L.A. bungalow makeover

west elm living room

Here’s how it all went down. My friends, Jim and Blythe, moved into a pretty dope rental. But their furniture worked together about as well as the president of the Star Trek fan club and the president of the Star Wars fan club would work together. While there is so much in common, they are almost too similar to ever really love each other. (Obviously I’m talking about the furniture and not the happy couple.) I, of course, love giving my opinions but after trying to make their pieces work I just kinda demanded that they let me design their space and get some new pieces that would actually look good together. These are the perks of being my friend. If only I could be my own friend and do this for myself sometimes.

But I couldn’t do it alone, so I enlisted my friends at West Elm to help me makeover their space to look beautiful, and most importantly, like them.

So here’s where we were before:

bad living room

They suffered from what most of America suffers from:

1. Having furniture that doesn’t go together. The furniture is almost TOO close to each other in style and color, therefore looking accidental. Also these pieces fall in the “contemporary” range for me, which means to me that they don’t really hearken to a particular style or period and aren’t particularly modern either. They were too big and bulky.

2. Having furniture that is left over “starter furniture,” which 10 years later is not exactly awesome.

3. Not knowing where to start. Rug first? Sofa first? Total style paralysis.

4. Living in a rental where you can’t do any major changes or paint the walls, which leaves you with a lot of bland neutrals boring up a pretty space.

So after I took them shopping to West Elm and the flea market, Orlando and I styled the hell out of their space.  Now it looks like this:

mid-century sectional

Oh hey, happy room that obviously belongs to a young, fun, stylish couple. My friend Blythe is a total California hippie and she wanted it all bohemian and casual. Jim is a modern dude who leans towards strong clean lines and unique conversation pieces. Mixing the two wasn’t hard for me, but it was hard for them. Like most couples, they thought their styles couldn’t work together and every time they tried to come up with a plan someone felt like they were losing. Everyone can win, folks, everyone. Unless you have just terrible taste and your partner has great taste, in which case just let them win. :)

Resources: West Elm Dunham Sectional, West Elm Origami Table, vintage hanging chair — similar here, West Elm Empire rug, Dip Dye pillows. 

So here’s what I did:

I started with a color palette that they both love. I know all of you are like, of course you used blue, but honestly they both were really attracted to blues and grays and it’s what they wanted. It’s the easiest, most gender neutral color palette you can get.  So yes, it’s a go to for me and them. The rug is great because it’s a flat wove kilim that fell into the “boho” category but in colors that are more masculine and dark, grounding the whole space. We HAD to bring color into this space because we couldn’t change the walls, BUT they didn’t want to get a big colorful sofa because that was too much of a commitment.

teal vintage chair

And nothing says color like a teal chair. Jim found this guy on Craigslist in the OC, and after I gave him my blessing he drove down and grabbed it. It was in vinyl but all ripped up. This teal pulled out the blues in the rug and turned out to be a total stunner. It’s a “boy” chair, but in saturated color. Both Jim and Blythe totally approved. Read all about the before and after of that chair HERE.

Resources: Vintage teal chair from Craigslist, wicker stool is vintage, West Elm teal vase

west elm living room

Choosing the sofa was very tricky. There was only one place for the TV so sometimes that just dictates the orientation of the room. Normally you would go for the sofa facing the fireplace/mantle, but the TV couldn’t fit above the high mantel, and the fireplace doesn’t play Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad (nor does it play actual fire because it’s non-functioning).  So we put the TV on the most obvious wall, opposite the fireplace, and oriented to sofa toward that. We thought about two sofas facing each other but then, yes, you would have to lay down in order to watch TV, so ultimately a sectional (the West Elm Dunham sectional) provided the seating that they needed with the function that they needed. Is it a bummer that you walk into the back of the sofa? Eh, kinda. But that’s why we threw a pretty blanket on the back of the sofa, to break up the horizontal bank of that neutral color and so you don’t see the seam in the sectional.

Resources: West Elm Dunham Sofa sectional, Empire Rug, metallic side table, black and white chevron pillow

mid-century sectional

The sectional is perfect because the arms nor the back pillows don’t take up a ton of space. You get a lot of seating area and it’s still really wide and deep. The chaise allows for one person to be lying down and the other to be on the other side, wildly more functional than a sofa that same size without a chaise.

