One Room Challenge Week 3: How to Lighten a Room with a Limited Budget

Whoa! We now see the big difference one change can make! This change even made us remove a costly idea from our One Room Challenge makeover plan, and we’ll save a lot of money because we don’t think we need that idea now.

What’s the change?

Before & After Wallpaper Removal

I could not get the bright “blown out over-exposed photo” look in this room before. Even with a big 4’ by 9’ window. The walls sucked up the light and refused to share much light with us! I knew removing the wallpaper would make a difference. But I was surprised by how much difference.

Once upon a time, I liked the dark coziness that wrapped you in a warm bear hug. But now I need lightness and happiness in here to lift my spirits. And, if we sell our house sooner than later, I think lighter rooms are better. Thus the need for “Operation Lighten & Brighten” during this One Room Challenge.


The One Room Challenge is a six-week timeframe when 20 featured designers and 200+ guest participants make over a room. We all share our progress each week.

See my Week 1 post for the moodboard and design plan.

See my Week 2 “procrastination post” when I took too many breaks from removing wallpaper and instead pinned coffee table ideas on Pinterest. Just keepin’ it honest.


If you want to lighten up rooms in your home, and you’re on a limited budget, here are ideas to get the biggest impact, listed in order of potential impact …

Biggest Changes

Lighten the Walls

If you have a room that feels too dark, look at your walls as a first step.

Even if your walls have a color that you don’t think is dark, maybe it’s more of a “medium” color, the color can still make a room feel darker. Walls are an enormous surface area in most rooms, unless you have many big windows. Painting walls lighter will give you the biggest impact for your money.

You saw above the difference of removing a “medium” golden color wallpaper in our family room. Here you can see the true darkness of the wallpaper – the difference between the paper and the bare drywall beneath it:

Big Difference Between Wallpaper and White

Right now, the walls are bare drywall, as I await an order of Pure & Original Fresco lime paint. It’s coming over from Europe! I will paint the walls a much lighter warm cream/golden color. I want to keep the warmth of the previous wallpaper, just lighter.

The color doesn’t have to be white to make a bright room. You can use many light colors. Imagine the lightest colors on a paint strip, like these Sherwin-Williams colors:

Sherwin Williams Paint Colors

You can also look at the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) number of a paint. You might not have heard of this number before, but it’s so useful. This number measures how much light a paint color will reflect. Numbers range from 1 to 100 with 1 being the darkest, 100 the lightest.

You can find LRV numbers on the backs of paint chips and on paint manufacturer websites. Look for numbers that are 50 or more; 65+ gets pretty bright. 100 is pure white.

I assumed that your ceilings are white, as the majority of ceilings are. But if they are not, all the info above applies to ceiling paint color as well.

Add More Lightbulbs

Literally, lights are needed to light a room! Light paint with high LRV numbers can still look dark and dingy if there aren’t enough lightbulbs in the room. Especially in the corners, where paint on walls and ceilings will turn dark gray if there isn’t enough light in the corners.

Use a mix of table lamps, floor lamps, wall sconces, chandeliers to distribute lots of light throughout a room.

This tip doesn’t have to be a budget-buster. You can find lighting on sale. You can find inexpensive lamps, wall sconces and chandeliers at thrift stores, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Don’t worry about the finish. Instead, look at the shape and size. You can always paint a lamp. Yes, even metal! Prime it and/or use a chalk or clay paint. DIY blogs are full of tutorial posts showing how to transform shiny brass lamps and chandeliers with a few coats of paint. You can make a farmhouse look, French antique look, boho look, mid century modern. All with paint. If a thrift store lamp lacks a shade, you can get shades at stores like Target, HomeGoods, Hobby Lobby.

Lighten Dark Wood Furniture and Built-Ins

If you have large dark surfaces like a dark armoire, entertainment center or bookshelves, consider lightening them.

First, I know that people in favor of painting furniture and people not in favor of painting furniture are like Republicans and Democrats when debating our positions. My position is, your house is your house. Your things are your things. What you do is your business. I would only advise to not paint valuable, truly collectible pieces of furniture. Those are investments that rise in value. Most furniture is not that. I think the line in the sand is, will the furniture sell for far more than its original cost today, as it is, unpainted? If not, paint it if you want to.

I will paint these oak shelves with Fusion Mineral Paint in Cathedral Taupe color. See a sample board in the lower left corner here:

Painting These Oak Shelves

Fusion Mineral Paint

Both these Fusion colors look okay with the warmer colors and golds in this room. The choice was a toss-up between Algonquin and Cathedral Taupe. Cathedral Taupe is lighter so I chose that. After all this work, I don’t want shelves that feel too dark!

