One wall at a time

Remember that episode of The Brady Bunch when Marcia brings home an ugly duckling of a girl and transforms her into a swan?

You know, the one where the girl was a homely bunch of nothing special–until Marcia fixed her hair, got her to ditch the glasses, and put her in some groovy new clothes?

Once you saw her all done up right, you could see that her beauty was there all along, just waiting for someone to help her reveal it.

Well, we’ve got a similar tale to tell today–without all the backstabbing Mean Girl drama. (That Molly was such an ingrate, wasn’t she?)

For those of you who like to cut to the chase, who don’t want to plod through paragraphs of exposition before getting to the high point of the story, we’re just gonna give it to you right here, right now:

fireplace with furniture

living room at windows


living room towards railing



living room into library

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way…

A little backstory

Those “before” pictures were taken last June, before we even bought our house. Let’s just say that the “before” is so not us that it was hard see past the former owner’s style and imagine the space as one that could feel like our home. So hard, in fact, that we left after viewing it and put an offer on another house.

modest ranch house

Our offer on this modest little ’50s ranch got an oral acceptance, but the deal fell through when a cash buyer came in before the papers were signed. That sent us back to the house that’s now ours.

The first thing we did after moving in was tear out the carpet and install cork floors. (You can read everything Cane learned about cork in his thorough researching of flooring options here, and my quick summary of why we chose cork here.)

carpet demo

Grace and Cane after a long, hot day of tearing out stained, smelly carpet.

cork floor installation

Cane’s friend Rick installing the new flooring. While we usually like to do-it-ourselves, this is one job we hired out. We wanted it done fast because we couldn’t move into this room until the floor went down. I had to leave for a 3-day conference right after we moved, when the room looked like the picture above. By the time I got home, the new floors were in. So worth it!

And then school started, and nothing much happened in this room during the fall. (We did swap out the brassy glassy 90s light in the dining room (turned library) for something more in keeping with the vintage of the house, but that’s about it.)

Sometime in December, sitting at this table in our library, surrounded by green walls that we hated, Cane and I began talking about all the house projects we want to do.

library room

New light peeking out in the corner of this shot.

We were feeling a bit dismayed at how many of them we were putting in the “wait until summer” (when we have a lot more time) category. Especially when we realized that we have way more summer projects than we’ll have summer to do them in.

Frankly, we just didn’t want to live with all this greeness until June–or longer.

living library from sitting area 6

Then we hit upon a (to us) revolutionary idea:

What if we tackled the task of painting our living room one wall at a time?

We thought that if we tackled this project one wall at a time, it wouldn’t be so daunting–and we wouldn’t feel like we had to have a big chunk of time to do it. Really, just one wall can be painted in an hour or two. Sure, it would take us awhile, but we were going to have to wait a long time anyway. This seemed like something we could do during the winter, unlike many of the other projects we’re putting off until summer (like painting the house’s exterior).

And so we began.

The first wall

We made our first wall the easiest wall. No corners, no windows, nothing tricky.

credenza wall

Another advantage of starting with this wall? It’s not next to any others, so the different colors of paint wouldn’t be too jarring if the whole idea was a bad one.

I think it took me an hour, tops–for two coats of Behr’s Clay Beige. After that, we were sold on our idea.

Yes, it did mean that we’ve been living with some funkiness for months. But you know what? The funkiness of three different wall colors (and wallpaper!) wasn’t any worse than the minty green/muddy green we’d been living with. And I don’t know if I can fully express how happy it made me to get rid of that long, dark green wall back in January:

fireplace wall before painting

It took two evenings to paint this wall: One to move the bookcase and trim out the walls, and the second to roll two coats on.

fireplace wall with lighter paint

This color is a much nicer complement to the fireplace bricks. As we’re sure you can tell, we like color. We decided to go with a warm neutral because neutral walls allow us to play with color (hard) in our furniture, art, and accessories.

After painting the fireplace wall, I quickly did the wall of windows in the living room, and then we got stalled. We had a little bathroom project come up unexpectedly, and I decided I was not going to tackle the sliding glass door wall until we’d figured out a replacement for the horrible vertical blinds.

library vertical blinds 3b

I didn’t want to paint and put the blinds back up, and we didn’t want to leave the door with no covering. (The blinds were blocking some of that cold winter air, and in the summer they block the heat.) We finally decided (this month) to hang a curtain rod, even if it’s just a temporary solution. I had some Ikea curtains from my old house that weren’t being used, so all we had to do was buy a new rod. When we’re done with it here, we can use it in our bedroom. (If you’ve been through our house tour, you know it’s needing all kinds of things.)

slider sliding glass door with curtain

We’re not loving this look, but it’s better than vertical blinds.

That left just one more wall, the wall I’d been dreading:  The wallpaper wall.

library reading corner striped wallpaper

It wasn’t just the idea of removing wallpaper that made this one tough. It’s that we knew the wallpaper was covering up some home renovation sins committed by pervious owners. When we installed the cork floors last summer, we discovered that the wall closest to the slider has quite a bump in it.

It’s clear to us that the wall has been added to at some point (to make room for more cabinets in the kitchen), and rather badly. We are sure that the paper was applied directly to the sheetrock, with no texturing. (You can feel/see the difference in the texture under the paper.) Given the mess going on in our master bathroom, we didn’t feel like uncovering another big mess in this room. We were loathe to try removing the paper.

