Reader Question: John’s Blank Slate, Part 1

We were really excited to get a request from a California reader, John, asking for advice about decorating his “blank slate” condo.  We’re both well past the blank-slate stage in our own homes, and more in the one-thing-in-one-thing-out stage, so this was a fun opportunity for us to start from scratch.

From John:

I’ve never put much effort into settling in to any of the places I’ve lived prior to the place I am now (for the first time in a long time) calling home… And as a result, I’m having a hard time trusting myself when it comes to purchasing anything because I simply don’t have a lot of experience doing so. I know what I like when I see it, but for some reason, I never can seem to reproduce the same aesthetic (or anything remotely close to it).
I have been eyeing the West Elm Tillary sectional sofa for a while now, but would die trying to figure out the right color/fabric. I also need a rug, a chair and a coffee table, and all of the other awesome little things (throw pillows, etc…) that make a living room. The West Elm media console and the IKEA book shelves are the only items I’m attached to. I plan on staining the bookshelves and possibly swapping out the wooden base legs for miniature 6″ hairpin legs.
I work in healthcare (occupational therapy) and spend 90% of the day on my feet, so I really need a comfortable place to relax after work. I do like to read and I’ve always wanted a reading nook. And I’d love to be able to have friends over for movie/show watching. I also play guitar, so a place to watch movies, read, and play guitar are pretty much at the top of my list…
John also described wanting a warm, cozy, quirky, but grown-up aesthetic.  He loves rich colors and a vintage feel, but with a minimalist vibe.  Here are some photos we pulled from his Pinterest board that illustrate his style and what he’s going for.



Clockwise from top left: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

This is a huge task, with lots of details to consider, so we’re breaking it up into two posts.  This week we’re tackling the layout and major furniture pieces, and next we’ll come back with textiles and decor, and some ideas about the dining area.

We spent a lot of time (together!  In Alaska!) trying to figure out the best use of space.  Mind you we don’t have dimensions, but it looks like John’s place has a long and lean living room area that presents some challenges for cozy reading and TV watching.  Here’s what we came up with:


We like the idea of the TV not being visible when you first walk in the door, so to make the room feel more multi-functional we tucked the West Elm media console against the short wall opposite the floating sofa.  The idea is to create several separate zones in the living room; one for cozying up and watching movies, and another next to the windows for reading or playing guitar.

John wants to keep his Ikea shelves, but we struggled to figure out a good spot for them. We came upon this example of them on their side, end to end, and think it’s the perfect solution.  In this orientation they’ll help define the long room, and also provide a lovely base for a gallery wall – which featured heavily in John’s inspiration pics (more on that next week).

Red House West || Reader Question

John mentioned that he likes the Tillary sectional from West Elm, and has been close to buying it recently.  We like the look of it, but we did a little poking around and learned that the back cushions are not attached to the sofa at all.  That means unless it’s pushed completely against a wall, it’s pretty much nonfunctional.  And, because we think floating a sofa would work best, we’re recommending going a different direction:

Red House West || Reader Question

This sofa from Interior Define is a similar price to the West Elm Tillary (better, actually!), and it has a ton of great customization options.  We’re nuts about it in Citrine Mod Velvet, but chose more toned down options for John.  Based on the palette of his mood board we’d recommend ordering swatches in both navy and gray, and think either velvet or their canvas-like “heavy cloth” would be good options.

We think John could create a nice conversation nook against the large window at the back of the living room with a pair of mid-century chairs like the ones featured in many of his pinned spaces.  These days there are a lot of new versions at reasonable prices, but Craigslist is always a great source for these types of the chairs too.  Just make sure you have a matching pair (or at least two very similar chairs) to make the space feel cohesive and pulled together.


Two cute options (left, right)

Here’s a mood board with the main pieces we recommend for John’s space.  We think these would go a long way toward creating the warm and grown-up, artful space John hopes for.

Reader Question Living Room


Next week we’ll share ideas for textiles and art to pull the space together and give it more personality.  What do you think of the direction we’re headed so far?

Thanks for reading along, and we hope you’ll stay tuned!

18 responses on “Reader Question: John’s Blank Slate, Part 1

  1. Emily

    Yessss I love reader’s questions! This is such a great start… I too will soon be at the blank slate stage as I’m moving to a new house (Georgian! High ceilings! Fireplaces!) and furniture placement is such an important place to start, before all the pretty things start going in. Love your ideas for the space. I think a lot of people naturally tend to position all their furniture against the walls, which is not a good look, and would be scared/wouldn’t think to put the sofa in the middle of the room like that, which immediately makes it more cosy and welcoming. Can’t wait to see part 2!

  2. Alienor

    Layout good, if a little crowded maybe, unless the room is larger than it looks.

    A word on the butterfly chair: if he stands all day he may have knee problems. I do, and found that the butterfly is just too low for comfortable up and down action (very sad but true). With space constraints, a chair in the reading nook accompanied by a stool so that either could be dragged into the orbit of the couch for larger gatherings.

    If the stool were wooden or Chinese ceramic and had a flat top, it could double as another coffee table for drinks and foot on movie night.

    1. Katie

      That’s good information about the butterfly chair – thanks for your input! And good idea about the stool; this is definitely a space for multi-functional furniture.

  3. Carol Bryner

    I love all your suggestions, especially putting the bookshelves on their sides. It makes the tops of them so much more useful. And I, too, did a double take when I saw Beatrice on the Pinterest photo. Looking forward to part 2!

    1. Katie

      Exactly – the shelves will function more like a long credenza on their sides. And I love that you recognize fair Beatrice!

  4. Gillianne

    A sensible and attractive layout. I like the combinations of colors and textures in the last photo as a translation of John’s aesthetic (and spied a familiar interior pulled from his mood board). Only issue: a lot of legginess across the sofa, chairs, table, and console. The leg styles of all those pieces contribute to a sense of openness, but it helps the room to have something to ground it, don’t you think?–more than the upended bookcases. Maybe the media console would do it.

    1. Katie

      Yes! The slum of legs (thank you Saarinen) is why we opted for the bent-metal sofa legs rather than mid-century peg ones. Maybe a pedestal coffee table (I love the concrete mushroom ones) would help break it up a little. Thanks Gilliane!

  5. Angela Zukowski

    I loved it all and will be begging for help soon, myself! Ha. The only thing I might suggest is creeping on craigslist for a sofa – depending on where you live, you can find some amazing stuff. I just feel pretty strongly that most sofas produced now at that price point or lower just don’t wear as well/last as long. Look at DesignSponge’s West Elm sofa (looks kinda like poo, now that she has had it a while). Go slightly used and as high-end as you can! And be kind to the environment while you are at it 🙂 (I realize this suggestion is not for everyone – some prefer new, and not everyone enjoys obsessively checking craigslist and researching sofas!)

    1. Katie

      No need to beg! Just send us a question:) I agree that Craigslist can be a good option, but I haunted the Eugene/Portland listing for months and months looking for a sofa. I didn’t find anything that didn’t need reupholstery that wasn’t prohibitively expensive, so we finally ended up building our own. Thanks Angela!

  6. John (with the blank slate)

    You two nailed it! You’re awesome! I absolutely love all of your suggestions and can’t wait to get started! I will follow up with photos as soon as I make some progress.

  7. Ananda

    I love reader questions and the answers that you come up with. This seems like a cozy and functional layout for John. Hopefully he will update us once he makes the space his own!

  8. Joel Davis

    This is as fun as it gets. Can’t wait to see the transformation! You ladies are super generous and smart. Keep up the good work!

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