Oyamel Paint Finish – A Story of Finding Meaningful Inspiration for Your Creativity

Before and After Oyamel Paint Finish

I thought this would be a step-by-step tutorial. But then I counted all the cans and bottles I used – 20!!!. And all the paint layering steps, the salt, powerwash, baby wipes, polyacrylic base coat seal, gilding wax accents, wax top coat … whew!! I had a lot of fun playing with it all. But you know what, I don’t think anybody would follow a 20-page tutorial with 25 supplies!

There’s a lot of subtlety here, details that don’t show up on camera. That’s the depth you get when you use lots of layers and techniques. You are rewarded when you look very close.


It’s nice, but I don’t know if you’d do a tutorial to get subtle details that you can’t even see in photos.

Instead, remember when the Talking Heads asked, “How did I get here?”  Where did a paint finish called “oyamel” come from? How did it get here?


The Talking Heads song Once In A Lifetime is about being on autopilot and half awake most days, getting through everything we have to do. The days go by. Day by day by day. What happens when we stop and take a second to look around? To notice things? We might get answers. We might get inspiration!

Creatives now often go to Pinterest for inspiration. My Pinterest is ALL ABOUT inspiration. It’s like I’ve hoarded every picture I like for years. I have boards about inspiring places to travel to. Doors. Colors. Patterns. Walls. The hard thing on Pinterest is choosing which photo.

But I also like to look around my own home for inspiration. When inspiration comes from something in your life, it has extra meaning.

Look around you right now.

Is there something in the room that makes you happy? Is there something that has a story? Something that makes you imagine colors? If you walk around your home, what’s the first thing you see that makes you want to reach out and touch it?

Is there something sentimental given to you by family? A friend?

What about a travel memory? Where do you go on vacation? When you’re there, what are the colors, textures, and feelings you notice?

What are your hobbies and interests? What’s your favorite piece of jewelry? What’s your favorite spice? Imagine where the spice comes from. What’s it like there?

Do you like flowers? Plants? If so, what’s your favorite flower?

Can you find inspiration in what’s around you right now? These are things close to you, things you live with. Use them to weave a personal story into what you create.

Oyamel Paint Finish


What is oyamel? It’s a special tree. It’s a fir tree that grows in the mountains of Mexico, and it’s where monarch butterflies spend their winters. Monarch butterflies will leave areas of the U.S. and Canada where it freezes in the winter, and they’ll fly thousands of miles to Mexico to overwinter where it’s warmer. These monarchs were born up north — they’ve never been to Mexico before. But somehow, they know how to get there! They spend winter flying and huddling together in mass bunches in oyamel fir forests.

So my inspiration for the “oyamel paint finish” is the olive green, orange, and golden yellow colors of the monarchs in these trees. With some brown bark color. And the blue sky they fly through to get there.

Oyamel Inspiration Photos

Photo Sources: Vermont Woods StudiosNational Geographic, FlavioLandin on TripAdvisor

I name everything after places, being the “nomadic” decorator and all. So that’s why I name this oyamel. I hope to see these oyamel forests someday soon – they’re within a days’ drive from Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.

So, how did I get to that idea? Read on to see how inspiration can come from anything in your life …


Monarchs must overcome many struggles to survive. As caterpillars, they can only eat milkweed. But milkweed is being killed on a mass level by Roundup and the spread of farmland using Roundup and insecticides. Plus, predators and diseases kill 90-99% of monarch eggs and caterpillars before they can become butterflies! Only 1-10% make it! Thankfully once they become butterflies, they can drink nectar from many types of flowers. But they must survive an epic flight for such a little creature. Once they finally get to Mexico after flying thousands of miles, the butterflies are finding smaller fir forests – the trees are being cut down though there are a few reserves somewhat protected by the Mexican government. These pretty little guys battle a lot. Their numbers are plummeting toward endangerment.