I’ve already tested the Fusion Mineral Paint with a topcoat of Modern Masters Dead Flat Varnish, and I have a General Finishes flat varnish. That seems to make a tough enough surface to withstand moving the stuff on the shelves occasionally so I can dust. I don’t know about scraping heavy books across the shelves — as you can see we don’t keep books in this room. We have shelves in an office for books.

You can also explore paints that are recommended for kitchen cabinets. Those paints, such as Benjamin Moore Advance and Sherwin-Williams ProClassic, will be durable and super-tough because of the heavy use and wear that kitchen cabinets get.

Your cost for this includes a cleaner like TSP and deglosser to improve paint adhesion, sandpaper, tannin-blocking primer and paint. That is far less than buying new quality furniture.

Lighten a Dark Fireplace

Most fireplaces have enough visual punch in a room, that changing the surface can change how you feel in the room. You can lighten a dark brick fireplace in several ways, some more expensive than others:

  • Whitewash the brick with watered down paint
  • Cover with stone veneer
  • Cover with tile
  • Cover with drywall and paint

We plan to “beige-wash” or “gray-wash” the fireplace. White will be too stark in this room.

Dark Brick Fireplace

I resisted the whitewashed brick idea for the longest time. I’m still not sure. If I don’t like it, it can always be covered with stone, tile or drywall in the future.

Finally, Lighten the Floor

Now that we’ve covered all the other major surfaces, let’s get down to the floor business. I listed this last in “impact” because I think even when floors are dark, if vertical surfaces in a room are all light, the room will still be okay. Usually much of the floor area is covered by things like area rugs and furniture.

If your floors are dark, whatever their material (carpet, wood, laminate, tile, etc.), flooring is not cheap to change. We’ve chosen to replace carpeting in this room instead of extending the hardwood in here.

Carpet Samples

Putting hardwood in here would unleash an expensive domino effect across the whole first floor of our house, to make all hardwood floors match. If I’m paying money, it will not be for honey oak stain! But we don’t want to change all hardwood color right now.

If you have a very limited budget, the one option I can think of to lighten your floors is this: go to sites like RugsUSA.com and eSaleRugs. Watch for clearance and sales where you can get rugs 50% up to 75% and 80% off. With free shipping. You can find a large selection of styles and colors during these sales. You are sure to find something you like. You can get large rugs. We recently got several rugs on sale that are 8’ x 10’ for less than $250.

No, you won’t get the top quality wool vintage rugs imported from Morocco for these prices. But here’s the thing. We have a valuable 100% vintage silk rug and it is sometimes out on the floor. But then cat poop or cat vomit happens nearby – thankfully never on that rug – and we freak out and we roll up the rug and put it in a closet.

Have you ever heard the saying “don’t wear jewelry that you can’t afford to lose.” Well I say “don’t use rugs that you can’t afford to get pooped on.” Kids, dogs, cats, intoxicated adults, adults who paint without protecting the carpet (ummmmm been there done that), we can all be tough on carpets. It’s okay to get a cheap rug if you worry about these things.

Look for a rug with these qualities:

  • Lighter color – you can put an area rug on top of wall-to-wall carpeting to lighten it up
  • Pattern and color variation, enough to hide spills and messes – rugs with consistent even color will show off the stains
  • Large enough size – see advice for choosing the right rug size

Smaller Changes

Remove Dark Useless Things Overhead

Look above you and see if there are big, heavy, solid, dark things higher up on walls that don’t need to be there. There was a big dark oak shelf installed about 7 feet up on the wall, above the fireplace.

Remove Things Overhead to Lighten a Room

This shelf drew the eye too much to a useless spot, and it also FELT like a big heavy thing looming over our heads. We never displayed anything on it, so what was the point of it? Once we removed the shelf, the light from the sconces also seems brighter. That light is not getting blocked by a dark shelf. You’d be surprised how that little change made a difference in light.

Use Furniture with Light “Visual Weight”

What is “visual weight?” Probably best to show you. See these two coffee tables from last week’s epic procrastination post:

Visual Weight of Furniture

Sources: Pier 1, Wayfair

I don’t know what they actually weigh, it’s possible they could weigh nearly the same. The solid coffee table has a much heavier “visual feel” to it than the glass-topped table that’s open. Your eye gets drawn to the solid table, but your eye goes through the open glass table. If you want a lighter brighter room, choose tables with glass or light color tops, that are open so you can see through them, that have thinner light legs.

