Where to Start When You’re Sure A Space Is Hopeless

how to decorate

When we bought this house there was a little glimmer of hope for an office. But it was so small that I didn’t even mention it here for almost six months. This cold, dirtly little back room attached to the World’s Worst Barn felt entirely hopeless especially knowing that our house and land all desperately needed attention. Who can spend time or money on an office when they just gutted their kitchen? how to start on a hopeless room

It didn’t take me long to realize that blogging full time from my unmade bed everyday was a pain for me and everyone in our house. I really needed a separate space so we moved the office up on our priority list. This thrilled and also terrified me. The office? Was a beast to tackle. It was just so oppressive with its dirty, warped wood and cold concrete floor and discarded snake skin in the corner.

wood stove

Today, it’s only about halfway done, but it is SO MUCH BETTER. I see the light at the end of the cute pink and blue tunnel! Not to worry, I’ll have a post about the details, but first let’s talk about attacking a room that seems impossible. Because this was the worst room I’ve ever attempted to beautify.


Here are some tips on how to attack an overwhelming space…

nesting place office

1. Create a vision.

This is a must because as soon as you step foot into that dreaded hated, hopeless room you will want to give up and eat all of the Cadbury Eggs (I just found out these are available on Amazon, you’re welcome, and also, I’m so sorry). You MUST create a little vision board, it’s so helpful to regain a little control and hope and to have a plan. Here’s more about my vision board up there.

spoonbillRoseate Spoonbill Canvas: the new thing I bought

2. Purchase one thing for the new space.

This is a trick I use often to help me get motivated to change a space. I’m a cheapskate so by nature, the fact that I spent actual money usually makes me want to get working on something so I don’t waste it. Also, it’s fun to have a fresh new thing for a room and I get excited to see how it’s going to look so that also motivates me to want to get to use it. It doesn’t have to be expensive or new, just something to help you commit to start making that change.

paint pants!

3. Paint

Fresh paint is the least expensive and makes the biggest difference (use it!) Put your paint pants on and in a day and less than $100 you’ll make all the difference in your space. My family actually surprised me with the coat of paint on the walls, I painted the floors with porch and floor paint and ta-da, a new room!

how to decorate

4. Shop the house

Always be on the prowl for things you can use in a new way. I have zero budget for office furniture. No problem, we just moved from a bigger house so I have lots of leftovers to choose from. So what if none of it is officially office furniture? Office furniture is usually ugly and brown anyway.


5. Rely on rugs

I used to HATE to buy rugs. I thought they were a waste. Until I bought a rug and realized it was some of the best design money I could spend. I used to think rugs were a last addition luxury. Now I count on rugs to go in first so I can see the direction the room wants to go. Rugs help a room feel finished and cozy and can set the mood. This rug used to be in our bedroom. I’ll end up layering it with a few other rugs to fill up the big space, add interest, keep the concrete floor warm, and to stop me from purchasing carpet for the room.

how to decorate

how to start on a hopeless space

6. Take Control of the Lighting

Lighting isn’t the boss of you. You are the boss of the lighting. You aren’t at the mercy of whatever the builder or previous owner left in your space. This dark room started out with only two tiny windows for natural light. We found a $30 used glass & wood door from Habitat ReStore to replace the light blocking metal door, brought in lamps, and I’m on the hunt for pretty overhead lighting to replace the boob lights that were there. Plus, white paint instantly brightens a room.

gallery wall me!

7. Use arrows to take the focus away from the bad.

This wall is BAD, BAD NEWS. It almost makes me want to burn down this room and forget it ever existed. Yes, we could have totally replaced this but remember, this is my office that we are throwing together in the midst of a million other projects. This wall is begging for me to gallery wall it so all the pretty things will distract you from all of the ugly. Arrows in decorating are your friend.

before, and during

8. Focus on progress

Constantly remind yourself of how far you have come. Instead of comparing your space to what you want it to be, compare it it to how it started. That top photo with the leaning pink mirror doesn’t look too encouraging until you see the photo below it right here with all the wood and the hot water heater and gross sink and ceiling. Suddenly I’m all “Wow! We’ve actually made a lot of progress!”

how to decorate

Is there a space in your life that scares you with its dreadfulness? You can do this. Start today. There truly is hope for every weary home.

it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful

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  1. i love the colors you’ve chosen!!! so gorgeous!!

