Projects & Improvements

Before and After: A Dark Living Room Goes Bright with a $5,000 MCM-Style Makeover

published Nov 7, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Living Room
Mid-century Modern
Skill Level
Rental Friendly

There are tons of chic wallpapers out there, but extremely dated wallpaper in homes can be hard to ignore. In this living room, the dated (and textured!) yellow buffalo check wallpaper was first on the list of things homeowners Sarah Blumer (@SayNiHay) and her husband, Joel, wanted to change. “This was the first room we removed wallpaper from,” Sarah says of their whole-home reno.

“There was also a wall separating this room from the kitchen making the space feel very closed-off,” Sarah says of the living room. “The fireplace was huge, but not symmetrical. Even though this room had floor-to-ceiling windows, it felt pretty dark.” The dark wood paneling played a part in making things darker, too, Sarah adds.

She and Joel envisioned a brighter, more open-concept space that functioned well for their whole family. “Neither of us really love the idea of a fully open concept home, but between these two rooms was the perfect amount,” Sarah says. “We’d be able to see our kids playing while we’d be making dinner.” 

Credit: Tom Donovan

Painting the walls and fireplace white made the space feel brighter. 

The first step the couple took toward brightening up the room was removing the aforementioned wallpaper, and it came down quickly — at least in this room of the house. They painted the walls and the fireplace a bright white.

“I am now an expert in a dozen different ways to remove wallpaper and can paint a room faster than you can say ‘go,’” Sarah says. Before painting the fireplace, Joel taught himself how to lay brick and added a couple more rows to the focal point of the room to make it more symmetrical.

Knocking down the wall between the kitchen and dining room allowed for better flow.

Two rounds of demolition made the biggest difference in the space, Sarah says. The first was knocking down the wall between the kitchen and living room, which “got us so much closer to how we wanted this room to look,” Sarah explains. 

Now, sipping coffee on the couch while her kiddos play and while Joel makes breakfast is what Sarah describes as an “ideal weekend morning” — and the new layout makes it possible.

Credit: Tom Donovan

A new bar adds functionality. 

The other demolition project was taking out the old built-in shelves and installing a bar. “Joel got all the cabinets, counter top, and plumbing finished while I was away with the kids,” Sarah says. When she got home, it was time to tile the backsplash, install the butcher block open shelving, and lastly, sand down the beams on the ceiling. 

In total, the living room reno cost about $5,000. “When our last home sold for much more than the asking price, it gave us a little bit more of a budget for all the renovations we wanted to undertake in this house,” Sarah says, adding that had they not done 100% of the design and the bulk of the renovation work themselves — and with the help of a contractor friend, Sam, who helped with heavy-lifting jobs like drywall, it would have easily cost double that amount.

And the DIY effort was well worth it — throughout the whole home, and in this cozy, bright, functional living room in particular. “This is the space we spend the most time in as a family,” Sarah says.