Before and After: I Took 2 Big Design Risks to Turn a Dark Former Motel Room into a Bright, Modern Condo
I love any home that comes with a unique backstory, and my condo is no exception: It was once two neighboring motel rooms on the north side of Chicago.
The quirky condo has its perks (a large master bedroom, walk-in closet, and two wood-burning fireplaces), but like most hidden gems, it needed serious cosmetic upgrades, and the two at the top of my list were the living room’s fireplace and the exposed brick — the latter is controversial, I know.
I decided to kick off my condo’s facelift with the fireplace. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door, so I was eager to swap the dated black square tiles for a modern statement. I found a gorgeous large-format porcelain marble-look slab to use on the hearth but was frustrated trying to find a coordinating tile for the wall.
That’s when a design-savvy friend challenged me to take the tile all the way from floor to ceiling, the perfect solution for making the fireplace the statement my living room needed.
I loved the idea but was nervous to commit to such a bold design. What if I chose the wrong tile? What if it makes the room look smaller? Finally, I bit the bullet, hired professionals for the installation, and held my breath as they carefully set the 30-pound slabs. The first big risk paid off; the fireplace turned out gorgeous and looks right at home next to one of my favorite pieces, my white lacquer console.
The next upgrade on my list — also a big design risk — was changing the exposed brick on the front wall. Brick is absolutely stunning in the right setting, but this dull brown backdrop was making a room already lacking in natural light look even darker, and it clashed terribly with my new fireplace tiles!
I debated painting the brick for over a year and ran the idea past countless people who warned me it was an irreversible choice I would forever regret. Finally, I trusted my instincts (and my Photoshop mockup!), decided to tackle the project myself, and headed to the hardware store.
Prep work is the most important part of revamping brick. I scrubbed the wall with a TSP mixture, let it dry overnight, then sealed it with a thick coat of primer. After making sure the brick was completely dry, my dad and I rolled on a satin finish brick paint by Behr that comes pre-tinted pure white.
Three hours later, the room was suddenly sunny, inviting, and ready for a furniture facelift. I switched my gray couch for a barely-used Interior Define sofa I sourced on Facebook Marketplace, replaced the glass coffee tables with a wood and rattan one, and tied the room together with a washable rug. My most favorite piece of decor in the space, though, is a family heirloom lithograph of Winston Churchill that was passed down by my mom, who passed away in 2019. I love how the white brick creates the perfect backdrop for the print.
The lesson here? It can be daunting to make drastic design changes, especially when friends and family try to convince you to play it safe. In the end, no one knows your home better than you — so trust your gut, grab your tools, and know that the next time they step through the door, they’ll undoubtedly admit you were right!
Inspired? Submit your own project here.