How to Change the Theme of Your Decor Without Breaking the Bank

alternate title: the longest post in the history of blogging

also: how my house went from red toile to neutral without going bankrupt

I love color and I especially love how warm colors cozy up a home.  This photo is from our family room 18 months ago.

Here’s our family room {in a different house} today. {when I wrote this post “today” was 18 months ago, the room keeps evolving so I updated the photo}

A recent message I received via facebook::

This is such a fantastic question, and the answer is NO, you are not destined to be dark forever.

Side note, those words that are in blue are hyperlinks, that means you can click on them and find out more about what I’m talking about–want to find out the name of the color I painted my armoire, click the link where I mention the armoire and you will want to wring your computer’s neck for giving you so much information about it.

I’m going to answer it in detail in two parts.  Today, I’m writing a big long narrative about how I thought about changing up my home and the process I went through over the past 3 years. In the next post I’ll give you a bullet point list that will be a little easier to apply to your own rooms. For me, changing things up was less of a focus on color and more a focus on feeling.  I wanted a feeling of openness and airyness.

What started it all was that my sister had a room painted Oyster Bay in her old house and it was the first cool color I remember loving.

When we first moved to Charlotte, I decided to try a coolerish color.  I was afraid that Oyster Bay would be too cool for my warm roots so I went with Sherwin Williams Svelt Sage.  It’s a beauitful greenish, bluesih grayish.  But, most of what I had was red so I experimented with mixing red with the svelt sage.  Here’s a photo I took so I could see how I liked it.   I didn’t LOVE the red with it, but I did love how the gold door and sofa warmed up what could have been a cool color.

Note to self: I can make cool colors feel warmer. Hmmmmm…..

A few months later we moved into a rental with beautiful beige walls.  I decided not to paint.  But, a renter’s trick is to paint large things like doors and shutters and put them on the walls to add color.  I repainted  that door from the photo above in a robin’s egg blue.  Since my furniture was basically neutral {black and gold} it wasn’t that hard to mix things up in this room.  Just by adding 2 pillows and photo mats in robin’s egg, I could experiment with my new color.  And I liked it.  All of these changes were very low on the commitment level.  I sewed the pillows myself and bought mats for $3 each.  I mixed up a few colors of craft paint and painted the door with a paper towel.  Maybe I had $10 invested at this point.

Then, because we are insane people, we moved again.  This was my chance to get our upstairs-yard-sale-armioure to the downstairs without me having to bug my husband to move it.  So, I painted the armiore a pretty shade of blue/green so that when we moved, I could start incorporating cool into my red family room. I also grabbed the big neutral rug from the room in the photo up there with the door on the wall. Moving often is not part of the formula for changing up your home.  At times it prompted me to make a change and other times, it caused me to put off changing things because I knew we’d be moving in a few months.

I really liked the addition of blue so, I played around with the room to see what else I could do. I took down the red check window mistreatments to see how the room felt.  It felt quiet.  I kind of liked it. But that toile?

During that time I started to notice wear on our five year old toile sofa.

I have no idea how it got so worn out.

I also messed around a LOT with accessories.  I’m trying to break my addiction to them.  I was ok with our house being imperfect while I figured out what I wanted.

They were ok with it too. Then, I remembered my friend Kristi from Pink and Polka Dot.  I call her the slipcover whisperer.

She came down to my house and taught me how to make a slipcover.  It was easy, and completly transfored this thrifted chair. I was a believer in the power of slips.

The day Kristi left I did two things; I started painting our family room {I KNOW, I painted a rental} it took a few coats to get the right color , and I devised a plan to trick welcome Kristi and I opened up my home to 10 readers who wanted to come to my house help us sew a slipcover for my sofa.   Slipcovering my chair was instumental in giving me the confidence to go forward with making bigger changes.  Once I knew it was possible to renew our sofa without replacing it, the wheels started turning.  My ever faithful husband put up with the house in craziness for a while.

