Mother’s day is upon us, and moms everywhere are patiently waiting their turn to, once again, have the day fall short of their most basic expectations. But not my mom, NOT THIS YEAR. This year I got it together and finally gave my mother the gift that she’s wanted most since the day I was born. Just kidding, she still hasn’t gotten a grandchild. But I DID give her something almost as good as a grandchild: a living room refresh that made her cry sweet tears of satisfaction.
I’m joking. Moms apparently don’t need grand gestures of living room makeovers to feel loved and claim that the best gift of all is spending time with their kids (wild), but this was a very fun excuse to show my mom some serious appreciation and love for everything she’s ever done for me. What better way to bring two big parts of my life—my job and my family—together than to bring my work home with me? Just like I still bring my laundry home every week…
Here’s a quick background on my mom: She was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States when she was 10 years old. She’s known she wanted to be a teacher since she was 5, and she’s now been teaching for 33 years. That’s more years than I’ve been alive. And she’s spent all of them in either 2nd grade, 1st grade, or kindergarten. Most recently she’s also begun teaching the tiniest of humans in Pre-K. She’s always been a busy bee and social butterfly, so it fits that she spends her days with a classroom of mini busy bees. If we’re at a party you can find her reading in the corner with a toddler or holding the nearest baby (the entire time, she doesn’t share). She’s a child whisperer, and I’m pretty sure it also makes her a literal saint.
She’s the bright, upbeat heart of our family. And I needed to give her a living room that matched.
My parents living room was decidedly not bright or upbeat a few months ago. They had wanted something bold and colorful and so it had been painted a deep red and gold for several years. However, most of their furniture was also dark wood and leather so the overall effect was heavy. And that didn’t really feel like my mom. Before we had even decided we were going to do “Makeover Takeover” or that I was going to get involved with any real sort of decorating, I convinced my parents to re-paint the living room White Dove by Benjamin Moore.
It instantly brought more light into their colonial style house, and my dad who had originally been on the fence about a white room was a convert. But even with the warm white paint (and a still yellow ceiling), my mom wasn’t convinced. She missed the color in that room. And I could tell my mom wasn’t happy with her white living room. I suggested we kick it up a few notches and makeover her entire living room. I thought she’d be thrilled. But just like with the white paint, she was hesitant. She didn’t want to lose all the pieces she loved and start over. So instead, I suggested a living room refresh. We’d change out a few key pieces she wasn’t attached to, but keep the ones she loved. And we’d work to bring in more of my parents accessories, art, and photos that were living in closets and packed in boxes in the garage.
I won’t lie to you. It was a long process. It was occasionally painful. There were disagreements. There was frustration on both sides. There were several complaints about reframing art that had been framed back in 1995. But there was also a lot of time spent together, some very fun shopping trips, red wine spilled hilariously on a brand new white rug, and lots of new memories. According to Jess’ post last week, quality time really is the best gift you can give your loved ones and yourself.
Now let’s get into this room…
Originally, the layout was a bit different, with a loveseat facing the large stained glass tree window, two accent chairs facing the entryway, and the piano on the wall opposite the fireplace. This presented some walking path difficulties, but we’d just adapted over the years. We decided to change it up for the refresh and spent a whole Sunday afternoon just moving around furniture to find the best layout.
We settled on swapping where the accent chairs and a loveseat would go and moving the piano to the wall nearest the entry. Now, there’s a huge walkway, and my dad doesn’t even have to lay a toe on their white rug to go through the room. And not having the back of a sofa be the first thing you see when you walk into the room made it feel just that much bigger.
That little accent table is hands down my mom’s favorite piece in this entire room. She saw it while we were shopping at Target and refused to leave it, even though I didn’t think it would work. In typical mom fashion, she proved me wrong, and she stills says “oh I love my little table” whenever she is in this room. If she could award “best daughter” to the table, I’m pretty sure it would take my place. The coffee table, on the other hand, used to be mine. It’s a vintage piece my dad refinished for me, but I didn’t have a place for it so now it’s happily living in their living room topped by a vintage painted tray, a past Christmas gift from my boyfriend Mac to my mom.
The wingback chairs are also new. The old ones my parents had were similar in shape but made of stocky dark wood and heavy dark leather. These wingbacks from Target are a lighter, more elegant version. But we wanted to bring some color to them so we took two pieces of Guatemalan textile my mom had and draped them down the middle, tucking their ends under the seat cushions to create a customized twist on an already pretty chair.
We debated what to put over the fireplace for a long time. My parents had a different piece of art there previously, but the framing on it felt dated and the colors didn’t really pop. My mom has a really large collection of embroidered textiles so we turned there for inspiration and ended up really loving this Hmong embroidery. It’s such a pretty blue, and it has little pops of bright colors all over. It felt perfect, so I got it framed and we never looked back.
