Projects & Improvements

Before and After: A Plain Home Office Gets a Moody Makeover That’s Peak Dark Academia

published Oct 24, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Office & Dens
Organic Modern
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Credit: Apartment Therapy Media

Want more DIY tips, tricks, and inspiration? Check out more stories featuring the 2023 Apartment Therapy DIY Collective. This content is presented in partnership with The Home Depot; it was created independently by our editorial team.

Describe any type of home in a few words, and there’s a good chance your listener will get an instant idea of the image you’re trying to conjure. A Victorian home will likely have a decorative front facade, while a Craftsman will often come with a front porch. And when someone utters the two words that usually denote an efficient new construction — “builder-grade” — they are probably describing a space that is new and functional, but likely not all that charming. DIYer Sourya Venumbaka (@sovehome) says the townhouse she shares with her husband fits into that category.

“We bought a new construction, so everything was white and builder-grade,” she says. One space that was especially lackluster was the office. “I liked that it had a lot of natural light, but I didn’t like how plain the room was,” Sourya says. “I’m slowly cutting down on white walls in our house!”

Sourya prefers cozy rooms, and looked upon the bright yet bare office in their home as the opposite of what she wanted. This room, which is about 120 square feet, would be used for reading and occasional work, she says, and therefore she pictured it embodying more of a moody library. Aside from the fact that the office was a far cry from that aesthetic in the beginning, Sourya was also concerned about a DIYer’s familiar refrain: Projects are a cinch to get started, but they’re sometimes.

“I have a lot of half-finished projects around the house,” she says. “What always helps me get across the finish line is having help.”

Limewash walls made a big impact.

Sourya enlisted her cousin, Shivani (@shivalry_inc), as a design assistant and accountability partner for this project. The pair started this transformation by coating every wall in about $400 worth of Vasari Limewash’s Carbon Black. “It was my first time trying limewash,” Sourya says. “I think it is a pretty beginner-friendly project! I watched a lot of YouTube videos and learned the technique.”

It’s best to have a handheld brush with a wide comb for the job, and then to apply the paint patiently — you can always go over coats that aren’t quite to your liking by adding a little more water, but you obviously can’t take the water back. “Limewash doesn’t require you to be artistically inclined, nor does it need a ton of precision,” Sourya adds. You can learn more about the nitty-gritty of this part of the process by reading Sourya’s limewash tutorial.

A wall of shelving with a built-in desk made the space practical.

The cousins took about 45 minutes to complete each limewashed wall together, then let the paint dry completely before starting on the subsequent task of hanging shelves. Five rows of wood shelves nearly take up one full wall, and one surface acts as a desk. “I love the shelves, as styling them is my favorite part of design,” Sourya says. 

She added natural-toned books, vases, and other decorative items to the shelves, and hung a black-and-white art print on the wall behind the spot that acts as a desk. For some texture, Sourya was able to sprinkle her plants in as well. “I love that the room gets great light and I can incorporate my plant babies into it,” she says.

Cozy furnishings made the room feel more inviting.

Opposite the desk, she and her cousin sourced a terracotta-hued armless sofa from the Reclectic outlet in Philadelphia, where the shelves were also found, and placed a rug from a nearby West Elm outlet underneath. “Buying furniture from outlets has always saved me 50 percent or more,” Sourya says. 

As for finishing touches, Sourya and Shivani placed a lamp behind the sofa and an orange pillow in its center. There’s a cream-colored throw blanket that coordinates with the rug when needed, and a small side table that matches the raven-hued curtains overhead. In all, Sourya says she spent about $2,000 on furniture. 

Now that the office has been turned into a comfortable lounge and reading nook, Sourya is looking forward to many quiet days spent in this cozy cocoon. “The new space makes me want to curl up with a book and sip on some coffee,” she says.