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A Mid-Century Eclectic Living Room with Kilz Primer and Paint – The Dark Room Problem SOLVED

Today we have a much-awaited apartment living room reveal for my friend, Chandler. It was a space dripping with potential with a massive dark accent wall that created quite the challenge that was solved beautifully by our partner, KILZ. Julie safely took the lead on this design, by using a lot of what Chandler had, mixing it with some vintage finds, pulling from our prop inventory, and I think we made this room SING. Without further ado … here … you … go.

Hi all, Julie here! I am so excited to share with you all the reveal photos of Chandler’s living room. It’s been a style rollercoaster journey from a 70s Brutalist aesthetic (which we quickly learned was more Corbett‘s vision, Chandler’s sister) to a modern-day Mad Men feel. Now, let’s go back in time to January of this year when the world looked a bit different and so did Chandler’s living room.

The Process

When Emily and I met up with Chandler for the first time to discuss the design direction for his living room it looked like this…

He had just moved in (hence the piles of stuff) and didn’t have much in the way of furniture. Although cute, those two chairs don’t really look comfortable enough to binge-watch much of anything in. Speaking of, the TV looked massive on the credenza which also lacked the closed storage you can see he desperately needed in his life. The smaller rug actually made the living room feel more cramped because all of the furniture had to be closer together to fit onto it. This is why choosing the right rug size really is so important.

The Paint & More Importantly The Primer

Skip to…the day we talked about all things paint and then revealed the KILZ paint color Chandler chose here. As you can see below, some progress had been made but mainly we just gave him a bunch of hand-me-down furniture to start off with so he could comfortably hang out in his living room. We wanted to make sure he had a sofa during quarantine! So some of it stayed and others got swapped out in the end.

One of Chandler’s main concerns was how dark the room actually felt. This was partially due to the fact that the only source of natural light was coming from those original french doors and needed to be semi-blocked with sheer curtains to give him some semblance of privacy from the courtyard entrance that is right outside. The second factor was that DARK accent wall, it’s green but almost looked black in the room because there wasn’t enough natural light reflecting off it and honestly kind of made it feel depressing. A really dark accent wall color can also make your room feel a bit lopsided which can work if you have enough visual weight to help balance it out on the other side, but that wasn’t the case here. Yes, there was a sofa on the wall opposite it, but that vintage beauty that Emily scored for about $200 bucks is very low to the ground (the seat height is 14″ to be exact) and relatively light in color compared to the black hole of an accent wall on the other side… so the color had to go.

If you have ever tried to cover up any sort of dark paint color for a lighter option without using a primer then you know first hand how it can take approximately 2,367 coats of white paint to get the job done. Alright, alright maybe not that many but it definitely takes more than two or three. That is unless you work smart, not hard by priming first with KILZ 3ยฎ Premium primer.

I mean take a look for yourself at the photos below cause I am here to tell you that is only ONE COAT of primer. Are you shocked? Because I was.

After witnessing the primer power of KILZ I know for sure that when I eventually move out of my rental, I am definitely using it to cover up the green door in my bedroom and the hand-painted purple stripes in my soon-to-be-revealed bath. (I actually had to make a run to the store just to pick up some KILZ primer mid-painting on that project. Let’s just say the paint stripe test runs – there were more than one – did not turn out as planned and my white paint wasn’t covering up my mistakes. I was elated when KILZ covered it up so easily with the first coat cause my original attempt(s) were definitely not worthy to share with you all.)

Now onto the good stuff…the reveal!

The Final Reveal

Here it is, the light and bright living room that it was always meant to be. I don’t think I will ever get over what a fresh coat of paint can do to transform a space. That Chalk Gray paint color from KILZ was applied to the walls, crown moulding, and ceiling to give the space a bright, clean slate. Since the color was so light (almost white) it made more sense to paint it all so we didn’t end up with 3 different color tones. The crown moulding has a beautiful design but it looked liked it was repaired and patched a few times over the years so this helped to camouflage the flaws.

