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Virtually Designing A Friend’s DARK Living Room (From My Living Room). Help Us Choose A Paint Color!!!

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Well, we are moving forward on some smaller design projects, without stepping inside the room. It would be like writing a book on a typewriter with invisible ink – doable (?), but certainly not our usual process and that makes us feel unsafe and unsure, but maybe in a good way? Today we are showing you an update of a project we introduced briefly earlier this year, and we have a very important paint color decision to make in order to keep this moving forward – because while we can’t shop, they can paint.

You see, there is a dark accent wall that is bumming us all out, making the space feel smaller and becoming this daunting force in the room screaming for attention in a bad way. It’s going to be a BEAST to paint over, so we are partnering with KILZ® on this project because we need a seriously good primer and they are the best in the business – it’s what all our painting contractors use and recommended to us. Plus, now that they have paint colors to choose from as well, it’s a one-stop paint solution. So without actually being in the room, seeing how it feels or how it looks in the morning versus the night we are all going to choose this color TODAY.

Here’s how this project went down – Corbett is one of my best friends (see her house here) and her brother Chandler just moved into a new apartment that was dripping with charm, but needed some help in the decor department. She has GREAT taste, as you can see from her house, so she was going to be the lead designer on this (to save on our design time) and we were going to do it together for him as a fun project, with his input of course. We had dreams of thrifting trips to Palm Springs and so many Rose Bowl Flea market hauls, that who knows, might still be in our future. But meanwhile, we are moving forward and you are invited to come with us.

He lives in a historical building on Wilshire – that is the courtyard you walk through to get to the lobby. It’s SO AWESOME.

When we first saw his apartment, he had JUST moved in. Corbett had just held a garage sale so he had sold most of his furniture that he didn’t like, thus the stuff on the floor and the lack of furniture. OF course, if he knew it would be months before he got a sofa he might have waited, but without a time machine we can’t really go back and fix it.

It is a great space with some obvious, solvable, challenges. The biggest is the lack of natural light. His window faces the courtyard so it doesn’t get a ton of light, and painting just ONE wall such a dark color hasn’t helped. Plus he wants some privacy from his neighbors so we can’t leave the window naked. He needs window treatments which frankly is a bummer because that window is gorgeous, but I get it – he would feel very exposed.

Besides needing a sofa, there is also a challenge of laying out the room because it is a pass-through space (but not too long and narrow, thank goodness) and there is a lack of storage. But the biggest culprit is that dark accent wall, which we’re planning to cover up with KILZ® Primer and paint.

Months ago Corbett pulled together a mood board for it, which we loved, based on this inspiration.

image source

It was ’70s brutalist, with some mid-century mixed in and lots of contemporary or more post-modern pieces. We are in need of some color I realize, but we still want to keep it moody.

We all met up and landed on the below mood board, but it wasn’t finalized – just a bit closer to where we were headed. We knew that we wanted a lot of thrifted vintage so it’s hard to create a mood board not knowing what we will score.

But then Chandler let us in on a secret – he doesn’t really like the ’70s, hates brutalist and in fact leans far more ’60s. And the ’80s/ postmodern trend that we loved was definitely not his jam. When probed, what he wanted it to look like this room from Mad Men.

design by claudette didul-mann | photo by eric laignel | via interior design

So Julie took that inspiration and brought it more into 2020 with the following inspiration. We get you Chan, you want cleaner lines and more of a mid-century feeling, but we think that can be done while mixing in some contemporary pieces.

image source 1 | 2 | 3

There are ways to bring in the mid-century vibe without going full “set,” mostly by using cleaner lines and less round and bulbous shapes (he really didn’t like them).

A few weeks before the shutdown, Julie and I were thrifting in Pasadena and I found this sofa for $200. TWO HUNDRED. As an unfortunate sofa hoarder (WHY OF ALL THE THINGS TO HOARD?) I HAD to get it, but so would you – $200 for this mid-century gem with original upholstery in decent shape? I didn’t have any place to store it and while I wasn’t convinced it was right for Chandler (this was before we knew he wanted more mid-century) we figured we’d at least store it in his living room and he could sit on it while we continued to design. Then, since we were renting a UHaul anyway, I said: “hey swing by my storage unit and lets at least get you some other pieces that MIGHT work.” This is an unusual part of the process as most people don’t have an inventory to temporarily pull from. But since he’s a friend it felt like a good way to get him some pieces to sit on as well as get a better sense of what really works in the space and what he likes. So a lot of the pieces you’ll recognize and they may or may NOT stay as we haven’t seen them in the space.

Julie gave him some direction of where to put the pieces that we were loaning/giving him.

Now there are a few different ways you can layout this room, but this feels the most natural to us and him and like I said, it might not be this exact furniture but we like the two chairs across a chair and ottoman, allowing a pass-through space.

Having these simple SketchUps by Julie certainly helped him arrange them and gave us all a better idea of what would work.

Of course, I’m dying to go in and move them around (and remove at least one black leather/wood chair – THERE ARE A LOT!), but until it’s safe to, we can’t go over there. Now normally we would wait to paint until at least some of the major furniture decisions, but Chandler has offered to paint while staying at home and it would be a huge check off the box. So we chose some neutrals that he (and we) were most attracted to – here goes.

more details here

Julie ordered samples and painted them all on large pieces of paper and then dropped them off outside his apartment building and texted him to come grab them – like a paper drug dealer.

We instructed him to put them on both the accent wall and the opposite wall and take SO MANY PICTURES.

Like I said, this is not our usual process and it’s EXTREMELY hard to make this decision not being in the room and not knowing what really is working design-wise with the furniture.

So right now our thoughts are this:

  1. Going light will keep it feeling bigger or at least as big as it can be, but without very much natural light bouncing around, will it just feel boring and dead?
  2. Going dark could make it feel moody, but it’s a pretty big room to go dark in, with a large white ceiling (that we’d love to not paint as it’s a rental and it’s just so time-consuming and laborious to paint such a big ceiling). With only one window to break up the space it could just be a big dark box (which I suppose is why the last renter painted just that one accent wall).
  3. It’s a little on the safe side mostly because all the “leftover furniture” is black and wood. It’s making me realize we need some color, some art, and VINTAGE. I’d love to try to mix in more mustards like in Corbett’s mood board above.
  4. While I love that sofa, I want more contrast with the wall color and yet we don’t want the room to be a bold color (nor white). But we are in a “make it work” phase of life so I also would love to try to just make it work.
  5. I’d love to consider doing something with the paint to break up the walls, or painting the trim a contrast. It’s honestly so hard to be creative without being in the space but it’s a good challenge.
  6. As far as decor goes we are going to follow our rules of how to make a dark room feel brighter – mirrors, more contrast, things to draw your eye around, plants, adding architectural elements that pop and art that brings in pattern, color and interest. This room needs LIFE. (See this post where we break down how to do this).
  7. While I love the article chair (no longer available)/ottoman and the leather sling chairs I bought at the flea market – I’d love one or more of those to be different – and I’m leaning more towards nixing the sling chairs in hopes of finding some that are upholstered (in a mustard velvet?) or in a pattern.
  8. In the above mood boards, I like the darker colors the most, but I do fear that they’ll be really dark so we could do a lighter tone with darker curtains.
  9. The rug we want to use is from the mountain house living room (it was getting way too much traffic in there so we switched it for something darker). We are actually dropping it off this week to see if it works in there, instead of sourcing another rug (his current one is too small). It’s a good opportunity for a pattern, but since we have this rug I’d love to try to make it work on a budget.

Right now if we keep the vintage sofa I’m leaning towards doing the darker “Porpoise” with a patterned curtain (am I suggesting a statement curtain? Are we back to that?) to help draw your eye in and give some interest while they are closed. We could even sew a bunch of flags together or do a textile art for curtains since it doesn’t need to be blackout or anything, more just so people can’t see in. BUT I could easily be convinced to do “Silverado” which would make it feel bigger, but wouldn’t be as dramatic. Then we could add drama and moodiness through the textiles, art, and accessories. Or, here are all the paint colors available if you want to suggest a totally different direction.

I mean guys, I can’t tell you enough how much I wish we could get our bodies into this space. I want it so bad that I had Julie photoshop us in and looking very serious about the design of this room.

So since you have seen the space as much as we have at this point (clearly) – what say you????

Fin Mark

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Jennifer P Willis

I would use Serving Platter but I would recover the sofa in whatever color he likes. If it were me I would do olive green or a not too dark forest green because green and gray always look great together.

Lauren Tarullo

Totally agree. I think no matter what color they go with here they’re gonna have to recover the sofa. I really like the pattern on it’s own but it just gets completely lost with how dark it is in there. It’s a bummer that it’s a rental and they probably can’t mess with original trim!

Tay

This is such a fun project as I’m kinda doing same virtual designing for my father in law whose wife passed away and is moving into a bachelor pad. I love that at 85 he’s excited to have us frame his vintage Miles Davis albums and stuff.
Just getting fabric samples can take days instead of minutes. Fortunately, he’s into getting all new to him things and leaving behind the Mario Buatta world he’s inhabited for ages. And when will they at least open Crate and Barrel so he can sit on a couch and make that final decision? At 5’2” I’m making no decisions on furniture for people over six feet tall. :). I’m looking forward to following along. BTW….Hippo is the winner in my book. I lived in a dark apartment and the more light the better!

Fiona

I live the porpoise grey. It looks like it has a blue undertone which would play so beautifully with mustard.

Daniella

Second this! The porpoise looks lovely and more lively than the others!

Daphne Goodwin

I vote for porpoise grey. With the smoky blue, it will add color to jump off from. I would only do an accent wall in it though because it seems dark.

LouAnn

I vote Silverado. The other shades seem too dark. Love that sofa!

VALERIE SCHLOSSER

Silverado for the win!

Personally, I looooooove the hippo color, but then maybe do something interesting with the paint around each of the doorways. Or maybe paint the moulding a bright white and carry that white down a bit and add a picture rail to give the illusion of a chunkier moulding?

OH!!! What if you paint something interesting on the door area?? Go soft, light, and warm grey on the room, and then the door area can be shades of warm, moody greens— the inside of the door the darkest color, the area around the door a bit lighter, and the pop out the lightest (but still dark, if that makes sense??), all the way up to the crown. Maybe something like this?comment image

And add trim to the doors!!

And by “add trim to the doors” I don’t mean around the doors, but ON the doors. Like Jenny Komenda did in her old home office!

https://juniperhome.com/2014/04/adding-paneling-to-hollow-core-doors.html/

I like this!

Rose

Like you said, kinda hard to tell, but I like Hippo. It seems a little warmer and more neutral. Maybe paint the trim/crown that color, too. 😁

Alisha

I like the look of the hippopotamus gray

V shocked because I have been watching y’all work on this for a while and it turns out that I’m flipping from team Hippo to team Silverado after seeing these pics!!! I don’t even know myself anymore!!!

Also I did poke around the paint color site after reading the olive suggestion above and am actually SUPER into some of the greens/chartreuses/mustards available. Some of them seem subtle/neutral/tonal enough that they may work for painting some trim and that would make my color-loving heart V HAPPY!

Jenn

I’m team #silverado

Amanda

These all look dark and cool-toned to me, and I’m afraid the room will look like a shadowy cave. I used to have an old apartment with dark wood trim and gray paint, without much natural light, and it was so depressing.

I’d honestly scrap the idea of gray/blue and paint it cream or even a mustardy-gold color to bring more light into the room. But I’m not a designer, just someone who likes a lot of light in my living room.

Anna

I agree! A sophisticated muted yellow like Benjamin Moore’s HC-2 Beacon Hill Damask (which has a green undertone) would give just enough color and warmth to avoid the vale of shadows look.

alexa

I agree! The cool tones are going to lean into the dark cave feeling. Something warmer feels needed. Emily – any interest in doing a paint roundup for warm tones?

Hadilly

Another vote for cream. Do something contrasting with the trim perhaps.

Suzanne

I was going to suggest a mustard color, too! Especially if the sofa is going to stay grey.

Carissa

I’m also not a fan of the gray/blue paints in this room. If you look at his inspiration it was a creamy brick background. This room needs light and more trim detail on the walls.

Catherine

I agree and was thinking the same thing, but then I do LOVE color. A muted mustard could be neutral enough to not overpower while giving more warmth than any of the grays/blues. Or a soft(er) green, as others have suggested.