I also went ahead and painted the front room.  I was on a roll. It always looks worse before it looks better. {sidenote, basically everything but the furniture in that photo above will be for sale at my upcoming yard sale}

I painted our little dining room turned sitting room Sherwin Williams Comfort Grey and hung plates on the wall. You can find all of my paint colors listed here.

I loved the crisp white with the blue and yet, it wasn’t cold.   I was in heaven.

I started trying to envision my sofa in white, while waiting for the day of the slipcover party.  I also went ahead and moved the furniture {and made videos and posted them of the process} to a layout that suited us better.

Finally, in May, Kristi and a group of beautiful, talented, patient women came to my house and we made a slipcover for my sofa in one day.  It only cost about $200 in fabric and a take out lunch for everyone, what a steal.  I am forever indebted to these girls.

I had already purchased one length of my striped fabric for the windows and Lily convinced me to hang it so the stripes were vertical instead of horizontal.  It meant I had to sew for about 55 seconds per panel but it was worth it. Here’s more info about the drapes and the fabric.

Two days after the slipcover was made I had the striped panels up.  Things were really looking different. I brought down the $7 yard sale parson’s table {on the left of the sofa} from upstairs, and repainted a $15 yard sale dresser on the right.

Within a few weeks I added in a few pillows and lamps from Home Goods.

And after tweaking the wall, trading lamps with another room, and adding in some free hydrangeas, it looked like this.  I still can’t seem to get that wall the way I want it.

UPDATED:: Here’s what it looked like months later…

And here’s what it looks like two years later–I was ready for some white walls ::

But, as you look at the room, the accent color is found in things that are easy to change:

  • flowers
  • pillows
  • hanging dish
  • photo mats
  • throw
  • painted armiore that would take only a few hours to repaint

The rest of the room is essentially a neutral palatte and that makes it so much easier to bring in whatever elements I want to show off.  Most of the money spent went into fabric for the sofa and window mistreatments probably right under $500.  I bought a few gallons of paint and the $15 dresser and pillows and lamps.  I already had everything else.

And here’s the link for part two, how to apply this to your home

More about my current nest ::

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  1. I love what you did with your place! It’s beautiful. I have been searching high and low for some fabric to make panels like yours with no luck. I’ll just have to admire yours I guess. :)

  2. Oh Nester! I am so loving the reader who asked this question….it must be a trend, but I am currently trying to transition from warm to cool myself and this post was MEGA helpful! You are awesome. I love those striped panels SO much. I really want them. :)

  3. You. Are. A. Genius. Thank you, and goodnight. I kid. The room looks absolutely AMAZING. Fresh, open, airy, and CHIC. Well done, Nester! You strike again!

  4. Ok, I LOVE this post as I am also working so hard to create a beautiful home on a teeny-tiny budget. This is very inspiring, thank you! Since you were so inspiring to me I featured you on my blog today as I’m asking myself if I want to take the plunge into white slipcovers. If you could answer any of the questions on my post today I would be so so happy! I’m trying to get as many opinions as possible and personal experiences-and you would know with boys! Thank you so much!


  5. Wonderful post! Thanks for all the information!

  6. I think this is the best post I read in MONTHS! This is now officially my new favorite blog. Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to explain all of that!!! I just learned a ton.


  7. So much fun seeing the evolution of your style! I adore those striped curtains and vow to copy you every time I see them in your photos. :-) Thanks for sharing your thought process with us.

  8. Excellent post! I can’t wait for more. I love reds and I am drawn to them but then I see beautiful rooms like yours and am drawn to the cooler’s so hard to choose..especially now that it is fall. We have leather couches in our family room and living rooms and I love them but I see these beautiful slipcovered couches and dream that I had a white sofa..but I am learning that changing pillows and accessories on a leather sofa can achieve a cooler palette too. I loved the reds and blues together in the earlier pictures…I think that is a happy medium! :)

  9. Love this post, and all the transition photos (and your man for being such an awesome sport, lucky lady). I totally have the dark pallate and would LOVE to go light. Imagine your toile sectional about 40% larger (mines really large, like 135×100) and in a nice green/red/gold nubby plaid (Ethan Allen sofa from 15 years ago that is STILL comfortable!). And poor lighting in the room. Need 10 talented friends and a slipcover party of my own, but somehow don’t think that’s going to happen. You’ve developed GREAT connections and have great style, and of course your home shows it. Very inspirational today Nester, thank you!

