Reader Question: Quick Updates For a New House

Hi everybody, Mera here.  We recently got a question from a reader about a house that she and her husband are purchasing in Anchorage, and I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts here and helpful to have other folks weigh in too.

First let me say that I was waaaaaaay flattered to be asked for design advice.  I pretty much feel like Oprah’s new Nate Berkus.  Second, if you have a question about a design conundrum or a room in your house that just doesn’t feel right, email us pictures and let’s talk about it!  Seriously, we love thinking about this stuff (it’s extra fun when it’s not your own house!) and you’d be making us feel like a million bucks just by asking!  And now to the question that started it all:

Here is the house we are buying.  It has a bright yellow living room.  We NEED to change the color, but we aren’t sure what would work.  (These pictures are from the listing and show the previous owner’s stuff):

Red House West||Reader Question

Red House West||Reader Question

Red House West||Reader Question

The living room/dining/kitchen area has huge south-facing windows with dark wood blinds.  We expect to use those blinds a good amount.  But all the sun means we don’t need anything extra to “brighten” the room.  It’s already bright enough in the summer, and facing the street, I expect it will still be pretty light in the winter too. We have a gigantic stone fireplace in the middle of the room, which we aren’t fond of, but aren’t sure we are going to do anything to for at least a year or so.  

The kitchen cabinets look lighter in the pictures than in real life – they are darker wood too. We just don’t know what colors would make it look homey/cozy, but also match the dark wood and not add brightness.  

Red House West||Reader Question

Congratulations on the new house!  It looks like it has great light and loads of potential.  I love the windows and how open it is!  That fireplace is going to make it so cozy during the winter.

I’m with you that changing the paint color will make a big difference.  I love yellow but something about it evokes 1990s feelings for me, maybe because this iconic logo burned my tender brain:

Katie and I bandied about a few paint color ideas and agreed that we think white is the way to go in your living room.  We’ve heard good things about Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White (but see previous post regarding possible vomit smell situation) and I like Pittsburgh Paint’s Delicate White.

I think the white will help to balance out the warmth of the wood floors and window trim.  I wouldn’t worry about it being too bright–if it seems stark after your furniture is in place it may be that what you need is more texture.  A colorful rug, some throw pillows, a blanket over the back of the sofa and some tall plants (my plants are weeping jealous sap tears right now thinking of all that light!) may just do the trick.  Here is a beautiful bright white living room with loads of light softened by texture:

Emily Henderson's living room, as seen in Domino.  (Ironically Emily Henderson does a reader question feature occasionally and she actually IS a designer unlike yours truly.  Moving on).

Emily Henderson’s living room, as seen in Domino. (Incidentally Emily Henderson does a reader question feature on her blog and she actually IS a designer unlike yours truly. Moving on).

Here is another light-filled white living room that works because of the exposed wood and the textiles and plants:

After changing the paint color, doing something to the stone fireplace will have the biggest impact on the room.  We had a stone facade-d fireplace once upon a time, and Chester pried off the stones and tiled it (he says they came off fairly easily).  I wonder if prying off the stones and then drywalling is an option?  It would make the whole room seem much more modern.  Also, with the windows, the hallway, the dining area, and the fireplace all in view there’s a lot going on in this room.  Making the fireplace less of a thing could make the whole room feel more restful.  Here is a before and after example of what I’m getting at:


The layout of the kitchen looks great.  I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the counters are laminate made to looks granite-ish.  If you’re looking for a relatively quick and inexpensive way to update the counters, check out this idea for creating the look of concrete (this is the same technique Katie used to create her laundry room faux encaustic tile backsplash):

DIY instructions here.

DIY instructions here by Jenny Komenda.  She also did this in her kitchen but dyed the concrete and it’s gorge.

I’d also be tempted to take down the cabinet that is above the counter on the left side of the photo and replace it with open shelving (I regret not having at least some open shelves in my own kitchen, so it’s not impossible that I’m just projecting).  It’d be a fairly easy fix and one that would do a lot to make the kitchen feel more up to date, like in this otherwise traditional kitchen:

I think new lighting could update the kitchen quickly too.  I would choose simple flush mounts for both kitchen lights (instead of the dangly chandelier over the counter).  For over the table I’m thinking something simple and sculptural that doesn’t take up too much visual space:



Finally, I like the looks of that recessed knotty pine chevron area in the living room.  White walls will really highlight it and it could be a great place to hang a special piece of art.  So, thems my thoughts!  Thanks for letting me live out my designer fantasies here on Red House West!  We can’t wait to see what you do with it; it’s going to be great!

11 responses on “Reader Question: Quick Updates For a New House

  1. mcncampion

    Wow. That was FUN. Such thoughtful suggestions, Mera. Your ideas for simple, (largely) inexpensive and quick, big-impact fixes are so good! (While reading this I realized that my mind tends to go too big / too involved when I ponder a project.) Thanks for the examples you’ve shown of smaller changes that make a big impact. Really wonderful. Thanks. And I so hope that, down the road, we’ll be able to see what they decide to do!

    Great post! (They all are. I love this blog, the two of you and your lovely, lively, living friendship.)

    Margy Campion, Chapel Hill NC

  2. Katy Gilmore

    Well I thought I was early to say Wow what a great post, but here is Margy saying much of what I would have said. This feature is such a gift! What a good eye and ideas you have, and how wonderful for the new owner to have great ideas to begin the process. Those listing photos would have overwhelmed me, you make it seem very doable with your suggested small steps. In Alaska, good light trumps a lot, with your changes the new house will be a cheerful and tranquil space.

    Congratulations to the homeowner on a new house and to RHW for inaugurating this generous feature. If you love making these suggestions, please keep ’em coming, As a reader, this was somehow soothing: a knotty problem solved, good ideas proffered, I liked imaging the new space. Surely what RHW does here is what designers do – offering creative ideas that make the world better. You do it well !

    1. meramatthews

      Too true, good light here in Alaska is so important! I think it will be a cheerful home for this sweet couple. Thanks Katy!

  3. michellet2013

    Lots of great suggestions Mera! It’s always fun to get a peek into other people’s homes. I hope that you’ll do a post-painting follow up. I’d love to see the transformation!

  4. Carol Crump Bryner

    It’s so good that they’re asking you before they actually move in, because all your suggestions will seem so doable at that stage. Paint color, as you say, will make a huge difference. And taking out a heavy cabinet, as you suggest, will lighten up the kitchen so much. Very fun to read your cheerful fixes. Begone, Seinfeld yellow!

    1. meramatthews

      It’s so much easier to take on painting and other changes like this when it does’t mean piling everything into another space during the process! Thanks Carol!

    1. meramatthews

      Don’t toy with my emotions! But if you guys really did want to move back I would devote myself whole-heartedly to finding the perfect house for you and making it so gorgeous you would forget Seattle ever existed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *