Karen writes:

Dear Anna Beth,

My question involves flat screen tvs and living rooms. What do you do to decorate around/above them? I've been looking in magazines & online for ideas, but no luck. Surely I am not the only one with this problem? I've attached a picture of my living room so you can see what I'm talking about. 
In our specific case, this home is a rental as we're a military family that moves every three years. I'm looking for relatively low cost ways  ($1000 curtains are out) to make that wall look better.  Any general suggestions would be great! I can hunt for specifics. 

Karen's living room

Dear Karen,

I remember meeting you all those years ago in Arlington with your delightful sister. Anyway, regarding your television problem: I have some ideas. First off, you've done well by not hanging your TV over a fireplace, which I consider a cardinal sin as far as decorating goes. I am anticipating the comments now about how incorrect I am on this count, but I am absolutely certain that hanging one's TV over a fireplace is super tacky, and super wrong.

The problem is that lots of people try to hide their TVs. That is their first mistake: almost all of us have at least one TV in our houses, except for those of us who pretend they're too good for them and secretly download The Bachelor on their computers. Why do we keep pretending they don't exist? Don't hide your television light under a bushel, is what I am saying. Instead, surround it with things you love. This family has cleverly ensconced their TV in a bunch of bookshelves. That's cool.

Another really great idea is to create a gallery wall around your TV. Using similar frames, as in the photo below, distracts the eye from the big black box and creates a gently organic background for your television to recede into. I never thought I would ever write a sentence such as that, and I apologize. "Gently Organic" is the name of my all-natural ukelele band.

via West Elm

This genius person used many different frames, but if you'll notice, they are all similar in scale. The TV furniture is long and low, which takes attention away from the electronics and focuses your eye on the beautiful artwork.

And finally, if all else fails, get yourself a wall that matches your television. Accessorize it like there is not even a TV there. Then settle in for a long night of "So You Think You Can Dance."

What I would advise for you, Karen, is to really finish your room. I know it's just a rental, and I know you will only be there for three years, but... it's three years. That is a long time to be unhappy with your surroundings. Here is what I want you to do:

1. Have shades made for each window in this room. It will cost around $100-$125 for each one, but you can choose the fabric, the edge color, the lining, everything. And you can probably take them with you to the next house.

2. Make a gallery wall to hang behind your TV. If you are unsure about how to do it, find a picture you like and copy it exactly. It will add so much character to your room.

3. Purchase a rug to layer over your carpet. It can be a cowhide, as pictured here, or jute, or something colorful. Just make sure it's big enough to take up much of the space in the room.

I used black and white here, because that was the easiest thing to do, and black is always a great contrast color. But you can use whatever color you want. I have made a terrible mockup in Photoshop of what I want you to do, seen below:

I hope this helps. Report back soon!



AuthorAB Chao
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Sars writes:

Dear AB,

I need some color counseling for my living room and library.

Ideally, I'd like something in the grey family. The dining room connects to these two rooms and is done in Benjamin Moore Silver Fox, so something in that family would be perfect. I'm willing to go pretty dark/dramatic, but the living room only gets a few hours of morning light, and the library gets mostly bleed light from the dining room on the south side.

I'd like the color to complement the window treatments -- but a contrasting color that goes with the table or the sofa is fine too. (The sofa needs reupholstering, so if your plan requires a new color for the sofa, I'm with that.)

The deepest wrinkle: I think you will tell me to demo that storage unit there in the middle and make living room and library/office into one big room. I would love to do that! But then I would have to replace the floor...like, all of it on the entire level of the house...and I don't know for sure that I can afford to do that.

So! Can you please advise me on *two* color stylez -- 1) one if I leave the storage unit where it is, and leave the two rooms as two rooms; and 2) one if I rip the beast out, get a new floor, and reimagine it as one big room?

Please don't hate me for cramming two questions into one, as you will please note that I have already taken many of your design orders (Jonathan Adler light fixture FTW!).

You're the chicest,
Hateful Buntsy

Dear Hateful Buntsy,

I can see from your pictures that you have done a lot of work on your place. I love the new light, the rug, and the lack of clutter in your living room! I can also see that we may be at the point in our relationship where I have to put my foot down on that storage space. (The other day Pamie emailed me about the project we're doing on her new place in Silverlake, and when I wrote back with my thoughts, she responded, "Are you this mean to all of your clients?" YES, Camel Riboy. Yes, I am.)

