Lighten Up: How to Brighten Any Room on a Budget

All it took to update this formal living room were a few cans of paint, some fresh slipcovers, and a dose of budget-conscious inspiration.

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Lighten Up, Sitting Pretty, floral living room with red roses in white jug on coffee table
Michael Partenio

Gather 'Round

Donna Talley, a Saratoga Springs, New York-based designer, has done her share of savings-savvy room makeovers. So when we asked her to breathe life into this outdated living and dining room with an eye toward spending dollars wisely in the right places, she knew just what to do. Her approach? Reinvent the existing pieces with paint and fabric, and spend sparingly on a few carefully selected new pieces to add design details.

Talley started out by changing the color palette of the room, trading cool-pink walls for a soft powder blue. The Victorian-style sofa was in fine physical shape, but its fussy wooden frame made it feel too formal. Another problem: The fabric on the two armchairs that rounded out the seating area had seen better days. Talley rejuvenated all three pieces with slipcovers in a blue-and-cream floral fabric on the chairs and a solid beige on the sofa.

Talley then moved on to the decorative fireplace, which had a handsome mantel but still failed to call enough attention to itself. To make it a stronger focal point, Talley had a pair of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves built -- the one splurge -- to flank either side (the same effect can be achieved with snug-fitting, freestanding bookcases) and leaned a large mirror above the fireplace, which was painted to match the new fabrics. A newly acquired yet lackluster coffee table was livened up with a clever paint job, as was an existing antique chest of drawers and a handed-down dining set.


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