Jen

I’m in agreement with these folks. I also like the idea of something warmer…a cream or light gold or mustard.

Lori

100% agreed!

Jess

Another vote for this! It’s hard to tell about paint color without being there.

Teres

I’m in complete agreement here, Amanda. I envision “a mustardy-gold color” like Kilz Heart of Gold LE110-01. It would look wonderful with the Ben Solomani rug Emily has in mind and would compliment the blues in the sofa fabric.

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Tiffany Clark

Please avoid the muted mustard on a room without much natural light! We had a similar color painted throughout a past home that had houses on either side which blocked a lot of light. It was dreadful! Soooo depressing. It wasn’t “cozy”, or warm. Regardless of what you may think.

We repainted it a lighter warm toned gray and used accent decor and oversized mirrors and art to add the texture and color. (I’m always a fan of antique wood items, driftwood, textured trimmed mirrors, framed rugs, etc). Wow! Changed the whole house! Gave it new life and felt like we could finally breathe.

(For the record, I have had multiple successful rooms painted deep navy or black in past homes, so I’m not afraid of the risk!).

Amanda

I had the opposite experience – I was in a low-light apartment painted warm gray and it was truly awful, so depressing. We repainted the living room a rich mustard color and it was literally like we brought in more sunshine. It’s all about the colors you pick, but yellow reflects light, so if you get the right yellow it’s a great color for dark rooms. You do need good lighting and light-reflecting accessories though.

Carly

Hi! I’m with the first poster around olive and green undertones. It might just be me or the lighting but one of those leather chairs looks like it has a slightly green tone. My first thought was maybe a slightly muted version of F&B’s Down Pipe would like work quite well – I’m not too familiar with Kilz colours and they would be too skewed on my phone anyway. Out of the colours I could see on that first swatch, serving platter was my pick, it looks like it comes up much lighter on the wall in the natural light as well.

Jessvii

SILVERADO, please. For sure. Distant 2nd would be Hippopotamus Gray.

Maddie

I would go Dark Sterling or Serving Platter! Those colors really don’t look that dark (based on these photos at least) and to do a light color in a square box rental will just look basic and builder grade. Also, we just painted our 1-window bedroom a really dark teal (Rainstorm from Sherwin Williams) and it’s wonderful. We’ve got lots of lamps and mirrors and during the day, it doesn’t feel oppressive at all.
I personally have a hard time with patterned drapes (I design senior living facilities and they loooooove a pattern drape) so I would lean more towards a rich color at the window and bring pattern in accessories and bold art, but that’s just me. The vintage flag comment also sounded interesting and maybe like a modern upgrade on patterned drapery. And I LOVE the idea of bringing in the mustard. Could be a nice way to add contrast to the sofa without having to reupholster it.

Cris S.

I love me a good silvery gray and some lovely dark BM Dior Gray, but you keep talking about bringing LIFE to the room and then falling back on the most lifeless gray walls with black and gray furniture and the whole thing looks like it may become a depressed music studio’s waiting room. If you are still thinking dark and neutral, maybe a slate blue? Or go in a totally different direction with the Kilz’ Vintage Find as your mustard-ish color?

dixie lee

It’s a rental so Silverado with white trim and bring in color with pillows, art etc.

Because I have anxiety about blue-toned grays, I like ghost, origami, or khaki taupe! I think it could look clean and modern but also moody with the right lighting.

Also, I have a bedroom that doesn’t get much natural light, and I painted it dark navy. Great for sleeping, but doesn’t motivate you to do much else 😂

Oh, and I love the urban chateau color for an accent wall/trim. Whatever you do will be amazing!

lillypie

If the ceiling were higher, I’d say go dark, but since it isn’t, and you have indirect, cool courtyard light, I’d go with a light warm gray, such as none of the ones you have swatches of. So ghost or origami, even though they look like they could skew greenish in some light.

Emily

Porpoise

Maxine Becker

I once painted a large dark (one small window) dining/living room dark chocolate. With a variety of lighting fixtures it worked really well. Embrace what you have and celebrate its uniqueness.