So, about the TV wall, here’s what it looked like before:

tv wall

The TV is big and nice, but yes it had A LOT of focus on it when it was solo on the wall.  I worried a lot about just filling the wall of random pieces of art because if it’s not right, it’s very wrong. A bad gallery wall is worse than a non-gallery wall so we started collecting slowly. Jim found this  local artist, Francesca Quintano, online and commissioned this underwater painting from her that started the collection and worked with our color palette perfectly.

teal vintage chair

I used all of their own pieces except the Mexican wrestler drawing, which I bought and framed for them. But you’ll notice that we chose pieces that are different shapes (vertical, horizontal, and square), different sizes (big and small) and different frames and colors, but we just kept the colors dispersed equally, in a balanced way.  The TV now has WAYYY less importance because you are distracted by all the pretty pieces around it.

art around TV

Where in God’s name did you get that credenza, you ask? Thank God for grandparents. Blythe inherited all of those pretty mid-century pieces (dining set, too) from her grandparents and they are in PRISTINE condition and just so beautiful.

Resources: West Elm Origami coffee table, vintage rattan stool, large painting by Francesca Quintano, West Elm blue vase, everything else was theirs already, blanket from Happy Habitat.

wicker chair vintage

That wall of windows is awesome, but it needed some life and something to really engage it WITHOUT covering up the view with a big old piece of furniture. I had been hoarding this hanging wicker chair for a while. I bought it from the flea market for $100. Now let me be clear about something: I bought this for $100 because the stand is worth almost that in itself. But I don’t necessarily recommend buying these vintage unless they are hardly used because after 30 years of wear and tear they aren’t as structurally sound as you want them to be. So this works, but if they find that they use it a ton and adults (like us) are swinging around drunk in it, then I’d probably recommend them splurging on a new swing, and keeping the vintage base.

The swing is perfect for adding texture and softness in that corner in a way that doesn’t impede the beautiful view, but still breaks up the windows. The swing also kinda mimics the shape of the window in a pretty way. And naturally I threw a sheepskin on it to soften all the lines, etc.

Resources: West elm Empire Rug, vintage wicker swing — buy new here, West Elm white planters, West Elm pillow.

wicker chair

And yes, we like plants. You’ll notice not one fig tree in site, folks. I’m trying, I swear. The windows, full of light, were begging for plants and it was a big request from Blythe.  So we chose almost all succulents and native California plants that wanted a lot of sun and would be really easy to care for. We mixed the planters up between the West Elm pots and other vintage terra cotta (as well as that gold that is from the flower market downtown).

vintage wicker stool

Overall, it’s just a super happy bright space that was once totally neutral and is now completely full of color. It was boring and style-less and now it has a strong point of view that represents both of their styles.

mid-century sectional

My question is, would you, dear readers, want to live here? Because once again, I’m jealous of my own clients, and in this case it’s my friends. I may have to destroy them, obviously without damaging their oh-so lovely living room.

This post was in partnership with West Elm but all designs, words, decisions, motivations, production, and styling were completely dictated by me. Thank you very much West Elm for sponsoring this series and thank you, readers, for supporting my supporters.  Check out the other two room makeovers in the West Elm Series:  Orlando’s living room/bedroom and my living room.  All photos by THE INCREDIBLE  Zeke Ruelas.

 

  1. Meryl

    This is SO helpful (and lovely!) I have a space with virtually the same layout, and I’ve had to float the couch as well.

    I have a question about the end table–I noticed that there’s one in the close-up shot of the sofa, but it’s missing from the wide shots. The sectional has a pretty high arm–is the end table permanently there, or was it just for styling? Are there any dos/don’ts for styling an end table next to a sofa with a high arm? (A possibly how-to video?)

    • Cassi

      It looks to me that the end table is in between the couch and the windows, so in the wide shots it is hidden behind the sofa.

    • I love this question from Meryl! I, too, have to work with a floated loveseat or sofa because of how my living room is laid out, and I also have concerns about end tables with them. I’d LOVE a how-to video on this! And for what it’s worth, I convinced my husband to move our rug because of your last video, so now all the pieces have some but not all feet on. :)

  2. amyks

    I love the room and I would want to live there, too. The wall of plants with the awesome hanging chair is fabulous. I love how you kept that cool credenza and managed to mix in a few key West Elm pieces,keeping it real.

  3. Emily U

    Yes, would certainly live there, even if just for the plants. Gorgeous work again.

    It looks to me like some of the photos are displaying skewed. Squished horizontally. The one showing the gallery wall and the last one that shows the corner angle with the hanging char. The room still look gorgeous, but you can tell the chair and some of the rectangular artwork looks smooshed. technically term.

    • Emily

      Yep. just fixed them. Thanks!!

  4. nikki

    So awesome.

    Can you tell us what fabric the Dunham sofa is in? I have being eyeing/contemplating this piece for a long time and this post may have sealed the deal. Thanks!

