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Emily Henderson

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by Emily Bowser
Bowser's Living Room Intro Opener

Welcome to the next installment in my series of unfortunate (house) events. This time, we’re talking all things living room/dining room (last time, we talked master bedroom and bathroom).

Let’s jump in!

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Me, our beloved first couch, in the state I was most found in, 2017.

I want you to imagine a situation where you see the below MLS photos and the $600,000 price tag and you’re like “I’LL TAKE IT.” Yeah, I can’t imagine it either and IT IS EXACTLY WHAT I DID. Read all about that nightmare/dream come true here.

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Quick recap: The house looked exactly like the photos above and I was, as one could imagine, not feeling very positive about becoming a homeowner. Through a series of insane circumstances, we put an offer on this home and they accepted without my husband ever seeing the inside of it (he was at work when I saw it by myself…like I did many homes during our search with my realtor Keely). Who does that?? Six long months later, we owned the home and the above furniture was moved out. Turns out, it was covering a myriad of issues. See the piece of furniture in the right-hand corner with the roses on top (in the photo above)? Seem random? It was on top of this:

Living Room 12

This corner was the beginning of the end for us. Termite damage on hardwood floors points to one thing and one thing only: water damage.

The previous owners had disclosed that the roof had a leak in recent history so it wasn’t a complete surprise. I mean, the gaping holes in the wood floor throughout the home were a surprise but according to the former owners, they had repaired the damage, fixed the roof and everything was okie-dokie. The roof inspection wasn’t great but there wasn’t any hard evidence that at the first sign of rain I would have a waterfall coming into my house. Which I did. Two days later.

After the rotted wood/soaked wall situation, the entire house had to be taken down to the studs to see what was really happening. What had originally been a $100,000 renovation bid grew and grew. Once walls are open, everything changes. You see the truth and you can’t hide from it.

Here’s the punch list of things that happened in this room:

  • Demo drywall
  • Water damage repaired
  • Rewiring (had original 1930 fabric wiring)
  • New insulation
  • Remove window AC unit
  • Remove wall heater
  • Replace sconces
  • Add 2 sconces on the longer wall
  • Remove ceiling light and fan in living room
  • Add one junction box for light in the center of the living room
  • Remove light in dining room
  • Remove existing windows
  • Reframe large window in the living room to a standard size (it was very low to the ground)
  • Remove tile in the dining area
  • Repair wood floors
  • Sand and stain wood floors
  • Open up the doorway to dining room as much as possible
  • Hang new drywall
  • Take out the old front door (we painted and reused it in the back house)
  • Replace front door to match interior doors
  • Replace baseboards
  • Paint

Unfortunately, I don’t have $$ totals of just this space because we had SO much going on at the same time. I can tell you this: by the end of this renovation, which included the back house and working on the “yard” between the back and front house, I’ve spent over $230,000. You did not read that wrong. No, I am not rich. No, I didn’t get free things. AND NO, MY HOUSE IS NOT A DREAM HOME. Yes, I am a very privileged person who has amazing family and also did a good amount of weaseling. I recommend reading my first post on the subject and to figure out your own stomach for risky behavior before proceeding in a market like LA.

But, this post isn’t about renovation. Today, I’m going to concentrate on the design decisions we ended up making in the dining and living rooms because of the fact that by necessity, we were essentially starting from scratch. (For anyone who wants to talk more about the renovation, I’ll meet you in the comments.)

Here’s what the house looked like empty (one day before waterfall in the corner):

Living Room 01

Maybe you can’t see clearly, but that is a ceiling fan, directly next to a light fixture. Here’s a close up:

Living Room 04

Did they not know that as a society we had already troubleshot the issue of wanting air circulation AND light? Can you even imagine the seizure-inducing effect if you wanted both on at the same time?

Living Room 02
Living Room 09
The living room looking into the dining nook.

