What I Learnt From… Decorating My Living Room

It’s been a long time.  Oh, how it has been a long time!

I live in a house which is, originally, very old.  It also used to be two houses until we put a door in one wall and the whole thing was renovated the best part of 20 years ago having been partially burnt down by “youths” (please say that with as much disdain as possible) decades earlier.  Virtually the only original piece is the oak beam going through the dining room.

We had a theory when we were decorating the house initially – do an original, old looking ground floor, and modernise the upstairs.  Looking back now, I’m not entirely sure why we decided that, given the imbalance of rooms, but there you go.  So when we were talking about a scheme for the upstairs living room, the brief was bright colours because what says “modern” more than bright colours? Well, I’ll tell you what – metal.

My Dad wanted to do pink and purple.  I can’t remember the entire conversation because, at my end, I think it ended fairly quickly with, “no”.  The image that was portrayed led me to query whether we would put a glitter ball up too, and maybe mirrors on the ceiling.

What we ended up with was this (and my apologies for not having a decent “before” photo, and the mess):

I may as well list off the things I didn’t like.

  1. Essentially I had all three primary colours in the same room.  I say “essentially” because alongside the bold blue fireplace and red chimney was a colour that I only remember as “Biscuit” which had far more green tones than the name suggests.  It was busy.
  2. The wall opposite this was also red with a picture of a place I’ve never been (San Fransisco).  The ceiling and the walls were the same colour.  Not only was the room busy, but it was also closed in.  
  3. I had two bright blue sofas in there too, that had to be positioned at strange angles to fit them in and give viewing angles out the windows and of the TV, which contributed to both the busyness and the claustrophobia.
  4. The shelving was a necessity, but wasn’t a good use of the space.  Neither was the structural fireplace, or the big empty expanse above the TV.
  5. We used matt paint for the red, and a glossier finish for the “Biscuit”, which gave some funny highlights, as did the fact that we used paint pads rather than rollers which led to some ugly striping.
  6. The spot light fitting that we used gave really uneven lighting, which made the colours worse too.
  7. The metal was there, but trying to add industrial to an otherwise kid’s playroom set-up didn’t really do the job.
  8. Oh, and the fire had blue flames.

So here’s what I came up with.

The main addition was always intended to be the floating shelves.  They were all individually made because, despite the recency of the new house build, the fact that the plaster board was simply glued on to the breeze blocks or brick work meant that they were extremely wavy.  However, each shelf has nearly double the surface area of that which it replaced, and there’s two more in the wasted space above the TV (excluding the one that replaced the TV stand).  They also make the room look wider, even though I’m not sure if the illusion is the fact that they run wall to wall or that they’re on each side.  Either way, I have width, and I have space.

The second addition that was a necessity was mounting the TV on the wall.  This was, again, a space saving measure.  When not in use, the TV can be pushed against the wall and while it is on, not sitting on an angled stand still makes it look more spacious.

The fireplace is gone.  Taking the large structure off the chimney breast has given me an extra bit of space.  It also means that I can put a lovely wedge of as undisturbed colour as I could muster in the middle of the room.  I decided to colour block the whole chimney breast using the same colour for the skirting as the wall to give a bit of height.  The colour is Heartwood, Dulux’s Colour of the Year 2018.

The other colours are Salisbury Stones 5 on the walls with a slightly lighter Salisbury Stones 6 on the ceiling and behind the shelves to add more light, and therefore height and depth.  The trade paints offer so much better coverage than off the shelf in a DIY store ones, which means that I bought far more than I needed.

Other points were addressed – the fire now has orange flames, the picture is one I took of a nearby tree and, to make it feel more natural, I got a ridiculously expensive assortment of wooden and wicker boxes and fake plants (who am I kidding thinking that I’ll keep real ones alive?).  I have an L-shaped sofa that might not have the same space as the two separate ones, but keeps some order.  I have one downlight, giving even lighting across the room helped by matte paint softening it.

The cat covers are still there.  He’ll sit on my jumper instead though, while I’m primarily using a massive beanbag unless we have guests.

The whole place is just a lot more relaxing.

So, other than a bit of interior design experience, what did I learn?

I learnt that any amount of planning I put in was never quite enough to get any eventuality, but that there’s always solutions.  I underestimated the space needed for a cable run in one shelf, which meant having to drill a hole all the way through it and covering it with a desk grommet (and then a Sky+ box!).  This could be why a one week project turned in to 8 (6 of which were part time)!

I learnt that I have a taste.  My favourite room was always my games room, which I designed with cream walls and rich browns to go with the oak beam.  I then took that to an extreme in my bedroom, by going with virtually white walls, a bright red feature wall and black woodwork.  I’ve mellowed that with this colour scheme, but on the next room I need to go outside of my comfort zone.

I learnt my Dad and I can work together.  We had one instance of raised voices where I was using a mallet and an off cut of wood to get another piece of wood in to a tight joint when I should, apparently, have widened the joint.  We did learn, though, that I’m far better suited design, marketing and procurement than I am production.  I find this a little disappointing, but I also think that it’s maybe the fact I don’t build physical things very often that means I have a lack of experience. My methods would have been relatively sound but, as an example, I made a lot harder work of sawing a piece of baton than I should have done.  Each person has their own skills though.

I learnt that, while I can be a bit of a perfectionist in some things, I can be tempted to work differently where the quality doesn’t really matter.  The shelves are built by attaching a wooden frame to the wall and covering with MDF.  Where Dad would measure the length of baton needed for the back of shelf, for me it didn’t matter having it perfect and measured with a ruler, as long as it was there or thereabouts.  (Incidentally, the trick to perfect shelves (which we got wrong) is thinner baton and thicker MDF to avoid bend and sag.)

The big thing I learnt was working out what was worth the effort and what wasn’t.  The fireplace was supposed to be flush against the wall, but that meant having to take out the fire back and fill the hole in the chimney to stop the elements getting in, which was a lot harder than building a wooden frame (even with my sawing skills) and sticking it to the wall.  Insisting that the front veneer of the shelves was to perfect height and cutting out plaster board to give the TV bracket a more solid mount were good decisions despite the extra work.

It’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed it, but the itch has been scratched for a little while, at least until I’ve saved for a new bathroom or kitchen.  I learnt that the cost of these things soon mounts up! If this lasts me another 17 years though, I think it will be a reasonable investment and one that I can certainly live with.


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