One Room Challenge

Before and After: Decluttering and De-Paneling Rescue This ’80s Cabin Living Room

published Sep 26, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Living Room
Skill Level
Rental Friendly

If you’ve ever found yourself dreaming of ditching city life and taking in the comforts of a rustic cabin in the woods, you’re not alone. The charm of cozy rural life is alluring, but the process of actually making such a home can take some work. The biggest question for many is the following: How do you infuse a rustic space with your personal design sensibilities while still staying true to its roots?

Intrepid DIYer Sarah Dyer (@casapondo) took on that challenge in the renovation of her own cabin getaway. After spending months in her 400-square-foot Los Angeles apartment watching renovation shows at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah was inspired to purchase a remote cabin of her own a few hours away in Ponderosa, California, a small mountain town within Sequoia National Forest. 

Credit: Sarah Dyer
Credit: Sarah Dyer

Before, the cabin had good (albeit wood-paneled) bones.

The cabin felt like a stroke of destiny. “I discovered the cabin was built in 1982, the same year I was born,” Sarah says. “It was meant to be!”

While the location was perfect — as were the bones of the place — Sarah wanted to give the cabin a lighter, more modern feel. She started with its central space: the living room, which she transformed on a $6,000 budget as part of the One Room Challenge

“The cabin was pretty dark with faux wood paneling and cluttered with furniture, but I had a vision!” Sarah says. “While I loved the cabin from the get-go, I was inspired to brighten and declutter the living room for maximum enjoyment.”

Credit: Sarah Dyer

Ditching the paneling and painting the walls white brightened things up.

First, Sarah focused on removing the previous owners’ decor and furniture, which had remained when she purchased the home “because frankly, it’s a hassle to transport large items down the mountains,” Sarah says. After stripping away the room’s wood paneling, a local painter repainted the walls a calming white. 

Against the new white walls, the room’s remaining natural finishes — like the stone fireplace and the wood-clad ceiling — totally pop. They manage to look more modern, too, even though they’re the exact same as they were before.

Credit: Sarah Dyer
Credit: Sarah Dyer

Decluttering also made a difference.

Another big change Sarah made was removing all of the heavy window treatments to allow way more light into the entire room.

“With dark walls and so much clutter, it was hard to enjoy the real hero: the view,” she says of the before. By keeping her wall decor simple in color scheme and more minimalistic, the space feels larger and less crowded.

Credit: Sarah Dyer
Credit: Sarah Dyer

New (and old!) furniture and textures create cozy zones.

For the seating area around the fireplace, Sarah arranged retro-style chairs as well as a tan leather sofa from Poly & Bark. In the corner breakfast nook, she re-used the old furniture but added a new basket pendant light with a boho vibe. It’s complemented by a macramé wall hanging. While much of the furniture and decor is new, Sarah is slowly acquiring vintage decor, too.

“I would like to incorporate more unique vintage items with character and stories,” Sarah says. “I’m currently saving to buy a cool Mexican leather equipale chair and a unique natural wood coffee table!”

When it comes to fellow aspiring DIYers hoping to revitalize a cozy cabin getaway of their own, she has three words of advice: Enjoy the journey. “At times I found myself being impatient and just wanting things done instead of savoring the process,” Sarah says. “Patience, patience, patience has been the name of the game.”

This project was completed for the Spring 2023 One Room Challenge, in partnership with Apartment Therapy. See even more of the One Room Challenge before and afters here.