Style Evolution: One Space, Five Years

Style Evolution: One Space, Five Years

Nancy Mitchell
Jul 29, 2015

I pondered sharing my Houston house on Apartment Therapy for years before I finally got up the guts to do it, and while I was pondering I would take pictures and evaluate them, critically, to see if my space was good enough. Which means that now, even though I don't live in that house anymore, I have a whole series of photos that document the evolution of my living room over the course of five years. Often we're guilty of presenting pictures of beautiful spaces, without ever really talking about how they got that way. So here's a little peek into my design process (and also an honest look into how cluttered my living room used to be on the regular. Don't judge.)

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

If you'd like to get oriented a little, here's a floor plan of my living/dining room. Basic notion: couch #1 along the left wall, couch #2 (when there was one) oriented perpendicular to couch #1, with its back to the dining room and facing the front patio door. Got it? Good.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 1: Here's what I started out with:

1. My old plaid disaster of a sofa, which I was weirdly sentimentally attached to because it had been in my family for a thousand years
2. Sofa #2, a college-era purchase from the Big Lots in College Station (it's the navy one in the foreground)
3. Midcentury-ish coffee table, rescued from the trash
4. CB2 tray table
5. Milo Baughman lounge chair biding its time in the corner
6. Gross old white IKEA rug (not pictured) that had seen better days.

My friend Kassie made these pillows for me. Aren't they pretty?
(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 2: Replace gross IKEA rug with nifty, subtly grid patterned FLOR tiles. Also in white, because I never learn. An uneasy peace exists between the colorful art and the terrible plaid of the sofa, but I draw the line at making everything in my living room brown.

In this photo, the old couch is actually sitting across from the new one, awaiting removal. RIP old couch.
(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 3: Decide it's finally time to replace the old couch when a date I bring home sits on it and there is a very loud, very awkward creaking noise, like the sound of my 20+ year old sofa finally giving up the ghost. After proper lament, old plaid sofa is out, gorgeous new (to me) vintage sofa is in. Things are starting to look up.

The cabinet on the left holds my television. It usually sits on the other side of the room (you can see that here), but rolls next to the couch when I want to watch a show.
(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Some issues still exist, though. The FLOR tiles that looked so good with the old sofa are a little... blah with the new one. Lesson learned: don't buy a new rug if you know you're going to replace your sofa within the year.

Also, sofa #2, which was an acceptable companion to the plaid couch, does not get along with the new one. My living room is in a confusing state of transition, like a pimply teenager.

I wish I could say my living room was usually less cluttered than this, but... that would be a lie.
(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 4: After much deliberation, replace FLOR tiles with (faux) Beni Ourain rug. A little pattern and texture really ties the room together. Hulking Big Lots loveseat still problematic.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 4 also marks the appearance of the infamous panda chair. That's my cat, Chloe, on the left. A cat is the best thing you will ever get for your living room.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 5: I've started working from home and my desk is now awkwardly wedged into the dining area, behind sofa #2. It works, but it's a bit tight.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 6: The pandas have found new homes. That corner is now occupied by a swively IKEA chair, commandeered from upstairs. Its curvy lines are a better complement to the squareness of the sofa than the Milo Baughman chair, which now occupies a spot across the room.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Stage 7: After years of trying to get things right, life circumstances force me into a sort of decorating epiphany. I'm trying to sell my house, and my realtor takes one look at the jumble of furniture in the living room and decrees that at least half of it has to go. The casualties? Sofa #2, which I had never been completely comfortable with anyway, and the IKEA chair in the corner, which goes to a good home.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

It's crazy how just getting rid of these two pieces suddenly makes my living room so much more airy and open. After all these years, the living room finally feels 'done' — right in time for my move. (But don't worry. The house took almost six months to sell, which is a completely different story, so I did get to enjoy my perfect living room for a while.)

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

So here's the fun part: what can you learn from all this? Here are a few takeaways.

1. When making big purchases, think ahead.
It's not always practical to buy everything for one room in a single go, and often spaces (like this one) will evolve over time. This means that it's important, when you add new things to your space, to consider not just how it looks at that particular moment, but the design direction in which you want to go. Although those FLOR tiles were quite nice, I probably wouldn't have bought them if I had considered that I was matching them to a couch that was inevitably on the outs.

2. Sometimes less is more.
After all those years spent trying to figure out what to replace my hulking navy loveseat with, the perfect thing turned out to be nothing at all. I was frankly shocked by how much happier I was with my living room with less stuff in it. A little negative space can be a really good thing: sometimes the perfect finishing touch isn't more stuff, but less.

3. It's ok to live in a space that isn't quite perfect.
Each of these stages in my living room evokes a certain kind of nostalgia: for that particular look, for that particular time, for the person I was then. Our homes are never static things: they're always growing and evolving, just like we are. I think of the last stage, the way my house looked right before I moved, as 'done', but I'm sure if I stayed there would've been even more iterations. I wish now, looking back, that I had invested a little less time in worrying that things weren't perfect and a little more in just enjoying my space as it was. It's always good to have a vision for what you want your space to look like, but don't let that keep you from enjoying the home you have right now.

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