Boxy, Boring, Dark Living Room. Is There Any Hope?


Dear Laurel,

This might sound a little weird, but my husband and I just inherited an apartment in town. There’s a good amount of space– a dark living room… Here’s the good news. It was free because my parents gave it to us as a “gift.” (it was theirs before they relocated to a warmer climate.) And we can both walk to work to our hospital jobs as 2nd year residents. The bad news is that well… I realize that this is going to sound ungrateful, but well… let me just spit it out.

It sucks.

It sucks.

It sucks.

There, I said it. I hate it.


Oh, I hope you don’t think I’m a spoiled brat or something, but I have no idea how to make this place well… feel like something we’ll be glad to come home to after putting in a 16 hour shift at the hospital.

THIS is what I want. I’m obsessed with this living room by Yawn Design.


And this is what I’ve got.




The floor. THE FLOOR! Can’t stand it. I want something rich and this sure ain’t it.

rinfret-NEH Macree_115

I also adore this elegant room by Cindy Rinfret. (although, it’s probably a little formal for us) Isn’t that transom above the door to die for?

No transoms for Judy! The ceilings are eight and a half feet high. boo hoo.

Did I tell you that we’ve had the room painted, not once, not twice, but three times? And it’s not that I’m all that fussy about color, it’s just that each time it was painted it looked worse. These are the before shots because we have boxes in the room right now. The current color is this muddy greige color.

Is there any hope? Any hope at all that we can make this something special?

Judy  Sadweare

PS: I forgot to tell you that we’re on a tight budget because of our student loans but we could possibly spend 20-25k on furniture and maybe another 10-15 (tops) on renos. But I don’t know where to begin.


Hi Judy,

Boxy, Dark Living Room

Is there hope?

Oh my, YES, there’s hope!

First of all, you have some kickass taste there!

Yes, the room is dark. Yes, the parquet floor sucks. Yes, the window is weird and wonky, but, I don’t think it’s all completely hopeless either. In fact, believe it or not, I believe that there’s a lot of potential.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.

The floor.

Yes, hideous, is the word. Orangey basketweave parquet.

Here are some people who refinished and changed their orange parquet into a deep rich mahogany color.


Next, thing we need is to beef up the architecture in the room.


Applied wall mouldings. This is not expensive to do and adds a ton of charm.

Please note the fireplace as well.



A wonderful trick for making the ceiling appear higher is to use a coved crown moulding and then apply another piece of moulding on the ceiling.


Ballard Designs

Painting the ceiling a pale blue lifts it up as well. It’s like the sky.


Next, we need to create a furred out wall for the new fireplace. No, not a real fireplace, but when we’re done, it’ll look real and will add so, so much to the room!


w140930_stanton_madison_egd_006Atlanta Homes Mag

and below

monochromatic colors and rich accents make the room… well… rich!


A beautiful mantel


And another. See? This is obviously not a working fireplace!


An idea for a radiator cover.

H_Jackson_Diningroom_Main_107_crop_002Serena and Lily

Casual but elegant dining.

chair-suzanne-kasler-blue-silk-drapesSuzanne Kasler

Beautifull draperies flanking the window and let’s take them all the way to the end of each wall to create the impression of a larger window and cover up the unsightly pipes

emily-jenkins-followillEmily Jenkins Followill

rug_jute-960_catSerena and Lily

Simple, classic, but not formal furnishings

and below– our mood board

monochromatic color scheme and furnishings to help liven up a dark living room and a lot of other great ideas in this post.

Mirror – Mirror Image Home | Cabinet – Zentique | Coffee Table – World’s Away | Pillow – Bliss Studio  Everything else – Serena and Lily

transformed-dark living-room-monochromatic color scheme and furnishings to help liven up a space and a lot of other great ideas in this post.

So, Judy… What do you think? Can you see it beginning to shape up? Pale, serene and full of charm.

It’s all possible.






8th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2021 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

26 Responses

  1. I really love your posts like this. Most of us have homes lacking interest with 8′ ceilings, not much natural light, and funky elements like the windows in this example. It’s great to see suggestions for how to make rooms like that stunning or at least more visually appealing.

  2. Girl, you’re good! I too looked at the first picture and thought, not bad, I’ve seen worse. I love the idea of furring (spelling, who cares) out the wall and adding a faux fireplace. Genius. If you just slapped a mantle on the wall it wouldn’t have the same effect. Question, should your upholstered pieces be about the same height? I’ve read where you want a room to go up and down (not the best analogy) like a skyline, but then I read on one of your posts that the chairs were too high for the sofa? I’m just looking for some general advice. Thanks. P.S. LOVE your blog.

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thank you. In answer to your question. First of all, I disagree that a room needs to go up and down in terms of the furniture. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t “height” in the room, but that can be achieved with art, mirrors, screens, windows and drapes. That is a simplistic answer.

