Paint and Switch

comments: 161


On my way out to run errands one chilly morning this fall, I started my little (fifteen-year-old) car, turned on the heater, and heard water trickling . . . somewhere. Somewhere inside the car. This was a few weeks after the last time the car broke down (again) at the mall while Andy's mom was visiting. Not being inclined to take chances, I drove straight to my mechanic. He told me it would take him three or four hours to fix the car that morning. He dropped me off at Ikea (which was a few blocks away) and told me he'd call.


Well! With everything else I'd thought I was going to do that day postponed, I was slightly panicked for a minute — I had this, and this, and this, and that to do! — and then (very quickly, in fact) I felt suddenly and oddly liberated. Riding the escalator up to the cafe, I saw the morning stretch out ahead of me; it was now leisurely, to be filled with nothing but Swedish pancakes and fake living rooms for the next four hours.


[This is the part in the story where Andy's wrists, far away across town, started involuntarily twitching, sensing they would soon be required to put together several more pieces of furniture.] Wander, wander, wander. Slowly I followed the arrows through too many installations to count. When I got tired, I found myself sitting on various sofas in the fake living rooms, relaxing. Hours passed. Our own house was in a state of complete dishevelment, with ornament-kit parts and pieces of our former bathrooms covering every flat surface. In the fake living rooms, "life" felt calm and orderly. I put my feet up on the ottoman in the fake living room and picked up a book. It was in Swedish so I fake read it. I felt my blood pressure dropping. That was real. I looked around and tried to figure out what it was about the fake rooms that felt better than my real rooms. I realized that in the past ten years we had cobbled together and jerry-rigged a lot of systems in our house that weren't really working for us anymore, and we had no storage. Also, the colors of our rooms (dark, dark grayish-green, for one) weren't making me happy at all. It was time to revisit the whole shebang. (Here are some photos from a few years ago that kind of show how things were, though we'd repainted the dining room and gotten a new sofa several years ago. The green armchair was the first piece of furniture we bought after we got married, so it's about thirteen years old and still going strong. The sideboard with the old typewriter on it was my parents'. They brought it out for me from Chicago when they moved to Oregon, and ironically it is made out of myrtlewood, which, as I understand it, only grows on the northern California and southern Oregon coast.)


When my mechanic called to say the car was ready, I was figuring out ways to make the Hemnes entertainment center part of our life. By the time my taxi pulled up in front of the garage, in my mind I had already rearranged all of the other furniture (we had, about five years ago, moved all of the living room furniture into the dining room, and the dining table into the living room [the fireplace room] ). And painted the living room with a fresh coat of Stonington Gray (by Benjamin Moore).


With Wickham Gray (also by Benjamin Moore) in the dining room.


Yes, give me a few hours and nothing to do and I'll hatch a plan, alright. Here's the dining room from a little bit of a higher angle. We got these chairs about ten years ago from an ad in the paper. They look fine but they give me a terrible backache when I sit in them for too long. I have some big, cushy seat cushions (yet another round of seat cushions) on order, but there is something about these chairs that my back hates. I think it's that the seats actually tilt down toward the back. It's a shame, since they are incredibly sturdy and well-made. Just seriously uncomfortable. I hesitate to give them away lest they trouble anyone else, but Andy is not bothered by them so it's probably just me.


Our house is one of those where the front door opens directly into the living room, which leads into the dining room with a big arch. There is no "entry," nor any sort of coat closet. A giant air intake thing right next to the door precludes adding a wardrobe or something like that (and there really isn't even room for something like that). We wound up putting a little Expedit shelving unit here, under the arch, to hold shoes and baskets for hats and mittens and dog collars, as well as mail. I don't know why I didn't think of this before.


Almost everything else we already had, but somehow it feels like a whole new house. The new paint colors have been glorious, I must say. I think it's hard to tell in the photos, but the Wickham Gray is much lighter than the Stonington Gray, so they feel related but not the same. In some photos the color is reading as light blue, but it's really nowhere near that blue in real life.


Oh, I do like it when things are all in their places with bright, shining faces. It makes my whole body sigh with gratitude. And it was possibly the only time I've ever actually been happy about the car almost breaking down.

Some Details:

The little red fake fireplace: My mom gave this to me for Christmas three years ago, and it is one of my favorite things. It's electric and from Plow & Hearth, and I know they carry several models. It can be used as a heater (though we never use it this way), or you can just turn on the little light that makes it look like a wood fire.

The entertainment center and lights: As I mentioned, these pieces are from the Hemnes collection at Ikea. The lights on top of the cabinets are also from Ikea, but I don't remember what they are called. They have many different types of cabinet-top lights; ours are plugged into dimmers, which is really nice.

The sofa: This is a hide-a-bed, from Sofa Table Chair here in Portland. Info is here.

The braided rug: From L.L. Bean several years ago.

The old silver Christmas tree (in the links to the old pictures): It was vintage, and just getting too fragile to keep putting up. The pets never really bothered it, but its center pole had been repaired so many times that it is quite compromised, so we've had a real tree for the past two years. We still have Silver, but I'm not sure what we will do with her in the future. Getting a new pole would mean drilling a million holes at all different angles, etc., so I don't know.

Dining-room hutch and table: From the Liatorp collection, from Ikea several years ago. Chairs, as I mentioned are used; we painted them ten years ago but I don't remember the name of the color (off-white).

Plants hanging in front of windows in living room: Fake maidenhair ferns. From JoAnn Fabrics. I can't keep houseplants alive. The wire pots they hang it might have been from Smith & Hawken many years ago, I can't remember.

