Guest post: Fernanda’s less-is-more budget living room make-under


By Fernanda Conrad

I decided to take a year off of work when my son was born. It was the best choice for our family, but living on one income has its challenges. That said, reducing the size of our budget for the last year taught me to live simply and redefine my concept of “enough.”

Someone clever said “when things aren’t adding up in your life, start subtracting.”  I started by applying this idea to my closet. When I thought I had nothing to wear, I pulled out everything I no longer wore and donated it. Unsurprisingly, what remained were the items I wear over and over, items I love. Getting dressed has never been easier!

Next, the linen closet, the kitchen, bathrooms, and the garage. Rather than purchasing new items to fill a perceived void, I chose to donate, sell, or repurpose. The end result not only decluttered our house, but we now live simply, and are much happier.

What does this have to do with design? I’m glad you asked.

As my baby grew to become a toddler he needed more space to crawl, walk, and play so I decided to give our downstairs a make-under that would simplify the space, and give our growing baby and ourselves more room. The catch? We would sell the things that no longer fit our lifestyle and only use that money – and not a penny more – to redesign the space.

Here are some before pictures:

DT9 DT10

We sold a couch, a lamp, a TV, a coffee table, a console, and a lighting fixture for $2,100 and got to work. First, we bought a smaller TV to fit in the space designated for it by the builder. Getting rid of the console and big TV opened up a huge amount of floor space that we now use as a music corner with a keyboard that my husband plays daily. I ordered a vintage Bob Dylan poster from e-Bay to go above the keyboard, and the yellow stool came from Target.

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The couch we sold was awesome, but it took a ton of space and it sat too low to the ground, making it visually bulky, so we replaced it with the yellow couch that used to live in our upstairs office, and mirrored it with our existing white couch. The bright colors really pop against the charcoal wall, and they’re small enough to provide space for the barely there side tables that came from Target. I found the couch pillows at Nordstrom.

DT1

I moved the cowhide to my office and replaced it with a bigger area rug in the same color tones as the walls. The wool provides a layer of warmth and adds texture, while the geometric pattern gives a fun touch to the room. I topped it off with a modern, minimalist coffee table. The black iron frame makes a statement, but it doesn’t obstruct the vision from either side of the room. The area rug came from Target, and the coffee table from Pier 1 with a 20% discount. Hooray!

We moved the existing dining table perpendicular to the couches and added two chrome pendant lights that came from Lowe’s. 

DT2

My husband built the floating shelves from white Alaskan spruce that we got at the lumberyard. The shelves let me organize and showcase items we use daily, not to mention the amount of space that I gained in my kitchen cabinets, where those mugs and bowls used to sit, plus none of it touches the floor, opening up the space to move around the table.

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The only item that did not sell was the server we used to have in the dining room. I painted it, and repurposed it as an entry table that holds our record player and is the place where we can quickly store away my son’s toys when we have company. The whale art is a Terry Fan print.

DT8

When all was said and done we spent $2,085 and the project took 4 weeks to complete, mainly because of the time it took to sell things on Craigslist. We met our goal to recycle the money from items that no longer fit our lifestyle, and we built, repurposed, and created a home that is representative of the life stage we are in.

One of my favorite designers, Gabrielle Stanley Blair said,  “A thoughtfully designed home is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family. The item’s you’ve chosen to surround you, both the practical and the decorative, tell your family’s story. They foster important conversations.  They influence the likes and dislikes of your family members. They have the ability to prevent or cause frustration. They form the backdrop to your child’s childhood.”

I hope this will encourage you to realize that we don’t need deep pockets to live a full, simple life in a beautiful surrounding, even with kids in tow.

Fernanda Conrad is a designer and blogger who lives in Anchorage.

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Julia O’Malley is a journalist who lives in Anchorage. She writes about culture, family, home, the environment and food in Alaska.

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