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Emily Henderson

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by Emily Henderson
Emily Henderson Sofa Fail Opener 2 Updated

One of our top requested subjects is lease or renter ideas, i.e. how do you make a home feel like yours even when it may not be, without putting real resources into it? So when Invitation Homes reached out for us to makeover a room in their Make It Home Show House (in a lease-friendly way) in Atlanta, we said YES. We’ve been approached about doing showhouses before and likely will do at some point, but this seemed extra interesting to me because it was meant for approachable, budget-friendly design and decor ideas. So instead of shopping online and just having a bunch of awesome new stuff shipped, I tasked my team with coming up with “ideas” for you all—things like DIYs, thrifted upgrades, and just more fun and creative ideas in general. We didn’t have a client per se, there is no homeowner (yet), so we could kinda do whatever we wanted as long as it would work for a potential future family.

So in today’s post, you are going to get a sneak into our messy creative process with a pretty EPIC DIY FAIL, while tomorrow, you’ll get the full reveal.

Here’s how it all went down:

The first step here (and for basically any room) is finding inspiration and gathering “good ideas,” things that people can go forth and make themselves. Emily B. wanted to create a DIY sofa. We have seen this floating around and thought that it was simple and we could do a version that would be easy to replicate. What I forgot is that A. We aren’t carpenters and B. The job is in Atlanta so we wouldn’t really be able to control, test, or troubleshoot it too much. But we took the risk because that’s what creative people do…ISN’T THAT HILARIOUS??

Invitation Home Diy Sofa Inspo 2
image source
Invitation Home Diy Sofa Inspo
image sources: left | right

But we were in Atlanta where the style is fairly traditional, not modern like this and we wanted to fit the style of the house. So we doubled down. We loved this inspiration shot, both the black stripe, the striped rug, the gallery wall, the sconce incorporated—and we loved that it was traditional, but with an edge.

Invitation Home Diy Sofa Inspo 3
image source | design by juniper home

But that wasn’t risky enough. We then thought that it’s been a while since we mixed a stripe with a floral. Again, since there was no real client and we were doing this as a “showhouse,” we wanted to do something more editorial.

So we went shopping and found a few combinations that, well, excited us:

Invitation Home Fabric Shopping

Great. We drew up the sofa plan, booked a carpenter in Atlanta and with five days to spare, we overnighted the fabric to the upholsterer.

Invitation Home Sofa Fail Plan

We knew that mixing striped with floral would be a risk, so we had the upholsterer sew all stripes and a solid option, in addition to mixing stripes and florals. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a breakdown in communication and he made two floral seats, no back cushion and doubled the size of the bolsters.

The whole thing looked hilarious. But Emily B. and Julie weren’t laughing and neither was I at the time…

Meanwhile, they kept shopping for the rest of the vintage pieces. We had looked on Chairish and Craigslist before we went and tried to get any vintage stores to send us pics of the pieces, but ultimately we knew that they just had to go early to find the pieces and figure out how to upgrade them, refinish, reupholster before the deadline. They got there a week early which meant that triggers had to be pulled almost immediately for any upholstery jobs.

Early on, they found this amazing vintage sofa:

Invitation Home Vintage Sofa Before

But we had our genius and beautiful sofa coming, so we didn’t need this…

They went around and took a ton of photos at all the stores, essentially photographing anything that is awesome and sending it my way to upvote or down vote.

Julie and Bowser found two chairs for $300 and, well, thinking that we had the sofa locked down, they pulled the trigger. But, of course, they had to find enough yardage in a color that we LIKE, as well as an upholsterer who would turn them around in time. ALSO, ATLANTA HAS INSANE TRAFFIC AND “RUNNING AROUND TOWN” IS NOT REALLY A THING YOU CAN DO.

They also found a ton of awesome other pieces the could potentially work:

Invitation Home Thrifted Before

They also started to pull together our ideas for the personalized gallery wall which we wanted to end up being a wall of art from in and around Atlanta full of super unique things that are framed in readymade frames.

Invitation Home Gallery Wall Details Invitation Home Gallery Wall Planning

They were finding some great pieces, but on Friday afternoon, they saw the first iteration of the sofa and they started to panic, shielding me from the stress since I had a major shoot that day. Then on Saturday morning, after a huge commercial shoot at my house, I get a text from them that said, “we don’t think the DIY sofa will work.” They were obviously bummed to give me that news, but I appreciated the honesty because I wasn’t going to be there ’til Monday and we had to shoot this room on Wednesday so if there were any major changes (like say, a SOFA) we would need to do it ASAP. Ultimately, even though we had more neutral cushion cover options made and possibly could have made it work with lots of pretty pillows, the couch wasn’t interesting enough on camera especially with all the cool vintage pieces we had for the rest of the room. It also wasn’t terribly comfortable and while it may have worked on a patio, it seemed like a lie to tell people they should put this in their family room. Sometimes, you have to make an uncomfortable call, but it’s sooooo much better than not making that call at all.