    • Emily

      Its in the ‘linen weave, natural’ (just updated the post with the info). its what the sofa is stocked in, although the sectional isn’t stocked in any color. But you can see that color in person at the store. its good – not too yellow or brown for a cream; just a nice neutral.

  5. Kate

    One of my absolute favorites! Love everything about it! What type of palms are those taller ones?

  6. I’ve been eyeballing the Dunham for so long. It sounds so comfy (is this the down-filled on?) and the lines seem spot on. So great to see it in a space. Thanks for sharing.

    • Emily

      Its very comfy and yes full of down. :)

  7. Maria

    I love that idea about putting a throw, especially a colorful and graphic one, on the back of the sofa. Great for open concepts when you’re staring at the back of a couch from a kitchen and dining area!

    • Emily

      Yeah, i was stumped at what to do – we don’t have room for a sofa table, but this totally solved the problem. Thanks!

  8. Dawn

    What a beautiful space, as always! I want to copy everything you’ve done here in my family room. LOVE!

  9. emily jane

    Mrs. Emily VonHenderson -you’ve done it again! You’ve inspired me oh-so-many gosh darn times now my home is consequently mid at least eleven projects (massive fireplace 2/3 of the way prepped to be primed and then painted, two fab vintage pieces of furniture waiting to be reupholstered, 1 room of carpet left to remove to uncover original hardwood floors, random pieces expecting a new coat of high gloss spray paint (you would love my $20 vintage metal-spring ed chaise lounge!), 4 separate light fixtures waiting for the electrician to install them in their new locations, -you get the idea!)! And now I want to go to the nursery and indulge my every whim in the name of plants and their planters (because my own very much adored fig leaf tree might be lonely & would appreciate some company.?!)! Thanks for continuing to share the ‘how’ of what you do oh-so-well!
    best, emily jane
    PS. Congratulations to you, Brian & the little one growing in your tummy! (mine is 14 now and I’m sooo glad I followed my instincts and held him a LOT as an infant -he’s too big to pick up these days…)

  10. Emily

    Ahh, thanks Emily. For the record i’m also in the midst of lots of projects and yes, I totally wish that I could just hire myself. :)
    I’m going to hug the hell out of this little guy when he comes out. But my gosh, it feels like FOREVER away. :)

    • emily jane

      My relationship with time was as flexible as it’s ever been during my pregnancy -which stretched on for what felt like might turn out to be forEVER! And the last two, over-due weeks? Practically as long as the first nine months!!! At the same time (in retrospect), it was over in a flash…
      I’m so happy for you guys!

      • Sarah

        Emily (s)- I loved this thread. My Lil guy turns three tomorrow. I felt like I just did a walk down memory lane so far and most importantly was reminded to treasure every step…I will treasure my hugs even more!

        • emily jane

          Sarah, you brought tears to my eyes… I loved 3 oh-so-much -naked guitar hour anyone? (with made up on-the-spot songs about a man going up and down the aisles of the market shopping for beans -sung loud & free..!) Thanks for helping me remember -that very same spirit still resides within this teenage version I currently have the pleasure of parenting… Smiling now!

          • Oh, I have tears now too. How I miss 3! My little guy is 7 now and is full of energy and dirt and loud and awesomeness but doesn’t have as much time for his Mama as he did at 3 (sniff). Sometimes I sneak in to watch him sleep so I can still catch glimpses of that innocent 3 yr old for a moment longer. Then when he wakes up I learn how to play frisbee 10 different ways and have become pretty darn good at ping pong and pretend to be fascinated by spit bubbles…

  11. Jill

    I love these posts where you explain your process, thank you!! Did you put a rug pad under the kilim? I have a West Elm 8×10 kilim in our living room and it bunches up every time the kids push the coffee table or even walk on it. I think it has a permanent wrinkle from the abuse. Would a rug pad help? Or should I try and find a heavier rug?

    • Emily

      yeah, you NEED a rug pad. I hate rug pads more than anything in the world because they are so annoying to put down but once they are down they save you so much other annoying stuff to deal with. Get a thick one and the wrinkle will come out – although you might have to spray it with water and iron it. i’m not kidding. :)

      • Jill

        Thank you! I will absolutely iron that sucker.

  12. Wow, what a change!! I love every detail and I enjoy this posts much more with all your explanations, very helpful indeed. Thanks for the effort :)

  13. I love this space! Gorgeous as always. The natural light, the rich blues, the boho & modern balance – I love it all. I am a warm/girly colors person so personally I’d add a bit more red, pink, or purple, but I can totally see myself sipping some peppermint tea on that sectional in the sun!

