Transforming Your Outdated Room into a Contemporary Space
Ever long to completely transform a room into a light and airy space? Want a sleek, contemporary look, but need to work with existing pieces? Short on money? Here is our story and photo journey of
how we made over a crowded "old-feeling" showroom at The Elemental Garden into a polished contemporary space for under $500 in materials. To make your own magic, follow these simple tips...
We started with a room that had been a beige-taupe color for several years, originally chosen to complement the heart pine floor. Over time, though, the floor became a huge distraction as it morphed into a very strong dark yellow/orange color. Moreover, the floor hadn't been redone in 15 years, and so it had unattractive gray areas where the finish had worn through. And we had crammed too many pieces into the room for anything to stand out. So we decided to visually enlarge the room by:
1. Selecting a treatment for all surfaces that would unite the entire room.
2. Choosing a color that would complement the pieces we needed to display in the room.
3. Culling the number of pieces in the room to allow each one to stand on its own.
4. Mixing the scale, texture, and period of pieces.
5. Getting rid of all frills that detracted from the sleek effect we were seeking to achieve.
SEE YOUR SPACE CLEARLY
1. Empty your room of everything.
2. Spend time in your empty room. With all your furnishings gone, your room will look entirely different and will open your eyes to new possibilities for achieving the look you want.
CHOOSE A NEUTRAL BACKDROP
1. Pick a neutral paint color: grey, taupe, café au lait, or linen in a flat finish. Keep it light unless you are ready for drama.
2. Try out large swaths of paint on your walls and look at them over the course of several days in the morning, afternoon, and evening, on sunny and cloudy days. Paint looks entirely different depending on the season, time of day, and type of lighting you use. If the color pleases you on a dark day in the afternoon and evening, you've got a winner.
DO YOUR PREP WORK
1. Buy a set of big halogen painters' lights on a stand at your local hardware store. You can't fix what you can't see.
2. Don't skimp on the prep work. Remove all picture hooks and outlet covers from the walls. Fill all cracks and sand to a smooth surface. Your paint job will look all the better for it.
3. Don't forget the floor. Old brown wooden floors date your room, so sand them lightly to accept paint. Floor paint today is very durable and 2 coats will cover even the most unsightly floors.
PAINT THE ROOM
1. Paint the entire room, including the ceiling and floor, in the same color. Make sure you use a flat finish on the walls and ceiling and a satin or semi-gloss finish on the floor and trim.
2. Go with "stark white" for the baseboards, windows, and doors in a satin or semi-gloss finish.
3. Start with the ceiling and walls, then do the trim work, then finish with the floors.
4. Make sure the room is well-lit when you prep and when you paint. Never paint in the evening.
CULL YOUR FURNITURE
1. Consider what pieces of furniture you
must have in order for the room to function properly. If it's a dining room, you'll need a table and chairs. If it's a living room, you'll need chairs, sofas, end tables, and a coffee table. Don't focus on accessories at this point.
2. Review all the pieces you removed from the room. Decide which ones have beautiful bones, but you don't like the color or finish. Decide which pieces are superfluous to the function of the room. Make a list of what pieces you
must return to the room. Resist the urge to be sentimental or to put functionality second to anything else. If that dining table is too high for your chairs, trim the legs or buy new chairs. You can't have long intimate dinners if your guests are uncomfortable.
3. For pieces that you want to re-use, strip or paint them. Use colors that are in the same family as the room color, but go lighter or darker for a more interesting look that is not too mono-chromatic. That inherited brown oval dining table might be the perfect size and shape for your room, so give it a facelift with paint and a clear satin polyurethane finish for easy maintenance.
4. Remember that negative space (space that is empty) is a key element in achieving that sleek look you want. Negative space not only means less furniture, it means less of everything, even on the walls. Resist the temptation to hang artwork on every wall or place a decorative object on every surface. In a well-designed contemporary room, less is definitely more.
5. Mix your scale. Big upholstered club chairs can work around a more delicate dining table. A single oversized bowl on a table looks fabulous. A small painting spotlighted over a large fireplace can be magical.
6. Different textures and materials are essential. A room with too much of any material is boring. If you have only wooden pieces, invest in a few things that are made of contrasting materials. Try a pair of iron gates along a long wall. Use stone, polished metal, or glass to add a surprising, sophisticated air to the room.
7. No room looks good if it's all done in the same period and style. Mixing it up is the key. Don't be afraid to use an 18th C French wooden table with Italian mid-century modern chairs and English Regency lanterns.
SET YOUR ROOM
1. Return your essential pieces to your newly-painted room one-by-one. Buy felt rounds in different sizes that stick to the underside of furniture legs so you don't scratch your floors when moving furniture around.
2. If you are hanging a big light fixture in the middle of the room, start with that. It's a pain to move a dining table to hang the chandelier afterwards.
3. Move on to the major focal point or grouping in the center of the room, be it a dining table, pair of sofas, or whatever. Move these pieces around to achieve the most pleasing and functional configuration.
4. Add your perimeter pieces: console table, bench, sideboard, bookcase, etc. Remember, you want a balanced room, so putting all the heavy furniture on one side of the room and all the light pieces are on the opposite side won't work.
5. Don't be afraid to move things around once you have them in your room. Often, not everything you visualize in your mind will actually work in the clean, new space.
6. Edit, edit, edit. Take more away than you put in. Discipline yourself. You will love the final effect.
7. Donate everything you haven't reused in your new space to charity. You'll get a tax deduction and feel like you lost 20 pounds.
ENJOY YOUR NEW SPACE...
All the best, Tracey
Here's a list of the pieces displayed in our new showroom. Together, they total $77,950. If you wish to purchase the entire room's furnishings, you may do so for $62,000.
Lime Wood Dining Table with 3 original pine removable leaves, French 1890s: $4500
Set of 6 hardwood Os de Mouton Side Chairs in pale grey velvet, French 1940s: $4950
Pair of carved walnut Throne Chairs in pale grey velvet, French 1860s: $5200
Pair of mahogany D-shaped Console Tables with painted bottoms, English 1850s: $6400
Zinc and wrought iron Birdcage on original stand, French 1910s: $5600
Pair of zinc-finished steel Chinoiserie Regency-Style Lanterns, English 1920s: $9600
Zinc Ship's Lantern (not electrified), signed Brooklyn
, American 1910s: $1800
Wrought iron Chandelier with 2 clusters of candle bobeches, French 1910s: $2100
Zinc Oeuil de Boeuf Mirror with mid-20th C mirrored glass, French 1780s: $5600
Ebonized bamboo Napoleon III Mirror with original glass, French 1870s: $10,200
Pair of wrought iron Art Deco Seahorse Gates, French 1920s: $6400
Steel and wrought iron Menu Stand, French 1950s: $1500
Pair of kidney-shaped steel benches in original painted surface, French 1950s: $3900
Pair of cast iron Napoleon III Urns with handles, French 1870s: $3600
Set of 3 Willy Guhl large Biomorphic Planters in fibrated cement, Swiss 1950s: $6600