I want to apologize once again for my before photos. Past Emily was not aware that she was going to post them for hundreds of thousands of eyes. Also, we had a very unfortunate loss of photos during the process. Specifically November and December of 2016. Very frustrating. Luckily, I put a few on my Instagram…

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My husband, Andrew, October 2016. View of the wall where the heater was, seeing through to the office and bedroom in the back. I would say we were about a week out from complete overwhelm.
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Master looking through the office to the living room. You can see the arched window far in the background.

Here’s a reminder of the layout, thanks to my (not exactly-exact) husband:

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The general flow of the living/dining spaces stayed the same. Our house is 863 square feet, this space is 266 of it (despite how it looks in the drawing). It’s not a bad size. As you can see, a lot of the living room is, in fact, a walk-through space from the front door to the hallway which makes the real living space of the room about 12’x12′. I saw the layout right away though, and our furniture (that we already owned) would fit right in, thank God.

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We have light!

My contractor matched the height of the other sconces and added two on the wall to the right (where the old wall heater was). He took the width of my couch into consideration when deciding how far apart to put them. I found these matte black simple sconces at a local place in North Hollywood called Practical Props. If you live nearby, check them out for affordable new and vintage lighting. I believe they also do repairs on vintage lights. Everything I bought during this time was literally the cheapest so, as I’ve surely lost the receipt in a file of 1 million renovations receipts, I know they weren’t expensive. In fact, if you want 2 of them, slide into my DMs. I replaced the two on the right for reasons I will go into on the reveal post tomorrow.

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January 2017, 3 months after purchase, pondering the space.

Rug: West Elm | Sconces: Practical Props | Light Fixture: The Maison Craft | Paint: Polar Bear by Behr (my go-to white)

An 8’x10′ rug was the perfect size for the room as it would fill the 12’x12′ space without overflowing into the walking area. As for the ceiling light…ah, that glorious light fixture. I fell in love and fell in love HARD with this light before the house was even finalized. I still love it so damn much. It’s handmade in Thailand, makes a huge statement and the shop owner is lovely to work with. I highly recommend it! #ipaidforthis

The wall where the wall heater lived would be a great (slash only) spot for the couch. With the large window straight ahead, it’s like I knew I would one day spend hours sitting on my couch, staring out at the mountaintops, writing these posts and wondering “what are the words I’m searching for??…………..Right! ‘Flirting with…f-i-n-a-n-c-i-a-l r-u-i-n. Perfect!'” We made the new window a little smaller (kept the original window above intact) so that we could actually fit a piece of furniture in front of it. We owned a metal IKEA console circa 2010 that would *just* fit under it.

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Puck, in his basket, August 2017

Books: Surf Shack | If You’re Reading This There’s Still Time | Light: IKEA | Basket: vintage IKEA | Console: vintage IKEA | Pitcher: IKEA (SENSE A THEME??)

There was one problem though: if the window was directly across from the only place to put our couch, where did the TV go?? TVs are v important in our home because Survivor. Let’s talk about it in the comments. I luckily thought ahead and had Ron (contractor) run electrical up where I wanted to mount the TV so that the power cords would be hidden. We really only use an Apple TV and a Firestick. Do we need both? Probably not, but both are attached to the back of the TV so we don’t see anything…and don’t need to figure out where to put a cable box.

Here’s an in-progress shot of an unstyled space:

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Theater chairs: vintage | Mirror: vintage | Coffee Table: vintage | Rug on wall: vintage Textiles: vintage | Ottoman: IKEA

And here’s the other side of the room that I’m afraid to share with you because I think you’re going to like it too much…

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Dining light: vintage | Chair: vintage | Coffee table: vintage | Dining table: vintage | Rug on ottoman: vintage | Wood hand: vintage…SENSING A THEME?? | Cats: Luxe Paws 🙂

I know, I know the green is pretty great. It’s my favorite green in fact, Backwoods by Benjamin Moore. It is not green anymore, you’ll have to check back tomorrow to find out my reasoning for that. For those of you wondering, the TV is directly to the right of the front door (on right). Sorry, I don’t have a bunch of pics of my TV  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . You may have noticed we were actually able to open the dining nook up to the living room. Not as much as I wanted, but I think we gained about 2 feet which really helps it not feel so claustrophobic in there (it’s a 7’5″x7’7″ space).