I am probably not going to follow that advice myself, because I got an idea for a DIY table that you’ll see soon. Still, the table I’m making will be open in the middle, which is an improvement over the Chinese chest that’s currently sitting in the middle of our room. The chest is solid and dark and has a lot of “visual weight.” We will likely move this Chinese chest to a corner by the window and it might hold stereo equipment.

Throw a Throw, and Throw Pillows

If you have light color sofas and chairs, great. If you don’t, don’t worry! You don’t need to replace them or even slipcover them. Getting a slipcover to fit well seems like a pain in the butt, and custom slipcovers can cost.

If your furniture is dark, drape a lighter throw or blanket over it. Put lighter pillows on it. Here’s a dark brown leather sofa in our living room. It came with dark brown velvet pillows. I replaced those pillows with lighter and more colorful pillows. That lessened the dark brown a bit:

Lighten a Dark Sofa with Pillows

My One Room Challenge makeover room has a black leather sofa and dark red chairs. I’ll lighten up the black sofa with a throw and pillows. I’m not too worried about it. Why? See below …

Beware of Boring Beige

After all the advice above, now I might just confuse everyone. Generally, unless you are an interior designer who is skilled at achieving a certain effect, you don’t want everything in your room to be light, white, beige. This will make your room have all the personality of a piece of Wonderbread.

Nooooo … bread is better when it’s handmade and textured, with some fruity jam on the bread, or dipped in deep golden olive oil with basil leaves.

Rooms need a variety of colors. I LOVE the combo of black, red and gold. So I’m keeping the black, red and gold in this room – all of it – and I’m just lightening up the big surfaces around the furniture and décor. That is enough to make this room a big mood-lifter instead of a heavy weight.

One Room Challenge Progress

Or, lack of progress …

DONE

  • Removed wallpaper
  • Got Pure & Original lime paint sample colors for wall color, tested sample boards
  • Ordered lime paint
  • Got carpet sample colors; didn’t like
  • Ordered more carpet sample colors; still don’t love
  • Made decision to definitely do carpet; need color we like
  • Got Fusion Mineral Paint sample colors for oak shelf unit, tested sample boards
  • Received Fusion Mineral Paint; tested sealers/varnishes
  • Found source for custom wood grilles to install over radiant heat

TO DO

  • Get quotes from roofing contractors to install skylights; schedule job (canceled this idea – room should be bright enough without skylights)
  • Replace some radiant heat baseboards
  • Wash walls, repair some spots and prep for painting
  • Prime and paint the walls
  • Empty oak shelf unit, wash, light sand and prep for painting
  • Paint the shelves
  • Order wood grilles
  • Install wood grilles (decided not to do this now)
  • Fix trim under window
  • Remove broken Hunter-Douglas blinds from window
  • Whitewash the fireplace (or more like gray-wash or beige-wash)
  • Schedule carpet installation
  • Fix cracked areas in ceiling paint
  • Finish sewing curtain for window in garage door
  • Find canvas art for fireplace mantel
  • Frame fabric pieces from a vintage kimono and kuba cloth

Oh boy. We have a lot to do. Didn’t get much done during Week 3, except we decided things we are not doing! That’s not enough action. Week 4 is catch-up week. We have out-of-town guests coming to stay with us this weekend, so we were getting the house ready for them during much of our free time during Week 3.

 

One Room Challenge Spring 2008

One Room Challenge Week 2: Coffee Table Dreams

What’s more fun than steaming and scraping wallpaper off the walls of a 24′ by 13′ room?

Well, nearly everything is more fun than that. I’d rather take a grad school statistics class again. I’d even go to the dentist. I survived wallpaper removal by dreaming about DIY coffee table ideas while steaming and scraping.

Dreaming up ideas is part of the fun of the One Room Challenge. And right now, 20 featured designers and about 200 guest participants (folks like me!) are making their design-dreamy ideas come true during this six-week challenge to makeover a room. I am doing “Operation Lighten & Brighten” on our family room, to take this space from dark and dreary, to hopeful and happy. See lists at the bottom of this post to see what we’re doing. Visit the Week 1 post to see the overall vision and moodboard.

But first, coffee tables. 

Bwa ha ha. See what I did there. That needs to be a poster, for those of us who love to decorate.

I pinned an obscene number of coffee tables on the Pinterest board where I collect ideas for this makeover. The Pinterest board helped me easily see the elements of coffee tables that I liked. After a late-night pinning spree, some clear groups popped up on the board. If you use Pinterest, I’d suggest that looking for the patterns and themes in the things you pin is a great way to discover your style.

