Courtney’s Design Dilemma

Courtney’s living and dining room is ready to be transformed. Here’s her letter:

I received a mood board as a Christmas gift and I’m super excited! I read your blog almost every day and love your style (and budget-conscious ideas!). Anyway, my boyfriend and I just moved in together and we really need help with our living room/dining room (with focus on the living room). Our style is much more casual as opposed to formal and we like more traditional styles. We are definitely open to some fun touches though! If we had to pick a store that best reflected our desired aesthetic, it would be Crate and Barrel. We DEFINITELY need some color in the space- everything right now is pretty brown. Most of the furniture needs to stay but we are willing to get rid of the dining room chairs, the hutch near the front door, and the lamps. The TV and stand will not be staying and we need a new wall color. There aren’t any particular colors or patterns that we hate but we tend to lean towards more natural colors (and Eric would kill me if the walls ended up pink). Thanks for all of your help and we are looking forward to what you all come up with! – Courtney (and Eric)

Here’s the plan:

An here’s our newly proposed layout:

And now for the mood board breakdown.

1. When it comes to crisping things up for a warm and casual atmosphere we’d love to see Benjamin Moore’s Westminster Gold 200 on the walls to create a rich wheaty-gold backdrop for the space (you can see it in action over here in Abbey’s after photos- it’s a great color for rooms with rich toned furnishings like brown or red). And as for accent colors we’ll be bringing in more browns and tans along with neutral sandy tans and taupes plus a variety of layered green tones from sage and celery to pistachio.

2. These luxe silk pillows (just $29!) will instantly break up the dark brown sofa and add a pop of color to the matching brown leather chair (which we’d love to see moved to the opposite corner where the TV used to reside, angled in towards the center of the sofa across the room). Then the sofa can move a bit closer to the wall with the front door so Courtney can add matching end tables with statement-making table lamps on either side.

3. Over in the dining area, turning the table 90 degrees and pushing the short side against the left wall will create a peninsula of sorts. It will still accommodate two, three or even four chairs (and can be pulled out and rotated to facilitate larger groups on occasion) but for the day to day, creating this peninsula will help the flow and make the space feel more intentional and balanced then placing it off-centered but not against the wall (as it is in the before photo above). Then because the table is lighter oak but the dark chocolate shelving piece nearby will stay, we think using a dark gel stain to get the dining table to the same tone as the rich brown shelving unit will instantly tie it into the space and make the room look a lot more cohesive and elegant. Then that shelving piece can be used as a sort of buffet of sorts for the dining room (complete with stacks of plates and pretty decorative glassed and candle holders in our color scheme). And because Courtney wanted to replace her chairs, we thought these charming pistachio colored ones would add interest and dimension to the dining room while tying in with the new darker table and the other green accent colors throughout the space.

4. Once the sofa is shimmied over towards the wall with the door on it (to accommodate a side table on each side) we’d love to see two or three of these gorgeous wooden wall panels hanging above it. They can be placed about 5″ apart from each other and about 24″ above the back of the sofa to add texture and sculptural interest in a snap. And we love that the pattern in the panels actually ties in with the rug that we’ll be introducing in a few moments.

5. One of our favorite ways to instantly break up a big rectangular wooden table is with a fabric table runner, and this punchy green one will definitely layer even more tones of green into the space while breaking up all that brown. And the price? Almost insane.

6. For art in the dining area, we’d love to see this cool collection of plates hung centered on the left wall where the side of the table will be placed to create a peninsula. The colors will immediately tie in with everything from the rug to the green accents and even the leather sofas, and the 3D interest will really punch of the dining room in a snap.

7. It doesn’t get much more subtle than these soft pistachio green curtains from Ikea that still have enough neutral taupey tones to help them fit right in with the rest of the room. We’d love to see them hung high (a few inches below the ceiling) and wide (around 18″ beyond each window in the room) to maximize light and make those windows look grand and gorgeous.

8. Here are the beautiful side tables that we dug up. We love that they look high-end and elegant while ringing in at just $99 each. Plus their warm brown hues will work with the rug and help to set off the dark chocolate sofa that they’ll soon flank.

9. And speaking of the rug, we’d love to see this 6 x 9′ beauty in the center of the living space to help visually define a cozy and casual seating area by connecting the armchair that will now live in the old TV corner to the sofa across the room. Setting down a coffee table in the middle of the rug will also help anchor everything and create a definite “sitting zone” within a large space that also includes a dining area. That’s why we love the idea of snagging this round light wood version from Target (round= great for flow in a room that people pass through). And painting it a soft pistachio color to mimic the chairs in the dining area (just bring home green paint swatches and select the one that matches those chairs the closest) will really take the table from simple to stunning. Oh and here’s a furniture painting tutorial which should come in handy.

10. This showstopper of a lamp (which is a total steal when you consider that comparable ones are all around $200) will look amazing on either side of the sofa atop each of Courtney’s new matching end tables. In a space that was once overwhelmed by brown furnishings and wood (on the floors, the furniture, etc) small pops of green like these lamps, the pillows, the curtains, the coffee table and the dining chairs will really add layered style and interest to keep the room feeling fresh and inviting.

Oh and since we suggested using a gel stain to make the dining table a bit darker to work with the deeper toned pieces that will remain in the space, we also think the front door could either be stained in the same dark color to work with the rest of the room or painted a crisp white tone just like the other doors in the space for even more cohesion and effortless polish.

