So you’ve got a living room you think is kind of blah. You like your furniture OK — an IKEA armchair and coffee table, a newish sofa you picked up on Craigslist, an inoffensive floor lamp, and you don’t mind the furniture layout — but the room just seems unfinished, and you know you have to do something.

The best way to transform the space, of course, is to hire an edesigner (say, someone like me) to help you redesign, choose paint colors, window treatments, new lighting and new furniture; but sometimes, that’s not feasible. Maybe your room needs to be fixed immediately, and there’s no time to hire a designer. Maybe your boss is coming for dinner tomorrow. Maybe the in-laws are going to show up this weekend. Maybe you volunteered to host the neighborhood book club in a weak moment and now you’re wondering what on earth you were thinking. At any rate, your space needs to be improved — and fast. 

In this kind of situation, there are some things you can do to make your room look more “designed,” by improving accessories, including rugs, art, plants, and more. If absolutely necessary, you could probably do this in one evening’s shopping trip to Home Goods, and be rested and ready for the boss/in-laws/book club when they show up! Let’s get started with the spruce-up.

But first, color.

The room will look more cohesive if you can stick with a color scheme. Maybe you already know what color scheme you want, but if not, pick one or two colors you love and stay with those. Consider drawing your colors from something in the room that you love — maybe you already have a rug that is you, and you can use it for color inspiration. Your inspiration could even be a coffee table book sitting on the table! If you honestly have no clue, it’s ok to stay with neutrals for now; just try to choose whether you want warm neutrals (taupe, greige, cream) or cool ones (gray, navy blue, charcoal). In the room we’re working on today, we’re going with blue and yellow.

RUGS: go big or go home

In the “before” picture, the area rug is quite attractive. The problem is, it’s too small. It’s floating in the middle of the room, with the chair and sofa surrounding it, not on it. Yes, I know, rugs are expensive, darn it. But if at all possible, the rug needs to be large enough for the chair and sofa to rest their front legs on it. Increasing the rug size to be at least that large will immediately make a difference in the look of the room.

Pouf, there it is!

Call it a pouf, or call it an ottoman — either way, the pouf, a multifunctional piece that can serve as a place to rest your feet, your drink, or your seat, is worth having. Some can even be used for storage! Along with the usefulness of the pouf, it can add a pop of color where it’s needed. Here in our “after” picture, the poufs are a cheerful yellow.

Don’t place the art too high — and make it big

The “before” picture includes some art, placed relatively high on the wall. This is really common, but it doesn’t work. Art generally needs to be placed with its center at about eye-height, or about 10 inches above a piece of furniture such as a sofa. 

Additionally, don’t be afraid of large art. A couple of 8×10 prints on a wall are probably too small, unless they are part of a gallery wall. If not, try to find larger art that will fill the space better and hold its own next to large pieces like a sofa. The “small art” mistake is common because, well, large art can be expensive, and it’s tempting to go just a bit smaller to fit the budget. However, it’s better to choose different art that will fit the space, or build a gallery wall, than to go too small.



Can you ever have too many pillows?

Throw pillows are like frosting on a cake — technically, you can go without them, but why would you want to? Your pillows don’t have to match each other precisely, so choose a few pillows in neutrals or in colors from your color scheme, and in different sizes and shapes. There, now the sofa looks finished!

Green goes with everything

Green does go with everything, if it’s a plant. Again, for these, bigger is often better; a large “statement” plant or two thoroughly transform a room, adding natural texture and color. Large plants can be pricey, and you may prefer faux plants if your green thumb is a bit less green than you’d like. Add smaller plants, flowers, or stems throughout the room for additional color and life. In our “after” picture, the lemon branches in a vase complement the yellow and blue color scheme.

Accessories: the perfect seasoning

Finally, add some table or mantel decor. Books can serve as decor (try coffee table art books), as can figurines, colorful dishes, plants, games, framed photos, and more. Try layers: a short stack of books, topped with a small figurine or a vase; a tray with an arrangement of candles; or a collection of meaningful photos in frames of different shapes, sizes, or textures.


Kensington Hill Classic Greek                    17 1/2″ High Antique White Bust Sculpture


Umbra Prisma Jewelry Tray Matte Brass


Lepresent Drop Slim 15.7 Inch Ceramic Vase


Voila — style!

The resulting room, as seen in our “after” picture, contains all the same furniture as the original room, yet looks decorated and complete. The only change in the furniture is switching the location of the side table and the floor lamp. The rug is now large enough, the artwork is big and low enough, and the pillows, poufs, and plants add sophisticated color and texture. Now, you’re ready for your houseguests to arrive!

Wendi Dunlap | Owner, Interior Designer | Wendi Dunlap Design

I have always loved design in all forms, and have worked in graphic design and web design, but interior decorating has been a special love of mine since I was a kid, when I would frequently rearrange the furniture in my bedroom and restyle the decorations. The first time anyone suggested I should do interior design was when I was about 10 years old and on a Campfire Girls trip, because I arranged my stuff in my camp cabin to look extra “homey.” Later, after a divorce and many years of reading as many decor magazines as possible, I redesigned my bedroom to be uniquely “me.” The room was featured on Apartment Therapy, and the feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive. I began to think “Hey, I might actually be able to do this!”Since then I’ve taken classes and worked on improving my skills, and recently began working for one of the major online e-design companies. I’d love to use my skills to enhance your space and make your life better! Contact me or check out my available design services to see what I can do for you!.


Learn more about working with Wendi Dunlap of Wendi Dunlap Design through her eDesign Tribe member profile!

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