Chandler really wanted to channel the feel of the Mad Men TV show without it feeling too dark and heavy which ended up being a game of balance, since the era leans towards dark fabric and even darker wood tones. So, I decided to sprinkle them throughout and whenever there was a chance to add a pop of color, a bit of pattern, and something reflective I seized the opportunity.

First off, swapping out the ceiling light fixture made a huge difference. The original fixture was small in size, had only one light source and wasn’t really Chandler’s style as it was decked out with crystals. I scoured Etsy and eventually found this vintage beauty which worked so well with his MCM aesthetic (not Man Crush Monday, haha you all crack me up). It has 12 light sources which illuminate the area below and the ceiling above. This is important in a space with only one hardwired light fixture, because now it disperses the light evenly throughout the rest of the room. I found a lot of fixtures in this style but only a few in brass so I clicked “add to cart” real quick.

As I said, there were a lot of hand-me-down items in this project, which is something you can easily do when designing a room for one of Emily’s friends. (Iโ€™m sure you can imagine, but virtually designing a living room during a pandemic makes sourcing a little tricky.) The sofa was an affordable vintage find, the rug was previously in the Mountain House living room, Chandler already owned that amazing coffee table, that wood side table you’ve all seen countless times in other shoots like this one but has finally found it’s forever home in Chandler’s abode and those side chairs were new but are an EHD staple because they are so versatile and very comfy. They were also borrowed by Emily to stage her living room to sell, but Chandler will get them back one day.

Adding some pops of mustard, texture, and graphic patterns into the textiles throughout the space was key. It helps to keep the gray/blue color in the paint and sofa feeling fresh and modern.

As I’ve learned from Sara, a good smelling candle can really change the atmosphere and this one is goooood. We had it going all day of the shoot and I love it so much that I bought one that night but saving it for that “fall” LA weather when the weather dips below the mid-70s and is “cozy” enough for the smell of Oud wood and musk.

Let’s talk sconces: these brass swing arm ones are from One Forty Three, a company we love and have used before in the Mountain House upstairs guest bedroom. The brass ties in perfectly with the vintage ceiling light, they are plug-in making them very rental friendly and the swing arm design is not only functional but also very playful. Their simple yet geometric design pair well with the printable art triptych over the sofa.

Large scale art can be very pricey so to cut some costs I found these three prints on Etsy which came to a grand total of: $94 including the downloads, printing, and cost of the frames. There was a large blank space above the sofa since it sits lower than typical and although that Chalk Gray paint from KILZ is pretty it felt like something was definitely missing, the large scale art and sconces help to fill out the area without adding too much visual weight.

Finding the right-sized side tables was one of the more tricky aspects to the space. There wasn’t too much room on either side of the sofa for them to live and they had to be low enough to not break the “sofa arm/side table height rule“. The black metal and airy legs balances out all the wood in the space and the low slightly “heavy” feeling of the sofa.

And of course, the subtle lip on them make for a perfect spot to perfectly style your vintage ruler over George Harrison’s eyebrow. ๐Ÿ˜‰

About midway through the shoot Sara said that I designed a Mid-Century Modern version of a Hufflepuff Common Room – which I only took as high praise seeing as I am a Hufflepuff – but I think it definitely has a Ravenclaw feel as well.

Back to those beautiful wood doors & window treatments, mounting them to the outside really elevated the space once they were up closer to the ceiling. It makes the room feel so much taller since they no longer were cut off at the height of the doors. Also, the navy curtains immediately draw your eye to the back of the room and through to the courtyard view outside when you enter the space making the large living room feel even bigger.

But let’s be honest after that my eye goes straight to that bar cart.

