks has taken the wind out of your sails a bit. I just want to say that I enjoy seeing EVERY SINGLE POST that you put up, or your contributors put up. I’m a designer, but I like to think that my interests are well rounded enough to be interested in things beyond just before and afters. Thanks for all you do. Keep your light heart and keep… Read more »

Oh, my god! This is amazing work! Good job, Emily. I am truly impressed. Removing all the furniture and getting the whole place made over has been my father’s mantra for years. One time he wanted us to fix a roof leak, but we ended up completely rebuilding the entire roof, so this sort of project is close to my heart. I love the bamboo. I enjoy the Japanese feel it gives the room and it works really well with the while walls. As for the Greek column, I didn’t like it at first, but it sort of grew on… Read more »

Tonya Ricucci

I love the hot pink heart – I think the blue would be too predictable. don’t mind green, but yeah, those cushions gotta go.


I really like the look, and followed the link to the striped rug. Whoa!! More than $1000 for a room size rug!?! Yikes! it’s not even anything special!

Even before the makeover the house looked good. However, the combination of white and blue make it look much more comfortable and spacious. The rug is simple and yet very classy. Our favourite part of this post is the last image. It’s so nice to find where you can get everything with just a single click!

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