Lucy’s Living Room Makeover

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Though I had been a reader and fan for years before, Joanna Goddard and I became real-life friends in 2008. She had emailed me when we were still living in Delaware about coming up to the city to do a refresh on their West Village apartment. I remember the first time we met at her place for a design meeting. I was instantly in awe of her – she was as cool, smart, funny and interesting as she was in her writing.

I had the exact same reaction when I met Joanna’s twin sister, Lucy, this month. They are obviously two different people, of course, but their kindness, quick humor, voices (!) and realness felt so similar to me. It was an absolute pleasure to get to know Lucy a little during the process of redecorating her Bay Area apartment.

You may have heard about Lucy’s story on Cup of Jo (or on Good Morning America or in the New York Times). Lucy’s husband, Paul Kalanithi, was diagnosed with late-stage cancer while finishing his neurology residency at Stanford Medical. Before he passed away last spring, he wrote an amazing, poignant book called When Breath Becomes Air. It is one of those books that forever changes your perspective on life and on dying. Lucy’s prologue was equally beautiful and thought-provoking (and will tear your heart into pieces).

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A few weeks ago, while Lucy was on the UK leg of the book tour, I loaded up a U-haul full of vintage furniture finds and DIY projects and drove to Northern California from Phoenix with a few women from my Juniper team, Kate and Kayla (my sister, Ali, flew in to join us later that week). We took this photo right before we left to go back home – exhausted and puffy-faced from all the tears! Gosh, I love these women so, so much. They are always very hard workers, but I was humbled by their selflessness and abounding energy on this project especially.

Lucy had sent us a house key, so we let ourselves in and got to work moving furniture and tools. Thankfully, Lucy and her sweet mother, Jean, had worked tirelessly to organize and clean out Lucy’s apartment before we got there so we would have a mostly blank slate when walking in. I know what a hard job that is without having the added emotion to the thing. Lucy was incredibly brave making decisions about her and Paul’s things. I loved that she was very clear about keeping things that mattered the most to her, and she showed immense strength while parting with others. I can’t imagine how hard that process must have been for her.

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Here are some of the before images of Lucy’s living room. It was comfortable before, but Lucy was ready for a big change! During our calls, she said that she wanted her apartment to feel light, bright and nature-filled. So we had all the walls, ceiling and trim painted Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace (OC-65). That alone brightened up her space SO MUCH!! She lives on the second floor, which is so pretty for all the tree foliage you get in the windows, but can sometimes make a space a little shadowy. Chantilly Lace has just a touch of warmth to it, so it is still a bright and clear white, but it has a beautiful soft glow that feels like sunshine. It’s my favorite white, hands down.

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We also picked the wall color with the carpet in mind. Lucy would love to replace this eventually, but decided to keep the carpet for now. People always talk about wanting to coordinate wall colors with their furniture, which is all well and good, but it’s much more important to find a color that works best with the flooring! A gray paint color in here would have made her cream carpet look pink. A soft blue-green would have brought out the yellow tones. White is easy and happy and brings out the best of the colors in furniture and flooring alike!

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So in addition to the challenge of keeping Lucy’s carpeting, we had a couple more design obstacles to overcome in the room. Whenever we start a project we like to ask two big questions: what works in here and what doesn’t? If you can figure out what parts of a room both bring your joy and really function well, and then you simply build on those things in your redesign, you will be in a great spot. Similarly, if you can really nail down the challenges/bummers in the room, you’ve essentially created a to-do list for yourself!

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(these are some very early sketches before we had measurements for floor plans – it’s fun for me to remember what we initially planned on and what ended up needing to change!)

The big mirror on the back wall was on my Challenge list at first, but it was always on Lucy’s Joy list. She loved the light it brought into her living room. I loved the light too, but it was making the furniture layout tricky. Lucy originally had her TV in the back left corner of the room. When we decided to make the mirror a focal point of the room, and build it out with the shelving, it worked best to put the TV on the opposite side of the room, on the floating wall between the kitchen and the main living area.

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(removable wallpaper tiles available at Hygge & West! More info and installation tips to come for the wallpaper and the floating credenza!)

As soon as we had that figured out, it was easy to tackle some of the other items on the Challenge list:

There is no overhead lighting anywhere in the apartment other than the dining room, so we needed to add as many lighting sources as possible. We also wanted the carpet to blend in and to even coordinate with the design choices. We needed storage for books and toys and TV components. And we needed as much seating as Lucy had with her old sectional, but in a layout that worked better for the room.

