Redoing My Living Room. Here We Go Again.

Me:  I can’t redo my living room again, I just did it. Me:  That was over 10 years ago.  Me:  Yeah, like I said … I just did it.

My living room as it looked a few years ago. 


I’d like you to step back in time with me. The year is 1996.  Dictator Robert Mugabe was re-elected as President of Zimbabwe, Osama Bin Laden was kicked out of Sudan and expelled to Afghanistan, an historic snowstorm paralyzed the American mid-west – and I tried to buy a sofa.

Actually maybe it was 1998, I can’t quite remember.

Either way, a sofa isn’t something I’d ever bought before.  I’d never bought anything before. Actually I had bought one thing.  A house. I had just bought my house after moving out of my parent’s home and I owned nothing other than a small juice glass with the Coca Cola logo on it.  I didn’t even pick the glass out. It was given to me.

For me, the better part of a year was spent sitting on my living room floor wondering about sofas. Wondering what sort of style I would like. Wondering what fabric I would like. Wondering if my VCR had taped E.R.

My living room circa 1998 or so.  Seriously. No joke.

I ended up buying a red velvet camelback sofa with a single down cushion from Up Country in downtown Toronto. Everything else in my living room I found in the garbage or at the side of the road.  Very rarely I may have bought something at a flea market.  Most of the other things changed but that sofa stayed until I bought my current sectional.

Over 20 years later I’m *just* starting to understand what my own design aesthetic is.  It’s a mix of everything.  I don’t like to say “eclectic” because that just makes it sound like you don’t know what you’re doing or can’t commit. Both of which are true.  But still.

I like bits of mid century modern mixed in with antique gilded frames and rough, worn wood.

I like rooms to be mismatched but not so crazy it looks like a unit on Storage Wars.

A couple of months ago I finally bought my dream chair which is a copy of a copy of an Eames chair.  Yup.

This is me pretending to read Of Time and the River.

For that dream chair to work in my living room I was going to need to buy a new sofa. Which was fine with me. The old sectional hurts my back because it doesn’t give enough support and I’m just kind of sick of it.  It also limits other things in my room because of the size of it.

I found myself in the exact same position I was in when I bought my house.  omg.  WHAT kind of sofa do I want.  It’s a big commitment, a sofa. It’s usually one of the most expensive pieces you buy for your house next to a built-in secret safe for your grades 5- 12 diaries.  You don’t have one of those?  Good luck to you when you kick the bucket and your family reads those writings. You’re going to be so embarrassed.

To see what my room might look like with a single sofa as opposed to this space sucking sectional I removed one part of it and slid the other part around the room in various spots.

I then took everything else out of the room.  One by one I brought the things I loved back into the room.  Now I knew what I was working with.  The biggest thing I discovered by doing this was that my coffee table options had opened RIGHT up by getting rid of a sectional.  I threw a long bench in front of the sofa to judge the length of it and realized quickly that by having a bench instead of a traditional coffee table I could free up a lot of floor space making the room less cramped.

I knew now that one sofa and my fake Eames chair would fit in the room.  But you can’t have one sofa and one chair in a living room so I had to decide on another chair style.  Shoot me in the head right now. I can’t do it.

Then I remembered my neighbour Jane’s beautiful wingback chair so I tromped over to her house and asked if I could carry it back to my house and put it in my living room.  I’m pretty sure she was just too shocked to say no.  She helped me carry it.

I love Jane’s chair with a vengeance.  But it isn’t comfortable. And it just didn’t work anywhere in the room as long as I had that fake Eames chair.  It’s an annoyingly bossy chair, the fake Eames chair.

Jane took her chair home and I continued to stare into my room and flip through Internet pages looking for a small chair.  Nothing.  There were chairs I liked but finding a way to fit it into the room was giving me stress. The kind of stress where your eyeball starts to vibrate.

If I put the chair next to the fireplace there wasn’t anywhere for me to put my wood in the winter.  If I put it in another corner, the fake Eames chair ottoman wouldn’t fit.  If I put it in another corner it was stuck in behind the sofa I hadn’t bought yet and it would look weird.  Bad weird. Not Architectural Digest weird.

That is when I had a design revelation. I recognized it as such because the singing angels that landed on me were wearing Tom Ford suits.

I didn’t HAVE to have a second chair.  The only time my living room is full enough to need a sofa and 2 chairs is on Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving.  And at those times everyone just wants to sit on the floor in front of the fireplace anyway. So I’d be better off keeping space in front of the fireplace open and shoving a few cool ottomans in the corner along with my firewood.


Just like that I had a vision for my living room.

My big takeaway here is if you think you need to redo a room, or something about it just isn’t right, do what I did.  Take everything out of it and just put back the things you absolutely love. The things you know you HAVE to have in there.  Then go from there.