So there you have it. A living and dining room full of casual and inviting style. We can’t wait to see what you guys think!

Update: We sadly can no longer find the time to take on client commissioned mood boards (we now whip up general inspiration boards instead) but if we ever reinstate them we’ll make a big announcement!


  1. Barbara says

    As usual, a great mood board.


    get over to apartmenttherapy. You are one of the six finalists and furthermore you had more votes than the other five.

    Keep up the good work. Can hardly wait for all the baby ideas in the new year. Our daughter is expecting a girl in June, if all goes well.

  2. Meredith says

    Can I just say I’m loving the addition of floor plans to your mood boards? I’m a visual person and it helps so much to get a sense of how things will look. Question: it kind of seems like the dining table might not fit when turned as a peninsula? I’m guessing you must get room measurements prior to designing things so I’m sure you know that it will. :) Also, I love the plate collage—fun!

    • says

      Hey Meredith,

      Yup, we get a lot of extra info that we don’t include in our mood board postings for the blog (we send out a thorough questionnaire for each client to fill out) so a lot of times we know a bit more about the space than the details that we divulge in each Design Dilemma post. We try to keep it simple for our readers (and of course include even more details for the homeowner). Hope it helps!


  3. Amelia says

    i really hope Courtney sends some after pics – i would love to see all these greens together! great job – cozy, but fresh!

  4. Nicole says

    As always a great job! I’ve been reading your blog for almost 2 years now after doing a search about 1950’s ranch houses with red brick…in fact, our houses look very much alike, except I don’t have a fireplace, but I have the chimney on the front…(we’re thinking when a remodel was done the fireplace was axed)…anyway….the idea of putting together a mood board as really helped me to focus on elements that go in rooms without randomly buying and returning items…so…THANK YOU…I have 2 queries: 1. We just had crown installed in the great room and well…the nail gun left skid marks on the ceiling… what colour did you guys use for the ceilings of your home? (Oddly enough, I had chosen Glidden’s Sand White when we first moved in here…another creepy coninky-dink)…. And 2. You mentioned Gel Staining the table to make it darker in this post…. What is the process involved for that and do you have a fave colour that is in the dark family–a brand you would recommend? I bought a marvelous round (with 2 leaves) dining table with 4 chairs at Habitat Restore on sale for $48 dollars–seriously…it is a really great piece and I want to make it darker and of course recover the cushions yada yada…. Any tips??

    Thanks for all the lovely work…I’m a teacher and while I get paid the big bucks (facetious tone here)…it’s great to do things the eco-friendly and budget-friendly way to still achieve a wonderful home! : ) Scratch Burger’s ears from us in Charlotte, NC.

    • says

      Hey Nicole,

      Good questions! As for our ceilings, they’re all Benjamin Moore’s Decorators White (except for the soft blue-gray one in the bedroom) but we plan to change that because we like the look of a bit of tone on the ceiling so it’s less stark. Sand White sounds like a lovely ceiling option to keep things light and open while going beyond basic white. As for gel staining, we don’t actually have any brands or colors memorized but most home improvement stores have a great little board on display full of actual wood that has been stained with nearly every stain that they sell so you can look at it in action and pick your favorite color. As for a tutorial, the applications of each product differ slightly so we recommend just following the directions on the can to the letter since vague step by step instructions might not work as well as following their specific suggestions. Hope it helps!


  5. Jamie says

    Yes, another thumbs up to the floor plan! I used to skip the mood board breakdowns because I’m not good at visualising them, but this time I read each one and matched it up with the plan. Thanks for that extra detail, it really makes these posts even more enjoyable!

  6. Paula M. says

    Fabulous ideas! Love the suggested color scheme and the textures in particular.

    I’ve got a lot of dark brown furniture in my living room, too, so it’s especially interesting to me to see ideas for how to break that up. (So far, I’m going with a combination of pre-existing artwork for the walls, the addition of some kilim pillows and a big glam gold-toned mirror over the fireplace and very pale gold-tone, subtle paisley motif curtains for the sliding glass patio doors.)

    And those Thai-looking wall panels from Bed Bath and Beyond are great-looking, and for such a price! I was just looking this week at wood panels on another site that cost much more — though to be fair about it, they were bigger and were definitely from Thailand. But hey, this gives the same effect and for much less money. Sweet! You all sure find the bargains!

    Can’t wait to see the AFTER photos down the road.

    As ever, thanks for the inspiration and the legwork, something that benefits all your readers.

  7. says

    This is beautiful! I just wanted to say I am FINALLY caught up on reading all of the archives and I am on the current post. I’m so excited to be in the present just in time for a new year of posts. Happy New Year to all four of you!

  8. Vicki says

    Tip on the plate collage – you can find one almost exactly like the one at BBB at Pier 1. We have it and there is only a slight difference on the lightest colored plates. Same price.

  9. Tiffany says

    I also appreciate the addition of the floor plans. Now if we could just force everyone to send pictures of the Afters. I love seeing the results.

  10. says

    I absolutely LOVE your mood board for this couple! wow!
    you guys definitely deserve your own show.
    you both are so creative in the home environment…
    and your videos are entertaining..

    love to your blog! xo
    and congrats on the homies award!

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