Elsie’s Den Tour (Before + After)

Well, this is by far the longest I’ve ever spent decorating a room and maybe the most challenging room in our home, but the payoffs are SO BIG. This den is the living space we spend the most time in as a family. I completed it right before we left for China. It’s where we spent Nova’s first Christmas and I have a strong feeling that someday when we move away it will be the room we miss the most.

I have a zillion photos to share. But first, a walk down memory lane! (You can see all the before pics here.)

This is more before/after pics that I would normally do, but I wanted to show all the angles to really explain the transformation.

From this view, the most obvious thing that stands out is that, yes, we painted the stone fireplace. You can read all about how to paint brick and stone here. Jeremy and I painted this ourselves with an inexpensive sprayer and it was a lot of work, but worth it in my eyes. When we first viewed the home, I disliked the style of the dark stone fireplace so much that I wanted to remove it completely and start over. Now I love it and am amazed what paint can do!

The other big note from this room was the dark carpeted floors and painted walls along with heavy drapes (we actually REALLY opened them for this “before” photo if you can believe that). This is still one of the darker rooms in our home because of a large magnolia tree outside the front window so brightening up the color scheme and lighting up the curtains went a long way. I love the feeling of it now because it’s bright, yet diffused.

This room was tricky because there really was no place for a television. The previous owners had a large TV in the corner you can see there between the fireplace and the window (on a stand) and the sofas were facing the windows. Since we knew we wanted to have this as our TV room, we had the choices of either: a. mounting one on the fireplace stone, b. configuring a TV into the bookshelves or c. facing the sofa away from the fireplace and putting the TV where we put the record player set up.

We decided on option b. And instead of using a TV, we traded it out for a projector set up. When you see the bookshelves below, you can barely even tell a projector comes out of there, as it’s hidden really well. This turned out to be a great choice. Initially we were SO nervous because this is the only TV in our home. But we have never once missed having a “real TV”. This view toward the kitchen changed so much. The kitchen is really blown out in this photo, but if you’re curious how our kitchen started out, you can see it here. I had a really strong visualization of a record player set up being a main element in this room. It’s nostalgic to me and I knew we would use it a LOT for entertaining, Saturday mornings making breakfast together and random “dance parties” with children.

The bookshelves view makes me extra happy! It was one of the first things I painted right after we got the keys to this house. It’s much bigger than it looks in photos! I struggled for a long time over styling these shelves and eventually decided that since we already have rainbow books in another room that I would keep these shelves mostly neutral. It’s also mainly cookbooks since it’s right near the kitchen and we plan meals in here a lot. Jeremy and I both collect cookbooks (although very different ones), so it’s nice to have a mix of our only mutual collection here.

I know painting wood is another subject of debate, but I say love what you love. And I love white shelves!

I always loved this little built-in desk and knew I wanted to keep it. My friend kept telling me to rip it our since it was so “outdated,” but I loved the vintage feel of it. Although we really updated this home, I wanted to maintain some of those 1970s vibes.

You’ll notice that the art is different here than in the photo above. The (new) print here came one day after we shot the rest of the room—haha. But I still wanted to show it because I love it so much. It’s by my good friend Arielle Vey. I love her photography so much, and she has the most gorgeous Instagram account as well.

The gold hardware is from Schoolhouse Electric. I love their hexagon pulls, we used both sizes on these drawers and cabinets. The chair is from Wayfair, but it’s no longer in stock (here’s a similar one).

Augh! The memories we are making in this room are JUST INSANE. It is by far our most used room in the house. We hang out in here on and off all throughout the day (lotsss of playing in here), and at night (after Nova is asleep) it’s where Jeremy and I unwind with a glass of wine and an episode or two of The Office.

First, let’s talk about this fireplace! Painting stone was, is and will always be one of the great debates in home renovations. I’m sure some people will say they liked it better before, and that’s cool with me. I LOVE IT and I am so happy we took the leap to paint it. If you’re considering a DIY project to paint a stone or brick fireplace, read this post first.

For the inside of the fireplace, we were originally going to keep the gas insert it came with. When I called the gas company to get assistance lighting it for the first time (I am super careful and paranoid about all things gas), they very strongly recommended that we upgraded it for both safety and efficiency reasons. After spending wayyyy too much time looking at options we decided to go with a new gas insert that is covered in glass crystals. To use it, you just turn the key (it is not accessible for Nova) and then light the top of the crystals with a lighter. We had a fireplace like this at an Airbnb in Palm Springs and it always stuck with us. I’m really happy with how it turned out.

