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Oprah Magazine Weekend Makeover

One time Oprah called and asked if I would do a budget weekend makeover for her magazine, and I was like, ‘Opes, for you … anything.’ The job/challenge was to show their readers what they can actually do in a weekend, with a limited budget. It’s not ‘just buy a new sofa’ or ‘wallpaper your ceiling’, its easy upgrades, simple solutions, etc, that you can really do to improve your space in 2-3 days. Having those parameters was VERY fun, indeed, and has inspired another big makeover post (and possible series) that I’m launching with Target soon.

The budget for decor was $1800, which isn’t nothing and certainly isn’t what a lot of people have just lying around but it still goes really fast. Trust me.

Oprah Makeover_Omagazine

It’s out now in the September issue, but let’s go back in time and check out what it looked like when we found it:


The apartment itself is beautiful – big, white, open with pretty, classic architecture. Her pieces were simple and easy to style on top of, which was good since we didn’t have the budget to buy a new sofa, etc. And OH YEAH, SHE ALREADY HAD TWO PLATNER STOOLS. She inherited them from her mom and I was VERY jealous.


Things were just kinda mismatched, without a specific point of view and it just didn’t reflect her personality.


There was something very classic and Victorian about the space so we felt like we could go for a more feminine, almost regal color. And since she lived by herself and didn’t necessarily need to take in her boyfriend’s opinion so much we wanted to go a little bit girly.


Instead of painting the whole room we decided to only do 2/3rds the way up creating the effect of say a plate rail or moulding. The ceilings are high so this worked really well and almost made the space feel bigger and taller. Plus it takes less time than the whole room (because you don’t have to tape off and cut the line at the ceiling). It looks like a high plate rail, and it’s just a simple, but interesting detail.

And by the way painting a room this size should only take you a day or if you want to pay someone you could pay anywhere between $300 – $600. I know. Such a huge discrepancy, but it really depends on, you know, their level of experience, the quality of their equipment, how many dudes and if they are licensed, etc.

Oprah_BTS_fabric painting

We splurged on this fabric for the curtains because the room was dying for a pattern. The ‘tip’ was to buy apparel fabric instead of upholstery weight because its less expensive and then we just had a tailor sew them. I think the fabric was $10/yard (from The Fabric Store in LA) and the labor to sew was $90 – but if you have a sewing machine you could easily do this yourself.

After we painted we did a bit of shopping at our favorite affordable and stylish store, Target. Duh. Except we bought like 3 cart loads. At 10pm. I just saw that my local Target now stays open til 12:30am. So insane and yet so wonderful.


We went over there the day before the shoot to install it, make sure it all works, etc. We hung the curtains, painted some tables and laid out the room. Also those photos below were taken by Alexis (the homeowner) and we just uploaded them to the Costco photo center, picked them up the next day and framed them in Ikea ready-made frames. We chose the ‘artsier’ ones that wouldn’t look weird if they were a little pixellated. I apologize that I just said ‘artsier’. I’m 75, apparently. Next i’ll be saying ‘funky’ as if that’s a good thing.

Oprah_BTS_Brady Emily Holding

And Brady is very tall and dangerous, apparently.  The next day everyone loaded into the apartment and pretty much destroyed it. We knew that there was only going to be one main shot in the room that would make it in the magazine so we set it up and obsessed about it. The photographer, Daniel Hennessey, is really, really good and lit this shot beautifully. As you can see most of the light comes from one big window on the opposite side which means that we have to bounce light into the foreground in order to get the details (it depends on the style of lighting you want, of course).


Oh, it looks like you just decorate a room and take a photo with your camera. But no, folks. The amount of work, people, options, and hours it takes to produce one photo is kinda insane.


Also we bought the most beautiful flowers ever that almost looked fake. Man, I miss peony season …

Oprah_BTS_emily flowers

Alexis was awesome. She was totally open, easy to work with most importantly so grateful. She LOVED what we did and was just so effusive about it.


I just realized that I haven’t talked about the clever tricks and solutions. So here goes:

1. Paint walls 2/3rds the way up to make it feel taller and give it a sense of architecture. This works best if it’s a tall room.

2. Hang curtains high (in this case not at the ceiling because there was too much space between the ceiling and the window frame. But you all know that trick – the higher up the curtains the taller your room looks.

3. Buy inexpensive fashion fabric yardage (I normally budget 3 yard per panel and if they are only single width then you’ll need to sew together two single panels into a double panel. Again, if you have a sewing machine you can absolutely do this yourself, otherwise go to your tailor.


4. Diguise/transform your sofa with vintage fabric  – in this case I found this old throw (or it might even be a table-cloth) at an antique store and it was kinda perfect for the design of this space.

5. Layer rugs – She had this sisal that was big enough but kinda boring, so we layered on this flatwoven (strangely good, from CostPlus) and it added a lot of texture and depth without very much busy-ness.

Art: Clients photographs, blown up at Costco

Couch Pillows: Target |Ottoman: Gilt Home |Fur Stool: Target | Purple Throw Blanket: Ikea| Curtain Fabric: The Fabric Store | Gold Task Lamp: Target | |Purple Ikat Throw: Vintage | Wood Bowl: Target | Basket: Target | Green Agate Tray: Target| Standing Floor Lamp: Target| Art: Clients


6. Print out photos that you’ve taken with your iphone and get them printed large-scale. It’s wildly cheaper than you think. We went to Costco but I think that even CVS does it. I think the big ones are like $15 or something. And then I’m all about those readymade frames.


In this shot below the coffee table looks un-styled (I’m dying to put a little notebook/pen and candle on that tray, too, but this wasn’t an angle that was going to be in the magazine (it was more for my reference) so I didn’t really finish styling it.

Also I’m kinda obsessed with that Target task lamp. I have it at my house, in my office and I think I’m going to use it at the office and possibly even another project because its $59 and soooooo good.


Double Gourd Lamp: Target | Side Tables: Clients (spray painted dark grey) | Baskets: Target | Purple Throw: Ikea | White and Gold Polka Dot Bud Vase: Target |Green Agate Tray: Target | Gold Task Lamp: Target | Fringe Pillow: Target


7. Hang art over a built-in mirror. This is obviously very specific to the space. This fireplace mantel situation was really pretty already and we debated painting it or adding some sort of detailing, but it just didn’t need it. But I found this antique oil painting at the antique store and fell in love with it. It echoed the colors in the palette, but brought something old and weird in.

8. Pair back your tchochkes. Alexis had a fair amount of little things and while this might even look a bit too paired back (again, this shot was for my reference and not for the magazine so it was styled to camera for the main shot above). But everything has a bit of breathing room and it feels pulled together without too much clutter.


Standing Floor Lamp: Target | Basket: Home Goods | Stools: Clients | Candles: Target | Lamp: Vintage | Oil Painting: Vintage | African Art: Clients


Oh the lovely Alexis. Thank you so much for being such a lovely client, seriously.

And now y’all can get the look:


Oprah_ Get the look

1. Double Gourd Lamp | 2. Aubergine Ottoman | 3. Fur Stool | 4. Standing Floor Lamp |5. Gold Task Lamp | 6. Agate Tray (coming soon) | 7. Basket | 8. Woven Rug | 9. Jute Rug | 10. Fringe Pillow | 11. Blue Throw Blanket |

Photos by Daniel Hennessey (except for the behind the scenes ones by us). All c/o O Magazine.

For more Weekend Makeovers: Nicolette Mason’s Weekend Makeover

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