{Interiors} One FOF’s living room makeover on a $350 budget

FOF Lauri Ward built her business, Use What You Have Interiors, on the theory that anyone, on any budget, can have a beautiful home using the furnishings they already own. A few months ago we put her theory to the test!

The challenge: Help FOF Marcia Robinson by making over her entire living room in three hours… with a $350 budget. Did she do it?

“Tired and uninspiring,” is how FOF Marcia Robinson described her living room when she entered our room makeover contest in January. Marcia has lived in her one-bedroom, Manhattan apartment for 25-years. Ten years ago she attempted to furnish it in one-fell-swoop with pieces she loved. “Everything went wrong,” says Marcia. “The glass came cracked on the coffee table, the wall unit was too small. It was a big hassle.” Frustrated, Marcia took to decorating the apartment piecemeal over the years. However, her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and a forced-retirement from her job at a management consulting firm, has put a hold on any recent updates to Marcia’s living room.

And as for the actual “living” that goes on in this room…there’s not much. “I spend most of my time in my bedroom where my computer is,” says Marcia. Lauri says the room’s “visual chaos,” is why Marcia might not find it relaxing. “When I look around, there’s no blank space to rest my eye,” says Lauri. “The good news,” she tells Marcia, “is that by correcting a few common design mistakes that most people make, you can update your living room without buying all new furniture. Your home should look as up-to-date as you do.”

Read on and discover the mistakes and quick fixes Lauri found for Marcia’s living room.

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“You can never have two many pairs,” says Lauri, who swapped Marcia’s mismatched lamps for a pair of lamps from IKEA ($69.99 each). She also added two IKEA throw pillows ($14.99 each) to the couch. “The more pairs you put in a room, the better it looks. You need the balance.”

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“The couches were set up in an L configuration with two chairs in the corner. This is probably the worst setup there is for comfortable conversation,” says Lauri. “Plus, the chairs were too far from the coffee table.”


“We took away one couch, and set up the furniture in a U-shape. Now, everyone can sit and face each other. You can put out hors d’oeurves on the coffee table and everyone can comfortably reach.”

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“You collect so much stuff over a lifetime,” says Lauri. “It’s nice to have all these things, but you need to edit what you own and accessorize effectively.”

“Reevaluate what you have,” says Lauri. “Keep the pieces you love. Donate everything else to charity and get a write off.”  She grouped similar accessories together to create collections and got rid of pieces that were misfits. Marcia’s plants are important to her, but the mismatched pots weren’t working. Lauri moved the plants into window boxes to conceal the pots and repositioned them under the coffee table creating an terrarium-like effect.

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“People think they should hang art at eye level,” says Lauri. “There’s no such thing as eye level since we are all different heights.”


“Follow the three inch rule,” says Lauri. “Hold art up where you think it should go, then lower it three inches.” By swapping the chaotic gallery wall for one striking picture, Lauri says the viewer’s eyes can focus.

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“Before, the rug was distracting and competing with the fabric on the sofa,” says Lauri. “This rug introduces a color that’s in the sofa’s fabric. When you have a patterned sofa you want to look for solids for everything else.”

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Mission accomplished! The result? A living room that Marcia can live in! “Now, you can sit in here and read,” says Lauri. “You’ll finally be comfortable.” What does Marcia think? “It’s quite a change!… I like it.”

IKEA shopping list: Two “Dagny” cushions ($14.99 each), Vejen rug ($89.99), Hosto flower box ($14.99), Felicia throw ($9.99), Vilshult picture ($59.99), Two Jonsbo Barby table lamps ($59.99 each)

Grand Total: $324.92

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22 Responses to “{Interiors} One FOF’s living room makeover on a $350 budget”

  1. Sheila B. says:

    I’ve just acquired some living room furniture to “store” for a relative. It looks ok, but the new colors need to be pulled together with decorator touches. Sure could use some professional help!

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  2. bcconcepta82@gmail.com says:

    WOW! That was fabulous! Thanks for the advice as well. You did a great job and stayed within the budget.

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  3. hopesprings50 says:

    Looks great…what a difference for $350! (Not sure how the previous commenter could have replaced the couch within that budget!)