Here’s a video that explains that the monarchs might have the most complex migration of any animal or insect in the world, and what’s happening to the Mexican forests they migrate to:

Why did I learn all this stuff? Well, I planted milkweed in my garden a few years ago. One day I saw a big fat caterpillar munching away. Yay! The next day, he was gone. He wasn’t big enough to become a chrysalis (cocoon) yet. That’s when I learned, a bird probably saw him as a big fat juicy dinner. 

So early this year, I looked for tiny baby caterpillars so small you can barely see them, and I found eggs. I rescued so many that I raised 160 monarch butterflies this summer in our house. Seeing them grow and become butterflies and take their first flight was so amazing! I’m smitten. Here’s one getting ready to take off from our bathroom window. When I found this one, it was just a little white dot of an egg, not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.

Monarch Butterfly

So, I created this oyamel finish to honor these little guys and their long journeys to survive. This finish also captures the lively colors of Mexico, which I’ve been seeing a lot as I’ve been researching a trip to San Miguel de Allende, an artsy town in central Mexico.


While I’m not doing a 20-page step-by-step tutorial with lessons learned and details, below is a basic run-down of major things I did to get the look. I used mostly chalk and clay paints (Annie Sloan, DIY Paint, Frenchic) because you can blend and manipulate them easily. I also used acrylic matte “chalky finish” paints for the base coats where I did not blend.

Oyamel Shelf Steps

Put a layer of light beige on the bottom half, where I knew I’d put lighter colors. The wood is dark and the light paint helps the lighter colors be truer.

Added base colors of paprika orange on the top; curry yellow on the bottom. I LOVE this curry yellow! It’s the color of tamarind staining your fingers after you eat a South Indian masala dosa!

Sealed base coats with flat polyacrylic top coat. So the base coats would stay in place while I “powerwashed” and manipulated top layers of paint.

Added dark blue on top half over the paprika orange base coat, and added olive green on the bottom half over the curry yellow base coat.

Distressed the blue and olive with baby wipes to reveal paprika orange, curry yellow and beige layers, and bare wood in a few spots.

Did asymmetrical distressing so orange and yellow areas look like random wear like maybe from a flood or something pouring onto the painted surface. Tried to hit areas where natural wear n’ tear would happen.

Powerwashed some blue off with water for texture.

Threw salt in areas while blue paint was wet. Got cool dark speckles but not super impressed. Like I said, lots of subtle details.

Added metallic shimmers with pear green color metallic, teal blue metallic, orange metallic.

Toned down everything with a light sandy beige layer of paint; wiped off most of this paint. Left enough for a dusty look.

Applied rich gold metallic gilding wax to the four bars.

Sealed with clear wax.

Noticed the clear wax diminished some metallic shimmers. Reapplied them all.

So that’s the Cliff’s Notes version. A lot of the magic happens when you reveal the layers underneath, when colors get “caught” on texture, when shimmery iridescence shows up when light hits it just right. I like the contrast of elegant iridescence mixed with a rustic cowboy outpost town kind of feel.

If you look closely at a monarch butterfly’s wings, they are iridescent! They have a color that shimmies and changes in the light. So that’s why this oyamel paint finish has metallic accents. And plus, it’s pretty!


The shelf now lives in my studio and holds … well, not much. Because I want to see the shelf! 

Painted Shelf in Studio

The colors all together remind me of flashes of the iridescent golden orange butterflies clinging to the rough bark of a tree, surrounded by green leaves and blue sky. Soaking up the winter sunshine in Mexico. Even when it’s winter here in Chicago, I can look at this and think of warmer days, and maybe even a flight for myself to San Miguel and a drive to see the butterfly forest.

Meanwhile, I’m dreaming up ideas to paint something in this oyamel finish for sale, and a percentage of profits could go toward a monarch habitat conservation organization. What do you think?