The macrame I have above the fireplace is this one (I think the plain colored one is out of stock, sorry). Also, I get a lot of questions about the fireplace screen. It’s from Horchow. I searched for SO LONG to find this style in this size, as it was very specific. I went with two white poufs by the fireplace because I was visualizing s’mores and sitting by the fire. We move them around the coffee table when we have a lot of guests over, though. So it’s nice to have some portable seating.

I’ve never been asked more questions about ANYTHING than I have this sectional. It’s from Article and I’ll tell you all about it. We actually have the same style sofas in our living room and after having them for over a year I decided to get the same thing for our den. I debated it for a long time because I do realize it’s slightly lame to get the same sofas in different rooms (haha), but they are SO GOOD that I gave in.

Here’s my quick, honest review of the Sven sectional. I picked our first sofas (they’re in the other living room) on the recommendation of my friend Katie, who said they are great for both kids and pets. I definitely agree with her on this. Our dogs LIVE on this sofa and it gets spilled on and abused on a daily basis. We even spilled some oily Chinese takeout on it when we first got it and it has all cleaned up really well. I wipe it down regularly with just a wet washcloth and it has held up as well as any sofa could. In addition, we had a HUGE dog hair problem with our last sofa and so I love this much more because dog hair doesn’t stick to it or seem to collect nearly as much.

In terms of the style of the sofas, they are pretty “slouchy,” which I love. Highly-tailored sofas age really quick with high traffic (we’ve had quite a few of them over the years) and these really hold their shape over time. I fluff the back pillows once in a while, but otherwise I don’t really think about it.

So, yes, I highly recommend these sofas for anyone who is open to a leather sofa or is specifically looking for something that will hold up with kids and pets. They are also extremely comfortable. This is probably TMI, but when we first got home from China, we were all sick and had bad jet lag and I slept out here a couple nights and it wasn’t bad at all.

OK, I guess I’m done ranting about my love for this sofa. I could have just said, “it’s comfortable and easy to clean.” Haha!

The coffee table is my absolute DREAM coffee table. It’s the shroom coffee table from CB2. It comes unsealed, so you do have to seal it (or be OK with color change). We sealed ours with concrete sealer and it’s been really great. You can also use car wax, but I chose the concrete sealer since it didn’t require as much maintenance.

My pillows are from Target.

Brass light fixtures are a theme all throughout our home. These lights were actually the first purchase I made for this room. They’re from Lucent Lightshop, one of my favorite small businesses. Their level of quality for real brass fixtures is unmatched (make sure your contractor wears gloves when installing, as they are real brass).

We also painted the wood beams along the ceiling. Funny story, they aren’t wood! They are actually made of plastic and foam. We found that out when we were doing the projector install and it was WAY easier to modify them than we thought (we cut them with a utility knife). I actually think light wood beams would be pretty magical in here as well, but since the ceilings aren’t crazy high, maybe white is best.

Oh! And the shiplap wall. There’s a DIY for that. I didn’t initially want any shiplap in this home because I didn’t think the style fit, but it’s just so damn cozy I couldn’t help myself. Doing just the one wall added just the right amount of texture. Since this room isn’t very colorful, the texture is carrying a lot of the load.

Plants are a big part of this room and most of them are fake. I know some of you have strong feelings about fake plants, but as a new mom I am feeling ZERO shame about them. Plus, this is one of the darker rooms in our home and I have killed a lot more plants in here than other rooms.

My personal rule of thumb is that if I kill a plant in a certain area in my home more than twice (two plants), then I have to replace it with a fake one. I wrote more about fake plants here.

 This standing plant stand is from Modernica.  Our large bookshelves holds mostly sentimental items like photo books from vacations, cookbooks and neutral decor pieces like baskets. I recently added a few more family photos here. I also store all my white ceramics and vases here since they look nice as a collection, and a borrow from them anytime we get fresh flowers.

Bookshelf item sources: Eye bookends/Target, Disco Ball, Wooden Checker Game/Schoolhouse Electric.

These binoculars belonged to Jeremy’s grandpa.

This little 1970s rattan rocking horse was a vintage find from my hometown. I impulse bought it since it was a good deal, but it has been one of Nova’s most used and most loved toys. Bonus points that it matches the decor, I guess. She loves to rock on it while we listen to her Chinese songs.

You didn’t think I was going to pass up an opportunity to post a photo of our little cutie, did you?

