A few years ago I was invited to participate in HGTV’s Designers’ Challenge television show. Maybe you’ve seen it – on each episode, three different interior designers present their ideas for a particular room to a client. The client then chooses one of the designs to implement. This episode featured Bonnie, the mother of two teenage children, who had a bonus room upstairs in her Cape Cod-style house. She wanted it transformed into a multipurpose space where she could work on her computer while the children did their homework but, when the homework was finished, she wanted it to be a space where they could all play games, watch television, and relax with friends. She already had a foosball table in the middle of the room and a large wooden entertainment unit tucked into an alcove in one wall.
Bonnie originally said she wanted the room to be functional and comfortable, with a somewhat rustic feel, a place where people would want to hang out. She also said that she really didn’t know what her style was but she hoped that the designers would be able to help her figure it out. The entire upstairs floor was covered in a green carpet, which Bonnie definitely wanted to go. However, she was concerned about choosing new flooring that would flow properly into the rest of the house – the entertainment unit was a darker wood than the wood used throughout the rest of the decor. She also wanted to keep the white plantation shutters on the windows, which were in good shape.
I specialize in working around existing décor. Unlike some other designers who are well-known for a certain style, I want to help my clients come up with a space that reflects them – not my own particular taste. For me, good interior design requires an understanding of psychology. I believe you really need to know how to work with your clients and get them to share information about what they need, what they like, and what they dislike. I was intrigued by the idea of helping Bonnie to transform the space into a real getaway for her family. She had some nice dark, rich, wooden furniture in it as a start, and I wanted to achieve that same level of warmth in the wall color and in the rest of the furnishings.
When I sat down to come up with a suitable floor plan for the room, I realized that it would be impossible to keep the entertainment unit where it was, and still make the rest of the room work efficiently. So, contrary to Bonnie’s initial request, I moved the entertainment centre to a different wall in the room, which allowed the proper positioning of two comfortable couches in the room, allowing the rest of the space to feel more open. In place of the entertainment unit, I suggested we put in a long desk with a granite countertop where two people could sit to work. In an alcove that housed a small upper and lower cabinet on the other wall, we would insert another small desk, which would enable all three family members to be working at a desk at the same time. Bonnie was pleased with these ideas and she chose my design.
One of the very first steps we took was to replace the flooring. Bonnie had her heart set on beautiful multi-toned spotted gum wood flooring, which I was more than happy to use. The flooring would bring in all the different wood tones used throughout the room, as well as in the rest of the house. We decided to have it installed diagonally, which is a bit unusual, but I find it really helps to open up the space. Next, we decided on the sofas. We chose large, comfortable ones, with oversized rounded arms, detailed with upholstery tacks, and then we had them covered in a combination of buttery, honey-colored leather on the arms and base and dark brown and golden floral chenille on the cushions themselves.
On the walls, we used richly textured grass cloth wallpaper. Back in 2006, people weren’t using wallpaper as much as they are now, so this was perhaps a daring or unusual choice at the time. (It’s not an unusual choice at all, now, which pleases me!) I really like the gentle variation that you get with the subtle shading from a wall covering like grass cloth. And it adds a softness that you just can’t get from paint.
Two soft green area rugs helped to lighten the space, the coffee tables were French country in style and reflected the rounded arms of the sofas, and we accessorized with a striking wrought-iron screen on one wall. We also managed to use a painting that Bonnie already owned and loved in the space.
Bonnie was so pleased with the transformation of the room that, on the very night the project was finished, she slept in it, on the sofa! As a designer, nothing pleases me more than hearing feedback like that.
If you want to see more, here’s the whole HGTV episode:
HGTV Design Challenge part one – before the makeover
HGTV Design Challenge part two – after the makeover