7 Ways to Make the Most of What You Already Have | Before & After


Crystal called me to help her pull together her new house. This was her request:

“I used to have a colourful condo. Oranges and yellows have always been a favourite of mine, and in the last 5 years, I’ve loved pinks. I hired a designer about 6 years ago, and I guess she was successful at convincing me that colour was kids’ stuff and neutrals were sophisticated. 

So out with all my stuff and in with the new. Cream, chocolate browns, and greens. I found it bland and lifeless, although yes, very nice and sophisticated. So I started adding pink with Designers Guild bedding, decorative pillows, etc. I also bought some whimsical paintings with colour punches (I’ve attached photos of them).”  

I was very impressed by your colourful portfolio and would love your help.”


When I arrived in Crystal’s home, I didn’t see her beautiful paintings anywhere. She had only one hanging in her main living area, but it wasn’t immediately visible. The other two were hanging in her adjoining office and down the hallway.

Here are seven steps to using what you already have to transform your home:

1. Your most gorgeous pieces should be seen immediately. 

Since those paintings were the pieces she loved, I immediately brought them out, turning them into the focal point of her main living area.


Crystal’s living and family room were located side by side because the previous homeowner had taken out the wall in between them. She had bought a charcoal sectional for this room that currently had the purple sofa (above), but she ended up splitting it in half and installing it in her living room instead (below).

2. Don’t split a sectional. It rarely looks right.

It rarely works to split a sofa that should be together. It looks like you’ve moved into a new space, where your old furniture doesn’t work.


Crystal hadn’t bought new rugs yet because she didn’t know which colour to buy, so she had these shag rugs from Costco as placeholders.


We moved the sectional back together to her family room side, and we were able to bring it to life using her existing Designers Guild pillows to coordinate with her fabulous pink artwork.

Notice how the tree trunks in the art pick up the earthy, brown tile surround and make it fit right in.

3. A decorative box, some colourful books, and flowers always look good.

I immediately whipped up a vignette on her end table using an existing decorative box, some coordinating books, and some faux flowers:



4. Muted colours die with charcoal. 

The sage green curtains came from Crystal’s last condo, but they died when hanging next to her charcoal sectional.

That’s the reason why grey is here, it goes with clean, bright and strong colours.


They were much better with her purple sofa in front, along with some coordinating sage pillows:



5. Low upholstered chairs designed for a living room don’t usually work in the dining room.

The flowered upholstered chairs you see above were moved here from her dining room (below), where they were too low to be used as dining chairs.

She knew they were not right with her existing colour scheme and confessed that they had been an impulse purchase.


6. Use the leaves in your dining room table only for large parties. . . 

. . . unless your table is too small for your dining room in the first place.

I immediately removed the modern silver and brown mirror from the focal point wall in the dining room and relocated it to the entry. The trellis pattern in the silvery/gold mirrored sideboard clashed with it, making it look too busy. I also removed the orange artwork on either side.

Plus, Crystal’s gorgeous artwork needed to be way more visual.

I also removed two leaves in her dining table. The existing arrangement made the room look like it needed two more chairs on each side and extended past where the dining room technically ended.


7. Repeat clean and dirty colours so your colour scheme looks intentional.

After we installed her colourful artwork in the dining room, the greens in the drapery and the two end chairs looked dull in comparison.


Luckily, Crystal had some potted maiden hair ferns in her kitchen window, which I relocated as a centerpiece (above). Just by repeating the brighter green once, everything looked just right.


I also suggested two candlestick lamps to go on her sideboard. These are skinny enough to work layered in front of the artwork.


Crystal taught me something about maiden hair ferns that day because I can’t keep them alive longer than one month. She said they dry out too fast if you keep them in the 4″ pots they come in, and that if you transplant them into the decorative pot they are displayed in, they will last longer.

Here’s the grey, yellow, and white flowered chair that needs to be replaced:




Here’s the before picture again.

I asked Ted (my photography instructor) to Photoshop the chair so we could see how it looked in orange:


I would actually suggest a new pattern to pick up the cream, orange, and purple. Perhaps a stripe! When you have too many solid upholstered items, it starts looking too much like you’re shopping off the shelf at big box stores. There are some items that simply need to be custom in order to have a space that looks properly pulled together.

A green and cream area rug in both rooms would help them look unified because they are located side by side:


Then I would recommend the charcoal sectional in the family room be replaced with a cream sofa, or the same purple sofa that’s in the living room. Crystal has pets, so a cream sofa is not an option for her.

So let’s recap, shall we?

If you find the right designer to help you make all your colour choices, you stop buying mistakes that you’ll regret later or worse, permanent mistakes that you might have to live with FOREVER.

If we add up ONLY the sectional and two chairs (not to mention, placeholder rugs, incorrect lighting, etc), I’m guessing they were around $3,500 – $5,000. That more than pays for a designer’s fee. Many times over, in actual fact.

Plus, not only do you save yourself the pain of buying mistakes you’ll regret, but you’ll actually have a plan to get a home that fills you with happiness when you walk in the door!

This proves that the right colour designer is not just a luxury, but an absolute necessity!

PS. I photoshopped both the silver lamp (which repeats the silver in the chandelier, shown above) and the brown one because it relates to the brown in the photo.

Which one would you choose?


Before & After pics taken with my iPhone 6.

Have a great week everyone!

Related posts:

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or a Necessity?

The 3 Most Important Words in a Colour Consultation

23 Things Only a Designer will Tell You



leave aREPLY

  1. Superb job. The slightly more colorful new version is far more lively, sophisticated, unique, and wonderful. First rate work!

  2. I love this redesign! The reason why many designers start from scratch is that they can bring their vision to life not necessarily the homeowner’s vision. Redesign may be a bit more complicated but is more fun and more challenging. It is a back to basics lesson in design…choose your one thing (pillow, art, rug, fabric) that you love and use that as your starting point for color and style. This is a very informative post. Would love to see more of these.

  3. Great work! Sometimes it just takes the eye of a designer to take what’s already there and make it look beautiful. Amazing seeing the difference it makes!

  4. All I can say is, wow! What a difference! You really know how to make it all work when it’s in the right color and coordinated just right. I’ve gotta go back to work full time so I can hire you myself!

  5. Lovely:)
    The brown lamp wins my vote. The silver lamp interrupts the artwork whereas the brown lamp blends into the artwork perfectly.;)

  6. First off, what a beautiful transformation with just a few simple changes. And it still looks sophisticated. I love the pops color in the space…I’d be very happy in this home!

    How do you know who the “right” designer is? I’m curious what questions to ask to better determine who is right for you and your tastes?

  7. Just a wonderful transformation, I’m impressed. As to the DR lamps, I like the brown, sort of fades into the background of the painting and relates to the wooden bridge. Love the paintings too, they’re whimsical and bright.