So, even though it seemed like some kind of heresy, we began thinking about simply painting over it. And–kinda long story short–we did.

We’re planning to tell the longer story in a post of its own, sometime soon. Let’s just say that it doesn’t have an entirely happy ending.

But we’re not going to go there today.

Because today, we are whooping it up. We are calling the living room paint job done!  We hope you don’t mind if we revel in a little more “after” photo goodness:

living room from stairs horizontal p

library closeup

mantel toward library

You might notice in the pictures that we’ve changed more than just the wall colors. About two weeks ago, we did some furniture re-arranging in order to better accommodate our salvaged door storage table (which we originally envisioned as a coffee table).

reading nook

ariel at stairs from fireplace p

We used to have two sitting areas, and the TV used to be in that orange bookcase, which was at the front of the living room. We much prefer having the TV off to the side, where it’s not a focal point. And, we like having one, open space. The two cozy areas were great for the winter, but we’re liking the big open space as the days are becoming lighter.

Somehow, the furniture re-arranging got us in the mood for hanging art, which we didn’t do much of before painting because it just didn’t seem worth the effort to hang it on those walls that wouldn’t do it justice. That, and most of what we had was either mine or Cane’s; we didn’t have much art that was ours, things we’d found together.

Through the winter we’ve been discovering some (to us) great finds at thrift stores, and we’ve got some ideas and tips that we want to share, but that, too, will be the subject of another post.

button bird on mantel

This bird made from buttons and fabric is the first piece of art we chose together, and it remains one of our favorites.

paint by number

We’re also pretty partial to this paint-by-number we found.

Once we had all the art up and a more open, spacious furniture arrangement, we just couldn’t stand the horrible, dirty mini-blinds one minute more. So we got some bamboo roman shades (from Lowe’s) that we love much, much better. (And now we don’t have to clean the horrible blinds. Bonus!)

window wall with roman bamboo blinds

Oh, and there is this cool bench we found a few weeks back that we never posted about either. Originally we had it under the windows…

blue bench under windows

Here’s the coffee table that just didn’t work so well as a coffee table.

…but now it’s happy to be against our railing.

railing with bench

And here you can see the shades down (as we tried to get the righting light for these photos). Although all the light makes photography a challenge, we love living with it.

We found it at one of our favorite vintage stores in Portland, Lounge Lizard. We saw it out front, right after it was unloaded from the truck. Because it hadn’t yet been cleaned/detailed, we got a bit of a price break on it. We think it was a good find at $100. It’s become a favorite reading/TV watching spot for the kids.

The painting’s done, but the work goes on

While we’re calling the wall painting done, the room still isn’t. Now that we’ve got the new window treatments up, we’re itching to paint the trim. We know white trim is quite popular, but we’ve got a little something different in mind.

And from the living room you can clearly see these walls, which haven’t yet been painted:


We’re calling these walls the entry, which is technically a different room (so we can feel some satisfaction from having something big completed, which is to keep us from feeling depressed about the slow slow slow pace of our bathroom project). Painting those really high walls is going to be a bit of a challenge, and once I paint the walls I’m going to want to tackle the door and all that trim, and then do more with the art, and then, ohmygod the stairs with that horrible carpet…

See why we’re calling the living room done without doing those other walls?

And, of course, we do still have some chairs that need attention.

living room chairs

But really, truly, today we’re in a happy place over the living room. We figure we’ll never be entirely finished with it, and so we’re just fine with its current state.

Today, we’ve got a light, bright, open space that makes us feel good to be in. It’s such a far, amazing cry from the room we saw on our first walk-through of the house last summer:

living room before prebuy windows p

Here’s the “before” again, just to remind you of where we started.

One evening recently, as we sat in our happy space and reminisced about the way we first felt in this room, we realized how important it is to look beyond the surface features of things. This room’s got the equivalent of great bone structure:  lots of light, high ceilings, plenty of room, a cool fireplace, some groovy vintage windows.

We got so focused on its imperfections, which were all things that are relatively easy to change–floor coverings, paint colors, light fixtures–that we didn’t let ourselves see how perfect it is for us.

Working away at this room, slowly over time, has been a great lesson for us in looking deep, having patience, and not feeling that we need to get everything done right now–which of course gets us thinking not only about our home, but about everything:  our jobs, our relationships, the way we spend our time, how we’re developing this blog.

And that–of course–is the reason we do this business of fixing up and blogging about it.
It’s never just about the house. 


So happy about all this we want to share it with the whole wide world, starting with Home Stories A to Z:

Home Stories A2Z

And the Repurpose-Remodel-Reveal party at The Rooster and the Hen:

But enough about the living room…

We also wanted to tell you that we’re excited to be back. Really and truly.

Break was wonderful. It was nice to have a real breather from our usual pace of teaching, coaching, parenting, and blogging. We had a lot of time to think and talk about what it is we’re doing with This (sorta) Old Life and what we want to do with it.

We’re honing in on what it is we want to provide to those of you who come to visit, and we’ve got lots of things we’re looking forward to sharing in the coming weeks.

Hope you’ll come back to check them out.

In the meantime, you know we’d love to hear from you. Got any ugly duckling stories of your own to share? Any treasures you almost missed? Advice for what we should tackle next? Please share:  I get so happy when I see a comment in my inbox that isn’t spam! :-)


Photo credits: Amazon. Click on the images to get to the original source.