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New Living Room Design Plan



Design projects are happening over here (thanks to my very hardworking and talented design team run by Ginny). One of them is more of a refresh on the living room of a client that we LOVE, The Silver Lake Hills Family. It’s a weird situation because the room is pretty much designed. The family have been reluctant to have us involved because, well, they already paid for a designer to do it, 4 years ago and it is totally pulled together and functional. But as you’ll see, they didn’t really feel that it was ‘them’ and now that we’ve done the rest of the house this room feels jarringly different.



The problems were mainly that it felt heavy, dark, lacking in personality, and just not their vibe. I generally don’t like to be negative but there was just something generic about it that felt like a designer had designed it, sitting from their desk with a bunch of catalogues; no sense of person or family here. The room was rarely used because it was just so serious and not very family friendly. It looked like it had enough seating, but nobody really wanted to sit in there. All the furniture was comfortable, but not even the kids wanted to lay around and read in there. They said there was just something really off putting about the whole thing.


But there were a lot of good things happening, too. So much so that when I first did the rest of the house I kept telling them ‘don’t spend money here’. In fact there isn’t anything I don’t like in here. Every single piece is good in the right environment. But all of it together feels somehow impersonal. And dark. The sofa, side tables, frames, coffee table, chairs, armoire, other chairs … EVERYTHING is dark and feels so heavy. The main thing that is right is the sisal rug, but certainly not one that brings in personality.


Our goal is to make it a space that people will want to spend time in, while changing as little as possible since they have already invested time/money into this room. The ask was ‘make it better, make it more us, but we don’t want to pay for a whole redesign’. Understandably so.

We proposed two options:


The first option involved reupholstering the sofa in a brighter (but still family friendly color), keeping the rest of the dark furniture as is (with new pillows). The wall color would go lighter (maybe not that shade, but something lighter and with more of a happy tone than the purple-gray that is in there). The room doesn’t get a ton of light so we wanted to go for a tone instead of bright white (read about the mistake of painting darker rooms white here).


The second option would keep the brown velvet sofa and then refinish the side tables to be a lighter, prettier wood, and the rug would be more antique/aged to bring in some soul.

The photo of the brown sofa above is not good – it looks like the bad kinda brown not the rich luxe beautiful chocolate brown that it is (we photoshopped the color but you can’t really capture the pretty texture). Part of me wants to keep the brown because brown is coming back this year (you heard me) so it would be a really fun challenge to make that sofa work. Plus that sofa is beautiful and new enough that I’d love to not put $1500 – $1800 of fabric/labor into it. But remember that if the sofa stays dark then the side tables would need to change to be refinished which is at least $300 each = $600 total – not exactly free, but less.


A vintage Persian rug would really bring in some depth, warmth, color and most importantly soul that we need. But we have been shopping and MAN it’s hard. More on that later, but finding an antique Persian Persian Persian that is 9×12 and light in tone (aka,  not burgundy) for under $5k is virtually impossible, so we may have to buy a new rug (like in option 1).

For both options we plan on moving that mirror up (maybe painting the frame), reframing some of the photos in wood, white, and gold frames then rearranging them, moving the two side chairs into the room so they feel part of the conversation and adding more personal accessories. For both we’ll also update the fireplace – separate blog post with options on it’s way.

Generally the process goes as follows: We present them options like these that are just more look/feel and ideas. We haven’t shopped yet, gotten quotes nor spent any real time doing research because we bill hourly and we don’t want to spend hours going down the rabbit hole of getting quotes from refinishers when she might immediately say ‘Lets throw them away!’ So this is more to gauge in what direction they are leaning initially.

When we showed them they really liked both options, and did want us to do some research on the price difference so that is the stage that we are in now. We all REALLY want an antique rug (and have now tried 4 of them) which is going to dictate a lot in the room, no matter which sofa we go with. But at the same time we can’t look forever because our time is costing them money. So we are going to give them a few non-antique options to make sure we are moving forward. This is why a lot of designers don’t even bother shopping vintage/antique and instead shop from catalogues or websites. Everything is right there, in front of you. But then you run the very high risk of getting a more generic room.