Brace yourself for a bunch of coffee table pictures …

Links below include affiliate links.

Organic Shapes

Mushroom shaped, kidney bean shaped, soft curves and interesting geometrics caught my eye. Because they’re different than the usual. I love “different.”

Coffee Tables Organic Shapes

Sources: Arteriors, 1stdibs, 1stdibs, Overstock, 1stdibs

Sooooooo … one of the tables shown above is almost $19,000! Another is almost $38,000! So I’ve been on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace looking for affordable tables, preferably older tables that are good quality, low price. I found this one on FB Marketplace, only $50. Wouldn’t it be perfect if I painted it with a metallic texture and patina (more on that below).

Kidney Bean Table

So the lesson here: Look at the expensive things to learn from them and discover what you like. When you see something you like and it’s beyond your budget, watch online secondhand markets. You might find the perfect piece at the perfect price. Looking at a $38,000 table opened my eyes to seeing this $50 table.

Metallic Texture & Patina

I am loving coffee tables in bronze and dark antique brass, but also tarnished silver and burnished gold, with textures and mottled patina. Oxidation. Etching. You’ll see metallic texture + organic shapes here! Two loves in one!

Metallic Texture and Patina Coffee Tables

Sources: 1st dibs, Furniture Favourites, Moroccan Bazaar, Luxurease, Max and Russ, Pier 1

My favorite of all? Those comma shaped tables. They also make me think of paisleys. They’re on sale, but still $8,000. But you know what? I can paint a look like that. Yes! What about paisley-shaped coffee tables with raised stenciling for texture …

Big Paintable Surfaces

I love to DIY and I’m seeking something that I can paint and/or build, a surface I can change. The broad surfaces on these tables make me salivate, thinking of how you could add metallic texture and patina! I wouldn’t DARE do that on the first one though — it is collectible and pricey. But it gets the ideas going.

Broad Surfaces Coffee Tables

Sources: 1stdibs, Wisteria, Macy’s

A coffee table is the only new piece of furniture I’ll get for this room. This makeover will lighten up the walls, oak shelves, floor, ceiling, and fireplace.

I’m changing the surfaces of the room instead of the stuff in the room.

For many years, an old Chinese chest has been in the “coffee table spot” in this room. But it’s more like a display. The top of it is covered with decorative things. I don’t want to set glasses of liquid on it and things that could damage it!

So we have nowhere to set mugs, wine glasses, small plates of food, laptops, books, etc. We wind up scooting things over on the bookshelves and setting mugs there. I set mugs on the floor and sometimes I kick them over. I set a plate of food on the floor and hope I don’t step on the food! We need a FUNCTIONAL horizontal surface. It’s not a want — it’s a true need here.

Thus, all the coffee table inspiration.

Idea Most Likely to Happen

Right now, today, as I write — because ideas can always change! — I most likely will paint the underside of a glass coffee table. I’ve already done this on another table in this room:

Verre Eglomise Table

You can find my tutorial showing how to paint underneath glass at Paint+Pattern.

If I paint a glass coffee table, I can get a few things that I really like in the moodboards above. Using metallic paints, I can create a rich, mottled, burnished bronzey surface. I can paint my own patina. Maybe I’ll try mixing metallic paints with the Krylon Looking Glass paint that makes a mercury glass look. Maybe I’ll add stenciled patterns.

There are a lot of potential tables to paint like this. Even when you choose a look you like, there are many options online at different price points. Here are some tables I’m looking at, to paint the glass:

Glass Coffee Tables

Sources: West Elm table at Chairish, Home Depot, Amazon, Bonanza, Wayfair, Hayneedle

To be honest though, after looking at all the bold and unique coffee tables I shared first, these daintier gold ones make me feel … deflated? Disappointed? Not sure of the words, but not super excited about the possibilities. I think you just have to imagine the table with a dramatic painted top?

You know what idea DOES make me super excited about the possibilities? Those comma/paisley shaped tables. How can I make that??? I can cut the top shape. But how to make the sides? Is there a flexible material that would make stable sides? Other than metal? I am sure I could find someone to cut metal and solder it into paisley tables, but … time … money … maybe file that idea for the future …

It’s getting late in the One Room Challenge game to play with more and more ideas. It’s time to get stuff done!

