Before and After: A Neglected Living Room Gets a Cottagecore Redo for About $1,000

published Sep 7, 2023
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Living rooms are supposed to be where life happens, but some of these spaces feeling anything other than blah. It could be that the space is far too dark, or far too beige, or far too cluttered, or even far too spare — if a living room doesn’t feel welcoming, it’s not going to be a place anyone wants to hang out in.

That’s certainly relatable for homeowner Guerin Piercy (@guerination). “My home was built in 1941, and the previous owner had owned the house since the early ‘90s,” she says. “However, it felt isolated and outdated. No one had lived in it for many years, and when they did, care had not been put into things like refreshing the paint or cleaning the floors.”

The front door of her North Carolina property immediately opened to her living room, which was not-so-excitingly punctuated with a dusty ceiling fan as the only light source and a rusted-out fireplace buried in soot. “The walls were a dirty off-white color, and the trim was peeling,” Guerin adds. “The room had great bones, though, and I’m a sucker for an older home.”

A first-round paint job inspired a completely different second-round one.

Guerin worked on updating this space herself, although she notes that her dad and fiancé were around to help. She started the process by painting the entire space gray, thinking that was a sensible choice — after all, this hue has long been declared a worthwhile neutral — but she quickly realized the color wasn’t for her. “I discovered after painting it gray that I actually strongly dislike gray. It’s just… well, gray,” Guerin says. “I felt that the living room should showcase my personality and my love of eclectic things.”

“English cottage” became the inspiration for the design.

Guerin liked that the fireplace was bumped out from the main wall, and thought that it should be painted an enveloping shade of blue-green to coordinate with floral wallpaper used on the surrounding walls. She was going for the look and feel of an English cottage, and found the first puzzle piece in Benjamin Moore’s Intrigue. “I tested three different shades and that one won,” she says. “I painted the wall portion in a matte finish and went with a high-gloss for the wooden surround and mantel.” She admits that she changes her mind a lot (re: gray paint), so when it came to the wallpaper, Guerin steered her selection toward peel-and-stick options. 

“I am obsessed with William Morris prints at the moment, and NextWall sells a peel-and-stick paper in a Morris print called Pimpernel,” she says. “The fireplace popped against the print.”

Going all-in on wallpaper brought this space to life.

At first, Guerin only wallpapered the two walls flanking the fireplace and then covered the rest of the room and trim in white paint. Then she sanded and spray painted the fireplace black, making it feel brand new, too. But like the gray paint at the outset, the decision to focus so much attention on this nook ultimately didn’t feel right. “I couldn’t get the room to pull together. No matter which furniture configuration, pillow combination, or art I tried, it just didn’t feel cohesive,” Guerin says. “So, despite my family voicing that they feared I would regret it, I wallpapered the entire room. Suddenly, everything came together.” 

Guerin notes that the accent-wall debacle was a challenge, but once she fell in love with the all-over wallpaper, the true obstacle revealed itself: budget. “Having just bought my first house on my own, I didn’t have a lot of expendable income for expensive renovations or high-end furniture,” she says. “I had to get thrifty and creative.”

Furniture and other cottage-inspired accents bring it all together.

She found a rolled-arm sofa and a wooden coffee table at Goodwill, and asked her mom to make a triple-pinch pleat in curtains she bought at Target. The floral chairs were sourced from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, as was the overhead light, and her friend gifted her two mirrors she no longer wanted. “The wicker chair by the front door is from my childhood bedroom, and I painted the bench black after finding it on the side of the road,” she says. “The credenza was my grandparents’ record player.” The brass lamps were spotted on Facebook Marketplace, and the rug was, too. Much of the rest came from Homegoods, IKEA, and H&M Home.

The peel-and-stick wallpaper ended up being the most expensive item in the living room, which was finished for about $1,000. Now when Guerin uses it, she feels entirely at home. 

“I love that the space feels uniquely me,” she says. “I’m an avid horse lover who is also obsessed with English interior design, and my living room reflects my love of cottagecore with a hint of a Western flavor. I love that there are so many things for my eyes to travel over and that each item has a story. But I love the reactions of others when they step into my home most of all.”