We already owned all these things before we moved here, with the exception of the vintage dresser THAT I BOUGHT TO BE TURNED INTO A SINK FOR OUR BATHROOM. WUT?? You will know if you saw this post that the very idea of that fitting into my bathroom is so far removed from reality that you would question the career I’ve chosen. I just got up and measured it…it is LITERALLY twice as deep and wide as what barely fits in in the bathroom. The insane thing is, I pride myself on being extremely good at spatial planning and scale. It’s maybe the only thing in life I’m naturally great at. This, my friends, is what we call “optimistic potential owner” brain vs. “reality of house falling into an abyss” brain and it trumps any amount of “natural gifts” in design. Buy a house and you will very quickly realize if you are an optimist or a pessimist. Clearly, I’m the former.

So here we stayed, for quite a while. I was SO happy that stuff we already owned worked in this space which gave my mind some peace during some very intense months…okay, years. My foundation was crumbling, the garage was regularly flooding, I flirted with financial disaster, but I had my cats, and this light-filled, generally furnished space and it wasn’t perfect, I knew it, but it really did give me the life I needed (see first photo).

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about how I designed this space to work for us (think organization and multi-function of furniture), why I painted over that gorge green, light planning, more cats, and the emotional state I find myself in three years after renovating. I leave you with this adorbs photo:

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Mission: Find Daffy and then DIE of emotion.

See you tomorrow for all the “afters” (but don’t forget to come back this afternoon for an “Afternoon Snack” second post).

  1. I love Practical Props! I bought our raw brass repro Sputnik light from them seven years ago that is still proudly hanging in our living room in Brooklyn. Seven years ago no one was making Sputniks and I couldn’t afford the real thing. Oh how times have changed 😂

  2. Great observation: “Buy a house and you will very quickly realize if you are an optimist or a pessimist.” Unlike you, I’m a pessimist and often wonder if I should just take a wrecking ball to my water-damaged 1150-square foot 1949 place and have it rebuilt from the ground up. Did you ever consider that with your house? Was it very much cheaper to take it down to the studs and repair?

    Fellow cat person — they are beautiful. You’re lucky the white one likes to cuddle! My two do *not*.

    1. oh I VERY much so have thought about how much better it would have been to burn it all to the ground and start over. It’s so unfortunate that you can’t tell that it should have been the case until you’re already too far in.

      Daffy is my dream girl and we sleep together every night

  3. I love your writing and your house and your cats. All of which make me smile. Especially the felines on the floorpan 🙃.
    Can’t wait ’til tomorrow!

  4. You are so hilarious! I look forward to seeing what you’ve done. I love Survivor, too! (much to my husband’s dismay)

  5. Emily, I mean this as no small compliment:
    You are wonderful!
    I must confess I skipped the home disaster/buying posts…I’m living in my third home and 45 years old.
    Your bathroom post stopped be in my tracks. I appreciated the challenges to make it work, but I loved it because I loved it. That was just well designed beautiful work. So when I saw it was your post I read…and then I read the previous ones. You, woman, are the whole package. Witty writing, well informed, and as pertaining to this blog, you are styling of my DREAM! The feeling of your rooms reminds me of brass petal Emily Henderson.
    Please keep it coming!

    1. CAN CONFIRM BOWSER IS 100% THE FULL PACKAGE. Ditto to all this!!!

    2. I’M NOT CRYING ALL OF YOU ARE!

  6. Have you consulted with a real estate lawyer on whether you can get some money back from the previous owners? It seems like they were not honest and did not do full disclosure. Granted, lawyer fees might exceed whatever money you’ll get back, if any. Totally understandable to simply move forward and not look back.