  2. Elizabeth Torma says:

    Inspiring words for those of us who get paralyzed by not knowing where to start a room. Love the office so far, like I love all your other rooms!

  3. Love how it’s coming together!!!!

  4. baileywife says:

    Yeah for paint!! And there is all the stuff I bet you’ve missed!? Your BOOK will look wonderful in this room….can’t wait to get mine. I also love how “rustic and farm-y” the outside looks, then BAM: your inside the Nester’ s Headquarters! Love it all!! ~Kim

  5. There are about 8 things i want to tweet to the world. But my favorite is “The lighting is not the boss of you, you are the boss of the lighting.”

    Ooooooooh, I love the idea of being the boss!!!

    Also, comparing to the beginning instead of the dream/inspiration. Good call!

  6. Tasha Johnson says:

    Love this new space! I think it will be nice to be detached from the house!! Can’t wait to see all of the cool projects that will come from this office!!!!

  7. dadgum you’re good.
    it’s so pretty… so soothing. and that spoonbill painting!
    love the focusing on the progress…
    instead of the everything else still left to do.
    I think I do the latter sometimes and get all discouraged. it’s an ever evolving process!

  8. So, I’m taking a corner (or more?) of our workshop and turning it into a market space for homestead goods I’m selling this summer. Making it look good is important to me, and I’m really excited about prettying it up, but man, it’s ugly right now. (Yup, uglier than this.) Thanks for getting my brain headed in the right direction. :)

  9. Kathryn says:

    Wow wow wow! I’m inspired! Thank you for sharing this! Great progress!

  10. Always amazing what a coat {or 2} of paint will do …


  11. It’s great to see your furniture from the last house. It’s like you’ve reunited us with some of our old friends! You have made amazing progress. I almost didn’t hear anything, though, after you said “SNAKESKIN IN THE CORNER”!! You are a brave pioneer woman to be out there with the ana-cobra-rattler on the loose! (Sorry. I have snake issues. My imagination may have exaggerated the creature.)

    • Me too! I immediately started wondering what they did to insure that future snakes don’t find a way in. I can see a snake in one corner of my yard and then avoid that spot forever! And we may or may not just be talking about little ole garden snakes. I shudder at the thought of snakes and if they are in a TV show or commercial I close my eyes and tell my husband to let me know when it’s over. Then I try to think about bunny rabbits so I won’t dream about snakes. Ok, I’m going to think about bunny rabbits now.

  12. Well done! You were definitely able to see the forest through the trees on this one.


  13. Feeling like my office is hopeless too. Maybe throwing up some white paint on the walls will actually inspire me to start building the closet I’ve been dreaming of! Thanks for so many helpful tips!

    You office really IS coming along. Love the ‘before’ and ‘during’ pictures – so much progress to be seen.

  14. My office is my hopeless place right now. This post came at such a key time for me! I’m using Evernote and Springpad to put my inspiration together. Mine will be green and blue. Thanks so much for this.

  15. Love everything about this post! I too am working on a vision for our office/multi-use room. But my only question is….WHERE did you find that awesome bird print?? I must own this!

  16. Ooh! Ooh! I love this! The room and the post. What you said about lighting is so true. I swear that even my college dorm room felt cozy because I turned off the overhead lights and used lamps.

  17. I have LOVED your blog for years and I feel our styles are VERY similar. I must have pretty low standards and easy to please, but I just don’t notice the “ugly” things that you do in your spaces. I can see HUGE progress and I know it will be beautiful! Half the fun is getting it to that point but I feel you are so blessed to have this place and such amazing people to help with it that I just don’t see so much negative. It is easier for me too that I don’t live there. Thanks for the encouraging words on spaces. You rock as always!

    • Yes, most of the ugly doesn’t photograph and show up, messed up floors usually read as perfect floors in photos (which is great!) but this room was gross. No one would have disagreed! Thanks so much for the encouragement!!!

  18. I appreciated your tip to take pictures of our own spaces so you can compare where you’ve been to were you are! If you don’t blog, than you are usually not photographing your empty rooms. Good reminder to compare my home with MY home instead of comparing my home against others homes!