    PS. What are your BABY ROOM plans? I am dreaming of modern + vintage + adorable nurseries right now and I’d love to see your take on it.

    • Emily

      I’m still trying to find the right inspiration for the baby room. I know some of the furniture but don’t have a clear vision yet. Stay tuned … :)

  14. I love the wall of plants! So inspirational for another Southern Californian like me who manages to kill almost every house plant I’ve ever owned! Those look like such easy low-maintenance plants maybe I can actually keep them alive, and they look so LA in that room =).

  15. this is beautiful!! I love all of the plants and the sofa and that awesome table! plus, you’re right about the art around the tv… everytime I try it, it looks like a fail :) I’ll work on trying different pieces.

  16. and OH! thanks for including the Kenichi Eco Throw in there– he looks right at home!

  17. N.

    Oh my gosh, I love this space! And it’s so timely too because I just figured out this whole sofa back to the fireplace thing too and it’s made a huge difference in our living room! And not only that, we have an old rattan hanging chair that will be going up shortly. While the space will not look as beautiful as this one because we have only thrift-shop/Craigslist/yard-sale finds, it’s a big confidence booster for me to see that I figured out something on my own that a fabulous designer as yourself would do! :)

  18. k

    Hi Emily,

    Amazing job as usual! Love the room. I have a question about the coffee table. I just bought the Crosby sectional from West Elm and am stumped on the table. Should you always do round with a chaise sectional like that or is rectangular OK too? I feel like maybe there are rules for this I don’t know about. Don’t want the sectional police to call me out!

    • Emily

      Rectangular is just as good. The round one works here because the space is tight with the ottoman from the chair. But if we didn’t have that ottoman i would have chosen a rectangular. I like how the round breaks up all the lines, but definitely not necessary. Thanks!
      E

  19. so beautiful! i love all the plants. would love to know more about them, maybe the names?

  20. Cheryl

    Perfection. So inviting, relaxed, fun, cohesive but not crazy logical. I learn a lot from your descriptions and studying your photos. Love the Kenichi Eco Throw — great design and colors. Such details matter and sing in this space.

  21. elisabeth

    I absolutely love this room. It feels so undone and relaxed in the best possible way. One question, where is the blanket from that is hanging on the back of the couch? I love the color and fringe : )

    • Emily

      I got it in Portland at a vintage store, of course. I think it was $100 but worth every penny and could be a rug, too.
      xx
      Emily

  22. When do West Elm open a shop in Düsseldorf, Germany??? This room is so amazingly beautiful! Would love to shop West Elm, here!!
    Cheers,
    Stephanie

  23. beks

    dear bearcat,
    do you like to scratch rugs? beacuse I do, I just looove tearing the edges off of a rug inch by inch. my mom would like to have a beautiful rug like that blue one, and was hoping your mom might know of some cat proof ones. lets try and distract them, beacuse if you haven’t tried it, its super fun.

    sincerely,
    faustus vonfluffypants.

  24. Total transformation!

  25. Christine

    Emily,

    Love, love, LOVE this room and your style! Q: Because the sofa is the largest piece in the room, do you recommend a neutral color for it? I’m asking because 1) when I move I’d want my sofa to be part of the color scheme, and 2) I. Absolutely. Love. Your. Vintage. Sofa. In. Your. House. It’s a bold blue, and I’d prefer to get something like that and work around it.

    How did you come up with the color scheme?

    Christine

  26. Julie

    West Elm should partner with you to do a home styling + West Elm giveaway (via their website & catalogue). I would sign up every day and then refuse to tell my friends about it so I could pretend like it would increase my odds of winning. You two would be a match made in design heaven. And when I won you could use as much blue in my house as you liked. :)

  27. As always, you do a great job of mixing big-box with vintage, with just enough styling that it looks pleasing, but doesn’t look like an interior designer threw up every idea she has in there. And, as always, great art and plants. Love!

  28. Sarah

    Emily,
    I have tried adding your blog to feedly and it won’t let me. Any idea why?
    Thank you!

  29. You are a genius! Seriously, it’s amazing. Do they need a house sitter?

  30. anna

    would i want to live there? gosh, yes! i’ve told my hubby at least twice that if i had any help deciding what to do in our place (new build, so not a lot of inbuilt character to work with) it would have to be you. only… we’re in western australia, which would like, totally throw off your groove. but hey, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood… ha…

    *sigh* so many things to love… the coffee table! the rug! those curvy windows! that honeycomb vase that i didn’t buy when i saw one because it was the wrong colour. (spray paint occurred to me *just now!*)

  31. Heidi

    That gallery wall around the T.V. is the best I’ve seen.

