Before and After: A 1980s Living Room’s Redo Makes Dated Mirror Walls Look Fresh

published Apr 12, 2023
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About this before & after
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Living room with blue recliner before renovation.

Some rooms, when you look at them, are like looking at a time capsule. In the case of this Pittsburgh apartment’s living room, the decor mix — beige carpet, mirrored walls, shell-shaped Deco side tables, and a puffy recliner — is straight out of the 1980s. 

“The place had not been updated for 35 years,” interior designer Esther Dormer (@dormerdesign), who redesigned the room for a client, says. “It was outdated and run-down.” 

For the most part, the existing bones and footprint of the late-’80s living room would work. But one thing Esther wanted to part with was the grasscloth wallpaper — and that wouldn’t budge. In fact, removing the grasscloth became such a headache that Esther decided to just rip the walls down to the studs and replace the drywall. Her mission in the rebuild and redesign? “I wanted to make the apartment a classic high-rise glam space with some soul,” she explains.

The first thing that came to mind for the metropolitan glam vibe Esther was after was black-and-white marble flooring. (If you want to get the look, but real marble floors are out of your budget, find AT’s favorite marble and stone lookalike tricks here.) The checkerboard pattern is a little playful and certainly trendy, but still classic.

The newly replaced walls got a neutral refresh with a warm tan paint (Farrow & Ball’s Jitney). And the back mirrored walls are still there, but they look brand-new, thanks to added wood slats that Esther had cut and stained to fit. “I love mirrors, and I also love keeping as much originality as I can,” she says. The mixed-material walls add extra visual interest and give Esther an additional place to hang art.

As for furniture, Esther says “with the space being a long rectangle, I wanted to add a lot of round elements.” She placed three circular coffee tables in the center of the room, adding even more circular drama with an oversized vessel and candle on each.

There’s ample seating on all sides now, too. The blue velvet sofa and cane armchairs are from Wayfair, and the gray velvet bench is from CB2. The oversized, almost mural-like artwork is from Anthropologie, and the cool feathery light fixture is an Etsy find. (You can DIY something similar with large boho crafting feathers, a half foam ball, and floral wire!)

The new modern-meets-glam space is a far cry from its ‘80s beginnings. And as striking as the living room is, many of the largest elements — like the flooring, seating, and other furniture — are neutral tones with classic silhouettes, Esther says. She makes everything feel fresh by peppering in some trendy pieces, too. (Hello, aforementioned feather fixture and hand chair!)

Esther’s design advice? “Don’t be scared of decor if you’re working with a smaller space,” she writes on Instagram. In other words, under-furnishing or under-accessorizing can sometimes make a room feel less spacious, not more. “Learn how to maximize what you have with fun patterns, textures, and colors,” Esther adds. She’s certainly perfected small-space styling in this high-impact high rise.

Correction: A previous version of this article said the apartment was in Philadelphia. The correct location is Pittsburgh.