It’s one of those things that, right when we finish the project, I’ll probably be in a thrift store in the valley and that perfect light blue, cream, green and coral, antique, perfectly worn Persian rug will be just sitting there, in all its huge 9×12 glory for like $500.

I think what we’ll end up doing is a bit of a combo between the two boards, and you might be surprised to find out that I actually think I prefer #2 (I’ve gone back and forth).

So which do you prefer? Option #1 or Option #2?

Good news to all of you who have been following along with this house over the last few years – we are finally renovating their kitchen, too. Stylistically its going to be a bit old-world hollywood and totally classic. We are VERY excited. Stay tuned.

See the rest of the Silver Lake Hills home here: Tween Girl Bedroom  | 5 Tips to Design a Timeless Boys Bedroom | Dining Room  | Office Turned Guest Room  | Bright and Airy Family Room  | Master Bedroom 

*Design Boards by Ginny MacDonald for EHD. 

Fin Mark


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patty blaettler

I like the way you posted the comments near the problem, ie ‘too high’. It’s a nice way to show your thought process. Should’ve posted ‘needs love’ by the plants. haha


Agh!!! Of all your work (and I love everything), the Lorey’s is my aspiration home!
I can’t wait to see more!!!!

Option 1 is so bright, airy, and fun! A great use of what they already have while updating it nicely!! 🙂


The sofa color in Option 1 but everything else in Option 2. Agree that the original design is nice but very dark and kind of generic. The photo arrangement confuses me.

I do love that mirror but perhaps not for that wall. Perhaps if it was rectangular though?


I would like a mix between options 1 and 2. Reupholstering the sofa seems like such a huge expense, but I love blue and think it would go well with the rest of their house. I am always struck by how careful you are not to say anything too negative about designs by other designers, even when you have been hired to fix their mistakes. I guess you don’t want anyone bad mouthing you, so it is probably good practice. But the zebra print rug looks so, so ridiculous in that room! There are very few places that can pull… Read more »

I love seeing diplomatic critiques too, especially where Em is pointing out all the places where the prior designer did all these things *right* yet the space still doesn’t feel personal or entirely cohesive. So interesting and humbles me when I think I’m savvy enough to know how to pull this stuff off on my own.

Kristal Simel

No. 2 (lighter)


#2 feels lighter and I love that rug! Too bad that can’t be found in the right size. Really like both options.

The space seems so dark now, and I can’t wait to see how you guys brighten it up!

Josh | The Kentucky Gent


Question about these types of antique rugs- How do you clean them? do you get them professionally cleaned before bringing them in (like if you found it in the Valley thrift store? Thanks!


Option 2. Love the vintage rug. Could you use a smaller vintage rug and layer on top of the sisal rug? I know rug layering is a thing, but I don’t really know the rules behind it.

Love this house!!

Sounds like a good Emily Explainer video to me—how to layer rugs and not have it look weird! (I would love some guidance on that topic.)


no matter what you do, it will be magically perfect! i feel like option one goes more with the rest of the house.
i’m so excited to see how this progresses!


I tend toward the cheaper option. It looks like just the following would make a big difference: paint, lights, better rug, poufs, colorful accents and art. And move the chairs.

If I had their sunny family room I’d never use the living room, either. Do people use living rooms? lol


Feels absurd making source recommendations to a professional, but I just had the world’s best service experience buying a 1940’s Persian rug (9×11 and less than 5k) from a place on La Brea and am feeling very evangelical about it. Huge selection, gorgeous rugs and worth a visit just to meet Nelson, the store’s very kind and hospitable Persian owner.


PS: Store name is Woven Passion Rugs and it’s at 168 N. La Brea, right at La Brea and Beverly.