  32. Ashley

    “A bad gallery wall is worse than a non-gallery wall”….. What are your tips and tricks to creating a good gallery wall?

    I love this house and would totally live there.

    • sarah

      Yes, I was wondering the same thing. I appreciated your YouTube video about gallery walls over the couch, but I’d like to know what defines a bad one…sometimes negative examples are just as useful, and now you’ve got me wondering about my ability to pull it off.
      P.s. congratulations on the baby coming soon. Though I’ve only recently found your blog, your great, conversational writing already makes me nearly as excited for you as I would be a friend!

  33. Dana

    I love the sofa! Could you share which fabric color it is so I can shamelessly copy it?

  34. tammyCA

    This is like one of the El Gato paintings come to life. I love how those atomic starbursty palms add to the vintage vibe…and the aqua punches of color, my color. I lean towards vintage style and colors so yes, I think I could live in this room, especially with those beautiful arch windows of light.

  35. I LOVE this space. It has the signature Emily Henderson “cool but not trying too hard” vibe. I would totally live there. In lieu of that I am requesting their address so I can steal all of those plants. (Not a real threat as I live in St Louis.)

  36. Erin

    Hi Emily! This space looks great! I actually have a question if you have the time to answer it. I’m in need of a new sofa too–and like your friends am afraid to commit to a non-neutral color, but I really do love the dark blue sofas in your and Orlando’s living rooms. I’m torn. Blue is my favorite color, so it’s the one color I think I could commit to. One thing keeping me from going with blue though is my concern that darker colors are higher maintenance/showing more lint & dirt for instance. Is that even true? Any tips for picking just the right shade for beauty and functionality/maintenance, too??

  37. Suemi

    Very, very nice. I’d love to live there too.

  38. mariana

    totally totes :)

  39. Absolutely gorgeous! I would never have described myself with those two terms but I could very, very happily live in that space. Going to steal a few ideas for sure. You just knock it out of the park every single time!

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  41. Tauri

    I LOVE that rug! I don’t see it online in anything bigger than the 5×8 and I’m looking for a large one, like the size of the one you used. Are they just sold out or did you use some trick to get it to look much larger than it actually is?

  42. Rachel

    I feel like this is a silly question, but for example if you have an 8×10 rug, do you get an 8×10 rug pad? Seems like it might show…thanks Emily. Love your blog. Wish you’d come style my house in Kansas City ;)

    • jen

      I would buy the same size rug pad and just snip the edges. You can cut a lot of rug pads to make it so they don’t show.

  43. I would totally live here!!!

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  50. Colleen

    Hey there – did the stand come with that chair. If not do you have suggestions for where to find great stands for hanging chairs? Found a cheap vintage one but don’t think my landlord would appreciate me putting huge holes in the ceiling to hang it :)
    Colleen

  51. ashley adams

    amazing!
    i know you said nearly all of the paintings were already the owners but any chance you could find out where that incredible tree painting is from or who the artist is?! I am IN LOVE.

  52. Lucas

    Hi Emily.
    Very big fan of your work.
    I am in Brazil and wondering what type of plants are these in the golden pot and the green one that looks like a flower behind it. So pretty want to look for them around here.

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  55. I love the media console. Do you know where your client found this?

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  59. What an inspiration! This is my first visit to your site, and I really appreciate the thought you put into your post – explaining your process and ideas and how they came together. Totally agree with the approach and it’s super informative.
    Fabulous work!
    That Origami coffee table is incredible too, I love it!

  60. Jenny

    Hi! Quick question: would you say the dunham is a low profile or a taller back sofa? We just went to a store and then called all around and they don’t have it on the floor anymore. The website lists the height as 37 which seems wrong seeing this pic against an 18″ table. We want to take advantage of the huge sale ending tomorrow but are scared to buy with the height measurement seeming so off! It’s going in front of a window. Thanks a million! xox

  61. Stef

    WOW! this is EXACTLY the same issues my bf and I have been having since he moved in with me … and we both agree that this is what we want it to look like when it’s done. See I’m a free-spirited/boho style and he is very modern and generic in his taste in furniture. We ended up selling most of my stuff so we could start fresh and have a blank canvas. But then came the issue of finding stuff we both liked … where no one felt like the loser, after 6 months of research we finally agreed on stuff we both love … and it’s almost the exact same things shown in this post … we agreed on a similar grey couch+lounge chair and on that origami table from westelm :). And one of my friend being an amazing painter she’s doing all of our art :). Thank you a lot for this post!!!

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