I’ve done some informal polling of men I know – my brother, Mr. H+F, friend’s and client’s husbands, even the barista at the Starbucks where I’m writing this post and it’s virtually unanimous – they would all love a leather couch. And I’m not talking about a slim, track arm mid-century silhouette number. No, they all make it very clear when describing this monument to masculinity that the couch must be big, slouchy, bulky and deep. As a designer, there are few four word phrases that make me cringe more than “big, brown, leather couch” because they’re almost always coming from some dismayed wife who tells me in hushed tones that she wants to update the family room but the couch has to stay. This is often followed by an explanation of how he let her pick pretty much every other thing in the house and sat (mostly) silently by as she unrolled rugs, hung curtains, bought lamps, etc but really wanted a big leather couch. So she went for it and now it’s here and he loves it but she’s overwhelmed by it’s brown-ness.
Maybe you can relate to this predicament. Maybe you picked out a big, dark couch yourself. Either way, it’s a challenge for sure. A couch, especially a sectional, is a very large piece of furniture and can really set the tone for the room. By no means am I saying I’m not a leather couch fan. I think they can be GREAT and super kid friendly in a perfectly “worn in” look in a way a fabric couch really can’t be. But when you go with something as visually heavy as a large leather couch, it can be a challenge to keep the overall vibe of the room light and happy. So today’s post is all about how to do just that – the balancing act we all need to do to keep our better halves happy while keeping our family rooms from falling into Game of Thrones level darkness.
My friend and long time client Katie’s family room is the perfect example of this balancing act. Apologies in advance for all the iPhone photos but the end product was too good not to share so here goes.
This is where we started. Katie had a well worn brown micro-suede sectional, a leather ottoman, blue walls and a black framed gallery wall arrangement of family photos. Oh and a way too small multi-color rug and track lighting. Pretty much these pieces had seen her through the baby and toddler phases with her two boys but she was definitely ready for an update and was craving something much lighter to compliment the young, happy vibe of the rest of her house.
Update #1: Track lighting came out and 4 recessed can lights went in. A rug she had in another room came in here and solved the size issue but the room was feeling very blue/tan matchy. Quick lighten things up band-aid – she painted all the frames in her gallery wall white. And we got a new coffee table. We were on our way! But a new couch was definitely in order.
Update #2: Katie’s husband had his heart set on a leather sectional for this room. She really struggled with this one because she didn’t want something overly masculine and we went back and forth on a few options with slimmer arms, tight backs, etc. In the end, none of those passed the comfort test like this one did. I have to say, as far as overstuffed leather sectionals go, I think Katie did pretty well! It’s a nice milk chocolatey color with an ever so slight distressing. But even the addition of a new lamp and roman shade couldn’t fix the “flat-ness” of the room’s color scheme.
Update #3: Pattern and color! A lot of people freak out when they hear me say a room needs more pattern. They’re afraid it will get “too busy” (I hear those words a lot) and I understand that pattern and color aren’t for everyone. I love a soothing room, don’t get me wrong but I knew the space needed some interest and tension. I arrived with a huge bag of new pillows to try out. Success! Contrast and tension achieved via pattern and the zing of that kelly green against the leather.
Update #4: Katie loved the new pillows and felt like they were definitely helping but she wasn’t totally satisfied. They’re a young family and they spend a lot of time together in this cozy room. She really wanted to up the fun factor and counteract the darkness the couch was bringing. On a whim I suggested we wallpaper the 2 walls behind the couch to change the focus of the room – draw your eye away from the biggest, darkest piece and to something else. JACKPOT. It was like magic. But now…
Update #5: There was a little too much pattern with the rug AND the wallpaper. This ended up being fine because a. this rug came in here from another room (we didn’t buy it for this room) and b. the blue trellis rug worked perfectly in the playroom which is right off this room but this is exactly why I tell people to try really hard and plan the major elements of a space in advance. Otherwise you can paint yourself into a really annoying corner where the right answer is oh so close (the wallpaper) but you can’t allow yourself to go there because it will mean replacing the rug you just bought a few weeks/months ago. Sound familiar? So the trellis rug went out and a more textural rug came in.
Update #6: Finishing touches in some mismatched end tables. Colorful navy nesting ones and a metallic stepped end table pick up the hints of sparkle and blue in the room.
And DONE! Katie is an uber motivated client and we made all of these changes in under a month. I was there yesterday to snap these photos and I really couldn’t believe how different the room feels.
And maybe best of all, her husband loves the room. This makes me so happy! He got his leather couch, she got her bright happy, space. All is well with the world! I hope this has inspired you to look beyond matching colors, experiment with pattern and not just “give up” when something you don’t love makes its way into your home. Sure a big, brown piece might not be your first choice but with the right combination of things surrounding it, I promise you can make it work! Katie has been kind enough to let me document this whole process and share her “look”. I hope it helps anyone out there currently staring at a big brown couch wondering where to go from here.
Kelly Green Pillows | Lumbar Pillow | Buffalo Check Navy Pillow | Pink Floral Pillow | Navy Spotted Pillow | Terrace Side Table | Feather Wallpaper in denim | Cameron Coffee Table | Jute Border Rug | Leather Sectional | Roman Shade | White Lamp | Nesting tables (no longer available in blue but try this for a similiar look)