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coffee table // rug

I found these amazing bent plywood shelf brackets on Amazon of all places (they’re sold out everywhere now, but keep an eye out for them – they were only $3 each and are super beautiful in person!!). It took almost a full day to very carefully mark out all the shelving and to install the heavy-duty wall anchors before hanging the shelves, but they’re my favorite! :)

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The bookshelf idea maximized a lot of our Joy list and crossed off a few Challenges as well! We were able to add three long arm sconces above the shelving (the lights look SO pretty when they’re on at night!), we made the mirror look purposeful, and added a TON of storage with these Land of Nod woven baskets. Lucy’s living room is really long, so it also helped to have the usable floor space pushed down toward the TV another foot. Even still, we had plenty of room to use two full size sofas in the space!

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brass and marble lamp

We chose two sofas from a company I’ve been dying to use for a while now – Bryght. And let me tell you, the quality blew me away. We used the Sven leather sofa (can you believe the price point for leather?!) and the Echo mint linen sofa and I LOVE how they look together!!

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We had pulled some fabrics from my stash, before getting too far along in the design process, to figure out what color direction we were hoping to go with, and I think we got pretty close to our vision with the final results!

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I love the navy and pink combo and the Papa Bear chair from Modernica turned out to be one of my favorite pieces in the room. It is SO INCREDIBLY COMFORTABLE. I love that it has such a sculptural shape! The Moroccan style rug from West Elm also goes on the favorites list. I have one of my own now, I loved it that much (and now it’s on super sale!!!).

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The styling part of the show is always my favorite. We had been collecting pieces for weeks to add in to the mix on Lucy’s shelves and tabletops! I feel like a house really starts to come alive when all the pretty things are unwrapped and put out. :) The blue and white stripe lamp is from Schoolhouse Electric and it’s also on my wish list now. Every millimeter of that lamp is gorgeous from the cord to the finial to the finish on the glass and of course the gorgeous shade! I wanted something special to sit on the white scalloped edge table I designed and had made here locally. We’re going to start selling furniture this year if all goes well and it would be fun to have a similar piece in the line up! :)

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It’s been fun to go back and hunt for the before photos for this project, down to even the little vases and accessories we bought. I feel like a lot of happy blessings and coincidences happened and I love how it all came together in the end.

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Like that vintage Union Jack was a $5 junk store find. The shop owner had a bunch of flags from all different countries hanging up high. I asked about them and he said they had been hanging at a Boy Scout jamboree camp since the 50s! Cool right? Lucy’s family is from England and I thought if we framed the flag, it would be a fun and graphic addition to her shelves. (I also bought the Swedish flag for my house! :)

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The gem stand is going to be for sale in our online shop soon! :)

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We got that beautiful little terrarium from Anthropologie and the fern inside it was bought at the coolest nursery ever in San Francisco called Flora Grubb Gardens. My friend, Jordan Ferney, took us around shopping on one of the days we were there and we found some really special pieces!

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We collaborated with Lucy a lot on the art – something that I think is important in every project so that the homeowner feels very connected with what she will see on the walls every day. We hung many of her favorite pieces that she had before and we got some new prints as well. Lucy really loved this one from 20×200 because it reminded her of something Paul would say to her, and brought back good memories, but mostly it made Lucy think of her young daughter, Cady. She liked being reminded that they could do anything together as a great little team!

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This LOVE print was from Max Wanger’s new Printshop and it is gorgeous! The colors!! So soft and dreamy!

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I am so happy with how Lucy’s living room transformed before our eyes! We were so excited to show Lucy when she got back from her trip. She texted me when she pulled up to her building and we all went outside to meet her and Cady. There were already tears just upon finally getting to meet and hug this sweet woman! Then we brought her in to show her all the changes and the water works really started! I feel like interior design is a fun job, but it’s not always in the noble or even necessary category. But sometimes the idea of home as a healing place can be critical and even life-changing. It was an honor of a lifetime for me and my team to get to know Lucy and to be a small part of this chapter of her life.

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The full house tour and lots of my tips and behind-the-scenes thoughts from Lucy are on Cup of Jo and on my Instagram feed. I will be posting the process photos for each room, one by one. As always, thanks for your support and kindness!! xo

Professional photos above by Julia Robbs. Styling and floral assistance by Kendra Smoot. A HUGE thanks to my team and to Joanna and of course, to Lucy.

 

  1. rachael

    So, so good. What an amazing transformation.

  2. Angela

    Gorgeous. What a talent you have! Thanks for sharing your beautiful work.

  3. This is just lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, I love how you use so many colors in a room and they how work so perfectly together. Can’t wait to read more!