Our record player set up is one of our most loved indulgences. I love that it is the centerpiece of our room instead of a television. Playing our records seems to be the only time we still get to experience the full album format (as opposed to playlists) which was a big part of our teenage years and something we are not wanting to give up. I did a full post on the turntable and speakers and everything here.

Record table sources: Console Table/West Elm, Palm Tree Print by Moonlight Magpie on Etsy, U-Turn Audio/Orbit Basic Turntable, Speakers/Audioengine, Alvvays record, Wooden Beads.Nova has good taste in music already (actually I don’t think we’ve even played Violents for her, she just loves the purple record).

I love the quote from Dorothy Draper, “I always put in one controversial item, it makes people talk.” I guess our hand chair counts as that? It’s definitely a love it or hate it piece. I get a lot of strong reactions from it. But it is a DREAM chair to me … it looks just like the vintage ones (it’s new from Wayfair, and it’s out of stock, but here’s another one). It’s so iconic to me!!!!

Our curtains are from Anthropologie. We used them in every room of our home except for the bathrooms and I LOVE them. I find it really difficult to choose curtains and these were the perfect fit.

Oh! And the rug I got on super sale from Anthropologie (here’s a similar style). Choosing a rug for a high traffic room is not easy and I think the quilted cowhide is a great option for a room like this.

Here’s another view of the little desk. I keep my stationery here and letter from my main penpal (my grandmother, Norma).

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this tour! After so many phases and some trial and error I am happy to call this room complete! It was worth all the paint mistakes. Haha!

Coffee table sources: Gold Tray and Vase/Target

A little disco sparkle before I go! People always ask how I get the “disco lights” in my Instagram photos, and all it is is a disco ball (12 inches) sitting on the book shelf opposite the window. At about 7:30 a.m., the room gets the prettiest sparkles. Get your own disco ball, you won’t regret it.

Thank you so much for coming along on this tour! If you have any questions about details, I’ll get them in the comments! xx! Elsie

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson. Project Assistant: Collin DuPree. Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.

  • Hi, I’m just coming across your blog and LOVE your aesthetic. I am currently in a fireplace quandary and am super interested in what you did with the glass. You say it is an insert, but does it have a glass front? Or is it more of just a tray that you put in the bottom? I wanted the push button gas insert that goes up into the chimney with the solid glass front (mainly for warmth) but the $5,000+ just isn’t in our budget right now.

  • What sealer did you end up using for your coffee table? It’s funny but we actually ended up with the exact same sofa and coffee table! They look great together!

  • I’m about to pull the trigger on the shroom coffee table, but I’m worried about how easily it stains. How has it held up for you?

  • Your house is GORGE. We have the same Article sofa, and I love it! But, I have a practical question regarding the sofa, does your chaise lounge seat cushion slide out? Our does on the daily, and I’ve tried a few different non-slip pads but nothing has worked. Do you have a solution for this issue? I would be forever indebted! 🙂

    I know this is an older post so I’m not sure if you’ll see this comment, but if you do, thank you!!!

  • I’m going to be making this cake for my husband to take to work.

  • I love this! The white looks great, and I love the seventies vibe in a bright space. I would love to know, what shade of white did you use?

    Thank you!

  • Hello! Your home is amazing! I am wondering how the shroom coffee table is holding up with the addition of Nova? I am looking at a cb2 dining table that is made with the same material. It will not be functioning as a dining table in our home, but will still see A LOT of use with our seven (!!!!!) kids. Thank you! My 14, 7 and 5 year old twin daughters are all HUGE Nova fans. We love the videos you post of her, because her voice! So cute.

    • It’s good. It’s definitely worn in a bit, but I wanted it to look that way so it wasn’t too precious. We sealed it with concrete sealer when we first got it so it won’t get major stains. xx

  • Any plans on creating a how to style bookshelves post? These look excellently styled without looking overly cluttered. I’ve just moved into a new space and i’m on the struggle bus with our new shelves. I want them to look well curated, but still contain some of the quirky objects we’ve collected and love.

  • Incredible transformation from dark and dated to light and modern and fun! I’m in awe. May I ask what specific white paint you used? I am having trouble finding what I want…not stark white or gray white, but not too yellowy either. Your color seems just about perfect.

  • I love love this blog post! My little family and i are moving to a new house and i cant get enough of interior design inspiration. I love how bright every room feels and i cant believe how much of a difference painting a fireplace makes, something i will keep in mind. As well as the fake plants motto, haha. Thanks for sharing. As always, very inspiring. 🙂


  • Beautiful!! Beyond lovely!! The room is gorgeous, as are the photos of you and your daughter.