      As for upholstered pieces, it depends. There are many variables. But generally, if you have a seating area with chairs perpendicular to the sofa, I think that they should be of similar height. But, it also depends on the style of the pieces.

      Wing chairs are generally much taller, but they should not block and entrance, visually.

  3. You are right , you sound ungrateful. My parents gave us a free place to live, we ONLY have 40,000 to redecorate …. Give me a break.

    1. LOL Nadine. The characters are fictitious and yes, quite spoiled! However, if renovating (even at this small scale) and furnishing an entire apartment, 40k doesn’t actually go all that far these days.

  4. Isn’t the word “firred out” because they use douglas fir to frame things, and not “furred out” as in made furry?

  5. Dear Laurel , Thank you so much for this post! You are the light at the end of my tunnel.From my tear sheets of old to the pin boards of today; all the ceilings are up there. Waaayyy up there. My reality is less than 1200 sq.ft. Total. 8 ft. ceilings, no architectural details. Yet there is hope for my petite abode.

  6. You know…when my husband and I moved into our 1800 sq.foot, 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom vintage apartment guess what we went ‘ga ga’ over?….the parquetry! yup! we Loved the parquetry! but we too, refinished them; I perched on the base of the polisher at 3 in the morning while my hubby navigated! – and the fumes – ugh!! our neighbours were so upset! but it was all worth the effort; beautiful gleaming floors! Love the ideas and that first blue room! thanks for the post Laurel!

  7. That would be great if you could cover lighting in in future post. One thing that would be really helpful to include is how to handle corners/lighting in a living room. Thanks a lot.

  8. Great suggestions, Laurel. I have a couple that are even less expensive. Add the beefed up crown and floor mouldings, an area rug in each of the main rooms, save the hassle and expense of changing the parquet, not much will show beyond the rug anyway. Full wall curtains and radiator covers, perhaps with an extension to make a seat. An electric fireplace with a mantle and a beautiful mirror above, couple of cabinets made to look like built ins on either side. Put most of the extra cash into paying the student loans and saving for a fabulous reno later, or an apartment that really suits. How many hours will you enjoy when you are working 16 gruelling hours as a 2nd year resident. Splurge on your bed and bedroom and perhaps a bathroom.

    1. Maureen, your ideas make great sense.
      The bookshelves, area rugs & radiator covers are cost effective ways of adding depth & life to this room.
      In addition, it would be good to do these things.
      Then when more time & money allows; implement some of Laurels design suggestions & sell it for a much higher asking price than you would get currently!

      1. Hi HVS&R. Sorry, don’t have a name. :] Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think I’m going to do a follow-up post. There are a lot of issues here to be addressed. Maybe, for instance, the area is soooo expensive, that A) moving will be impossible for many years and B) the improvements as you suggested will help them get top dollar.

        I’ve posted about this before and it continually blows my mind how people not only don’t fix their places up, but seem to make them look as horrid as possible! I just saw a real estate listing where half of the photos were on their side!

  9. You could work a lot of miracles with a budget of $30-$40,00 in the hands of a wonderful designer. I can agree that this will be a beautiful space and money well spent if the ‘young couple’ accepts your plan.You gave them what they asked for!
    I like the look of light colored rooms when the space is flooded with sun light- but I always find them to look washed out at night. How do you prevent that? More incandescent light?

    1. Hi Dolores,

      Lighting is probably the most overlooked aspect when people decorate their homes. And now, that they are taking our incandescent bulbs away, we’ve been presented with a new challenge!

  10. Really beautiful post and really great ideas. One thing the dark before picture made me wonder though – any suggestions about how to create more feeling of natural light in the room?

  11. Pretty fabulous. But I’m wondering how much a faux fireplace costs – out of curiosity. Marble surround, wiring or piping for the ‘fake fire’, carpentry, etc … Seems like you could spend a mint on this aspect alone. If budget is not a problem, then it solves the 0 personality, 0 warmth of that space. Lots of ’em around btw. Saw one just like that in NYC once, shopping for an apartment. Beautiful work, Lauren.

    1. Hi Elan,

      Well, when I say, faux I mean FAUX! Because, yes, you are right, but this would be a great topic for an additional blog post on this topic! Faux on a budget!

Comments are closed.

Welcome To Laurel Home!


Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

New Edition, November 2021! Get The Indispensable Guide For 100s of Home Furnishings And Interior Design Sources That Everyone Is Raving About

8th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2021 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

laurel home archives


Do You Need Help With Your Paint Colors? Get The Mega Laurel Home Paint and Palette Collections. To Find Out More – Click The Image Below

Amazon ad

please click below to check out my favorite decorating & design books

Laurel Bern's Favorite Interior Design and Decorating Books