No room inspired by Mad Men is complete until there is a bar set up and this was the perfect spot to add a bit of entertaining space to the living room since the kitchen is right through the doorway. That bar cart has been on my radar for four years now when Ginny used the same one in her dining room, it’s simple in design but adds warmth through the brass, wood, and leather details.

I love adding some unexpected art to the bottom shelf like that amazing line drawing by Brittney Deupree. Plus its height helps to fill the space between so you can keep your cup stacks low. Then adding a simple black vessel with the go-to branch hack (foraged that morning from the neighborhood) and that wood mirror above from 54Kibo complete the vignette.

Let’s move over to the opposite side of the room by the entry where we were able to add another chair for lounging and some additional storage. This is the spot where I’d enjoy my morning coffee or tea while reading a few pages before work, letting that dappling morning light from the windows fill the room. Sounds dreamy, right? Chandler, I hope you are doing that every morning.

The credenza, chair, and ottoman all have two things in common: they are all from Article and all made appearances in Emily’s living room many versions ago. The bigger credenza allows some space on either side of the TV so it doesn’t appear as massive as before. It also gave Chandler storage for all his games, video and board alike.

There was enough room for the lounge chair and ottoman but I needed a slim side table so the closet door was still easily accessible. This one is vintage from Etsy (is it French you ask? Ah oui oui) and look, there is my book and coffee cup – literally they are mine – ready for my morning read. Side Note: I was pulling props from my garage the night before and came across that LIFE magazine I had forgotten my mom gave to me which seemed very fitting to style it in the space.

The stacked 3 pieces of art help to bridge the blank space between the chair and credenza so they “speak to each other”. And topped off the area by adding more of that pop of mustard color in the amazing pillow from Justina Blakeney and texture in the throw.

A good mix of closed and open storage is important for your space, the open shows off your personality while the closed hides your mess. This bookcase is a great blend of the two, it’s modern and the wood tone/black accents complement the rest of the space without feeling too heavy in this corner since it has a relatively “open shelf” look. The best part is that the black metal bar sits in the middle of the shelf so you can still lean your books or records as shown here without them toppling over.

If you are debating between a shorter or taller version of a bookshelf like I was, consider the shorter one and then lean a large piece of art to add more height with less stuff on display.

Speaking of art and stuff, I found some amazing pieces in Chandler’s hall closet that he already owned but told me he just didn’t know where to put them. I got you Chandler. One of which was that “Chandler’s Buttons” art his sister, Corbett (one of Emily’s best friends) gave to him. How cute is it?!

On the other side of the entry right before you venture down the hall to the bath and bedroom seemed like the ideal spot to drop your keys and mail before plopping onto the sofa. Adding any more wood into the space would have been a lot, so enter (get it?) the black wood and glass cabinet that I hope to own one day. Is today that day??? Nope. I should save my money since I have nowhere for it to go.

It DOES have a classic design that could work well with so many styles with the arched glass doors and clean lines…trying to convince myself to buy it already. Since it is a smaller cabinet, hanging a large scale art piece above helps to anchor it in the corner for more of a ‘moment’. Add some more branches and a brass pull-chain table lamp, and there you have an entry table that is ready to get cluttered with mail, masks, and whatever else you may need for the day.

If you look closely you can see the sweetest black and white photo of Chandler and his sister Corbett.

The ‘Before and Afters’ were just too dramatic not to share so here are a few for you to enjoy!