So, my Pretty Lady, just as you didn't hesitate to dock me when I went over deadline on my recaps (and I loved it when you loved my recaps!), I will not hesitate to tell you that option 1... is not an option. You're being docked, Missy. Deco docked.

The storage space has got to go. First of all, it is blocking all of your light, and secondly, it is a 3-foot deep area of nonsense in the middle of your peaceful space. I know you are concerned about the floors. There are definitely affordable options for you. My immediate thought is to have the entire bottom floor leveled and replaced with an affordable wood or laminate (laminate can be cute, y'all don't judge!), but another really good option is to lay something over the existing floor. And that thing is called Marmoleum. It comes in a ton of different colors, is eco-friendly, and besides looking awesome, is affordable AND can be laid over wood.

Look! You can get it in black and white chevron!

You will obviously need a good contractor to come in and tell you what will have to happen to the floor before you get that new floor, but I am certain that this will work for you and be so cute that your visitors will not be able to stand it. So get that sledgehammer out and start tearing down that storage space.

Now that we've got that settled, let's talk paint colors. If you love gray, as I do, you have so many options. You really can't go wrong whether you've got a big/small/bright/dim space, as long as you choose the right value and temperature. Here are three gray options, in light, dark, and darker, but they are all pretty warm grays, which is my preference. Cooler grays tend to go blue or violet, which I cannot deal with. I did not ask for a purple room, GRAY.

A warmer gray will look cozy in the morning, at noon, and at night with lamps on. Always use flat paint (or eggshell if you are concerned about pets/children/scrubbing!).

For your place in particular, I would paint every wall in the house one of these colors. Then I would paint every door high-gloss black. I have done an amateur rendition in Photoshop of what this would look like.

Your doors/walls/floor now:

And after:

OK, so I replaced your small frame with a Meredith painting, but you get the point. It doesn't take much to make a big difference. That yellow tile is an example of the Marmoleum you could have.

Now that we have conquered the big issues, let's move on to smaller ones. You say you are amenable to re-covering your sofa? GREAT. I have suggestions. How about a neutral-colored velvet? West Elm sells cotton velvet for a pretty good price -- but if you think that is too much, you can always find deals at your local fabric store. Velvet is luxe and durable and pretty cat-resistant. And, neutral colors, yay!

For your sofa in particular, I'd have it piped in a cute color, including the buttons in the tufting. Coral is nice, and will go with all of your orange accents. Or, remember when we got those cute skirts a few years ago at the mall in Monroe? That fabric would be cute, too. Or, yellow! Who hates yellow? Not me. (Yellow not pictured.)

Not that you need it (you do.) (buy this stuff.) (just DO WHAT I SAY.), but it never hurts to update your lamps and accessories. Now, these lamps are a little bit $$$, but they come in a bazillion colors and look far more expensive than their actual price. I demand that you get two immediately.

And finally: accessories. Buy two of these tables, and place a lamp on each. Then hook yourself up with a couple of fun-ass throw pillows ("fun-ass" is a technical term). The large tray is for the middle of your coffee table to replace your existing tiny remote/book/TV Guide vessel. You may not can buy this specific one since it's in Mets-ish colors, but you get the idea. Table from Elle Decor for Kohl's; turquoise pillow from CB2; tray and leopard pillow from Furbish.

As for what will happen to all your things when you remodel... well, that is what upstairs rooms are for. And I believe you have a room that is not being used right now since it looks like a child murder closet, correct? That is where the tomato costume goes.

I hope all of these ideas make you happy, Hateful Buntsy. I'll be checking back with you soon to see what has happened.

xoxo ab

AuthorAB Chao
19 CommentsPost a comment
Emily writes:
Hi AB,

I got over-enthusiastic about painting when we bought our house and somehow my living room turned into a Taqueria. And while I love tacos, I'm not sure I need any help with thinking about them 24/7. I'm trying to figure out what color to paint this room and would love to paint it white so as to be able to switch art/colors/pillows etc more easily, but it doesn't get very much light (it has a big window but the window is covered by a porch overhang and then a big tree and I have a sinking feeling that white wouldn't work. Like it would look like crazy-insane-asylum at night.)

The room opens up to our dining room which has wood paneling the same color as the floor and the entryway (that orange splotch to the left). It doesn't have to stay orange. All my friends and family are enamored of the taqueria look and refuse to help me pick a new color.

Like Chao Camp, our home is headquarters to lots of parties and gatherings so we like things to feel fun and cozy.