Shelf in My Studio

Moroccan Style: Talitha Getty & Bill Willis

When people talk of the early days of Moroccan style and the European and American jetsetters of the 1960s and 70s, the talk is often about Talitha Getty. Her multi-cultural “couture of the souks” style is captured in this iconic Vogue magazine photo, nowadays re-created by travelers on riad rooftops:

Iconic Talitha Getty Photo

Moroccan Style: Talitha Getty and Fashion

Talitha and her husband, John Paul Getty, Jr., who was the son of the richest man in the world at the time, enjoyed a high-flying lifestyle that revolved around world leaders in music and fashion. Yves St. Laurent was a good friend and fellow resident of Marrakech. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones spent a Christmas together in their palace. And parties, many parties. Talitha Getty knew how to throw a party:

“A welcoming, fantastical, joyous life, at once sensible and sybaritic . . . Mrs. Getty prowls the marketplace, bringing back delights for the house and table. Best she brings back entertainers—dancers, acrobats, storytellers, geomancers and magicians. … While Salome is playing in the background, snake charmers charm and tea boys dance, balancing on their feet trays freighted with mint tea and burning candles.” – Diana Vreeland, Vogue

Like Lady Diana and Princess Grace of Monaco, Talitha’s mystique may be amplified because she died so young, at age 30. She is frozen in time with flawless skin and lush hair. Diana Vreeland said that Talitha was THE style icon during her Moroccan caftan and Persian jewelry years. Talitha to this day is still celebrated as a style muse by fashion designers.

Talitha Getty and Iron Grillwork Palais de la Zahir

Not a ton of photos of Talitha exist, but I captured all photos I could find on a Pinterest board of Talitha Getty style.

Moroccan Style: Architectural Arts in Marrakech

There was someone else who revolved in the Getty’s beautifully-designed orbit in Marrakech.

Someone who had a bigger, more enduring influence on Moroccan style. I bet you haven’t heard of him. He deserved greater public recognition because hallmarks of Marrakech style today are traced to him. He revived dying arts and filled opulent homes with beautiful tiles and tadelakt walls, ceilings, fireplaces, floors and furniture. The funny thing is, he wasn’t Moroccan. He was from Memphis.

His name was Bill Willis.

(Please forgive me if I slip up and call him Bruce Willis and don’t catch it. It wouldn’t be the first time!)

Have you admired the tadelakt walls in Marrakech homes? That is because of Bill Willis. Before Bill, tadelakt was used in the hammams because it’s waterproof. It was not used throughout houses. But this polished plaster surface is now the quintessential Marrakech wall.

Have you seen crazy, colorful combinations of patterned tiles on fireplaces in Marrakech? That is because of Bill Willis. He restored and revived zellij mosaic tilework and brought it into the 20th century with a “modern ideas with Moroccan materials” mentality.

Now, because Bill Willis outlived Talitha by many decades (she died in 1971, he in 2009), he had far more time to do his work. Bill’s design legacy in Marrakech began with Talitha Getty, so she started the ball rolling. Bill accompanied the Gettys on their honeymoon in Marrakech, where they bought a ramshackle rubble of a palace for $10,000 in 1966. It was once a royal place, but was now a ruin. Here’s Bill standing outside of it:

Bill Willis

This was in the 1960s, long before Marrakech was the tourist attraction that it is today. I imagine it was beyond rough for travelers used to luxury. But from this ruin, within only a few years, Bill Willis and the Gettys created breathtaking beauty. They created a place with a name prepared for debauchery:  Palais du Zahir (also known as Palais de la Zahia) — the Pleasure Palace.

Getty Palace in Marrakech

“Bill created the Marrakech look, and it started with that house,” says the decorator Jacques Grange

Not many photos of Palais du Zahir from the Getty days exist publicly. I have a rare book of Bill Willis’ work — you can only get it at the Majorelle Gardens bookstore in Marrakech, unless you’re willing to pay $300+ for the rare times it pops up on eBay or Amazon — and Palais du Zahir is not in the book. But recently, I found a video about Bill that shows the Getty palace. It’s a long video that explains Bill’s influence on Marrakech style as you know it today. The palace is shown at about the 6 minute mark:

Video credit from Jeremy Riggall on Vimeo.