    1. I was thinking the same thing! How can a homeowner get away with not disclosing wholes in the floor?! And what happened with the inspection? Was the damage not visible from below? Sooo many questions for the person we pay to be sure one invests in something with open eyes.

      The upside, is that you get what you want (mostly). The in between was beautiful! Can’t wait to see the final product tomorrow.

    2. Yeah, as I mentioned, we thought about it. Full context is that in the (very long) process of buying the house it became very evident that they were in a bad place financially. I basically didn’t want to ruin someone else just so that I wasn’t *as* ruined or to be locked in a fight with a person who ultimately wouldn’t be able to pay.

      I didn’t get to see the house without furniture until after I bought it. I know, that’s insane. I think it has something to do with LA renter’s rights?

  7. The posts on this house (And the other staff’s house buying adventures) are my favorite! They are just so real and educational!

  8. Oh please keep renovating and posting! Love reading your stories. I’m absolutely an optimist and this is such a great realisation and now I realise my husband is a pessimist haha. Also the cats are adorable! Cannot wait to see the final room tomorrow 🙂

    1. YOU are a wonderful writer and as another said, “you have it all!”
      Keep contributing to this blog – you are wonderful.

    2. Edithhhhh that’s my middle name! UNITE!

      1. I felt the cosmic connection and now I know why HAHA 🙂

  9. I really love the vintage dresser

  10. I often wonder 1. what do home inspectors really do as it is SO hard to find a good one? We had one that noted a screen was missing from one of the windows but didn’t note the age and condition of the furnace we ended up replacing right after moving in. and 2. If we should have just torn down the house we renovated. We ended up tearing SO much out and adding upward that I don’t think we saved any money ultimately over ripping out the original house from the 1950s and starting over again. If we’d done that we would have had a much better basement and new pipes from the basement out to the street all folded into the mortgage instead of having to finance all that “someday” ourselves.

    We spent around $730,000 all in (original house & land at $300,000 and the rest on architect, construction, and an amazing kitchen) but it really is very close to our dream home and is around 3200 sq feet (not counting basement and attached garage). Reading your story (and the original post was just on the edge of my seat, gasping for breath, and ptsd panic inducing after the similar experiences we had these past two years where every time you turned around another thing was horribly wrong and a contractor wanted another $12000 by tomorrow or they were not coming back) makes me feel better about what we ended up with, but the flip side is I’m in Chicago under layers of ice and you are in sunny southern CA. So there’s that!

    I always love reading your posts and can’t wait to see the afters tomorrow!

    1. I totally agree with you inspector comment. I bought a house 4 years ago and my lesson learned is to have your contractor come take a look (meaning you must have a trustworthy contract in your little black book).

    2. Ugh. Agreed. I need like a support group of people with reno horror stories

  11. We bought a house 3 years ago that was 10x more the fixer upper we realized. We live in the Midwest so our numbers were nowhere near as big as yours, but still way more time/energy/heart/DOLLAR investment than we planned for. Previous homeowners maybe fudged a detail or two. Water damage, mold, crumbling plaster, unexpectedly already dead humongous tree, flooding garage and basement. Oh those were some times. But now three years in we’re starting to see the light of day and can maybe focus on some of the fun things like furniture and paint colors instead of devoting all extra cash to the boring unseen stuff. This is all to say that I feel every word you’ve written here and you’ve made me feel a teeny bit less alone. I look forward to following the rest of your design journey!

    1. It’s all relative money wise. twice as much is twice as much no matter where you live. It is fun when you finally get to work on pretty things that you actually get to enjoy and not on new piping because every single pipe in the house is the wrong size.

  12. And that ceiling fan next to boob light is hilarious.

    1. Totally! I wonder how the previous owner dealt with the strobe like effect of fan over light.

      Emily, will we get an HVAC update? Did I miss that in the first posts?

      I agree with all that is said above. I hope that’s a consolation to you for all the money and hours spent – at least lots of strangers are having fun because of it!

