A “White Walls, No Architecture” NYC Living Room Got the Most Colorful Makeover

published Jul 5, 2024
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There’s nothing stopping clever DIYers from turning cookie-cutter apartments into spaces full of charm and (added) architectural detail — including Barbara Campbell. 

Barbara is an interior stylist who lives in a 300-square-foot Upper East Side apartment which had “white walls, no architecture” before she got her hands, and colorful sense of style, on it. “I preferred color on the walls and needed something to counteract the ‘white box’ look,” Barbara says.

Credit: Susan Phillips
Credit: Erin Derby

It’s all in the architectural details. 

Her first step was making some architectural upgrades and amplifying any architectural details that were already there. “I installed picture frame molding on the walls to give the space some depth and beefed up the crown molding and the baseboard molding,” she explains. 

She also installed a Carrara marble shelf beneath the long window on the back wall to have an additional surface to put things on.

Barbara liked the existing floors in the space — after all, they’d been covered by carpet before she moved in so were in pretty good shape — so all she had to do was apply a clear coat to protect them. Barbara says the light wood color provides a nice contrast to the saturated colors on the walls.

Credit: Susan Phillips
Credit: Erin Derby

Two paint projects (one extremely bold one) brighten the room. 

And speaking of the walls, she went bold with Sherwin-Williams’ Emerald Green paint. Barbara says the paint color inspired the design of the rest of her apartment. “I pulled together a ton of samples, I mixed paints myself, and I finally landed on the color that was in my head,” she says. 

You can steal one other paint tip from Barbara’s living room if you look overhead. “I always paint white ceilings in high-gloss,” she says. “The light from outside reflects off of them as do candles/lamps.” Barbara’s ceiling is painted Benjamin Moore’s Simply White.

Credit: Susan Phillips
Credit: Erin Derby

Furniture — and lots of pattern — completes the room. 

Barbara’s living room is furnished with a black chesterfield sofa, a black lacquer dresser, and chairs, ottomans, and curtains in fabrics of her choosing, plus lamps from Pooky and an abstract oil painting. 

Another piece of advice to take away from Barbara’s living room? Don’t be afraid to customize your own patterns — even if you can’t splurge on custom upholstery or curtains. I used Etsy to design the area rug for the Living Room space,” she says. “I sent photos of the fabric/wallpaper/paint to the resource … and they made a custom piece. It pulls the whole space together. Surprisingly affordable.” She also added wallpaper to the back of her built-in bookshelves.

Lastly, Barbara added brass hardware and pulls to the cabinets in the room “which worked better with the colors in the space,” she says. The result? A colorful, glam living room that’s far from cookie-cutter. Barbara says her new living room feels “happy, comfy, classic.” To see the rest of her home where the same could be said, check out the full studio tour.