  4. Meghan

    This was a wonderful makeover and I’ve enjoyed following it on both your blog and Cup Of Jo!
    Would you mind describing how you worked out powering the long neck sconces above the bookcases? We’ve been looking to do the same with those same lights from UO but I’m struggling to figure out how to rewire them or hook them up to one power source so I can turn them all on at once at ground or eye level without having to get a ladder to turn them all on individually. A tutorial or quick explanation would be so helpful!

    • Jenny

      Hi Meghan! We used cord pins to tightly lead the cords from the sconces to a central power strip tucked up on the top shelf. We had to cut notches out of the back lefthand corners of the shelves, just barely big enough for a plug to pass through. You can easily add a switch to the extension cord, or just plug it in when you need the sconces on. Lucy’s outlets are operated by her switches, so she just leaves hers plugged in. Hope that helps! If you have the know-how or funds, it might be simpler just to have them hardwired! :) xo

      • Meghan

        Thank you for the help re: lighting!

  5. Zoe

    Bravo, Jenny and team. Your work is always inspiring! I want to hear more about everything but this is a very very delicious start :-)

  6. Kathleen

    So beautiful. I loved reading both versions of this lovely story on my two top favorite blogs of all time! (no joke, yours are ones I have read for years, don’t ever get tired of, and can’t wait for more!). Cup of Jo + Little Green Notebook + the amazing women behind them makes this vast internet world friendlier and happier.

  7. Lisa

    Gorgeous ! ! And I just bet the coffee table is vintage but I’m dying to know!! Is it?! This room is so stunning.

    • Kimberly

      I’m pretty sure I saw it at West Elm

    • Jenny

      NOT vintage!!! It’s from West Elm!! :)

  8. Jo

    Beautiful! What a meaningful project. I love the look of the West Elm rug. Quick question – does it shed a ton?

    • Jenny

      It does shed! But not more than other shaggy wool rugs I’ve had in the past. It’s not too bad!

  9. Audra

    This is the most meaningful home tour I’ve ever seen, well done! Love the colors, art & attention to details. Just finished reading Lucy’s husband’s book and I can’t think of a more deserving and lovely person to have such a beautiful home.

    • Jenny

      Thank you, Audra!! I can say it was the most meaningful project I’ve done to date as well! :) I’m looking forward to seeking out more opportunities to give back in the future!

    • Jennette

      Agreed. Thanks Jenny for sharing this and Lucy for being so open and letting us have a peek into your home and heart. This is all so beautiful. I’m just sitting over here crying.

  10. Emma

    Wow. Jenny, this is such a moving project. The concept of “home” truly is such an important and beautiful thing. What a difference your design work made in Lucy’s life.
    I love the bright and multi-cultural feel of the home. Between the textiles used, and the awesome wood pieces… Excellence, all around!

  11. Debra

    What a transformation! So light, bright, and livable. And accessible, too, for anyone wanting to emulate your look and ideas. And you couldn’t have chosen a more worthy recipient of your talents. Well done!

  12. Amanda

    It’s obvious a lot of love went into this project. I love your tip about finding a spot that you love, and then building on it. And I’m looking forward to details about the floating credenza!

  13. kathy

    Wow! You are so incredible – you drove a U-Haul from Phoenix to SF!! And what amazing work. The place looks so beautiful, happy and bright!!! I can’t wait to read the detailed posts.

  14. Marcy K.

    There is absolutely a healing aspect to interior design. I was in a funk of “situational depression” after being laid off. I spent many daylight hours in my bed, and the soft pink room I had originally created as an oasis came to represent “here is when I go when I want to sleep all day and be sad,” which I think was okay at the time. When I noticed myself getting further away from depression I’d enter my bedroom to sleep at night and sadness would wash over me, maybe since I associated the soft pink with sad-sleep. I repainted and redecorated and it felt like entering a new room and slipping into a new me. It helped heal. Thank you for your inspiration, always.

  15. Emma

    This is such a beautiful home with so much meaning. Bravo to you and your team! You can tell that A LOT of love and care was put into every little detail :) I cried when I read the makeover over at Cup Of Jo, and now I’m crying again hearing about the makeover from your perspective. Just completely fantastic.

  16. Bravo once again Jenny! I LOVE the story and all of this on so many levels. I am about to embark on some cosmetic updates in our home and I have to ask the rude question: would love to know what something like this costs to execute? Not the design services as much as the paint, wallpaper tiles, rugs, furniture, etc. Is there any advice you can give on what funds you need to accomplish a makeover at this degree? thank you!