And by “go”, I obviously mean straight to your neighbour’s house to borrow their furniture.

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  1. Stacy says:

    I cant even stop laughing long enough to think of what to write. You arent good for just advice, tips, tricks and ideas for the house and yard, you are also a comedian. Im dying laughing as I read this post, I Love it. The neighbour, the journal room, fake reading pic. So great at 4:30am when I cant sleep, thank you!!

  2. Julie Glover says:

    This has just got to be one of the best blogs, if not THE best blog on the interweb thingy. I learn stuff, laugh, feel a connection to strangers (strange!) and thoroughly enjoy myself. Thank you Karen – for your wit, intelligence and honesty. I have been ‘doing’ my living room since I moved in 5 years ago. Still not there, but definitely improving.

  3. Sarah McDonnell says:

    You can always use the bench as seating, maybe in front of the fire, when you have a horde of guests. Plus, guests are supposed to keep moving, not loafing around. Sheepdogs, you need sheepdogs to herd guests! Circulation, that’s what it’s called!

    Furlow Gatewood excels at making odd bits of furniture look perfect and beautiful. He may be your soul mate. Or Barbara Westbrook’s Whittier Mill cottage. You guys should have a party. Furlow will bring cheese sticks.

  4. Bonnie Gutierrez says:

    We are moving to a one hundred year old house where I will need to choose a new sofa. Well actually, I have needed a new sofa for almost a year prior to purchasing this house because the old sofa was my favorite and it was hard to part with – frayed fabric, coffee stains, fifteen years, and all! I feel your pain Karen because this is serious stuff. Glad you at least decided on the chair!

  5. Joanne says:

    I’ve been agonizing about how to furnish the living room in my brand new house, and ended up buying an Eames look-a-like from Amazon for around $900. Then while I was browsing through Ikea, I found a little side table that matches the wood grain on the chair. I think it was $70. Love how your living room is turning out, and can’t wait to see what sofa you choose!

    • Karen says:

      How do you like your chair?! ~ karen

      • Joanne says:

        The chair is great now! We didn’t put it together the right way at first (the directions sucked), but the manufacturer was very good at responding, and after I sent them a number of pictures, we realized what we had done wrong. This was after my husband almost fell out of it backwards, LOL!

  6. Amy Watson says:

    I too am doing my living room…not redoing, it’s never been done since we bought this house 2 yrs. ago our leather went in family room…I’m thinking about only doing a love seat and 2 chairs all the years I’ve had sofas I can count on 1 hand how many times 3or more butts sat on them….just a thought…

  7. Gerda de Vries says:

    What size and what colour Aalto vase? I have been lucky enough to spend several years living in Finland and have several of these in different colours (white, blue and clear glass). I never get tired of them (bought them at the factory store in Helsinki).

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gerda! That is lucky! Firstly to live in Finland and secondly to have a collection of Aalto vases! I’d probably be looking for a clear one as my #1 choice and then white would come in second. I’d buy whatever size I could find, lol. I scour antique shows all the time for them. The only one I found was a tiny one about the size of an orange but it had a chip in it. :) They’re a classic, iconic piece of glassware that look beautiful with or without flowers. ~ karen!

  8. Ellen says:

    Thank you Karen for giving me inspiration to tackle my living room! I too, have a sectional and while it was good for that time in my life, it has become a HUGE space suck…. I don’t have room for a Christmas tree! I am contemplating two recliners and then something for the dogs to use so they can continue to look out the front window and police the neighborhood cats and other sundry people, dogs, objectionable items worth barking at.
    I think I will start with paint…

    • Karen says:

      I still love sectionals. They make decorating easy, provide lots of seating and laying positions and a room usually looks “done” with them. But – SO much space. ~ karen!

  9. Alena says:

    I love your definition of eclectic :) :) :)

  10. Cussot says:

    Hey, who needs a second chair? Someone can straddle the saddle if need be. I like yourplan to get some ottomans (more opportunity for kelim love). And I LOVE the long bench as a coffee table.

  11. Serge Bastien says:

    Informative, entertaining and funny! Still feel guilty about that fake news chair. Anything else I can find for you on Saturday?

  12. Lynn says:

    I totally agree Karen you don’t need the bossy chair or any other chair , your seating is perfect. We hardly get visitors any more since the kids grew up and now live out of province, you just would not know it by all the seating we have in and outside our tiny house. My husband figured we have to be ready to seat everyone all the time 😔. Which makes for a cramped little house.

  13. marilyn majalca says:

    Hi Karen, we are actively searching for frontroom paint colors. Can you tell me what yours are? And the rug on the floor is several layered? That looks great.