I hit replay and screen-captured those Palais du Zahir rooms like a crazy obsessed woman!

Here’s a few more pictures of the palace from the 1970 January Vogue issue, photographed by Patrick Lichfield:

Talitha Getty in Palais du Zahir

Talitha and Bill Getty Marrakech

Palais de la Zahia Dining Area

If you ever want the original Vogue issue, I found mine on eBay and see them there occasionally. I could probably be persuaded to part with mine!

Today, the palace is owned by writer Bernard-Henri Lévy and his actress wife Arielle Dombasle. Here’s the most famous rooftop in Marrakech as it is today, shown in WSJ Magazine:

Palais du Zahir Rooftop

I notice, it has a different brick floor now. Unless this is a different area of the roof than what we see in the 1970 Vogue magazine.

Palais de la Zahia Window

Don’t those look like the same iron grilles that Talitha is peeking through in the photo above?

Palais de la Zahia nook

No longer a place of drug-fueled hedonistic parties (none other than Keith Richards said that Talitha Getty had access to the best opium), now the palace is a discreet address where feuding world leaders gather in privacy and try to broker peace, and for an intellectual writer to think and write in solitude. Some palace walls have stood since the 1500s or the 1700s, depending on who you ask. Oh, what the walls must have seen over the centuries!

The current owners worked with Bill Willis before his death to honor his contributions to the palace’s style. According to the Wall Street Journal:

“They still use the furniture Willis designed for the Gettys, including a four-poster bed painted like the Good Ship Lollipop in a fantasia of ice cream colors and Berber-inspired motifs.”

I share everything I found about the Getty palace on a Palais du Zahir Pinterest board.

Marrakech Design: Enduring Influence of Bill Willis

Bill Willis’ contribution to Marrakech and Moroccan style is now unnoticed and unappreciated. Some of that appears to be his own fault. Though he had a reputation as an exacting and demanding designer, he slept until late afternoon and his neighbors thought he was a vampire. And he was intoxicated during most waking hours. Despite that, his genius still prevailed in glorious Marrakech architecture. Efforts might be underway to raise his profile, possibly through the riad that was once his home in Marrakech.

How often does a designer influence the style of a whole city? And in a way that stimulates a whole travel and tourism industry, boosting an entire economy? At every corner you turn in Marrakech, there are photo ops. Old walls, old doors, what’s below your feet and above your head, somehow it’s all very special. Marrakech inspires our imaginations. Captures us and makes us want to return. Would Bill Willis have ever imagined that happening? Beyond many nondescript doors and plain medina walls there is glittering opulence, pierced metal lanterns casting dancing shadows, woven textiles exploding with color against fantastical patterned walls. Run your hands along the cool smooth tadelakt walls. Bill Willis made that possible.

DIY Painted Wall Headboard

If you want a unique, one-of-a-kind and affordable headboard, how about painting a headboard on the wall? If you like to change decor often, you can easily paint over it to make a new look. You can customize it to the color and design you want. That’s what I did to make a unique headboard in our apartment in India.

The first time I shared the inspiration photo for this project was way back in October 2010:

Inspiration Photo

That was only 3 days after I launched this blog! In February 2018, I spent three weeks in India, working in the apartment. I finally painted this:

Painted Headboard Wall Finished

I’m happy to see this idea come true!

Why did it take so long to get things done? Two reasons:  1) There was a lot of trial and error with architects and contractors from half a planet away, and we got so frustrated that we stopped working on the apartment for a while, and 2) My husband and I both worked full-time so there was limited time to go to India.

How to make a painted headboard wall

As you’ll see below, I used stencils for my headboard wall. But you don’t have to use stencils. You can paint whatever you want. I mostly hope to inspire you to see a different way to do things than the usual way, which is to buy a wood headboard or upholstered headboard. You don’t even have to paint all the way up to the ceiling. You can paint a square, rectangle, arched or rounded shape on the wall in the area where you usually see headboards.