  • This room is a dream. I can imagine relaxing and enjoying some quiet time in here.

    I have a couple more questions on your couch; I have been begging my partner to consider one of these beautiful leather couches from Article but he thinks our dogs will destroy it. We have a 55 lb pit mix/shepherd mix and a 30 lb beagle/husky mix. I know your dogs are a lot smaller, so I’m curious if they’d still be “pet friendly” in our household. Our dogs absolutely destroyed our cloth couch we had. Any opinions on whether you think it’d still be good for bigger pets?


  • Pretty amazing! The result is unbelievably stunning!!!

  • Wow….what a wonderful transformation. …love the couch and MCM buffet…
    Love it

  • Was your Hand Chair from Wayfair also $998, like the Anthropologie one you linked?

    I’m just wondering if that is a fair price.
    Thank you.

  • This room is a dream!!!!! My favorite item in the room is obviously Nova…but that goes without saying.

  • I love this so much! I can definitely see why you guys spend so much time in there. I looove when people modernize an older home, but still keep the vintage details. (I live in an area where most homes are being sold to developers, who then turn them into bland McMansions. It’s depressing and ugly.)

  • Wow, such nice and inspiring home – easy to see that somebody is actually living there and it is not a museum as many of the homes seen in Living mags.
    You gave it a nice Nordic touch – very nice indeed.
    Congrats 🙂

    Best Thomas

  • You need to get your own show on HGTV so I can see in real time what your process is on these miraculous transformations!

  • I am so in love with what you did to your home, esp this living space. He white is daring but makes it so bright and open. Your house is beyond adorable and the styling is fantastic.

  • What a transformation!! Painting a room white does really bring some light in. I love what you did with the fireplace and all the plants! they bring in a pop of beautiful colour and life to the room. Also love the ceiling lights. Bravo !!

  • AMAZING ROOM! So excited for you – it looks like a lot of hard work and love went into this vision. I know what you mean about painting original wood…my closet at home has original wood in it, but it makes the whole thing look so dark and drab that I’m thinking of painting it. Thanks again for sharing Arielle Vey’s work! I love her dream photographs so much and want to add one to my office wall! Congrats again!


  • In our house someone painted the fireplace white and it was upsetting because in our house (1871 farmhouse) a regular brick fireplace paired with a cool natural wood mantel and all white walls would have looked fantastic, but your fireplace looks 1000x better! It is so much brighter and happier in the space now. Such a great transformation. I love this room. Great job Elsie!

  • I’m seriously considering getting a couch from Article. I am on my 7th couch…..for real!!! I need you to tell me how comfy their sofas are, because I’ve never bought one online before. Looking at the blue velvet Sven ????

  • Wow!! When i look back at the shiplap post i can’t believe how big of an impact the teal stove makes in all of your new photos! Seeing the old stainless stove really show’s how a small pop of colour can really change a space 🙂
    Your den is an absolute inspiration as well!!

  • wowzas! Thanks for such an in-depth tour! i’ve admired it from afar in your insta stories… so great to see it in more detail. you have amazing taste!

  • What a beautiful transformation!! I love the painted fireplace – it adds such a great texture and looks so fresh and modern! Bravo!

  • I’m obsessed with that rug (and a fan of the hand chair)! What a beautiful space for some of Nova’s first memories. So excited for you all!

  • Seeing you repaint all the things is getting me thinking 🙂 Any tips or articles on repainting metal stools?

  • I love it all! Quick question: do you store your records in the West elm console or elsewhere? I love that piece so much and would use it for the same purpose but I really need it to be completely functional. Thanks in advance!!

  • One of my favorite room reveals you’ve shared! I would love to see the in-between stages of designing and “mistakes” you made to see your creative process along the way. I think it is so inspiring to see how a room evolves!

    • You can see the gray walls and gray sofa (which was from our previous home) here- https://abeautifulmess.com/2016/10/hanging-plant-shelf-diy.html It’s not that it was a mistake. It looked pretty good in photos, but it just didn’t feel right to me in person. Maybe because it’s was the darkest room but I kept be drawn to more and more light woods and white and less colorful accents.

  • My gosh, what a transformation! The makeover to this entire house is just mindblowing. So gorgeous.
    One question though – what did you do with the TV? Did I miss it in the pics?

  • I love that you write letters to your grandmother. Even though I spoke to her on the phone regularly, I wrote to my grandma often until she passed away two years ago. She started writing letter to me as a child and we just kept it up. I didn’t often think about how lucky I was to have both sets of grandparents well into my late twenties until after she passed away. Anyways, this is all to say that your writing desk reminded me of my own letters to my grandma and it was a happy memory to have pop into my head midway through the workday. Thank you!

