How To Teach An Old Room New Tricks

How To Teach An Old Room New Tricks

Leah Moss
Aug 5, 2010

The only thing harder than attempting to breathe life into an empty new home is resuscitating an old cluttered one. Setting a fresh tone in a room that's had time to feel neglected, get dirty, and grow dated is hardly as glamorous or appealing as starting with the blank canvas of a new-to-you home. But take heart, all you need's a little inspiration.

Before getting started, take care of a few basics:

• Don't overwhelm yourself by attempting to attack your whole home in one go. Go one room at a time starting with the room that bugs you the most.
• If you're the type of person that let's garbage build up during a busy week/month/year then start by bringing in a trash bag/recycling bin and throwing away all obvious trash (cans, paper, wrappers, etc.), and also bring in a laundry basket to put any out of place object that has wandered in along the way (clothes, dishes, etc.).
• Pick up a notepad and pen, and take stock of what you have, if it functions, and how it serves you. Is your side table wobbly to the point of being unfit for drinks? Are your sofa cushions so flattened or so grimy that you avoid using it regularly? Has your entry lightbulb been burnt out for weeks? Make a list of supplies you'll need to make repairs, and schedule a day for the fixes.
• Purge! If it doesn't work for you, out it goes. Sell it on craigslist, put it on the curb with a sign labeled free, toss it if it's beyond help. Everything in your home carries visual, spacial, and/or emotional weight, so don't hold onto things that don't improve your life.

And now for the tricks (inspiration from real house tours):

• Pick out a new accent color(s). It's amazing what switching out a few mismatched accessories for a few new like-colored ones can do. Look what an impact a few key shiny red pieces made in Nicole & Colin's kitchen (picture 1). One accent color can change the whole look of a room. Look to bring new accent colors in through pillows, lamp bases, frames, artwork, and pottery. On a side note , Nicole and Colin painted the tile back splash which they described as a busy, multi-shade nightmare of clashing colors. Doing so let them simplify the palette of their tiny kitchen.
• Change up the lighting. Tired or inadequate lighting probably accounts for 50% of a sad room's dreariness. Adding an additional light source; switching out a bulb that's too bright, too cool, or too dim; or changing a lamp shade is often enough to completely alter the mood of a room. In Catrin and Chris's living room for example (picture 2) the unexpected arco lamp completely shifts the feel of the room from traditional to a little edgy.
• Group like objects. A collection will almost always appear fresher than a random smattering of accents around your home. You can take cues from Emily and George's home (picture 3) where collections —rather than spread out junk— abound. The key to collections is adequate display space. In my opinion, the most successful collections in this home as well as most others are the ones displayed on shelves, frames, or cabinets rather than on tabletops, which can easily be cluttered with other necessities.
• Paint an accent wall (or ceiling!). One wall of color is enough to reinvent a lackluster room. Supon's guestroom is wonderful to begin with, but his painted blue ceiling (picture 4) adds a whole new dimension and a new level of interest. Like wise, Amanda's retrolicious orange walls (picture 5) pack a vibrant punch in her suburban home.
• Rearrange your art. In my experience the most common art hanging sin is using art that's too small and hanging it too high. And it's not hard to understand why. Art's expensive (and big art is more expensive) but it adds interest, so many people go the route of spreading out the wealth. In most cases this doesn't work visually. Instead, it causes a disorienting floating effect. For this reason, it's no surprise that we Apartment Therapists love gallery and salon style arrangements. Some great examples can be found in Julie's jubilant loft (picture 6) and Dayana's condo (picture 7).
• Paint your door. What? Ok, maybe this one is a little out of left field, but I have a mad obsession with doors. I blame it on having been spoiled with lovely old solid wood ones in nearly all of my former homes, so now standard hollow ones jump out at me like intruders. Like most varieties of wall-to-wall carpet, microfiber, and mini-blinds, new hollow core doors draw (negative) attention and can make a whole room seem flimsy. Painting a builder's grade one, as in Erin and Chris's fantastic Fishtown fixer-upper, can turn the bland eyesore into something quirky and unexpected. More door ideas here, here, here, and here.

So that's the shortlist to get you on your way. What else should we add to the list?

Images: 1, 2, 4: Leah Moss Apartment Therapy: DC, 3: Emily and George for Apartment Therapy: DC, 5,6,8: Kristen Lubbe for Apartment Therapy: DC, 7: Lindsey Roberts for Apartment Therapy: DC

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