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Reprinted permission of Houston House and Home Magazine
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my home makeover business is solving real life problems for Houstonians-working with their existing possessions-without spending a lot of money on unnecessary pieces of new furniture.
Kate McCormick and her husband, Champ Warren, were expecting their first child when suddenly their two-story house began to feel too small.
"When we told our neighbors that I was pregnant," Kate says, "their universal reaction was to ask how soon we would be moving, as previous couples that had lived here always sold the house when their families grew. This, despite the fact that the original owners of the l937 house had somehow managed to raise three children here."
On several occasions Kate and her husband discussed three goals: how to rearrange the house so that they could return the upstairs office to a nursery without losing the office furniture; how to incorporate Champ's pine dresser outside the office; and how to make better use of the unused formal living room. They were almost ready to consider an addition to the rear of the house when they called me.
"What we hoped to accomplish was that you would be able to come up with some kind of layout in which we would be able to keep all of our furniture, and that the furniture would look natural and appropriate when it was moved," Kate says. "And that we could maintain the uncluttered appearance of the house."
Although this didn't seem like rocket science, they just could not come up with a floor plan that accomplished all these objectives without buying large, expensive furniture. Besides the cost, the purchases threatened to clutter the house even more.
At our first meeting, I pointed out that the largest room in the house, the formal living room, was the least used, and that the smallest room, the sunroom, was heavily used as a television/den/play room. I suggested they redefine the purposes of the rooms, and tone down the brilliant Kelly green of the sunroom into a more cohesive mossy green-a tone more in keeping with the colors of their existing fabrics. I suggested that the den furniture be blended into the living room, the office move downstairs to the sunroom, the nursery be moved to the former office space, and Champ's large pine dresser move downstairs into the sunroom. A little inconvenient for dressing,but necessary.
We scheduled a day to rearrange furniture, and the couple gathered friends to assist. As is always the case, I was met with resistance at the thought that the den and living room sofas could be switched, and that the pair of club chairs and ottoman would easily fit into the formal living room. There was even room for the formal scroll arm chairs to move perpendicular to and flank the coffee table, but the couple decided against it, so the chairs were moved to the new office space, with the option of moving them into the adjoining living room for extra seating when entertaining.
I noted that in the previous living room arrangement, all of the furniture was on top of the area rug, leaving five feet of unused space around the seating. In the new arrangement, the furniture was placed closer to the wall and on the edge of the rug. This move eliminated the walkway but allows the club chairs, ottoman and the sunroom's largest round table to easily fit.
The sunroom's console table, TV and lamp were moved to the blank wall in the formal living room. (An armoire to house the TV could not be placed on that wall anyway because of the return air grille and floor vent for the HVAC system.) Now everyone in the living room can enjoy watching television with ease, and there is still space on the rug for their little boy, Champ III, to play. The only item that didn't find a home was the office desk chair, which is being stored in the attic. That left room in the new nursery for the combination changing table/dresser and the crib.
And how does the family like the changes now that they have lived with them awhile? They say they actually use the rooms more. In the past, they rarely used the living room, except when they were entertaining, or walking through to the rest of the house. More of their son's toys were also downstairs in the sunroom, which just made a small room seem even smaller.
Now that Champ III is out of the nursery and into his larger bedroom, it's easier to store his toys upstairs and just bring a few down at a time, to be stored away in the ottoman.
"In that way, it is easy to keep the room picked up, since the toys are primarily located upstairs," says Kate.
She notes that she uses the office more now, rather than treating it as a way station for mail and miscellaneous storage.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, it also requires that I keep things a bit tidier," says Kate. "I like that I now can be in the office, and yet still be with the family, since they are just in the next room instead of downstairs."
"We also like the office so much better because it now offers a view of the backyard garden, and all the windows allow us to work in natural light," Kate says.
While the couple admits getting strange looks when they told friends they had hired someone to rearrange their furniture, they say friends and family like the changes and that the sunroom looks bigger.
"People who never had seen the house the way it was before comment that all the furniture looks like it was purchased to specifically go where it is now," says McCormick.
They have told me that they were amazed how different the furniture looks in the different rooms and with different accessories. It was almost like buying a whole houseful of new furniture for them, and also reaffirmed how, in a house this small, all the pieces and fabrics you buy really need to flow together. The shade of green paint in the sunroom also made the furniture there look better, as well as the furniture and color choices in the neighboring rooms.
Champ liked the changes, too.
"It bought us at least three years before we have to consider adding on to the house, and it saved me a fortune in new furniture," he says, "Initially, I was very skeptical, but this was the best money I've spent in years."
The couple thought that there were only a limited number of ways to arrange furniture in their house, and that they could figure out the rearrangement themselves.
"I think it just goes to show that you need someone with a fresh perspective to look at your furnishings," says Kate. "I liked the way you re-thought traditional layouts and did not have the attitude that you must 'trash' all your existing furnishings and start from scratch if you want an updated look."
Kate smiles when she says they would like to purchase a small TV/VCR combination for the children to watch in the den while the adults visit in the living room.
After all, adults sometimes need their own space, too.
Joetta Moulden offers home makeovers using your own home furnishings. Visit her Web site at www.shelterstyle.com or email her at email@example.com.