    • We got it from a local place in Nashville and then I ordered the crystals online because I wanted the champagne color rather than the (more blueish) clear. They actually come in TONS of colors.. it’s kind of fun.

  • What I love is that you kept the fireplace and the bookshelves. The before was not amazing but you made it SO great with so little (thanks white paint).
    Also, I love the beautiful touches of decorations.
    Good job! 🙂
    It’s so pretty, now i need to see all the rooms of your home!!

  • Love! So beautiful. Holding on to that couch recommendation for the future 🙂 I would love to know what kinds of cookbooks you and Jeremy collect and what’s so different about them!

    • Jeremy is very into learning recipes from different countries so her collects a lot of Vietnamese, Thai, India, Chinese, etc…. His books tend to go by the region.

      I tend to love beautiful health food books (I have a lot of vegan books even though I am not vegan) and also cocktail books.


  • That little desk is going to be the perfect homework station when your daughter is older! Beautiful room!

  • I think this post should be called “the Power of Paint!” Unbelievable transformation! I painted a dark brick kitchen white two houses ago–it was so much work. You did a fantastic job here. BTW I’m listening to Alvvays as I type this…really like it. Maybe you could do music recs once in a while and help old people like me discover something new….

    • Thank you so much! It’s one of my husband’s favorite bands (mine too). We love their newer album as well.

      I have always meant to do more music sharing here or start a Spotify playlist series, but I never seem to get to it. Thank you for the encouragement!

  • Would love to have a DIY on how you painted the cabinets and counter. I have basically the same writing nook really want to paint/refinish both but have seem SOOOO many poorly painted cabinets.

  • Adorable, stylish, fresh and so hyggeligt (as the Danish say). Well done Elsie, love what you’ve done! 😀

  • MAJOR home goals!! I have also always envisioned a record player as the central focus in my bright living room!

  • Beautiful!! I LOVE white and light spaces. It looks so cozy there. I am working on my living room and kitchen too… would you explain how to paint shelves? I want to make sure they look good after painting them. And second question, what type of flooring did you use? Did you install it yourself? Thanks so much for sharing and congratulations on your beautiful family!!❤

    • To paint shelves like these the most durable option would be oil based paint and a stain blocking primer quote. The stain blocker coat will help seal in those years of furniture polish.

      Our floors were the original hardwood and we just had them refinished to a white wash color. I really think the light floors add tremendously to the brightness of our home.

      Thank you!

      • Thanks so much for your reply! And do you sand the furniture first? And do you use a brush or a paint gun?? Thank you!! Alex

  • The room is absolutely gorgeous! I’m also interested in the flooring… Need to replace ugly carpet & tile flooring in our living/kitchen combo. The whole rest of the house is gorgeous hardwood from the 60’s, but I have no idea what to do to go with it! Need more info on what you have there 🙂

    • A lot of the time you can get new hardwoods to match the existing vintage floors. That’s what I would do in that situation if I could.

  • I looooove this room! It’s so vibrant and happy ????
    Question: what flooring do you have in it? Hardwood or laminate?
    I’m about to update the floors in our home, and I can’t decide.

  • What a dream space! I do have one question. We’re projector users ourselves (we love it!). Where do you put the speakers and sound system for it? And do you have a place where you hide any game consoles or the like?

    • The speakers are on the bookshelf (we just have the two speakers, we didn’t prioritize surround sound). The wires are hidden in the inner corners of the bookshelves and the ceiling.

      The apple TV, preamp etc are in the cabinets that close under the shelves.


  • Oh my gosh…. can you guys please stop with the amazing interiors already? I feel so jealous every time I see a new post on ABM! 😉

    Ps. I’m loving the hand chair! ❤️

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • Your chair is definitely a love piece for me, it has such character! Love what you did to the room, it’s so much more open and brighter!

  • This room is so stunning and I cannot believe how different it is to the before photographs – you have worked absolute wonders. I love that you kept the fitted shelves & desks, updating them with a lick of paint, as I love the vintage styling of your house (full of gorgeous nods to the past!!) I really want a renovation project for my next home & you (and your lovely family) provide a constant source of inspiration.

    Holly from The Art of Being Holly xo

      • Absolutely gorgeous room! Is your fireplace screen gold or rosegold? I only see rosegold on Horchow’s website. Love it!

  • I *think* this is a great space, but who can concentrate on the room with that little girl stealing the show?! What a joy!

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