TALK MORE ABOUT BROWN COMING BACK EMILY! 🙂 For real, that is interesting to me. We bought a brown leather sofa from the Restoration Hardware outlet (on craaaaazy triple discount and it was still hella expensive) but it feels absolutely correct and perfect in color. But I don’t think you mean brown leather, you mean brown in general. Excited to see YOUR version of that color’s renaissance. I like board 2 more, even though I too am surprised! Do you think cream walls will be okay in a space that doesn’t get tons of light? How do you figure out… Read more »


I definitely think option 2 would make the space feel brighter and lighter even with the brown sofa (which I like). The combination of too dark wall colour and all dark furniture really is bringing this room down.

TALK MORE ABOUT BROWN COMING BACK EMILY! 🙂 For real, that is interesting to me. We bought a brown leather sofa from the Restoration Hardware outlet (on craaaaazy triple discount and it was still hella expensive) but it feels absolutely correct and perfect in color. But I don’t think you mean brown leather, you mean brown in general. Excited to see YOUR version of that color’s renaissance. I like board 2 more, even though I too am surprised! Do you think cream walls will be okay in a space that doesn’t get tons of light? How do you figure out… Read more »

emily jane

Hi! Jenny at Little Green Notebook uses this great search:×12-and-larger-/37982/i.html?_sop=15 I am also leaning towards the second design while switching out the brown couch (except I do believe velvet has a way of elevating just about any color plus, I trust in the design insights and predictions of Emily Henderson…). Good luck with the rug finding! Sincerely, emily jane PS. Congrats on -well, everything : )

emily jane

PPS. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how you rearrange/reinterpret the use of space in the room…

emily jane

I’m going with option number because I am on my second dark leather sofa (this one was a hand me down) and have decided to lead a scorched earth campaign to rid the Earth of their presence. They embody dark, generic depression as seating while functioning as enormous, unsightly scratching posts for my cat. I am currently contorting my finances in order to purchase an insane Italian mid-century modern sofa to be upholstered in a light blue or pale aqua velvet. To tuft or not to tuft is the question.


Option 2 is my choice. The original lounge looks like a combination of African/Colonial style but sadly without much personality. Can’t wait to see how you transform this lounge. I can understand why they’d want to redesign the lounge after you’ve sprinkled your fairy dust design magic throughout the rest of their home! I absolutely love the master bedroom design, it’s my idea of a perfect bedroom!

Option 1, for interesting color scheme. I would place an antique rug to add more warmth and soul. A vintage Persian rug would probably be the best fit, maybe some of these pieces (for a bigger investment though):
Good luck in redesigning!


Emily is too gracious to say this, but the room is kit good. In comparison to Emily’s work it’s really bad.
I can’t wait to see how she fixes it all up!


Ops, i meant not good


Definately go with option 2! No need to reupholster the gorgeous brown sofa and besides they already have a blue sofa in guestroom (I checked earlier posts!). Good luck with finding the vintage carpet!!


I prefer option #2 — and I think the brown sofa can work fine, as long as you lighten up everything else. The big hulking armoire, while beautiful on its own, needs to go.


Ahh – I love the lighter wood side tables you show in Option 2 – Ginny or Emily is there any chance you could let me know the source? I have been looking for a good side table forever.


Option 2!


Option 1, preferably with a vintage rug 🙂


What ever happened to the rug that was originally in their dining room before the redesign? Its hard to really see in the black and white photos, but maybe it could work here? (Obviously I just spent an hour reading every post about their house because GORGEOUS)


Option 2 is more like them vs. Option 1 is more like you.
If reupholstering a sofa, then white or off white.
Organic wall from the inspiration would look much better


I think I prefer the first color palate but I like the rug in the second one. This post actually really helps me out! I have been buying things for my living room over a period of time and all of a sudden I noticed that it looks really formal and dark. I realized everything is in a dark finish. Thanks for the ideas to make it lighter and more personal!

Deanna L

Both are beautiful, but I’m really drawn to option 2!

Oh, how I love posts like this! I prefer the mood board for Option 2.