Invitation Home Sofa Fail Invitation Home Diy Sofa Fail

We played a game I often make us play called “staple-gun to your head” where I go around and ask people what they would do if they had a staple gun to their head and had to make the decision RIGHT NOW. We all unanimously said, “buy the awesome vintage sofa and reupholster it.”

So they had to find 20 yards of fabric (on a Sunday…most fabric stores are not open unless it’s big box like Joann’s) and get it upholstered by Tuesday. Cool, easy feat. Thank you for being stressed out for them…

See? It’s a messy process and yes we learned some lessons. We learned that we probably shouldn’t have tried to execute a major DIY that we’ve never done before, in another state, on a very tight deadline. It was too much of a risk. The base was actually totally fine and workable, it was just a miscommunication about the upholstery and if it had been in LA, we likely would have been able to catch it earlier and rectify it.

Meanwhile, our carpenter’s mother-in-law is taking it for her outdoor space and using it so at least it didn’t go to waste.

I got there on Monday afternoon and the room was getting there. They had found SO many great pieces that actually looked good together. Art directing from afar is challenging but we are starting to get our groove and I really loved everything they had chosen. I felt like the chairs were a bit too small for the sofa so we rearranged them and realized that the room worked better, but that we needed another chair.

We spent the next day shopping and pulling it all together—which was fun but stressful. I love a last minute install, it’s kinda what stylists do and I was having serious Secrets From a Stylist flashbacks.

We aren’t the only ones doing this Make It Home Show House; there are five other designers/bloggers doing other rooms and this week, I’m here meeting them, doing a ton of press and tomorrow we are revealing our room. Follow along:

So check out all their accounts to follow them along and yes, COME BACK TOMORROW for our big reveal. I leaked some sneak peeks on social but hopefully not so much that you don’t want to come back.

How do I like how it turned out? Am I happy with it? Come back, tomorrow folks. Meanwhile, if you are in the market for a house for lease (rent) or just want some general lease-friendly tips, head over to invitationhomes.com

See you tomorrow!

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  1. Love this type of post! Can’t wait for tomorrow.

  2. I’m thankful for this post! We were supposed to come to the invitation home yesterday for your workshop BUT my daughter (who took the morning off of work to see Em because WE LOVE HER) sprayed perfume in her eyes and we ended up calling poison control, rinsing her eyes for 15 minutes then she had to keep them closed for thirty! We are thankful her eyes are well but SAD beyond words that we missed you Em Henderson. YOU ARE OUR FAVORITE !!!!Please come back to Atlanta!!!!

    1. OH NO!! i’m so sorry we missed you. it was so fun, but i’m VERY sorry about the perfume in the eye – thats crazy. thanks for commenting though 🙂 You should go see the house on saturday for the .open house – 2-6!

  3. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this (cool already) reupholstered couch since you posted it on Insta! Excited for tomorrow’s post 🙂

  4. I am SO SAD that I did not know that you would be in Atlanta until I read this post! Though I follow you on Instagram, I guess I didn’t see you on stories. I really wish I had known because I would have LOVED to participate in your workshop. However, after checking out the Invitation homes website, I still want to check out the showhouse this weekend. Thanks for dropping gems in ATL. Hope to catch you soon if you end up doing a book tour here in the future!

  5. Can’t wait to see how the vintage sofa turns out! I lived in Atlanta and YES the traffic is RIDIC. 😐🤣

  6. Im not going to lie, I kind of love the floral pattern. maybe i have horrible taste?

    1. ha. we bought it because we also we attracted to it so no, you don’t have bad taste. But also it had WAY more neon green then we thought we were getting. ha.

  7. Hi, I’m in Atlanta and responded to your call for suggestions for cool vintage shops in the ATL. I would be so interested to hear what recs you got and where you went!

    1. I would also love to see that list as well!

      1. We’ll link them up tomorrow!

  8. I love this process post! It’s relatable to me as a renter already, and I haven’t even seen the reveal! 🙂

  9. So fun! I love the floral and stripe combo. I wish that it had worked out!

    1. ME TOO! I think what we all learned is that the quality of the fabric REALLY matters here. Time was tight and finding good quality floral upholstery fabric that wasn’t antiquated looking was tough. Also, there is reason that minimalistic couches like this typically have minimalistic fabric. Going THAT minimal and also THAT maximal was extreme. not to mention that cushion was 8 feet long, that is a lot of that particular pattern. We still love the IDEA of the couch, we just hilariously missed the mark.

  10. Mom and I loved spending time with you yesterday! We had the best time! That floral sofa was hysterical. Hope everybody likes the room as much as we do!

    1. Thank you!! It was SO FUN. I want to do more. Take it on tour. Hanging out with readers makes me feel extremely happy and fulfilled. Reminds me why we do this 🙂 xx

      1. Bring your tour to the VA/MD/Washington DC area!!!! I promise you won’t have to hang out with any politicians while you’re here. 😉

  11. I love the floral fabric too! I wish the chairs were done in it!

    Btw – how about a post about of where to find upholstery fabric in LA? And your upholstery tips? And names of your fav upholsters along with prices you’ve paid to have pieces done in different places?

  12. I like the DIY sofa! I love a daybed with a million throw pillows, so I feel like the right throw pillows along the back could have made this work.

    1. Yah. we could have made it work it if were in LA with more time to problem solve. The lines were good – it was more of a upholstery issue, fabric and execution. xx

  13. How much did the “DIY sofa” end up costing, just out of curiosity? You mentioned this being budget-friendly, but I always think of reupholstering anything as costly (having only ever received quotes for this, not actually pulling the trigger on it!).

  14. Wait, why didn’t the DIY sofa work? You never showed the whole thing in any photo to show why it was apparently such a “fail.” The tight-angle shots don’t look bad.

    1. Also curious about this! Was in the fabric choice? Style/construction?

      1. wait, was that not clear? I’ll edit. basically the fabric looked insane, the upholsterer misunderstood the scale of the cushions but also didn’t upholster in the stripes instead did TWO versions of the floral. And the bolsters were twice the size needed. But we’ll edit so its more clear.

      2. Lots of great choices here for sure! Love to hear about your Upholestry work room you found.

  15. OMG! I’m nauseous feeling your stress!, but love your honesty & sense of humor.

    1. You’re telling me! I couldn’t even bring myself to read the blog until right now :). Julie and I both were just a littttttle stressed out. The good news we were pushed into more color and quirk than we usually venture into because the fabric actually encouraged us to make a whole lot of other choices before we nixed the couch. Come back tomorrow and see, but the color of the chairs, art, vases, rug etc etc were all influenced by that fabric. I think it ironically made the room what it turned out to be which ultimately we’re really, really proud of.

  16. Too bad it didn’t work out, that fabric is great! Also—and I say this with love—I wouldn’t really classify employing a carpenter and an upholsterer to make a sofa for you as a DIY project. When I think DIY I think something I can truly make myself, ya know? To me, this project falls more in the ‘custom’ realm. 🙂 Can’t wait to see the full post tomorrow!

    xx Hannah

    1. I totally understand how it seems more like a ‘custom’ piece than a true DIY but this is actually something that Emily B. and myself would have attempted to construct ourselves if we were based in Atlanta. Emily B. has every tool imaginable in her garage and it is a pretty straight forward DIY sofa base but yes you do need tools and some minimal carpentry skills. And same goes for the cushions, since the project was a plane ride away it seemed a lot to check my sewing machine haha.

      1. Haha, fair enough!!! 🙂

  17. I love this DIY fail. It makes me feel less alone (I have also made expensive mistakes). It’s also great to learn why this didn’t work out (learning from your mistake!). Can’t wait to see the final result tomorrow!

  18. Funny! Can’t wait to see the reveal tomorrow.

  19. So it’s just me who thinks that floral fabric is hideous? Yeesh! Maybe it’d be OK on a small pillow but on that big piece? I would get pattern fatigue very quickly.

    But we’ve all been there, convinced that something is great until we actually see it in the room and go, “What was I thinking?” Nice to know that even the pros stumble at times!

  20. Will you be selling the sofa when the showhouse is done? I’m in ATL now and interested (even though I don’t know what the final product looks like 🙂

  21. Please come to Austin, Texas. Would love to meet you and your team. We have such cool things going on, including commercial and residential design. Plus, we have some great vintage shops. Great post!

  22. Please share all the awesome vintage/thrift stores you went to in Atlanta!! Can’t wait for the full reveal!

  23. That vintage sofa is amazing! I can’t wait to see it reupholstered and in the space.

  24. This is SO FUN, but mostly I want to know where you got your blue shirt in the first pic!?

  25. I love the honesty and humor of this. It’s so healthy to laugh through the creative journey but so often we only want to share the “after.” Brava!

    Also I can just imagine the upholsterer trying to interpret all of the variations you asked for. 🤣 Communication is so hard remotely especially from the designer to the tradesperson. I’ve been in design for 10 years and don’t have a perfect solution for that one except striving for communication!

    Looking forward to the finished result!

  26. A little off-topic, but since you mentioned it, it is tangential: Is there anywhere I can see the episodes of “Secrets From a Stylist?” There’s only one I found on You Tube. I’d love to see the rest but have no idea how.

  27. Wow, way to make that carpenter, who was probably excited to work with you, feel bad. Do you really need to call out folks when disappointed in them? The tree trimmer, patio tile, etc…

  28. Any chance you’ve found something affordable akin to the elephant end table in the inspiration photo?

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