The original inspiration photo was published in an Australian décor magazine, Vogue Living. It is a mother-of-pearl door from India. To make the diamond shapes like you see in the door, I used stencils from Royal Design Studio — the large Star Diamonds Wall Stencil and the smaller Star Diamonds Furniture Stencil:

Star Diamond Stencils

Mother-of-pearl has a metallic quality to it, so I painted with shimmery paints. I used Royal Design Studio Stencil Cremes in Bronze Age, Smoked Oyster and Aged Nickel. And I made a custom copper.

Stencil Creme

There’s a copper color Stencil Creme (Copper Kettle) but I didn’t have enough. So I mixed these colors together to make a yummy rich glowing copper:

Custom Copper Color

First, I painted a base coat with a taupe color, Asian Paints Silk Route, back in 2015!

Asian Paints Silk Route

I thought this base coat would make it easier to build rich color than stenciling directly on a white wall.

Now, 3 years later, I dabbed and swirled one of the shimmery Stencil Cremes over the Silk Route paint. I think this was Aged Nickel? Or it could have been Bronze Age. I’m sorry I didn’t keep notes.

Metallic Base Coat

Here you can see the mottled metallic look made by the shimmery paint:

Shimmery Base Coat

It’s a little blotchy but that gets covered up a lot by the stenciled pattern.

So many of these photos will be bad, I admit it! I painted most of this at night with bad lighting. The lighting was even worse than usual because one of the wall sconces stopped working.

Here you see I painted the big diamonds along the edges first. Then I filled in the middle with the small diamonds:

In Progress

This is 10 feet tall! It’s hard to tell by the photos how tall it is. It took many hours to fill in the whole pattern. I had two of these small diamond stencils, so I could work in two areas at the same time while paint dried.

Almost done!! After painting all night until about 4 a.m.

Almost Done

I remember being really sick and coughing so hard it hurt while painting this. Why keep painting? There was limited time before I had to go home to Chicago. And I’d already waited more than 7 years to paint this! So I didn’t care how sick I was. I decided not to climb to the top of the ladder and finish that top row at 4 a.m. when I was so tired and sick. I left it for the next day.

Once this was done, it seemed like it needed something more. It just didn’t “feel finished.” So I painted some more. I added dark borders and scrolly stencil patterns on the edges:

Adding Borders

The scrolly pattern is a custom stencil cut with my Cricut Explore, with a vector illustration purchased from Shutterstock.

Ahhhh! This feels better! It feels done!

Finished Painted Wall Headboard

Are there enough diamond shapes here?!

Also, I “pounced” or dabbed bronze and silver colors over the patterns with a brush to make an antique and “slightly dirty” look:

Close Up of Pattern

The day after, I was so tired from painting till 4 a.m., I crashed with the phone next to me, probably in the middle of Instagramming. When I opened my eyes, I saw this. The rich, multi-patterned look I worked so hard to make:

Scene in Master Bedroom Pattern Layers

It’s a little thing, but this view made it all worth it!

This boho chic patchwork pillow is another DIY project shared here on the blog:

DIY Stenciled Patterned Pillow

Here are shots of the room:


Block Print Bedding and Curtain

Master Bedroom Simple Furnishings

Chinese Chest Nightstand

Simple Master Bedroom

It’s furnished simply. We spend only a few weeks a year here so we don’t need much stuff. And everything gets very dusty in India, even indoors, so the less stuff we have, the less stuff we have to clean.

Some walls still need more art. But the “headboard wall” is complete. Finally.

DIY Painted Headboard Wall

For a very different look, visit a post where I show how to use different stencils like the wall shown below. This wall is also in our apartment in India, in the guest bedroom. It’s a softer more feminine look:

Crazy Mix of Stencils on a Wall

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 …


  • 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


  • 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