And here are all the sources if any piqued your interest…

1.KILZ 3 Premium Primer | 2. KILZ Complete Coat Paint in Chalk Gray | 3. Vintage Chandelier | 4. Black Frame | 5. Abstract Art #1 | 6. Abstract Art #2 | 7. Abstract Art #3 | 8. Vintage Sofa | 9. Plug-in Sconce | 10. Black Round Side Table | 11. Clique Pillow | 12. Mustard Lumbar Pillow | 13. Coffee Table | 14. Rug |15. Mustard Throw | 16. Navy Velvet Pillow | 17. Lumbar Pillow |18. Wood Side Table | 19. Side Chair | 20. Blue Lumbar Pillow | 21. Gray Throw | 22. White Tray (similar) | 23. Wood Vase (similar) | 24. Candle | 25. Mirror | 26. Small Black Bowl | 27. Wood Bowl (similar) | 28. Marble Tray | 29. Mug | 30. Round Gray Vase | 31. Curtain Rod & Ball Finials | 32. Navy Curtains & Sheers | 33. Bar Cart | 34. Black Vase (similar) | 35. Wine Glass | 36. Moscow Mule Cup | 37. Black Marble Box | 38. Line Drawing Art | 39. Credenza | 40. Black & Gray Throw (similar) | 41. Mustard Square Pillow (similar) | 42. Wood Tray (similar) | 43. White Vase (similar) | 44. Brass Table Lamp | 45. Leather Ottoman | 46. Lounge Chair (no longer available) | 47. Vintage Side Table | 48. Black Glass Cabinet | 49. Bookcase | 50. Vinyl #1 | 51. Vinyl #2 | 52. Black Wood Bowl (similar) | 53. Book #1 | 54. Book #2 | 55. Fake Snake Plant (similar) | 56. White Pot (similar) | 57. Vinyl #3 | 58. Turntable

And you know I wore my new yellow pants that I am obsessed with to coordinate with the room decor. That is all and I hope you are enjoying your lighter and brighter space Chandler. ๐Ÿ™‚

Emily here to sign off and wow, what a TRANSFORMATION. I just want to say a big thank you to the team at KILZ for partnering with us for this room reveal. Designing, sourcing, and installing during an unprecedented crisis was a new experience so THANK YOU, Julie, for all your hard work!!!

And as always, thank YOU for supporting the brands that support this blog. But now that youโ€™ve seen it – and since we know it was a controversial choice – did we win you over on the gray? What say you???

**Design by Julie Rose | Photos by Sara Ligorria-Tramp


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98 thoughts on “A Mid-Century Eclectic Living Room with Kilz Primer and Paint – The Dark Room Problem SOLVED

  1. WOW! this space feels so eclectic yet cozy and those pops of yellow are making my heart sing! Great job to Julie and the team.

  2. Love this transformation!! Reading this post made me envious of high ceilings– that light fixture adds so much to the room! Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to use it in my 8-foot ceilinged room. I would love a post for great light fixtures in rooms with low ceilings, please.

    1. oh my, yes please. And in small rooms that don’t allow any sort of walkway around a dangling lamp (i’m thinking bowser’s living room). my partner is 6’3″ so lights can drop a MAX of 12 inches, and installing a bunch of cans isn’t an option. Help! Pretty light fixtures for the ceiling-height challenged!

    2. If you love that style, check out Illuminate Vintage on Etsy. I found them here, and on just about all their styles you can pick the drop. We have just over 7 foot ceilings in our upstairs bedrooms (1.5 story converted attic problems) and really struggled to find something with enough light, but still tucked in.

    3. +1 to lighting for low ceilings. I am considering finding a flush or semi-flush mount for my dining room, but I’m having a really hard time seeing examples of this.

        1. ooh, thats a great idea. like really shallow profile sconces. i’ve been on the hunt for those at different times. great idea.

  3. I love the stacked 3 pieces of art by the reading chair! It’s my favorite element in the room. Is their a source for the art? Love the whole project and how it all came together in the end.

    1. Thanks Brigitte! Unfortunately we don’t know the artist, if anyone does know please let us know in the comments. xx

    1. RIGHT?! Chandler was amazed when they went up, he said, “Okay…you really know what you’re doing.” hahahaha

  4. MCM is not my jam, but I really love this room. It all works together so well and seems organic. Crazy how changing the curtains/rod placement make such a huge difference.

    1. Thanks Courtney! Trying to make major hand-me-down pieces feel cohesive was a challenge so I’m glad you all are enjoying the outcome!