  19. Okay, where did you get those glass lamps?

  20. It’s amazing how much you can do with a can of (white) paint. I’m a firm believer of “shopping the house” (I constantly move things around – it’s a sickness), but I really like the idea of purchasing one thing for the space. That’s a great motivator! Now if only I could figure out how to bring more light in our kitchen without spending $$$…

  21. As someone who has been renting and slowly fixing up a 100-year old farmhouse for the last four years… YES. Two quotes that have proved invaluable for me: “Comparison is the thief of joy” (my house will never look like someone else’s perfect, modern marvel), and a favorite from Elisabeth Elliot, “Do the next thing.” So when I get bogged down thinking about how much further I have to go, I remind myself to do the next thing, even if it’s just moving this pretty thing over to that blank spot because it would make me happy. I love the direction your office is headed! Keep on keeping on!

  22. Nester, this is GOOD NEWS. This is just what I needed. Just yesterday I started a Pinterest board for my baby’s room, and my attitude is slowly moving from embittered to hopeful. The bitterness comes from having moved into an older, not well cared for home and then promptly expanding our family by two. 3 years later, I still have an overworked husband, old falling apart carpet, hole in the floor, rotten floor, etc and seemingly no time to devote to renovation compared to what I’d hoped to be able to devote. But as I look at before pictures as you advised here, I realize how very far we’ve come. There truly is too much to tackle to have any entire room DONE, but instead of despairing I shall now endeavor to make small, practical steps toward what I like (rather than expecting perfection). Thank you.

  23. Briane Kearns says:

    The best post you’ve ever written. It’s the best illustration of the “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful” mantra. I’m attending seminary (at Gordon Conwell in Charlotte) and I’m about to descend to my basement office for a study marathon. It’s so ugly and depressing that sometimes I can’t focus on my work. I remind myself that Paul wtote some of his most important works in a dungeon to keep my perspective! I won’t have time to use these tips this semester but when summer comes and I’m only taking 1 class I will be following all these steps!

  24. My favorite piece of advice from this post is comparing your progress to where you started rather than where you want to be. We have limited time, money and resources right now to do everything I want to do with our house, but seeing where we started with our house, we have come a seriously long way! Thanks for the encouragement. Also, your space looks so much better and I am sure it will be great when it is finished.

  25. Looks amazing! I love that with the white paint, the ceiling went from weird random bits of wood all over to something that looks like an on-purpose design feature.

  26. This is looking simply amazing, you did a great job.

  27. Amen to all of this : ) Awesome post! I get stuck focusing on the wrong things sometimes with decorating-Thanks for the encouragement to compare with how far you’ve come not how far you have to go. Reminds me of something from Joyce Meyer- “I might not be where I want to be but thank God I’m not where I used to be- I’m ok and I’m on my way.”
    I would add start with the good- there is always at least one good thing in a space that you can build on…! What an awesome work/craft space that’s separate from the house and it already had bead board walls just looking for some paint! Keep trucking with your vision, I know it will be beautiful, scars and all : )

  28. Charlotte says:

    Wow….great job….the room is really taking shape….

  29. I love the progress and how fun making it your own. I’ve shopped in my own house while redoing a room. It gives older items new purpose. Thank you for the inspiration.

  30. Congratulations on the beautiful progress! I’m always inspired by your wisdom–loved the decorating with arrows post!

  31. I love this. Such good steps and your room transformation is amazing! I have many areas in my house that I can apply this too while we rehab our former 1972 “museum.”

  32. Love that your family surprised you with painted walls! I would be doing the happy dance too:)
    Your office is shaping up to be wonderful!! This post comes with good timing…We have been house house hunting and looking at some charming but very ugly outdated houses. Hard to swallow when we will be leaving a “finished” house that took a long time to complete. I have to keep things in perspective so I can be brave and sell our home to better our family. Thanks Nester!

  33. Hahahaha, boob lights-that’s what we’ve always called them too and I can’t stand them!! (Here in Ethiopia though, a boob light might be a welcome change from some of the, um, flamboyant light fixtures that they like here ;) )

  34. Valerie H. says:

    Wow, I needed this today! My laundry room is the “let’s test all the paint on this wall”-room that the previous owners left in our basement. Ugh. Plus, it’s a basement. Yuck. Who wants to do laundry there? Now, I’m starting to think about all the leftover paint we have, and if it might make a decent (one-color) wall color there!

