Before & After: A Clever $15 Paint Trick Turned This Open Living Area into a Stylish, Multi-Functional Space With an Expensive, Built-In Look

published Aug 27, 2022
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Before of Erin Derby's living/dining.desk area
Credit: Erin Derby

Color can be one of the most strategic tools in your design bag of tricks. In addition to adding personality to a space and creating a mood, sometimes color can play a unifying role, and that’s exactly how photographer, content creator, and Apartment Therapy contributor Erin Derby used hue to her decorative advantage in her Brooklyn apartment. Derby wanted to squeeze a desk into her small, open-concept kitchen/living/dining space, and it just wasn’t working — at least not from an aesthetic perspective.

“Unfortunately, it was quite the eyesore,” says Derby, who had managed to hone in on the right layout for her pieces — just not the right look. “I ended up with a long wall of mismatched furniture, and it looked very disjointed and not remotely ‘finished.’” That’s when she decided the answer to all that disjointness was a can of paint. All she’d need is a little bit of a single color to create some unity. “I wanted to visually trick the eye into seeing the dining and desk area as being ‘built-in’ a bit more and for it to be better-looking.”

Credit: Erin Derby

Since she already had the furniture — a HomeGoods bench, a World Market pedestal dining table, a desk with a fabric skirt and black folio-covered top — on hand, all she really had to shop for was painter’s tape and a single quart of paint, Valspar’s Dark Kettle Black (4011-2). After prepping her walls, taping off the trim and top line, and cutting in, she got to rolling out a faux wainscoting of sorts. “I chose to paint at the exact height of the console I have my TV on, along that same wall, so that I’d create a uniform line across the entire wall,” says Derby. “That made it all feel sleeker and visually cleaner. The new black line also ended up creating a sort of visual backrest for the dining area bench, which looks nice, too.”

For extra style points, she created a rounded detail at the end the of faux wainscoting closest to her dining table. “I used a round container lid as my template to trace a semi-circle on the wall with pencil and filled it in by hand with the paintbrush,” she says. 

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To create the full built-in effect, Derby painted her old HomeGoods bench the same color black and added dark patterned Kettlewell Collection fabric to its seat, which she had from a previous job. She also created a coordinating black pattered skirt for her desk to replace the pink one she had previously.”Because everything is matching — and a dramatic color — it all comes together visually,” says Derby. To finish off the area, she topped off the bench with a John Robshaw lumbar pillow she had and hung her own original fine art photography on the wall.

If Derby had her dream layout, sure, she’d rather not have her desk in this spot. “I do feel like this solution really elevated the space for very little money and effort though,” she says. All of the painting took no longer than about an hour-and-a-half, and the fabric coverings were fairly straightforward to make, so this whole makeover was completed well within the scope of a weekend. To that end, Derby says the biggest challenge with a paint project like this is just getting started. “Be bold with color and really think about where your visual line could best be placed,” says Derby. “Anything can be painted over, and do it all at once. Just set aside the time and get ‘er done!”