  5. So much to love about this reveal! All of the pops of mustard and navy, the art above the couch (I did something similar and lucked out with a buy one, get two free sale at Michaels!), the 54 kibo mirror…the list goes on. Amazing job Julie!

      1. Now, would you believe I found the arched cabinet on Facebook Marketplace at 4:30 today and had it in my house by 7??? Kismet! Perfect contained bar storage (the cat cannot handle a bar cart…)

  6. This is lovely, but doesn’t read very Mad Men beyond the furniture (and definitely not that rug). Perhaps Chandler can add more of that later through textiles (the right drapes could really make a difference here, in particular) and with more personal art over the sofa.

    It’s very nice seeing an affordable makeover, but this doesn’t feel very unique. I miss the quirk of an early-EHD space, the shoots seem to be missing a lot of individuality lately. Appreciate you continuing to make content, regardless. And a pretty space to live in, as well.

    1. Chandler wanted it to slightly feel like Mad Men but more modern and ultimately just cozy/comfortable. There are a lot of pieces of his personal art, photos and decor in the space but a space full of personality does take time to curate which he is just starting the process. Thanks for your feedback!

  7. Julie … THAT is THE most dramatic makeovers ever seen!!!
    The difference is remarkable, indeed!
    I re-read every word (very well written too, BTW) and couldn’t help but look and re-look over the before and after pics again and again!
    Marvellous job. ๐Ÿ‘
    Talk about open heart surgery on a room! It’s now pumpin’ hot stuff.
    Yaaay! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

  8. THIS BEFORE AND AFTER! I can’t believe we all suggested CREAM AND BEIGE in the original color posts!!! EHD knows best after all. This is an all-time awesome gray color – it looks perfect in here! Perfect alternative for a white without being too dark or cool. AWESOME JOB. So great to start out my Monday with a new reveal ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. This transformation is amazing!!

    I’d love to know what happened to the thermostat. Did it get moved? Is it post-production trickery? I’ve been trying to design a wall space around a thermostat and those buggers are challenging to make look nice!

    1. Thanks Bex! It’s actually still there just behind the art on the very right over the sofa. They really are a challenge!

  10. Beautiful Job! I also greatly appreciate the EXACT same angles in the “before” and “after” shots. So satisfying.

  11. This might just be the best transformation I have every seen your team do. I loved everything. Great job, Chandler is so lucky!!!

  12. This room is just beautiful!!! Great job on the paint color choice…it makes it look bright and airy. I just love the way you styled it! This is a room that anyone would be happy to live in.

  13. This is, without a doubt, the very best transformation Iโ€™ve seen. I want everything! Kudos!! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

  14. Love wood/mustard/line drawings/cute small table and storage. Desperately needs something on the wall that is NOT black and white? Like a photograph (that could be even black and white or tinted) to break up all the words and ink. Agree sitting chair needs its’ own light source too. Julie is darling as are her pants!

    1. Thank you *blushing* ๐Ÿ™‚ Chandler is more drawn to the type of art on the walls but I agree that would look great as well!

  15. I thought the transformation was stunning! I love how all the pieces work so well together. I also got some great tips to use myself. Really impressive!

    1. it’s actually vintage but try searching for “magazine side table” and some options should pop up!

  16. Would you mind sharing how/where you printed the Etsy art above the couch and where you got the frames from?

  17. Great job, Julie and team. I voted for the gray paint and love seeing it in the finished space. I love everything about this room. Chandler is a lucky guy.

    1. Thank you Elise! He definitely knows/shared how lucky he felt and was very appreciative to call it home.

  18. So you painted the walls, ceiling and molding all the same. Is that unusual? I’m looking to paint my bedroom all white and was wondering if it was the usual thing to do to use the same paint on the ceiling.

    1. It definitely is a more modern take by painting the crown moulding the same color as the walls and ceiling so it all depends on your personal style and era of your home.