Feel free to share rug suggestions if you are feeling generous.  Obviously we need one, but I'm paralyzed by indecision/the reality of managing a rug with a toddler and a puppy. Actually feel free to share any suggestions at all if you are feeling compassionate!


PS. Living Room-Current colors are BM Blushing Red and BM Lavender-Blue. Please ignore embarrassing coffee table/stroller combo in front of the fireplace. We moved it there temporarily to thwart our toddler.
Hi Emily, Your house is adorable! I can tell you've done a bunch of work on it already. I love the way you did your gallery wall -- the spacing is perfect! What you need now are a few luxe touches to glam it up, and a couple of textural items to warm it up. Let's talk about the fireplace picture first. I definitely think the red has got to go, and since it's such a small space, you should be able to splash out on some fabulous wallpaper, even if you're on a budget. You also need some lighting over there, ideally in the form of sconces. Now, do not be afraid of sconces -- many of them come with plugs and cord covers. However, if you call an electrician to come and give you an estimate of how much it would cost to hard-wire the fixtures, I think you'll be surprised at how little it will set you back -- especially if you have outlets sharing the same wall as where you want the lights to go. I also think you could not go wrong painting the other walls white. I really don't know why people are scared of it, since it makes everything look fresh and clean and modern, and -- as long as you have a warm enough white -- not like an insane asylum. My favorite white ever is Super White by Benjamin Moore. It's very white, but warm enough to look great both day or night. Go over and get a sample, paint a big swatch on the wall, and live with it a few days if you're worried. So, I have given you a couple of different options for your fireplace wall. I've broken the combinations into high and low, just for fun and so you can see how great design doesn't have to cost a million dollars. Here is the first high/low combo: I love this wallpaper designed by the darling Oh Joy. It's metallic and cream, which will add a little glamour to your room without being too over-the-top. The design is organic, yet restrained, which I really love and feel will be great for your living room. The sconce is a polished silver (glam!) with a classic cream shade edged in silver. The mirror is 34" in diameter, a perfect size for your space. (You'd put a sconce on either side of the mirror, still within the mantel's width or maybe just outside.) Now let's look at the LOW version. Here we have that workhorse of textures, a grasscloth wallpaper. If you don't like the color, it's OK because grasscloth comes in just about every color you can imagine -- and it's way inexpensive. It's a great way to add elegance and texture to a room without spending a fortune. The sconce is from Laura Ashley and is a great alternative to the Circa Lighting sconce. Classic, plain, silver, BAM. Are you tired of sunburst mirrors? I'm not. They are great under the right circumstances, and this one is pretty awesome for $80. It is also 34" in diameter. Oh, what. You want some color? OK. Let's go. I notice that you have several red accents in your living room, which makes me so happy, because I am in total agreement with Albert Hadley, who said every room should have a touch of red. This lacquered mirror is super red hot shiny awesomeness. Dimensions are 21" x 35". Also, the mirror is made by Howard Elliot and not Harold Miller. I don't know what happened when I wrote that. I do not even know a Harold Miller. However, it is pretty pricy, so let's look at another option. Hello, LOW. Same grasscloth, same sconce, with the addition of a fabulous red capiz mirror. This mirror's diameter is also 34". Any of these things could be mixed and matched, of course. I would enjoy seeing the Oh Joy wallpaper with the Laura sconce and the red Pier 1 mirror, myself.  But let's talk about other options, and the rest of the room. What if you decide you are super hating on sconces, and you want a lamp to go on each side of your mantel? And what of a new rug for under the coffee table? Perhaps a new light fixture to replace your track lighting? Please see below. Fun yellow lights flanking the mantel, a flush mount light for the ceiling, and a super comfy shaggy rug near the sofa for delicate baby knees. There, you're done. Oh wait, one more thing. Let's re-upholster those awesome chairs you have. Do you know how much it costs to re-upholster a chair? A lot, right? NO! Not a lot, especially if you buy a few yards of affordable fabric. How about one of these? Yes, I think those will do nicely. (My favorite is the houndstooth.) Have it corded in a contrasting color -- and if your upholsterer says that will be extra, call someone else. I hope that helped, Emily! And I hope that you will do everything I said and then write me back and send "after" pictures. To all of my other readers: Do YOU have a question? Maybe I can help. Send an email with a photo to abchao@hashai.com. Subject line "Help me, AB Chao!" A photo is required, so don't be forgetting that part.
AuthorAB Chao
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