Before and After: Living Room Makeover

Better Homes and Garden's contributing editor Stephen Saint-Onge takes a large, uninviting living room and transforms it into a cozy space with a subtle beach theme.

A Boring Before

Better Homes and Gardens Contributing Editor Stephen Saint-Onge faced a problem that many new construction homeowners face.

The challenge: This bright open room lacked the cozy, inviting feel that the homeowners wanted.

The solution: Stephen creatively rearranges the homeowner's original furniture and adds a few accessories to create a super chic beach-theme living room.

Lay Out What You Have

When Stephen starts a real-home makeover, he likes to gather the props he'll use into one area. This is an easy way to see what you still might need to purchase for the room.

Designer's Tip: "I 'shopped the house' for great-looking props that I felt could play well into the mood I am trying to create, in this case a beach house. Sometimes you might have things stored away or other parts of your home that could be incorporated into your made-over room."

Arrangement 1: A Comfy Look

Stephen's first design moves the sofa away from the wall and positions it in front of the large windows so that the seating area is the first thing people see when they enter the room. By moving the sofa to this position its acts as a soft buffer to the windows, making them seem less overwhelming.

Use What You Have

Stephen used many of the homeowners' original pieces for this first look. He moved the sectional sofa off the wall so it didn't seem so large in the room; it plays a trick on the eye and allows the piece to seem not so large. He also reused the coffee table, and hung their artwork that was leaning on the floor before.

Stephen kept the window covers simple by using roman shades from Smith and Noble. The stripes and color tied in perfectly with the wall color, Harbor Haze by Benjamin Moore.

Arrangement 2: Cozy & Inviting

This final look was Stephen's favorite because it uses the room's design to its fullest. The sofa was positioned in the middle of the room and has a beautiful view out the window. He brought in another chair to complete the seating area.

The Final Look

Stephen tucked a yellow, distressed bookcase in the back corner of the living room to add a bright dash of color into this cool palette. He also warmed up the windows by adding white linen curtain panels that stretched along simple nickel-finished rods. Stephen gave the sofa a makeover by removing the loose blue cushions and replacing them with cozy golden pillows from Target.

Designer's Tip: "By changing out the cushions, I gave the old sofa a new look in an instant. You can save the old pillows and switch them back in later on. This is a great way to freshen up pieces you already have."

An Out-of-the Ordinary Bookcase

For a different look, get creative with the styling of your bookcases.

Designer's Tip: "Styling of book cases or shelves can be done with things you already have; it's all about how you display them. Books can be stacked instead of standing and you can insert props such as artwork or photos to complete the look. The idea is to create things of visual interest that your eye is drawn to."

A Cozy Corner

Stephen moved the original artwork around the room between his first and final arrangements. The new seating area, which featured two white chairs with the round table, created a cozy corner and balanced the side of the room opposite the sofa. Stephen also loved how the crisp white fabric contrasted with the wall and the visual artwork.

A Beachy Vibe

Stephen based the beach house feel of this makeover from the movie Something's Gotta Give. "It is the perfect beach house setting because it represents a modern family home but it is very comfortable, creative, and classic at the same time. In the film, there was great use of color, art, detail, and subtle hints of being on the beach," Stephen says. To immerse all of the senses into the beach vibe of this room, Stephen sprayed suntan oil around bring the beach inside.

Simple Accessories

With the film as the undertone makeover, Stephen brought in small accents that hinted at the sea. Seashells, books about the ocean, sand in jars, and photos of the family on the beach were used to accessorize the look. He also likes to incorporate flowers into his designs. Flowers are an easy way to treat yourself and bring color in the room.

The Perfect Fit

This is one of Stephen's favorite shots of the room. He used a console table featuring clear-based lamps (a bargain find from Target) to frame the large boat painting. Stephen also used a sisal rug on the floor and two wooden bunching tables as a flexible coffee table (they can also be used as additional seating if needed).

Local Art

As someone who loves to support local artists, Stephen used the paintings of Joan Palano Ciolfi for this makeover. Check out more of her work at

Designer's Tip: If you don't have any artwork of your own, such as oil paintings like these, buy wide white matted frames with room to insert a photograph of your own.

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