  10. Basically your family room is yummy. I am totally revamping my house into shades of warm beige and pale blue/greens with generous doses of white. I can stick just about any color with those and they look marvy. Now if I could only get rid of that cottage cheese ceiling…..

    Love seeing your decorating progression. Makes me feel I’m not the only woman constantly tweaking.

  11. Great post!
    I’m happy that we’ve got neutral furniture so that we can easily change up the feel in our space through colors in fabrics and other accessories – love your transformation!

  12. THANK YOU for these posts about changing your pallette- sooo helpful. I am the same in being stuck in the warm tones b/c of a red Potterybarn couch and loveseat I bought 5 yrs ago- and since we can’t really afford to buy a new one (and we have 3 little active girls and a boy on the way in 3 weeks!) I didn’t think it was practical either (we do the forts and couch-trampoline too). I also think it’s so freeing that you put all your accesories in one room and just didn’t worry about living in a bit of chaos for a time while you figured things out. Why do I feel like I have to have everything in order all the time? I think that is what stops me from the result I actually want! Taking all the things out makes a neutral palatte to work from- makes sense!! :-)

  13. Nadir@StitchSense says:

    Great post!!! I love how the transition was a progress that you took your time with.

  14. What is the blue color that you painted that one dresser in one of those pictures? I think it is now in your office? Is it the same color as the armoire? It looks more blue to me but that may just be the photo. Anyway, I like both colors and were just wondering what that blue one was.

  15. I love, love, love the whole transformation. I remember when you slipcovered the sofa and I was so excited for the HUGE change it made in the room. It looks so much brighter and so serene (probably doesn’t feel that way all the time with your boys I’m sure!)
    Thanks so much for the mention in the next post. I’m so honored to be featured on your blog, as always, and especially to mentioned in the same post as YHL and The Inspired Room! :)

  16. I must tell you I really relate with your accesory addiction. I too feel like my home lacks architectual elements, so in order to fill up space, I accessorize. As I have been reading your process of decluttering and creating a cooler place, I too have been trying to have a simpler home, better thought out, as to maximize space, making it welcome but not over cluttered. It is such a breath of fresh air to have a crisp airy home with less…stuff. I love my stuff, it is pretty, but it is also exhausting…to dust, to reorder, to move in order to get stuff out I need. So happy to have this new refocusing of my home. :)

  17. Elizabeth Smith says:

    I have decided… I just need you to come to my house & help me. That’s just it! You have wonderful ideas, and I’d LOVE YOUR HELP! If only you lived in Middle Georgia…
    I really love what you do – and one day, I’m going to gather myself & change some things…. :)

  18. I just “fell” into your site and I’m SO loving it!
    My family room has stairs on one side, french doors on one side and my kitchen on another. I want to rearrange so bad. Your site has given me inspiration to do it! **although a previous poster said the decorating gene skipped her…I’m in the same boat**

    I’m in GA- south of Atlanta. Come on over and help me out!

  19. This blog could not have come at a better time for me :) I have been living with the same red/brown decor since I got married…5 years ago! It is certainly time for a change! I’ve had a hard time finding inspiration and ideas because our house is very small and our living area, dining room and computer desk are all in one big open space. It’s hard to decide if I should do different themes and colors or just have it all go together since it is one general space. Thanks for all your great ideas and for passing on your creativity and inspiration with us!

  20. while i loved the red toile – i understand that things wear out and 5 years might be tops for a linen fabric? but still – I absolutely love your new look – the lighter and brighter colors – the white slips, etc!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! love love love it!!!

  21. This post is going to change my life. I want to do this right now! Can you and your team come over and make me a slipcover or two? :)

    LOVE your new living room. I want to do that exact thing to my bedroom, except that I can’t figure out what to do with the red quilt I splurged on and only loved for 6 months.

  22. I LOVE your new living room!!!! It is absolutely beautiful and has so much character. Great job!
    Thank you also for the shout out about my light fixture. I am glad you liked it. : )

  23. Christy Miller says:

    Where did you find the striped fabric for your curtains? I am looking for the same look in my living room. Love it!

  24. I LOVE this post. I printed out the picture of your new room and showed it to my (picky) husband and he loved the color scheme! It’s so strange that I stumbled upon this because justthe other day I told him I was starting to go toward whites and I’ve always gone dark and bold. All my wood is dark wood, so to see that it can be incorporated so nicely gives me hope! I am so thankful to have this photograph to go from as inspiration. One question: do you think it would look equally as brilliant with light greens instead of aqua? I’m torn between the two…

  25. Everything I see here I love! You are so inspiring! I seriously love it all!
    I can’t wait to see the rest of your blog. So glad Jessica from Mrs Dietitian At Home.blogspot told me I should visit your blog for inspiration.

  26. I just wanted to let you know that this post has really inspired me! In fact, it inspired me to re-do my end table! I gave you a “shout-out” on my post … just wanted to let you know! Thanks so much for the inpiration! :)

  27. Hello! I LOVE your new paint color (gold-green?) in your family room with the striped curtains! Could you please share the name of it? Forgive me if it’s listed somewhere. I’ve searched it over several times but don’t see it listed anywhere so I apologize if I’ve missed it! Your blog is great and your home is beautiful! Keep up the good work!

  28. IM DYYYING right now, seriously thought my head was gonna explode. Your blog is great, and these pictures and your decorating is to die for! Love all the rooms! I did a very similar plate display on my wall. Your blog makes me smile- just thought you’d like to know!

  29. I love this! It’s exactly what I’ve been obsessing about…how to turn my warm, but dark, living room into a light and inviting space. But I’m stumped. We, too, have darker walls (looks very similar to yours), and I’d like to keep them like you have. We’re saving for a new couch; ours is older and increasingly dingy. With three kids ages 5 and under, I’d like a darker couch (maybe chocolate / dark brown) to help hide everyday dirt and stains. How can I create the light / airy / open feel with dark walls and a dark couch? Seems impossible! Adding to the dilemma is the lack of natural light the room gets. When we first moved in , I thought I’d embrace the lack of light and go for a nice, warm feel. But now I’m starting to feel like I’m living in a cave…something’s got to change! I would LOVE your suggestions!

    • we went with a dark couch thinking the same thing – that it would hid dirt, etc. when we had kids. The smartest thing we did was to buy a dark couch with slipcovers. Pre-kids I never had to wash it but after 2 kids, it definitly needed it. I was incredibly nervous to try it because it said dry-clean only(not sure why I was ok with that when we bought it) but cold water and a tiny bit of detergent did the trick. The couch looks brand new and I’m sooo very thankful that we had the forethought to get slipcovers. So I guess I’m saying dark is good but slipcovers are even better!

  30. Kristina Love says:

    What is the brand and color name of the wall paint?

  31. Christine says:

    Where did you find your fabric for the striped curtains?

  32. I would love to know where you got the fabulous striped fabric for your curtains!!! I also like the yellow striped curtains you have in another room… please share!

  33. I really like the transformation! Nothing at all was wrong with the before, but the after ios gorgeous!
    I’m wondering, which neutral would be better to paint the walls if the homeowner was thinking of selling ~ beige tones or gray?