  35. It’s a wonderful transformation! For your gallery wall, Sarah Richardson (the Canadian designer), hinges a canvas on one side to cover/hide visible electric panels. You are able to beautify the space and still have easy access. Also down the road a heat mat installed on your concrete floor would enable you to ditch the wood stove. I took a horrific 80’s man cave basement from a poker table/bar/pool table/red & black faux fur carpeted space to a clean white/turquoise/charcoal grey studio. Life is good!

  36. Love the way it is all coming together – great choice on the neutral floor color – with that and your white walls the sky is the limit to what you can do with accessories. Now, if only I’d find some motivation to get my workroom more organized. I have good light and bones, just need to be more efficient. And I need a few things on the walls. I have been very slow with my walls in this house.

  37. Wow! I would be slapping me a pretty picture – you know, something with a giant magnet on the back – to camouflage/enhance/adorn that metal fuse box!
    What a masterful work you have performed – what an elegant transformation – already!
    Just like God does with our lives when we release them to Him.
    Everything/body is simply a work in progress.
    One rough spot at a time being changed into something beautiful and usable by the Master.:)
    Keep the faith Girl – you are doing a beautiful and worthy job!

  38. I just cannot believe the transformation! I would never have been able to “see” it in the before.

  39. Wow, girl, you. are. good. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but that space is amazing. I LOVE the pink. As always, thanks for encouraging the rest of us to find beauty even where we think it’s impossible. Did I mention I love the pink?

  40. Love this post! It encourages even domestically-challenged me to make some needed changes. I feel another painting session coming on, especially as I’m sitting here looking around my office thinking, “Yuck!”

  41. I absolutely LOVE watching your room transformations! The color scheme you’ve chosen is so pretty and is sure to become one of your favorite spaces. Thank you for teaching those of us who aren’t so decorator savvy how to make a seemingly impossible space possible. You inspire me and I’m sure many, many others.

  42. Love love love the Roseate Spoonbill picture! That would certainly give me inspiration.

  43. it’s looking so wonderful with just the little bit you’ve done. i’m sort of facing a similar dilemma. i’m renting studio space one minute from my house. it’s an old store and has wonderful space, but the walls are a yellow brick, the floor is old wood, the wall is yellow wood. the whole place reflects an awful yellow light. white paint would be the answer! but it’s not my place and i’m trying to do things that are temporary and can be taken with me. making an idea board is a great idea.

  44. What a difference! Could you write a post sometime showing us how to make a mood board? I have pinned pictures but don’t know how to get them on a page like you do. Thank you.

    • click over to the link where I said “here’s more about my vision board up there” under the photo of mine, at the end of the post I tell how I did mine and another good resource. xo

  45. Kris Pare says:

    You had me at hopeless! :) Love this to do list. Perfect for my home I just bought and have to fill it up since half went the other way. Sadly, I am using a plant stand to put a lamp on. Don’t expect to put any drinks down at my house if you visit. Estate sales, junk sales, and dumpster diving with refurb with paint coming this spring. I actually splurged and bought the rug for the LR and WOW, you are right set the mood for my new life I’m starting. Just bought the inspiration art to start it all. Totally different then when I was in the married house. Yeah for little one and I as we decorate how WE like.

  46. So exciting to see this transformation, and super tips.

  47. I am always inspired by your posts! I am just now starting to jump on the idea of rugs. We only have one that I love, and it is hard for me to spend the money on them….but I can see how they transform a space!

    Also, quick thought – have you ever thought of doing a post on “how to live without a kitchen?” We are going to be gutting our kitchen for a total overhaul in the next 2 months and I am looking for tips on how to survive without an oven/stovetop!

  48. I LoVe this post. I need to create a link to it and put it on my desktop. Then I need to get cracking on my office/sewing room.

  49. well, that turned out amazing.
    and, you’re not finished yet!

    can’t wait to see how the gallery wall comes together.

  50. Thanks for the inspiration! I loved the recommendation to buy something cause I’m a cheapo too and you’re totally right—if you buy something it will inspire you to continue the progress so you don’t waste what you bought.

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