I can’t believe how different this room looks from the rest of the house. The other rooms are so happy and inviting; this one looks like a waiting room in comparison. Eek!

I prefer Option 1, I don’t know why but I am so against brown sofas! Silly quirk I have.


Option 1 is more appealing, it just feels brighter. The dark sofa in the second option kills it for me.

I love option 1! The colors are soothing yet fun and those brown poufs would be so durable for little and big feet.
The whole feel of the room would change to something much more inviting. Great redesign!


Option 1 all the way! Fantastic color palette. Only it would kill me to spend that much on reupholstering a perfectly good couch. Would they consider selling it on Craigslist to recoup some money for a new couch? Maybe it would be cheaper in the long run.

Like other commenters, I loved seeing your thought process written on the photos. Fascinating!

Deirdre Cerasa

Both rooms are lovely. I prefer the first mostly because I would want the sofa blue. I am not at all a brown person.


Overall I love option 2 but I just can’t support that brown sofa. I believe you that the color and texture are richer in person but I still don’t see loving it. But who knows, maybe it is coming into style and I will regret my words in a year!


I like option 2. I think the sofa in the actual room photo looks so gorgeous even with how dark the over all room is. Looking forward to how you and your team work the magic here and in the kitchen.

This is a tough choice, but I like the eclectic feel of option 1.

But both are gorgeous and bound to be beautiful!

I like the blue sofa and the lighter end tables. I agree with you, everything just seems too dark.


Option 2 – love the lighter tables and the organic/stump sidetable. The cream base in option 2 vibe feels more contiguous with the rest of the house.
I’m looking forward to seeing lighting options in the final design…it seems like a dark room no matter how white the walls are…I’d go floor lamp crazy if it was my living room!

Courtney F

I love this post and can’t wait to see more follow up posts! I’ve been interested to see the ins and outs of how you would tackle a more scaled back design, rather than a full blown redesign. I’m definitely interested in having this done to my living room at some point.


I like Option 1 but with the Persian rug, if you can find one that’s affordable (I always see large rugs on CL in my area, so maybe a used one?). If there’s any room at all in the budget, I’d spend it on some comfy armchairs. I think part of the reason no one sits in those chairs is they don’t look very comfortable. Question: Have you considered painting the side tables a lighter colour? If so, do you mind sharing why you decided not to? I ask because I have some similar ones I’m using as nightstands and… Read more »

Yes, I was wondering the same thing! Seems easier than refinishing too. 🙂


Both look great. But, option 2 but with the blue sofa is my favorite. Can not imagine that brown sofa looking good. Ever.


Option 2 would be amazing to see!


I prefer option 1. That gloomy room needs color. However, one of the reasons the family never uses the room might be that there’s nothing to do in there! What do they want to use it for?


option #2. I’m not totally wild about the sofa color (if it were more of a cognac leather, that’d be my jam) but I do think saving some dough on the re-upholstery is worth making it work. And I’m sure you’d lighten that room up so much that it would really change the feel of that deep brown.

Excited to see what happens!


Oh man, I’ve been looking for a 9×12 (or bigger) antique persian rug in blues/greys for over two years now, and couldn’t find anything at all. Now I’ll have to fight Ginny over it? I’m lost!!! I love option #2, but that sofa is a tad too bulky for the space. Have you thought of doing away with the back pillows and use loose pillows in various heights and shapes? I also have to say, I was certain that you were going to refinish the chairs in white (or coral, or light blue). Sorry for all the questions – it’s… Read more »


Here’s a vintage Persian in that color scheme on One Kings Lane for under 3K:


I’m very excited to learn about the process you take when approaching an OK room. Thank you for this series.

On a side note, when you have a plural possessive the apostrophe goes after the s, so it should be the the Lorreys’ house, not the Lorrey’s. If it was only one person then it would be Lorrey’s room, but it sounds like more than one person lives in the home. And now I’ve been annoying for the day.

Emily (not henderson)

It is even more annoying that you spelled their last name wrong.

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