The problem with my living room was that we didn’t really live in it. We stashed toys in it. We occasionally rearranged the furniture. Then we’d buy more furniture and decide it was worse. This went on for about six years.
My husband and I bought our Spanish-style house in West Hollywood soon after we got married but before we had our kids. It was once owned by designer Billy Haines. Design world people loved this detail. It meant nothing to me. I’m just a civilian who covets great design but is confused by it. While I’m dazzled when someone mixes different patterned throw pillows on a couch, I freeze with panic in a fabric store. It has always felt as if it costs way too much time, energy, and money to become one of these "design world people." It hardly helps that my husband would be happy living in a Holiday Inn.
When we first moved in, one such design world friend helped me pick out some pretty, indigo-colored custom furniture for the living room. It never fit quite right—the couch was too small and the chairs were too big. I always felt like Alice in Wonderland when I’d try to hang out there, which was rare. I didn’t yet understand that adults should buy furniture the way they should buy clothes or accessories: only a few timeless things a year.
Then I hired a different designer through an online service who was great at some things, like introducing me to fun drapery from Anthropologie for my den. However, she also persuaded me to buy some more inexpensive, wrong things for the living room. This is when I learned to stop buying generic things at chain stores. People sell these things cheap on Craigslist. That’s what I did when I realized my living room was still far from living its best life.
Then some of my friends, like jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth and New Girl television show creator Liz Meriwether, started buying houses and having them designed by another friend, Sarah Shetter. Their homes felt distinct, warm, and feminine. Sophisticated but not fussy. Chic and comfortable, but hardly trendy. Now both of these women, along with Sarah’s other clients, such as actresses Busy Phillips, Gillian Jacobs, and Alison Brie, have way deeper pockets than I do. There’s no way I could hire Sarah to do my whole house. But, thankfully, she agreed to work on just my troubled living room.
Her first piece of advice was to stop rearranging the furniture and start over. Fair enough! Then she suggested an $8,000 white couch, and I practically puked in protest. We finally settled on a sofa from Restoration Hardware for about half that price, which still seemed insane. I thought navy would be kid-friendly and cool, until Sarah convinced me that pink would be even cooler—pink velvet! A revelation! Plus, she had a guy who would come over and spray it with some protectant.
Of course, we needed other stuff. Sarah found some gorgeous 1960s bamboo stools that were insanely expensive. I finally decided to splurge, factoring in that it would take me a lot of time to find anything I liked more. Also, I was saving money by buying only a small Persian rug to layer atop my existing sisal—who knew that was kosher?
I put the brakes on a pricey vintage armchair that was going to get reupholstered in fancy French fabric. Instead, I found a similar seat on Chairish for half the price. Sarah was impressed by my sourcing. See? I was using design-world-people words by now. I even got my cheap upholstery guy to make a pillow out of the extra fabric.
Now, I’m a person mixing different patterned throw pillows. More important, I’m a person who lives in my living room—and yells at my kids to keep their feet off the pink couch.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest