What Is Your Room Telling You?

The living room was one of the things that sold me on our house. Since our house was built in the 70’s when sunken living rooms were the thang, you actually step down into the room, because apparently, relaxing is grooviest at lower altitudes. With a vaulted ceiling, the room is open to the upstairs. This is a great set-up from which 7- year-old boys can throw parachute men, paper airplanes, and stuffed animals, and it gives the space some visual drama. It is not, however, great for watching the Walking Dead while your kids are trying to sleep. The previous owners did a lovely job decorating, but the style was not mine. However, I absolutely agreed with the 2 of their choices. They chose a sectional couch, which made tons of sense for the best tv viewing and number of seats in the long, narrow room. Also, they nestled the tv in the middle of large bookshelves on the wall.   I loved both of these ideas, but knew I wanted to go less subdued and little more funky – okay, a lot more funky.

living room before pool view
Living room before

One of the reasons I had trouble warming up to the house was that it felt as though it didn’t have any identity. It wasn’t firmly anything, and the exterior was especially confused. I was looking for ways to inject identity into the space starting from the inside, and that ceiling felt like it held a few clues. The ceiling was begging for something. It was a huge expanse of whiteness, with recessed lighting. It was really high and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, which is precisely what you do not want someone to say after a first date. I knew I wanted to push this confused house in a Spanish direction, and wood beams seemed like just the trick.

If we’re talking wood beams, can we just flashback to this Jessica Helgerson kitchen with which I will forever be in love?

The long, narrowness of the room held some keys. While unusual spaces can be frustrating, they also present unique opportunities to do things you wouldn’t have imagined if you weren’t constrained by the space. Sure, who doesn’t love big square rooms with windows, doors, a fireplace, and electrical outlets in the perfect spots? Yawn. I want to see a room with a window on the ceiling and a spiral staircase smack dab in the middle. Now we’re talking . . . about a submarine . . . which is not exactly what I meant. What I’m trying to say is that weird rooms have personality.  That whole “necessity is the mother of invention” thing applies beautifully, especially when it comes to creatively decorating and designing our spaces.

I went to Pinterest and began dreaming. I could expand on the original owners’ idea for this long wall with some built-ins. They would give me the chance to fulfill a life-long design dream of having a library ladder, which might be a little ridic (isn’t that what the kids are saying these days?) but no more ridic than having high shelves that you can’t reach.

living room inspo black shelves
These built-ins by Tristan and Juliana are in a room with a vaulted ceiling (like mine) and beams too!
SSS living room
Sarah Sherman Samuel knocking it out of the park per usual in her vaulted ceiling living room.
Okay. It’s not a living room, but there is a library ladder. Actually, it’s just an excuse to put another space in here designed by Jessica Helgerson. Pretty soon this whole blog is just going to be a link to her website.

If you need built-ins, you’re going to have to use math. MATH. I do math, but I don’t like it. My husband was an engineer many moons ago before he did entertain-y stuff, so he and math got along just fine. When I told him about my plan we decided, “We should do this together!! Won’t that be fun and won’t we not want to kill each other?! Of course we won’t that sounds perfectly reasonable!!!” We said that in unison just like it sounds. We are that in sync with each other.

He got excited and got graph paper, and I just kept looking at Pinterest. I was hoping to find a way to completely cover up the tv with books so it would be purtier (that’s what we say in the south) but he kept making the space for the tv larger, which is not how that whole being in sync with each other thing is supposed to work.

white built ins
This living room by Australian clothes designer, Lee Matthews, is breathtaking. And where does that little door go?


If there was going to be a big tv, maybe I could balance it out with a book nook. A book nook might say, “Look! People who live here like to sit quietly and read. Pay no attention to that idiot box that’s in the very center!” (Didn’t your grandma call the tv an idiot box too?) Also, there’s something a little magical about really small nooks that can only fit one person. Give me 24 inches, a pillow, and a blanket and I’m going to make a nook out of it.

black book nook insp
There would be no window in our built-ins, but this little girl just convinced me that my inner child really likes nooks.

I was beginning to realize that I had a 70’s, Spanish, book-filled living room that was begging to break out. So I decided to let it.


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