Alin

It’s a great space with so much potential. Excited to see what you do with it! I think if it were my room, I would paint it a warmer neutral. The inspiration photos have a nice warmth about them and none of them have gray walls. Will the cooler grays look a little dull and dreary in this particular space?

Jenn

Endless rain or Totally Scientific my votes 🙂

I love the porpoise, too! What about using it for the trim color? I’ve done something similar for a client, and she loved it!

Jessica

I’m leaning Hippo Grey, it’s on the lighter side but feels warmer than Silverado, which would be more in line with the Mad Men pic. And maybe paint the crown molding the same to de-emphasize its frilliness. Two of the midcentry inspo pics had wall to wall carpet – can you imagine!! >.< My spouse also wants brown-and-black everything. I like a masculine vibe but it feels too heavy and dark to do up a whole room like that. Fortunately he also likes everything that I really like, AND I let him get a recliner, so we don't clash too much. Right now I'm leaning into muted greens and linen-y light browns. Here's the recliner we landed on, in case anyone else has been struggling to get a comfy recliner that doesn't look like a lumpy old La-Z-Boy. We got it with rolled arms and wood base, in "Vento cognac": https://www.roomandboard.com/catalog/living/recliners/isaac-leather-recliners We actually have a pair of old Baughman-esque recliners that have have pokey springs and the coverings are coming apart, but the silhouette is great. When we tried out the real deal at Design Within Reach, though, it didn't meet his comfort standards! I tried to convince him we… Read more »

Jessica

Let’s get real here, what he really needs is life size cutouts of the EHD staff. Best pic ever ;D

Was thinking Silverado but I vote Porpoise. With mustard chairs light curtains, lots of super interesting plants, and art on the wall with pops of color but largely white base. Colorful accent pieces.

Molly

I would stick with Silverado – I’m afraid it will be DARK otherwise. Don’t risk going too dark just to make it feel like you’ve taken a risk. Living in a cave is not a good feeling – especially when spending 24/7 at home. How about Silverado on the walls and porpoise on the trim? And then definitely something interesting for the curtains.
Also, I love love LOVE this post. So exciting to see the design process and having to “make it work”!!! Please keep this up. So fun to be a part of.

Katherine Lavender

Dark sterling. Great colour, just enough grey-green going on, AND it’s named for a Mad Men character. COME ON.

Silverado. Use some art to break up the color until a new (leather) couch can be brought in. Perhaps it’s the photos, but the blue of porpoise is very blue.

Julie

Agreed. Silverado is just pigmented enough to make the room not fall flat (like white might), but also not so dark as to turn the room into a cave. Porpoise is reading VERY blue in a couple of the photos. Unless you’re going for that much color (gorgeous, but not neutral), I’d go for something else.

Sean Darling

I’m just sad to see the Replacements art was demoted to the floor.

Emily

I actually love the walls the white/cream they are now and feel like it makes the sofa/black chairs/and current and future wood accents pop. I worry that any form of gray is going to make it too one-dimensional and VERY bachelor pad/bachelor-designed. I think that the walls now are great.

Hana

I love the Silverado! I think some cool curtains with mustard in the design would look awesome! I vote for recovering the sofa. I’d pick a velvet for coziness and drama in a dark green gray or blue gray. Can’t wait to see how this comes out! And the front door looks like it should be emphasized with paint or decor to make it stand out a little.

Rachael

What about a Roman clay finish!? Maybe in some sort of blue/gray or light blue (but not in a baby blue kind of way). That was instantly my first thought when I saw the room. I don’t know how hard this is to do or if this is something anyone can tackle!? thought I would throw it out there. I have had my eye on this brand below.

http://www.portolapaints.com/products/roman-clay

Can’t wait to see what you guys decide!

Rachael

Just realized it’s a rental… probably not an option.

Vera

In that last (funny!) photoshopped photo, the warm off-white walls look great. The room looks bright and happy.
My suggestions:
– Paint the whole room and trim a warm off-white (like the current 3 walls)
– Find out what his favourite colours are and then add them through art and textiles.
– Add thin(ish) black lines (curtain rod, art frames, sconces, etc) to create contrast
– Add plants of course
– Swap the chairs as Emily discussed

This post was SO MUCH FUN. Love the sketch up renderings. I always love Julie’s work!

Vera

Or, the trim could be one of his favourite colours. (I still think about Julie’s bedroom all the time!)

I’d LOVE to see olive green if he’s into that!

Anon

He does realize that changing the wall color to something darker than what he has now will majorly take the room in a different direction than his inspiration pic, right? That pic had light wall-to-wall carpet, lots of natural light, and light walls. It’s going to be a very different feel. Which is fine if he loves it! Dying at Em and Julie photoshopped into the room.

Jeanne

I’m no help with picking colors. However, regarding NEEDING curtains on the pretty window … could you put opaque film over the glass panes instead? It would let in light but eliminate the need for curtains. Depending on what’s across the courtyard, you could leave the top ones natural.

Patricia

I was thinking the same thing. I love big, uncovered windows!

Rusty

Hippo gray!

Megan

Porpoise gray. Definitely. It would add depth to the room.

Porpoise is the one that totally stood out to me to work with the sofa! I think it’s the right mix of not-getting-dingy-from-too-white but not being too dark, either. (Also, I’m insanely jealous that you found that sofa for $200. WHAT. You’re a wizard.)

kk

I like hippo or sterling- I think a little warmth will go a long way here! Also, I think it’s one too many chairs in the room. Take one chair out – the lounge chair or the single black chair could go!

KP

Hippo!!

Judy J

I’m not a designer by no means, but what about putting the color on the ceiling? In the original inspiration photo, the ceiling is dark with more muted walls which let the dark toned furniture stand out.

Colleen

I would say the porpoise blue or the serving platter grey. I lean more towards porpoise, but then again blue is my favorite color so I’m sure that is part of my draw towards it. 😂 Think the courtyard vibe though pushes me even more towards the blue for overall mood balance. Looking forward to seeing how the space turns out!

Rachel

Color! It needs color!
I would paint the back wall green or teal. Or a terra cotta/rust. Everything else is so neutral, color on the wall would make the furniture look more intentional.

Andrea

This is just so satisfying. It’s the design content that we love, but also the reality of the struggle of trying to figure out how to live during a pandemic.

Kayla

I like the Silverado for this room I think.

Theresa

I like Hippo. The crown molding and window in the apartment are stunning. Really exciting to see the final product!

Roberta Davis

Amazing how different the colors look under different light conditions. My favorites are silverado and hippo gray. I feel like all the dark upholstery is bringing the room down. But the light carpet will help. Too many gray/black shades and not enough other colors. I think they could be dark colors, but maybe more warmth? Ok, so as you suggest- I wonder if a warm caramel color on the walls would be good? Like glazed carrot, nutmeg spice or autumn spice? Or vintage find? It would really make the room glow at night.

Annie K

1. Everyone deserves a Julie in their life
2. It looks great!
3. I’m on Team Cream. I hope you revisit the idea of opting away from a cool-gray. The “Before” photos of the cream wall look pretty good! I think I might prefer them to all the swatches. If you pick a warmer toned paint, maybe you could even keep the sofa “as is” in the blue, and add more mustards and reds in accents.
4. Emily mentioned dark curtains – where is Chandler on the curtain idea? I would think double layered curtains would be nice, like one gauzy translucent set for when (if?) he needs privacy during the day and then another set for privacy at night…and yet, to incredibly overgeneralize, I wonder if as a single dude that’s too much “curtain”. Maybe some rattan roller shades? Or would those be too annoying to use all the time?

Lisa

If you go porpoise, then you are going to need some statement art with color or brightness. I think mustard or other jewel toned furniture could live in the mix. Yes to mirror to bounce the light, meh to patterned curtains. And now I have to go relook at your post on giving a room life.

Alexandra

Your original design plan is STUNNING (and tbh, I like it much better than the more expected Mad Men mid-mod route). Even if it’s not Chan’s cup of tea, can we please get sources for those media cabinets and mustard chairs? His loss could be our gain!

Yvette

I keep seeing that gorgeous soda upholstered in a velvet. Something in a mid tone. Then I would keep whatever you go with for side chairs in leather, keeping the feel of a men’s club/whiskey bar in those chairs.

Amy Elizabeth Jones

A lighter colour I think.

Emily

Definitely a lighter gray option! Needs as much light in that room as possible.

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