Four-year-old Liam toddles into his light and bright new living room, plastic dinosaur in hand, and glimpses the sofa where he drives his toy cars and snuggles in for story time with his grandma, Karen.
When Karen tragically lost her oldest son in 2013, she moved into this Long Island house and became Liam's guardian. But the space wasn't ideally set up for raising a child. It was sparsely furnished and needed a new deck and water filtration system. Rebuilding Together, a national organization providing free home improvements for people on limited incomes, swooped in to handle the water and deck. Local designer and blogger Jen O'Brien took on the project of decorating the space as a cheerful home.
The Rebuilding Together crew updated the 1986 house with built-ins, paneling, hardware, and lighting. The result? An inviting, kick-your-feet-up space for Karen and Liam to call home. The partial wall between the living and dining rooms came down, and horizontal planks went up on every wall for a seamless look.
O'Brien transformed the 10×28-foot rectangular space with fresh paint and new furniture, pillows, and artwork heavy on those beloved blues. "My goal for the space was to make it pretty, peaceful, and family-friendly," O'Brien says. She turned to the stack of 20 years of magazine pages Karen gave her, including one in blues and indigos from a 1992 issue of Better Homes & Gardens.
Karen entertains at this table, but day to day, it's a play spot. A large ocean print is like having another window, while a new sliding barn door opens to the kitchen and saves on space.
Karen asked for a bright, coastal space. O'Brien's answer: hits of raspberry and indigo against crisp white walls. She paired wicker and light-color wood with brass and black hardware for a casual look.
O'Brien chose the leather Article sofa because she owns the chair version. "Messes have happened on it, and it always cleans up beautifully," says O'Brien, mom to two boys. She also sought out durable textiles and finishes, like washable pillow covers, a dirt-hiding sisal rug, and a weathered-wood dining table.
Rejiggering the furniture arrangement established a logical traffic pattern through the living room. By placing the leather sofa in front of the window and positioning a lowslung armchair on the edge of the rug, O'Brien feed space for an entry. Liam's toy-filled toolbox and books stay accessible but out of the way tucked under the marble-and-steel coffee table. Above the sofa, 3M Thinsulate installed on windows insulates and adds UV protection.
A built-in bookshelf increases toy storage and display space. Across from the sofa, Rebuilding Together volunteers installed stock cabinets and shelves from Lowe's. Brass hardware and sconces (with dimmers for movie night) add shine. O'Brien accessorized the new display space with Liam's artwork and favorite books.
A bench and a mirror are all you need to create an entryway. O'Brien kept the furniture low and see-through to make the space feel continuous. Black legs on the slatted wood bench echo the barn door's metal hardware. The large round mirror provides a focal point useful for last-minute touch-ups. A woven basket under the bench stores shoes and fights clutter. Pillows and a runner provide instant energy.
This national organization unites volunteers and community members to provide safe, healthy homes for people on low incomes. Get involved at rebuildingtogether.org.
Lowe's, Article, Sherwin-Williams, Framebridge, 3M, Joss & Main, Wayfair, Fabric.com, Danielle Oakey Interiors, Dekowe Pillows, Lindsay Letters, Shop PCB Home, Minted