      1. I did get an HVAC update!I don’t know how I didn’t write about that! It was one of the only things we didn’t “need” that we invested in because the walls were all open and it would have been dumb not to. I am very glad we did. In the back house we didn’t have to open things up quite as much so we ended up doing a minisplit.

  13. Lord Bowser, this is a LOT. You spent $230K on renovations after spending $600K on your house? That is quite an investment. When we moved 25 years ago (in the Bay Area), our realtor was showing us $800K homes that needed at least $200 – $300 worth of renovations and we were like…uh, no.

    Made us exceptionally nervous back then, but now, it’s just a number. Scary to think of how expensive CA real estate has become! Your home is lovely and it’s so nice that you were able to restore it back to it’s original grandeur.

    1. The numbers are insane. Luckily with the rental income we’re paying monthly towards our mortgage about what we would to rent in this area (and for us, both of us benefit most work-wise by living here) and if we sold it right now we’d probably net like $100,000. I try to keep that in perspective. TRY

  14. I love the vintage dresser in that spot! Sometimes I think “mistakes” turn out even better. And thank you for your honesty. I hope you kept it in your final design!

  15. Oh also, a question for you. Did you ever consider taking the office out and making both the living room and bedroom bigger? Seems as though you could nearly double the space in both rooms and have a corner to tuck an office into the living room.

    1. No, we never did. It’s not a bad idea although the layout of the living room may become a little wonky in that instance. We wanted to be able to have a child here if we want to because who knows (mostly because of finances) how long we may have to live here and didn’t want to feel stuck.

  16. I love that so many of you live in sub 1,000 sq ft spaces! I love that you are making these homes look so lovely. Now, all I need is for some of you to add kids, and then post about kids in a 900 sq ft house! A few questions for all of you, because I have noticed some of the same lack of features in my house.
    1. How do you get people to slow down when they enter the house without an entryway? I find people are halfway into my house before the stop.
    2. Sometimes in a small living room I find that people stand around instead of sitting down. Tips for a layout that encourages sitting.
    3. Comfortable, but not too big/deep, but also stylish couches? What is the magic number for depth that creates comfort?

    1. 1. I’ve lived in long-and-skinny townhouses for about a decade now, and always run into this. I try to set up what Apartment Therapy calls a landing strip: hooks for coats, shoe storage, now a dresser for hats/gloves/dog stuff etc. I also try to set up a console or shelf perpendicular to the door about 8′ in, so you almost “run into” it (but not too cramped). A tall plant on top of that doubles the effect if you want even more.
      2. I keep noticing that in swanky furniture stores like CB2, etc. there’s always always a pendant/chandelier light fixture & rug for each seating area. Our living room is a pass-through to the basement, coat closet, and kitchen so I didn’t want to do a hanging light, but good table lamps, a couple throw pillows, and a pretty display on the coffee table all help lure you in.

    2. I do have a landing pad. Cozy rugs that cover a good bit of the living space I find encourages people to come and sit. Also arranging furniture in a way that conversation can flow easily (i.e. not making the TV the star). everyone feels differently about couches. I mean, when you live in a small space you just want to get the one you find coziest that can fit in your space without looking obnoxious. I love the one we ended up with but you’ll have to see it tomorrow!

  17. Is anyone else having trouble viewing photos on the blog lately? I can no longer see any photos no matter the browser or the device! Been about a week this has been happening.

  18. I just noticed the white cat peeking out from behind the tabby in the last pic. Lovely home and kits.

    1. This is one of the main reasons that I try to read the comments. Someone always notices something that I completely missed! Thank you!

    2. haha i know that pic cracks me up with her peeking 🙂

  19. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cats are the best home accessory.

  20. I’m gonna have to check out Practical Props.

    Can I tell you how much I LOVE the kitty “portraits” on your husband’s floor plan sketch? Too cute.

    I love that green, too. I’m a little sad it’s gone. Mostly I love everything except that peachy upholstery on the Eames lounge chair. So not my color!