Gingham curtains: Cabin Check in cranberry from Country Curtains.

Snowflakes over fireplace: These are hung from little white cup hooks that stay in our ceiling all year. They are basically invisible, so it works to leave them up.

The painting over the sideboard: It's from an artist named Eli Halpin who used to live in Portland but now lives in Baltimore, I think.

The ripple blanket: More info on mine is in my FAQ. And please see the Ravelry page for the Soft Waves pattern. If you're struggling, I'm sure the Ravelers can help!


What an absolutely LOVELY, LOVELY home you have. I am green with envy.

I have to admit it, I am in love with your dining room and living room. I bought my house because my parents live next door.. but it is not the kind of house that "strikes my fancy".. well, at least the living room and dining room do not. It is all very dark and lodgy.... not my thing. I prefer the crisp brightness of your living room and dining room. OOOOh, if only I had the money to gut it all!!!

how beautiful and cozy!

i bet you have guests over that don't want to leave.

promise to make time to sit on your sofa in front of the window, cover up with one of your lovely blankets or quilts, get the fire going, some warm cocoa and a good book! oh how dreamy.

and of course your photos are gorgeous.

Love the colors, I've been looking for the "right" gray and I think you've found it for me.

I love your "fake" living room! Very peaceful and serene....
Also I am in LOVE with that myrtlewood sideboard. So lovely!

Reading the old post about your living room, if you ever do want to remove the roses from the fireplace, rubbing alcohol works great for unsticking hot glue. I'm a stop motion animator and we use hot glue for locking down props and set pieces that later need to be moved. Just squirt some alcohol on it, wait a minute or so and pull. The glue becomes very brittle and if you have a big blob, just pull off what you can then squirt it with more alcohol!


LOVE your husband gave me your first book a few years ago as a surprise Christmas gift and I have been hooked since. My question is about the little red stove as well. (I noticed several other readers have asked.) Would love to know more....

So, I love this. And the ideas. I have the same type of no entry living room. But, I have it twice. The front door isn't used very often and definitely not as an entry but the back door is. It opens right into the kitchen. No mud room! I'm intending on doing something similar. With a floor bench with baskets below and an open place for shoes, etc. Can't wait to do that. And, if/when we build up the front entrance, I'll do something similar. Gotta make due with what you have, right? Thanks for the gorgeous pictures! I want to curl up and read a book in there.

LOVE it always make me want to change my color scheme in my house! Maybe in the next one...too much time and money spent on this one already.

It looks so cozy...I know you love having the fireplace back in the living room. I have a gas one and we keep it on all winter long!

OMG. I cannot believe how amazing that looks! What a transformation! You have inspired me to do a little switcharoo in my own home!

ah the pleasure of change....and don't we get inspiration from those fake rooms whether in person on in mags? the enchanting way you have updated yet kept all the charm of your own belongings is enviable and so welcoming. the "entry" you made is brilliant. merry merry...i feel merry just visiting!

I love how you change things! It looks great. My only question is did you get rid of the silver Christmas tree? I would love to have one but the cats would chew on it and that wouldn't be good.

I am charmed.

WOW!! Another home run hit by Alicia. Everything is just perfect,organized, decorated,composed,beautiful and homey. Oh, I'm gushing but it's the truth. You have a real home and not the impractical bs that is seen in the popular home zines on the market. I'll take your brand of style any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Lovely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our Seattle house that has a lot of similar details, which I love (the arches, the wood floors, the door frames) but that also make it hard to live (no closets, no entry way, giant cold air return right next to the front door). You have done an amazing job of making those issues look intentional and seamless. I am more than a little jealous. I love that your house is so your style. :)

thebeesnees says: December 13, 2010 at 10:56 AM

Lovely, serene...wouldn't expect anything different from you. Can you tell us about the hutch that you have in the dining room?
Thanks again, as always, for sharing your home.

Your rooms are so lovely! I'd love to cozy up on your sofa with some knitting!

My home is in serious need of an overhaul, too. But with two small children, and no budget, it will have to wait a bit longer. Thanks for the inspiration!

I love how peaceful and bright your home is. It inspires me to do some decluttering! The Hemnes media line at Ikea is fantastic...I love that Hemnes stuff is always made of real wood.

Your house is definitely so cozy and organize.

I am semi-new to your blog. I bought two of your books and can't wait to sew some crafts.

You definitely inspire me and thanks for sharing pictures of your house and personal life.

Merry Christmas to you and your love ones.

It's beautiful and I love the room switching. I also love all the white (obviously) Posie really gets cosy ;) xox Yvonne

Your home is beautiful!
I love that little red stove, is it a gas stove?-more details please(:
thanks for sharing!

I too would like more info on the charming little red stove...Thanks and Merry Christmas!

It all looks so charming and fresh!! Well done to the A&A team! Did the dining tables and chairs come to you that color or did you paint them? Are they white or cream or gray? Thanks!

I love the new look! I think the lighter gray opens up the space and makes it more cheerful. I love gray too. My apartment is done with French accents/flea market finds. I have a mix of pinks, grays, soft greens and white/creams and a bit of antique gold. These are the colors I often see in those lovely faded French Aubusson rugs.
I love when my home is neat and tidy too. Ahhh, the joy of coming home to everything in its place!
I think the red works very well with the gray in your home too! Your embroidery makes things so homey and personal. I loved looking at this today!

Oh wow! It looks wonderful; so cozy and comfortable. What a transformation indeed, thank you for sharing!

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at