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  4. Ali says:

    This may sound like Negative Nelly but I didn’t care for the ‘after’ at all. I don’t see the point in having plants if you have to hide them away. I much prefer the grouping of artwork to what looks like motel art to me. I agree that the ‘before’ was not conducive to conversation but the matching chairs, matching couches, and matching lamps looks like a sterile hotel suite . I would have invested in slip covers for the couches and rearranged the furniture, perhaps at angles to create more energy but I suppose even that would have gone over the budget. Bottom line though, if the homeowner is happy then that is what counts.

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  5. Cynthia says:

    Yes, it does look better. My eye’s not rolling around in my head trying to figure out what to look at! However, I would have trashed the hideous couch and kept the pattern in the carpet.

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  6. Judy says:

    Looks great! My place sure needs a change 🙂

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  7. Patty Smith says:

    It is so enlightening to see what can be done with a good eye and
    just a small amount of cash. It isn’t that hard with a big budget to
    come up with a great looking room. But with only $350, that is a
    real challenge. Edit, edit, edit, right? Lovely! Thank you.

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  8. Erin Oates says:

    Such a difference – now you notice what’s beautiful, instead of your eye being distracted! A terrific sense of calm and “welcome” that invites people into the space. One of the best makeovers I’ve seen for so little money. Hope Marcia is enjoying her new room!

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  9. Wrenda Goodwyn says:

    What a nice, pretty, calm space!

    Lauri’s “rules” work miracles in any room. I am also fortunate to have trained with Lauri in New York. Her methods of design have proven themselves in this economy. Anyone can truly have a beautiful home without spending a fortune.

    Marcia, enjoy your new living room!

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  10. Lauren Smith says:

    I am an interior designer who has taken Lauri Ward’s training in New York. Seeing this room makeover was like taking a refresher course from Lauri. She has taken the insanity and the fear out of the interior design process. Everyone who wants to create a lovely home, using many items they already have, should hire a designer trained in one-day decorating. See http://www.interiorredecorators.com for information regarding the Interior Redecorators Network.

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  11. maxine says:

    The makeover is spectacular. Love it.

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  12. Lavonne says:

    Love the “3 inch rule” – I’ll use that one!

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  13. Alene says:

    Perfect job! Those pretty benches under the long table behind the couch probably never were used. Out of sight, out of mind. Now they can be appreciated against the wall. And now you can see the beautiful flooring which really adds to the warmth of the room without cluttering it. I have no talent in decorating and learned, after expensive mistakes, to use a decorator when you are as challenged as I am!!

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  14. susan Miller says:

    I really like the “the before” better. It is warmer and more cozy to me. I do admit i can get carried away with collectibles!But each his own paradise i guess. The prices are really great at Ikea and I love their large selections in pictures. i still like the before.

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  15. Angela says:

    I love what was done on a budget since I have same feeling of needing change and want it on a budget. Wherever I live, I want to feel it is a home and added thin display and towel shelf stand for both bathrooms from Ikea as well, instead of designing a costly change, and I am happy as well. I love you not changing much furniture but seeing room from different perspective, like fewer pictures and less clutter. Like designers would do, to create comfort in the sitting arrangement itself and put good use to furniture as comfort as well.

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  16. Mary Benko says:

    I never thought of putting plants under the coffee table. I’m going to try it – hope there is enough light for them.

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  17. Marcia Robinson says:

    Can’t thank Lauri enough, along with the ladies from FabOverFifty for making my living room over. It’s now a pleasure sitting and entertaining there. Never thought how I could change things, especially on a budget of $350. Again, thanks.

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  18. Kat says:

    Great ideas that I can use! I might start today since it is very, very, very, hot here, and staying inside is better than gardening today.
    Kat

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  19. Nancy V says:

    AWESOME!! TAKING NOTE OF IDEAS AND “RULES”!! ENJOY!!

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  20. Cassi Jensen says:

    I’m impressed! It seems more spacious and and at the same time has more of an intimate feel. I’m going to make note of the 3 inch rule for pictures!

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  21. Sarah Baldwin says:

    Great job! what a difference!

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  22. Jane NC says:

    As a fellow designer, I am very impressed at what she did on such a tight budget! I especially agree with the “pairs” rule & the art definitely helped unify the space. I hope the owner really enjoys it now!

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