  19. Love this paint transformation. And for the lazy/reluctant DIYers among us, using one color everywhere means no taping or cutting in! I just finished helping a friend paint his studio apartment-walls ceiling trim-all a light light gray in an eggshell finish. Took no time at all and the place seems huge now.

    1. Right?! So much easier!!! It’s also great for places with lower ceilings since the height doesn’t get “cut off” at the crown moulding

  20. Love this! This is so real life — thrifted items, personal items, and purchased items — “somehow” (gifted designers!!) it all works together making a wonderful, comfortable, very stylish and functional room. This to me is the epitome of the work of a good designer!

  21. Hi Julie, this looks so great! Wow!
    Donyou mind to share how you solved the privacy issue with the windows? Just the curtains?

    1. Thank you so much! There is a double curtain rod that we installed so there are sheer curtains behind the navy linen ones that he can keep closed during the day. They will still let in some natural light but are thick enough to provide enough privacy from the courtyard right outside. Hope that helps!

      1. Thank you. Now after telling it I see it when I zoom in. Good idea and so practical in real life. Highly appreciated

  22. I love this but the record player is just a prop for the shoot, right? I don’t see speakers or a receiver or whatnot anywhere. Just curious. Thanks!

    1. ahhh i can answer this one! chandler DOES actually have a record player ๐Ÿ™‚ there arenโ€™t speakers in the shot because theyโ€™re a little blocky (still cute – from audio engine!) BUT that u-turn is awesome because it has a built-in pre-amp so itโ€™s basically plug and play! for regular life, someone would just need to grab speakers on the shelves and tape their audio wire to the back of the bookshelf so itโ€™d be super clean. vinyl storage is SO HARD and normally NOT CUTE so Julie CRUSHED IT in this department!!!

  23. I’m so in love with every aspect of this makeover – it’s just amazing and beautiful and welcoming. It’s actually, everything. Please come to Pittsburgh, PA and help me create same in my house. LOL

    1. We actually didn’t do anything to the french doors just shows what good photography (iPhone vs a nice camera) makes a difference plus having lights on made the doors appear darker because of the contrast. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. I’m giving my 18 year old son a bedroom makeover (from a video game theme to a music studio vibe that fits in with my home’s vintage/boho/MCM vibe) and this post convinced me to follow my gut that a gentleman’s retreat NEEDS brass lighting.

  25. Beautiful! Also I love this tip: “The navy curtains immediately draw your eye to the back of the room and through to the courtyard view outside when you enter the space making the large living room feel even bigger.” It’s totally true! Does that trick work for all curtains that contrast with the wall color?

    1. Thanks Amy! I think it especially works since it was paired with large french doors whereas if they were paired with a standard size window they might make the window feel a tad smaller.

  26. This is just lovely! Very much my jam with the gray, indigo and yellow colors in a modern/MCM style. The single paint color and drapes are especially transformative!

    1. Thank you! I even surprised myself with how much they transformed the space. Learning new tricks everyday!

  27. What a beautiful apartment, you did an amazing job highlighting it – I want to see the rest of it designed now too!

  28. Wow! This looks amazing, nice work. Virtually designing a space is certainly challenging (I’ve been doing it a lot recently!) but you made it work and the result is fantastic.

    1. it truly is but luckily I’ve had some previous experience with both the Portland Project and Mountain House. Good luck on your projects!

  29. This is truly one of the most beautiful rooms and most amazing transformations I have ever seen. I love every bit of it. I generally STRONGLY dislike mustard, and you even made me love it here. Seriously amazing design. I am so, so impressed.

  30. The room looks SO. GOOD. Great job on an amazing transformation. What a difference the window treatments made to those gorgeous doors! One request – will you find a “similar to” table for the little World Market accent table? It doesn’t seem to be available any longer, at least not in California. Thanks & really beautiful work!

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