    • Karen says:

      It is several rugs Marilyn. :) That’s the best way I can stomach the price of them, lol. Just buy smaller ones, one at a time. The colour in my whole house is Benjamin Moore’s Simply White. Prior to that it was Cloud White and still prior to that it was Decorator White, lol. Simply White is kind of an in between. Not as blue as decorator white and not as yellow as cloud white. ~ karen!

  14. susang says:

    bought a used chesterfield couch, had it reupholstered with down cushions. best move it only seats two but just the right size and I love the down cushions. they are not crisp looking but nothing in my home is (including me)

  15. Marilyn Meagher says:

    I have the opposite problem. We can never have enough seating , we have a large family and a busy household. Only two of us currently live here however drop ins are frequent and welcome so we have a bossy chair ! And three passive chairs and a sofa. And a large room. Thank God.

    • Karen says:

      If I put all that in my living room there would be no floor space. You’d have to walk across people’s laps to get out. Which happens at Christmas and Thanksgiving as it is, lol. ~ karen!

  16. Christine says:

    Swear to god l do not work for lkea.BUT….l bought high end sofas my daughter got lkea at the same time.She has 3 kids mine sit in the almost unused living room.Seven years later hers are in better shape and the covers come off for washing the cat hairballs.

  17. Cynthia says:

    LOVE your blog! Are you going to do another gallery wall? I like the idea of having more space. Brilliant!

  18. Bonnie Harris says:

    I bought a little Amish bench because I loved it, maybe 8 years ago. One day I threw out a dated glass-top coffee table and started looking around to replace it. The bench looked perfect and didn’t block the fireplace, and it was easy to move when we needed to add more firewood. That worked for a few years, and then we moved and still looking for the perfect spot for the little bench in this 125 year old house.

  19. Heather says:

    Love the idea of the bossy chair. There’s no better word for it. Some pieces are so bossy. :D

    • Karen says:

      :) I got that phrase from a photographer friend who when shooting for magazines would have the stylist remove something because it was too “bossy”. And that was the exact right word. ~ karen!

  20. Thera says:

    Love your living room so far!
    I also love my IKEA “sofa”, changeable slipcovers so I can have a new look without the expense. I currently do not have enough seats, a love seat, Bergere chair I love, a horribly uncomfortable wood rocking chair and a bulldog ottoman; problem is that it is myself and three teens, plus my older daughter comes to visit at least once a week plus a few other odd guests here and there. My youngest teen always gets stuck on the ottoman and hates it.

  21. Sandra Lea says:

    Three years ago when I redid my living room I bought two identical chairs. It was a mistake because once I got them home I realized they were too big for the space no matter how I arrange everything. The problem is I have no where else to put the second chair and I don’t want to get rid of it because I really love those chairs and they are so comfortable. Perhaps it’s time to buy a new house.

    • Beth Rorie says:

      The second chair is for your bedroom!

    • Karen says:

      Yes, those are your options. Buy a new house orrrrrr get rid of the second chair. If you take it out of the room for a month I think you’ll realize how much more you enjoy the room. And THEN you won’t feel such horror at the thought of selling it. :) ~ karen!

  22. Dana says:

    Be still my heart-those green suitcases. You really had me going there, Karen, in thinking Ive got to get a second chair. About 6 months ago we bought (with hubbys sweet discount) a white 3 cushion sofa (theyre not supposed to say couch at IKEA) with chaise and a white chair and ottoman. We got rid of a loveseat and sofa. You really hauled your neighbors chair to your house?!

  23. Grammy says:

    That picture of the 1998 living room is astounding. Looks like someone just inherited a place from their (very old) grandma and didn’t change a thing.

    I’ve done that, too. Back when there was no money to buy new things, and it was a thrill to find free and cheap stuff that were castoffs from who-knows-where, I thought it was exciting to show people how creative I could be. Everyone should have several years of that kind of experience. It’s so much more satisfying when you finally figure out what you like and are capable of acquiring some things that actually cost real money to get rid of the junk and keep just a few of the old things you love for whatever reason.

    I adore your taste and the beautiful things you do with your house (except the rugs — I’m not fond of the rugs but that’s you, so it’s cool). As old as I am, I still get ideas from youngsters like you and enjoy seeing how a really creative person solves some decorating challenges. Thanks for letting us peek into your home.

  24. Vanessa says:

    You really are quite brilliant. I’m beginning to think I need an Eames chair myself….

  25. Kim says:

    Great revelation! I just sold the pink chair in my living room because I decided I wanted the space instead of a chair (I have an egg chair and ottoman, a mid century leather couch, a lounge chair (not Eames. One day) a six foot long window seat, and another small chair upholsteded in a bay blanket (by my moi). So yes. I definitely DID NOT need that pink chair. It has a new home now. A good home.

