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. Hi There! You did a bang up job on your room! Just lovely. I am a light color girl and love my white slipcovers (even with 2 little ones). I would love to know where you found the fabric for your drapes, they are perfection! Cheers!

  2. Hi! i love the tan and blue – but what really caught my eye was the flower/mirror on the wall – where is that from!

  3. I absolutely love this room! Would love to know where you got the fabric for the drapes…I’m looking to do something similar in my living room but I’m not having much luck finding anything like that fabric.

  4. I LOVE your style and creativity! Now that I’ve found your site, I hope to stay mortivated in my plan to implement a fresh change for our living space, in our small home. Thank you!

  5. I saw this post months ago and have been trying to figure out which blog I was on. I was stuck in warm colors. Even though I wanted cooler colors I just kept buying warm tones that went with my space and I remembered your post. I found you again via Miss Mustard Seed. I have just finished painting my living room and dining room a cooler and calmer color and I love it.

  6. I love your bog and your home is beautiful. It inspired me on how to move from my sages reds and gold tones to the softer blues and tans palette. Thanks for all the great ideas!

  7. I saw your cute white & turquoise table in today’s post & went looking for the post where you painted the table. I found this post & it was perfect timing. I am in the process of “shabby chic-i-fying” my house but I wasn’t sure how to incorporate all the aqua and turquoise I want with the beige and browns that I already have. Your “before” living room shot is perfect! That is my wall colour… Thanks for the awesome inspiration. I’m still trying to find your table & now your coffee table posts. Funny, I just painted my coffee table two weeks ago to look like your dining table & I thought I was being creative. Nothing new under the sun I guess :)


  8. I love the white and tan stripe curtains!! Could you please tell me where to find that fabric?? I have searched everywhere I can think of… and now that I have those curtains in my head, I don’t want to settle for something else.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Love it!!! Did u say that is favorite tan by Sherwin Williams on the wall? It looks darker! Trying to match it! Thanks!

  10. Hi there,
    I love what you have done with your home. It’s breathtaking. In your workroom, I noticed the gray and white giraffe print curtains. Can you tell me where you found the fabric??? Thanks so much!

  11. Im currently covering my sectional…using drop cloths (glad my husband works for a paint company and can get those cheap!!) ! Just starting out but so far, so good. Ive already covered one of my wingback chairs in it. I love your blog and all your ideas! we have similar tastes.. I was wondering where you purchased (or did you make them) the gold and white plaid(?) drapes? or where did you buy the material? love them!
    thanks, lori

  12. That slow step by step transformation sneaks up on you! So helpful, thank you!

  13. I am not only inspired by you, and am going to make the jump from black to white furnishings. I really like your “before” room, but when I look at your updated living room, etc, I am in love! I have been sitting on the fence, arguing with myself why I should just keep the Living room in black, and can do my bedroom in white – but you have inspired me to jump ship on the black for a change! What the heck, it’s only paint, right?! Thank you so much for all you share! Hugs & Smiles, T

  14. I am not only inspired by you, and am going to make the jump from black to white furnishings. I really like your “before” room, but when I look at your updated living room, etc, I am in love! I have been sitting on the fence, arguing with myself why I should just keep the Living room in black, and can do my bedroom in white – but you have inspired me to jump ship on the black for a change! What the heck, it’s only paint, right?! Thank you so much for all you share! Hug & Smiles, T

  15. Capemolly says:


    Thank you for your inspiration!
    Look, what I’ve done with my table!
    I <3 it!!! :))))

    Regards from Germany!

  16. I love how you share the fact that your ok with the house ‘in progess’ – I’ve recently started changing a few things around – as I seem to do in fall and spring – and at the moment, things are in a bit of a disarray…thanks for the inspiration. Love what you do!

  17. Mona chapman says:

    I love your ideas. I want to hang plates over my dining room window, but am having trouble finding interesting shapes. I have been to a few thrift stores and an antique store with little luck. Where do you find yours?

  18. Good ideas. I like the chalkboard. I wish I could draw, but since I can’t, I like the idea of just writing one word. It’s kind of like setting an intention for a yoga practice. Thanks for sharing.

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  21. Linda Jarraf says:

    I love your room. I recently bought a very over sized chair and ottoman at a thrift store. I plan to try to slipcover it. I have never tried this before and am a little anxious. I have read about using drop cloths for this. What type of fabric did you use to slipcover your sofa & what do you think of drop cloths? Also I love the your wall would like to know if you did the silhouettes?

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  24. Anonymous says:

    You said Lillie convinced you to hang the curtain panel so the stripe would be vertical, but aren’t the stripes horizontal? Looks really good.

    • duh, YES, I always get my vertical and horizontal confused, HORIZONTAL = horizon. Also, every time I say “right” I mean “left”. Kidding. Kind of.

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