Living Room Makeover

I can’t express to you the joy I feel right now. And the relief.

We started working on the living room last October, if we’re being technical. That doesn’t include some tests we did on the wall a couple months before that, with small patches of test paint we hid behind artwork for several months.

Even though it was fall when we finally bought a steamer and had our paint color mixed, fall was a rough time for us, which left me out of commission for a while—and then I was nauseated on and off until mid-January, thanks to a growing little boy who is due to arrive in the next 6 to 8 weeks (hopefully closer to 6, but I’m trying not to count on that, since apparently a lot of first-time moms go past their due date). 

Thanks to my baby shower, which my friends hosted here at the house, our “sometime in July” remodeling deadline was moved up to June 10—because nobody wants to have a party in a room full of drop cloths, wallpaper scrapings, and miscellaneous tools—which was stressful, but at the same time will be REALLY helpful in the next month or so now that we don’t have to worry about it anymore, especially if the baby decides to surprise us early. I’m super grateful they suggested doing it here and that I was brave enough to agree.

So here is a summary of everything we did:

  • Steamed and stripped beige paint and underlying dark green wallpaper
  • Primed and painted newly blank walls (with the help of several amazing people)
  • Purchased real furniture and an area rug
  • Painted our piano
  • Purchased an extra, thrift-store sofa and covered with slipcover
  • Added miscellaneous decorations

That doesn’t sound that bad, right? But oh my goodness. Let me just start with a few “before” photos.

This was the living room as it appeared on Zillow, before we bought it. 


After we moved in, I tried to add a few of my own decorations, which looked gross next to all this beige. Below, note the 1970s curtains on the far left that came with the house.

We still had no furniture yet, except our one old couch that is severely scratched up thanks to our cat, but we put that couch in the office and I try to hide parts of it shamefully with a throw blanket.


Also, here is the piano my brother-in-law gave me, before and after (round 1), where I tried to sand it down and stain it gray, and it came out looking like I had painted it purple instead.

And the other side of the room (with scratched-up couch we later moved into the office):

Naturally, it would have been easiest to just paint our preferred color over the beige that was already there. But the previous owners had painted beige on top of wallpaper. Nano says people who paint over wallpaper don’t care about their house, so he said we certainly couldn’t do the same thing they had done.

However, as much as I agreed with Nano, one session with the steamer took so long it made me want to cry, and I couldn’t imagine doing this to the entire room; we wouldn’t be finished until we were in our forties, I was sure. But we persisted.

Nano did the first wall mostly by himself (because I was sick, and at one point couldn’t stand the smell of the melted glue), and then once I felt better, I took over and did the rest of the room. Since I work from home and the assignments from my more miscellaneous clients tend to fluctuate, I could try to fit in a little bit of steaming each day. That way, Nano could focus on some other repairs we are doing, as well as building the baby’s crib, and sometimes working late hours at his office.

Most of the walls had beige paint on top of dark green wallpaper with a brown paper base, like this:

This required holding the steamer for several seconds (30 seconds to a minute) to soften the paint—which peeled off like pieces of thin rubber—then going back with the steamer over the wallpaper for a few more seconds (10 to 30) and gently lifting the wet paper with a scraper. 

But the fireplace wall was totally different. It had extra layers that were much more difficult to remove—beige paint on top of a thin brown paper, on top of a light green layer, on top of dark green wallpaper with a brown paper base, like this:

This was a complete nightmare, and took me nearly as long as the rest of the walls combined. I wasn’t sure what was going on with it, why it had extra layers, and why the steam couldn’t get underneath the light green layer well enough to lift off pieces any larger than the size of a dime. The other walls’ surfaces would peel off in foot-long sheets sometimes, but not this one.

I ended up using a tension rod and TWO steamers so that I could let them sit there for several minutes at a time without having to babysit; this helped me get slightly larger pieces to come off and allowed me to multitask around the house.

Note my setup on the left wall panel below. And note that I was doing all of this while seven months pregnant (but I counted this as exercise, ha ha). 

Also note that the piano is now white here, which I like a lot better.


P.S. We had to return 3 steamers over the course of this project because they simply stopped working (wouldn’t heat up anymore), one of them after just a single use, and have them replaced by two different stores. The first one we bought at Home Depot and the second one at Menards. The Home Depot steamer went out and they replaced it; the Menards steamer and its replacement both went out, and they had to replace both. We would’ve tried another brand (these were Wagner) but neither store carried anything else. 

The cat was super helpful too, as always.

We also found some remnants of long-gone people:

Finally we got to prime, which Nano and three nice young men did without me.

Then Nano and I, and two of our gracious friends, starting putting on the final gray. 

Then we brought in all our stuff and I added some decorative flair. 


We are still deciding what to do about wall art, unfortunately, so the walls are still a little bare. It took us weeks to agree on furniture and a rug (and I’m still not sure we totally agree or if we both just gave in a little bit). But it’s much more welcoming now, much more “us,” and I feel a lot more comfortable bringing a baby home to a finished living space. 

3 August 2017