  21. I love Bowser’s posts! Was laughing out loud a bunch. What a crazy (but genius) decision, taking on this house.

    Only one comment: you clearly prefer Daffy to your tabby. Give that tabby some love! I don’t even know his name!

    1. haha Daffy is my love nugget for sure but I love them both equally. Puck just prefers to never be picked up, held, snuggled etc etc and is much more independent. We have a different kind of bond that forms only with a very difficult child haha. Their relationship together is actually the sweetest though because although he barely wants us to look at him, he loves and snuggles with his sister.

      1. I’ve loved following your progress Emily, and boy do I have horror stories of “how could my inspector have missed THAT!” from my own home-buying journey, but I finally had to comment for the first time on this site at the actual MIND BLOWN realization that I had with the photo of your husband — who I’ve been a fan of for years. I miss his podcast Bizarre States so much, he was always so funny and I loved his kitty stories. I listened from the start so I feel like I’ve ‘known’ Puck since you guys first got him. I never thought that my love of decoration and design would overlap with my fascination of the weird and paranormal in such a specific and unexpected way. Tell him I said hi and I hope that whatever the legal issues are with Bizarre States, it’s resolved soon!

  22. This entire post had me laughing so hard. You are a great, very funny writer. And I’m not laughing at your pain, because financial stress – especially staring down a money pit and the idea that you could have made a grave mistake – is very real. But I loved reading this. I LOLed IRL at this: “Did they not know that as a society we had already troubleshot the issue of wanting air circulation AND light?”

  23. I feel you! It was therapeutic to read this as we went/are going through extremely similar things with our home. Still waiting on some rain to test the latest round of repairs. Makes me sick thinking about it. I just want to get to the fun decorating and making it my own part…if we have any money left. I love what you have done so far and can’t wait to see more. Gives me hope.

  24. Fellow house optimist with a regularly flooding garage and being emotionally propped up by paws over here; very much enjoying your sharing of this experience.
    Also, thanks for linking the source of the cats!

  25. Love the green and the changes – can’t wait for the update.

    I also own that west elm rug, mostly because of Emily. It looks so beautiful in pictures.

    But I’m 3 years in and have such a love/hate relationship. It just will not stop shedding and I have dark floors too. My boyfriend calls it the dog without cuddles. Lol. Any tips to help with the gobs of fur floating around my house?

    1. Oh man, the shed on that rug is REAL. Unfortunately it’s generally true of most shaggy rugs and is just a part of the process. Luckily I kinda have to vacuum often anyway because of the white cat and dark floors. I *think* they make specific combs to help pull out the loose fibers but I’ve never been that desperate.

  26. I never thought they could exist, but you have a kind of attractive cat scratching post! Where did you find that? I’d love to save some space with a nicer looking wall-mounted one rather than the functional but giant tower our kitties currently use. And maybe they’ll like it better than the sofa? Probably not…

    1. My cats love it! I talk about it more in tomorrow’s reveal but the company is called “Mountain Pet Products” and they have a lot of handsome cat toys and scratchers.

  27. I love cats. Yours are beautiful. I love the posts you do. They are my favorite. I learn a lot.

  28. I LOVE your writing. Makes me want to be friends with you.

  29. So so very interesting! Thank you for sharing. I’m a bit backwards and read the revealed living room before the “oh my goodness our living room is a wreck” post. I bought a “cheap” house in Santa Barbara ($600K) but without the added rental. We have a concrete slab foundation and plumbing from hell. I’ve been remodeling a tacked on master bath for three years and discovered nasty termite damage in what was once an exterior wall. Said wall is just waiting waiting waiting (ominous dark rumbling). I also have one of those oh so charming in-wall heaters – in the hallway! In a 1100 sq ft house, probably ok size-wise, but in a hallway?!?! Who needs a heated hallway? I want to remove it and wondered if you we able to remove yours before removing all the wall board? Or, if It was only possible after taking things down to the studs? I cannot for the life of me figure out gown the darned thing is attached. Again, thanks so much! You rock!!!

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