One Room Challenge Task List

You might think six weeks is a long time to makeover a room. Not when you have a long list of stuff to do. Here’s what we got done, but there’s still enough to do that I worry about whether we’ll finish within the next four weeks:

DONE

  • Removed wallpaper
  • Got Pure & Original lime paint sample colors for wall color, tested sample boards
  • Got carpet sample colors; didn’t like; ordered more sample colors
  • Got Fusion Mineral Paint sample colors for oak shelf unit, tested sample boards
  • Ordered Fusion Mineral Paint
  • Found source for custom wood grilles to install over radiant heat

TO DO

  • Get quotes from roofing contractors to install skylights; schedule job
  • Replace some radiant heat baseboards
  • Order lime paint
  • Wash walls, repair some spots and prep for painting
  • Prime and paint the walls
  • Empty oak shelf unit, wash, light sand and prep for painting
  • Paint the shelves
  • Order wood grilles
  • Install wood grilles
  • Fix trim under window
  • Remove broken Hunter-Douglas blinds from window*
  • Whitewash the fireplace (or more like gray-wash or beige-wash)
  • Decide whether to do hardwood floor – carpet quotes are costly enough that hardwood might make sense for the value it adds
  • Choose carpet or hardwood
  • Schedule carpet or hardwood installation
  • Fix cracked areas in ceiling paint
  • Finish sewing curtain for window in garage door
  • Find canvas art for fireplace mantel
  • Frame fabric pieces from a vintage kimono and kuba cloth

There’s a few things here that threaten our ability to get this done within 4 weeks. We’ll see. The paint that I set my heart on for the walls has to come from Europe in a boat!! I didn’t know that. I’m not changing my paint plan — I really want to use this paint. And, we did procrastinate with contacting roofing contractors and making final decisions on flooring.

*  Our Siamese cat chewed strings on the window blinds 12 years ago when she was a baby. The blinds haven’t worked since then. For all those years they’ve been kept closed with a piece of jute string tied around them!! Some things in this room are long overdue!

One Room Challenge Spring 2008

One Room Challenge Week 1: Operation Lighten & Brighten our Family Room

My family room smells like wet paper. This is a good thing.

What?

Yes! It’s because we’re back for more One Room Challenge excitement, and the work started this week. We are updating our family room. Even on the sunniest summer day, it’s a really dark room. Look at this photo I shot while writing this post:

Dark Room Before One Room Challenge Makeover

This is how dark this room is, even on a sunny day. Now, I know many bloggers including me will overexpose photos and boost brightness in Photoshop to make a photographed room look much brighter than it is in real life. In reality, many rooms you see on Pinterest are darker than you think. Believe me, this room is so dark, no amount of Photoshop will make it feel light and happy! We’ve lived with this for 14 years. It’s time to lighten this space up!

The timing of our plans coincided with the Spring 2018 One Room Challenge (ORC), which is hosted twice a year by Calling It Home. The ORC is a challenge when bloggers makeover a room in six weeks. I hope over the coming weeks to give you ideas to brighten a room, if you have the same problem in your home.

Here’s the vision:

One Room Challenge Spring 2018 Moodboard

And here’s a video to show you the room and our plans:

I had insomnia, I was tired during this video — will have more energy in future videos. When I’m showing you the shelves, you can’t even see, it’s so dark!

Twenty bloggers are Featured Designers in the One Room Challenge, and 200+ bloggers like me join in as Guest Participants. Visit these links over the next six weeks until May 10 when Pinterest-worthy pictures are revealed!

Meanwhile I’ll post my progress here at Nomadic Decorator blog, and you’ll surely get some DIY tutorials to lighten up your own home.

See what we decide to do

There are a few issues with this project:

  • I’m very uncertain about whitewashing the brick fireplace. Will I chicken out?
  • Little picky details like dark metal parts on wood shelves. These dark metal strips will show up when the shelves are painted light! I don’t think painting the metal will be durable enough. Ugh, how to solve this problem?
  • Budget constraints. Accepting that you can’t always have what you want. Things like hardwood vs. carpet. Stone on fireplace vs. whitewashing. What will we do?

Follow along to see what happens during this round of the ORC! Get email notices so you don’t miss a post!

Why does this room smell like wet paper?

Oh, I almost forgot! I’ve already started removing wallpaper. This is a 13′ x 25′ room. But with big windows, big fireplace, big shelf unit, a few doors and a big opening to the kitchen, there isn’t too much wall to deal with. Still, removing wallpaper is a pain in the butt. I’m using the Wagner 715 steamer (affiliate link). I’ll write more about this steamer and maybe film a video. It makes removing wallpaper SO EASY! So the wet paper smell is good — it means the steamer is working well!

 

One Room Challenge Spring 2008

Moodboard