  34. Similar, but I think this is a thicker outdoor type of fabric, and I’m not sure the stripes are thick enough.

  35. Roxanna Morgan says:

    I just came across your post & love the transformation. I have damask goldish/taupe colored living room furniture that I paid a fortune for 11 years ago. Yes, 11 years & 6 grandchildren later & it is still in perfect condition. I love the white slicovers & every time I see these I want to change everything but must be practical & refrane as I still can not justify getting rid of good furniture. So I have worked around it throughout the years by changing the colors. I change my accessories & pillows including the pictures on the walls from red & creme in the winter to blue, chocolate & creme in the summer. My biggest problem is finding a color for my living room walls. Right now they remind me of a vanilla shake, lol. The photo of your sofa in your front room reminds me of the color of my sofa but I do not want to paint my walls blue. I am looking for a netural color for my walls so thinking myabe the color you have in your new room would work but could not find in your post the color. Could you share the color with me? Thanks!

  36. What is the color of the walls in your living room?


  37. I have been looking for the perfect fabric for making some window treatments for my living room. I was wondering where you got yours. I love the stripes, but I was looking for a gray or burnt orange strip. I will have to keep up the search until I find what I am envisioning.

  38. Wow. I’m not much on reading long posts, but I read every word! Well written and loved that it had lots of pics! Great explanation of your process. I wish more people did posts like this. It helps a reader/ client know that it doesn’t always happen in one swoop… overnight.

  39. I love your pictures of your boys flying onto your sofa (Loved it, too). Wondering how it got that way??!! Rolling off my chair laughing. That was great!

  40. Gorgeous..I have been looking for a chalkboard in a frame like that forever! Did you make it yourself? Must know! :)


  41. mARY rOSE says:

    hELp me PLEASE… i LOVE all of your ideas but get so overwhelmed … I need a total on a budget re do of my home… so that I can feel like it’s a home again and not a house …

  42. I love a real house with ideas that everyday people can accomplish. Love you home and your ideas are great. I actually grew up in Charlotte so I was pleased to find you are there. Love you blog and so glad I stumbled upon it.

  43. I love this room and am especially laughing out loud at your sons superman jumps on the couch, my 4 yr old does the same exact thing….I’m so relieved now!!! gorgeous home!!

  44. Wow! I’ve not followed you very closely until now & I LOVE watching the steps you took with your family room. So well explained & funny! You have done a beautiful job – really! I adore the wall behind the newly beautiful slipcovered sofa – so much personality – I love it! The curtains on the horizontal look so fresh & different, very good decision! I love all the soft color you brought in with accessories. What a great question to post & address. I love getting new perspective on decorating & compare what I would do. I restyle & decorate homes but find myself obsessing about my own all the time. I just love what you’ve done & it was fun to go through the journey with you! I’ll definitely be back :)

  45. So, did you change the curtains after you took these pictures? You said she convinced you to change it from horizontal to vertical but the pictures are of horizontal stripes. ? Which way do the curtains hang now? Was it really hard switching it after you already had it hung horizontally? I really like it how it is in the pictures- horizontal, so I am interested in how it looks vertical now.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was wondering the same thing. They are pictured with horizontal stripes. Can you post a pic of the ‘after’ you decided to hang them vertically? I do like them horizontally though. I love your brave decorating moves! :)

  46. I live just outside Charlotte and if you and your friends are up for some more slip cover action I would sooooo volunteer my furniture….I am envious it turned out great…I’ve been wanting slip covers for months but not willing to spend the money…Your livingroom looks great!!!!

    I’m a new follower and would love for you to stop by and say “hi”…

  47. I just came across your room on Pinterest and I loved it! Had to learn more… I will have to spend some time reading your blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  48. loving this!! hope you don’t mind i’m using your picture on my blog today! xo

  49. WOW! Your house is beautiful! I want to do a family frame wall like yours!

  50. I have used this photo to draw so much inspiration for my living room space! Thank you. Can you tell me where you got your rug? I’ve been looking for one with a good neutral balance. All the ones I have found are too blue!


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