Before & After: This Living Room Goes From Chintzy ’70s Dreamland to Dark, Cozy and Contemporary

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We’ve seen Malcolm work his dark magic on a room before, and his living room transformation is just as impressive. After adding in enviable features like a new fireplace and (IKEA hack) built-ins on a budget, Malcolm mixed in some stylish splurges, creating a high/low space that just oozes sophistication.

From Malcolm: When I first viewed the house (a Victorian mid-terrace, in Aberdeen, Scotland) the living room was, to be polite, very dated. The 1950s tiled fireplace and ’70s patterned carpet had clearly put off many a buyer before me; this house had been on the market for ages! However, it was easy to see past them and see the beautiful bones of the house. The proportions were great, the paneled bay window (hidden by dusty velvet curtains) beautiful, the high ceilings and original moldings, exactly what I was after. Sold.

I really felt that the living room needed some special treatment. The very low fireplace, which had clearly replaced an original, sat low in the room. I wanted to replace it with something that proportionally would draw the eye upwards and give impact. I wanted to give the room some splendor through use of color and materials and felt that going dark would do this.

My first step was to rip out the old fireplace; which was heavy going! That thing was put in to stay! I had planned to build my own fire surround as I was trying to do the whole room on a budget. The night I ripped it out, I checked a local selling website and found someone selling an original Victorian wooden surround for £50! To save more money I made the insert myself, finishing with a soft grey marble tile. All in, it cost less than £200 including the bio-ethanol insert. I sourced an auction site for the flooring, having fallen in love with an image of a Parisian apartment with large scale herringbone floors. I got another great deal! Laying it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be either.

The real ‘showpiece’ of the living room though, has to be the IKEA hack shelving. I wanted something that would really fill the space, but that wouldn’t dominate the room. As I have so many vases and decorative items, it needed to be mostly about display, with enough storage for DVDs and other items. I used four upturned Billy bookcases for this hack, resting on four kitchen bridging units. All units were firmly attached to the main wall supports. Decorative moldings disguise the joints and the kick-boards (now at the top). Painting the shelving the same dark color as the walls, ensured that it didn’t dominate the room. All in, furniture included, the room cost around £3500 ($4,539). What I saved in DIY, I splurged on pieces such as the grey marble coffee table and the antique Turkish rug.

I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I love the dark color. Wrapping the whole room in it feels more dramatic, and keeping the furnishings lighter stops it from feeling oppressive. Most visitors have commented on how they thought it would make it feel smaller but it doesn’t! I love the dark ceiling, which I take no credit for, as it was my partner’s suggestion. I also love the spots of color around the room. The main furnishings are all neutral, so additional color through plants, flowers and accessories lift the whole scheme. If I could do anything differently, it would be to add in color through one of the larger items. I’m still considering re-covering the armchair in a colored fabric.

Malcolm’s words of wisdom: If I could give advice to anyone considering a makeover that contains larger DIY projects, it would be to research images of what you want, then plan out your project thoroughly. If you have a clear plan and end goal, it’ll save time and money in the future.

Thank you, Malcolm! You can see this project and more on Malcolm’s blog Design Sixty Nine.