  17. gigi

    beautiful in so many ways. ps is the blogroll coming back?

  18. Mary

    I love what you’ve done. I hope it relieves some sadness for her. I can’t begin to imagine her grief.
    Would you be so kind as to share your source for the brass lampshade next to the mint sofa? I’ve been looking for one for a long time.

  19. lanyding

    Warm and bright house!

  20. Aidel.K

    Read about this at Cup of Jo, but it’s so good to hear from your perspective…and with more detail. Looking forward to more of the same!

  21. barb

    Jenny, you are so talented! What a beautiful project. I have wanted to read Paul’s book but have been scared of my emotional response. What a blessing to Lucy that you did this.

  22. Marianne

    This was such a beautiful project all around. Loved reading about it here & on Cup of Jo. Had me in tears both times!

    I especially love that rug! And really want to pull the trigger but am hesitant since I’ve read Moroccan shag rugs are really hard to keep clean. I know you’ve had similar rugs before, thoughts? Do you vacuum it frequently?

    Thank you!

  23. lisa

    So beautiful! Im sure it will bring her so much happiness.
    I love the side table between the 2 sofas. Where is it from?

  24. Celine

    What a beautiful project, and I’m so happy that you gave her a new space to settle into. It must still be so difficult, but this beautiful and safe haven is a wonderful place for her to raise their daughter. Definitely had to wipe away the tears while reading. Wonderful job Jenny. Small detail, but I believe he was a neurosurgeon, not a neurologist.

  25. Kate

    What a beautiful, life affirming makeover and story. Such a pretty makeover made all that more special due to Lucy’s story. I respect and admire all the people featured in this post and wish Lucy and Cady all the best.

  26. Holly

    Amazing space Jenny! You ladies did a wonderful job creating such an inviting space for Lucy & her daughter.

  27. Melissa Peterson

    It is beautiful, and I loved the write up on Cup of Jo too, with Lucy’s reactions. You did a wonderful job!

  28. What a beautiful space you have created. light and bright..

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  30. Whitney

    All so gorgeous, love love love! Quick question –where did you find the knobs for the fauxcredenza? Thank you!

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  32. Heather

    Love this – and love those couches from bryght.com. We are moving into a bigger place right now and looking for a new couch. I checked them out and saw they do not have any retail locations. My biggest concern with purchasing a couch without seeing it in person is the comfort level. I love the clean lines, but have tried couches with similar styles in the past that are very hard. Are the bryght couches comfortable? Specifically, we are interested in the Sven couch. Thanks!

  33. John

    Great Article!! Loved reading it. Please check this out too, you might find it interesting

  34. melisa

    Truly blown away in every possible sense. You’ve given her such a gift. I have so much admiration for Lucy and for you and your amazing talent. Congrats to all of you.

  35. Shagun

    You are truly talented and your makeovers are gorgeous :)
    P.S. I have knockdown textured walls as well and would love to see the tutorial for installation of the otomi wallpaper.

  36. Brianna

    Question on the west elm rug over carpet. I’d love this for my daughters room that has similar carpeting but have been debating it because the rug looks thick. any thoughts or advice? Thank you so much!!

    • Jenny

      It’s VERY thick! At least 2″!

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  38. silvercat

    long-time reader, first-time commenter.

    The concept of joy list vs challenge list was very interesting. I don’t seem to remember if you expand on that in other posts…

    Since I’m looking to move into a more permanent flat soon, I’d be very interested to see that: how does one really define what brings me joy ? What if it’s a new space ? Should I first leave it “undecorated and undesigned” then?

    At any rate, thanks for sharing !

    • Jenny

      Thanks for the comment, silvercat! I think if you’re not excited about it (would you buy it again today?), and it’s an option to sell it or donate it and get something new, do it! It’s totally fine for the process to take a while, but I think the ultimate goal should be for every piece in your home to be functional and beautiful. :)

  39. Sarah

    Love the transformation of this room! I’m curious what the big floral branches are next to the TV? They are so sculptural and bring a softness to the TV area that I would love to try and recreate.

  40. Emma

    Hi from Spain, I really, really love this room I was planning on doing the bookshelf in my little living room but I don’t Know if it will be ok because we have a door so the shelf it will be to one wall to a door, I know I’ts difficult without see it but do you think it will work too.
    Thank you

  41. Ava

    Jenny, I’m dying to know where the black and white checkered throw is from that’s on the sofa?

    • Jenny

      Hi Ava! The throw is from Schoolhouse Electric. Love it so much!

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  43. Thank you for the information, Very nice tips!! Bravo to you and your team!

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