The fireplace grate is another vintage hand-me-down, this time from Mac’s side of the family. This was in his grandfather’s home for years, and now it’s happily found it’s way to its next home with my parents. It just fit with the style of their home so perfectly, it’s like it’s always been there.
The other new piece we got for the room is this loveseat from Article. It’s actually the smaller version of the same sofa I had in my own living room. My mom loved it so much that when it came time to pick out a new piece to go in here, there was no question what it would be. The smaller size fits perfectly, and my mom couldn’t be happier. The lighter, warmer caramel color leather is a much better tone than the dark brown loveseat that previously sat in the room.
That’s Fish, our 19-year-old cat (we got him when I was in 5th grade!). He’s tragically reaching the end of his time, but that doesn’t stop him from hopping up and getting cozy wherever the humans are. The pretty craftsman desk is a family heirloom from my dad’s side, and we’ve had it as long as I can remember. It’s never been used as a sitting desk, and always more of a console. In all honesty, the cat food dish usually lives under there. But the coolest part about this photo is that huge stained glass triptych of a tree, which my dad MADE. He also made the other two stained glass windows in the room. You go, dad.
My mom loves color. She wears some of the most colorful clothing of anybody I know. She always has a streak of electric blue or bright pink dyed into her hair. I mean, she is a Taurus after all (I have no idea what that says about her, but I’m sure at least a few of you are thinking “oh, that makes total sense”). Our house is actually known as the “fiesta house” on our block, as exemplified by the next room over. I didn’t want this room competing with that room and instead wanted it to be a bright space where the colorful accents my mom has could really pop.
The rug was hard to pick. Everything I wanted had a fair amount of blue (a byproduct of 4 years here at EHD), and everything my mom wanted had strong oranges and reds. When we found this one from Rugs Direct, we fell in love. The light color was a risk with my dad existing, sure, but you gotta risk it for the proverbial rug biscuit. Plus, the way it made the colors it did have pop was dreamy. It felt like the perfect compromise because it had a great mix of both blues and oranges, and even spoke to the colors in the next room over.
The next thing we did was hang a gallery wall. I learned later that my mom had been very skeptical of this plan. She wasn’t into the idea but decided to roll with it because of motherly love. There’s a happy ending to this story though because it ended up being her favorite part of the whole room (besides that tiny side table, of course). And it’s pretty disgustingly heartwarming to see our family history up on the wall every time we walk through the living room.
There are photos of my dad’s parents’ wedding, a photo my grandpa took here in America to send back to my grandma, mom and uncle still living in Guatemala that reads “To the three people I love most in this world” in his handwriting on the back, a polaroid of my parents in front of their very first house back in 1987, childhood art that my brother and I made, and more. I stayed up until 2 am the morning before this shoot hanging this wall, but the happy tears my mother cried made it all worth it (and definitely knocked my brother off his “favorite child” perch for a few weeks at least).
Another aspect of the room my mom had been pretty skeptical about when I first mentioned it was bringing a tree into the room. Emily’s been preaching the “indoor tree as living sculpture” mantra for years now and I am fully indoctrinated. My mom, on the other hand, hadn’t yet experienced it. But now she too has sipped from the sweet alluring punch bowl that is “indoor tree” and see the light. My mom also has a serious green thumb so I knew that putting this friend in here wouldn’t be signing his death warrant. If he needs sun twice a week, you can be sure my mom is going to move that little guy out to her patio and let him tan.
The most important aspect of this whole room was making sure that it still felt like my parents. That it still retained their personality and touches. This was a chance to showcase all the beautiful things they’ve collected over their life together (like those bird textiles that we re-framed), and the pieces of my mom’s Guatemalan heritage that literally color so much of her life (see the Guatemalan textile pillow on the couch).
Getting to display all my dad’s old books, some of them from his dad’s childhood, and showcasing all the various crafts and art he’s collected from years of traveling as a camera operator all over the world, brought his personality into the room, too. It wasn’t just my mom, but a mix of both of them that made the room feel like home even with a fresh coat of paint and some new furniture. Everything still feels personal.
LOOK AT HOW HAPPY THAT MAMA IS. That is pure, unadulterated, mom JOY (that’s also my brother who forced into a clean shirt for this photo). So happy Mother’s Day to you, mom. You make everyone’s lives better everyday and deserve this happy room more than anyone else I know.
If you’re into any of this bright and happy look, check out the “Get The Look” board below. My mom has pretty good taste.
***photography and design by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for EHD