    Excited about your new sofa when it comes.

  26. Tina says:

    Butt placement in my house is limited to 2 leather recliners in the living room (also 2 end tables and lamps and occasionally…like 4-7 months of the year, my huge project table. For quilting and stuff). And a recliner in my bedroon for sleeping. And 2 camp stools in my kitchen. So I suppose in case my family tries to talk me out of being a hermit, they’ll have to limit the intervention to 4 people…5 if we bring out my big project sewing chair.

    • Teri, on the left coast. says:

      Exactly! Two butts, two chairs.
      In our house the two butts belong to one 6 footer and me who is, currently, 5 ft 2 in. I used to be 5′ 4″ but I got old – and shrunk (shrank? discuss…)
      I plan on getting older so who knows where I’ll end up. This causes the dilemma of the couch – no one was comfortable. Accordingly, two appropriately sized chairs are just the ticket. With attendant side tables and reading lamps.
      The decidedly occasional visitor gets the office swivel chair or a place on the floor, often near the fire place this being Canada.

      • Tina says:

        I do agree! I started out tall, 5’7 1/2”, But now about 5’5”. I don’t know where the rest has gone.

        I applaud your decision to get older. I’ve about decided it’s too much trouble.

        My cat likes the extra chair in the living room and I have more dog beds in my house than I have people furniture. Aren’t the dogs the ones who really matter anyway?

        • Linda Smutz says:

          Gravity. Gravity is sucking us closer to the center of the earth. I know it’s true. A formerly 5’6”, now 5’5″ 68-year-old.

        • Teri on the left coast says:

          Often forget the neighbour’s names but I always remember their dog’s names.

      • Tina says:

        I too remember dogs’ names but not people. I just say “the lady in the blue house” or “that guy who drives the VW” or “Nico’s hooman” or “Angel’s poop-picker”.

        And I have decided not to acknowledge gravity or it’s effects. It makes my boobs into tripping hazards and, according to my brother, I don’t bounce as well as I used to.

  27. Danni says:

    I love your process. I had the chance to do a house from scratch recently and just spent a ton of time thinking about what I want to DO in the spaces and it does bring you around to reality. I just want to (comfortably) watch movies and stare at the birds in the creek. I love ottomans, (men?) Sleep-sofas and stools. They’re magic.

  28. Lisa says:

    We only have a sofa and one chair too! Two people = two butts for 99% of the year so the sofa and chair cover our needs. Two chairs would look weird in our space and force me to arrange the furniture in a totally different way. Long live the single chair!!!

  29. Teri says:

    AH, I am in full Reno mode.
    Currently have a toilet.
    that is it. in my one (single solitary lonely) bathroom. no vanity and no shower.tub. sigh
    The house dust is 2 inches deep (perhaps I exaggerate )
    and somehow we also dug a 200 foot trench between the house and the well. Seems that I need new water and hydro there and back again. Maybe we will take some electrical and water supplies down to the field so we don’t run hoses and extension cords overland….
    Oh, and while Mr. Digger Man was here, the sad pine tree (all 60 feet of it) was felled (onto my dad’s dwarf apple trees, another story for another day) and the rat-infested old chicken shed was munched up and hauled away…
    AAAND I am getting another bathroom in this 100 year old farmhouse.
    My contractor, who has done other work for me in other places, calls it ‘Reno-creep’. I call HIM the Reno-creep.
    Problem is, I hate a job done poorly, so when the wall is torn apart and I am admiring the knob and tube wiring, a part of me goes “FIX IT NOW!!!” and another few thousands go toward ensuring the house won’t burn down… Who knew, 80 years ago, that knob and tube wiring would not be legit in 2018?
    So, my couch (Chesterfield, right Karen?) is called the Counselling couch. Free, from the next-door neighbour, they had a wedding and collected couches/chesterfields. This one was looking for a home. Not pretty, but it was free…
    And once the bathroom/reno-creep process is finished, I intend to take your advice and move everything out of the house, and only bring in the things I love. that would be 1/3 of what is currently here. Anyone want some novels?

    • Marie Loewen says:

      I used to be an insurance adjuster. Glad to hear you are fixing the wiring – I did any number of house fires where knob and tube started a fire inside the wall – and by the time it broke through -“poof”. No house
      Thankfully no one was hurt but it was darn close a couple of times

    • JBrodeur says:

      You made be laugh out loud with Reno-creep. But then you made me scared – we are in the “on paper” phase of our reno. I suspect reno-creep is coming my way……..
      (Cue the scary music)

  30. Paula says:

    Great spot for the bench, I am glad to see you were able to use it somewhere else.

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