Reader Question: Elissa's Vintage Couch Conundrum

When Elissa wrote to us for help designing her living room around a newly purchased vintage couch, she appealed to our sense of Texan loyalty. Ok, plus she told us how much she liked the blog, and we're total suckers for flattery. Buckle up, kids. This is going to be a looong post, because as a Texas ex-pat now renting a gorgeous 30s apartment in Seattle, Elissa really needs our help moving forward.

Elissa says:

PLEASE HELP ME. Here's the thing, I got this couch off of Craig's List. I call it my "grandma couch." Because it so is... I just love it. The problem is... I'm terrified to buy anything else. All I have is a hand-me-down unfinished Ikea mission-style couch table that is against the wall for my record player that I figured was better than the storage stubs my record player was previously on. I'd really like to make my front room nice, but I'm terrified that if I get something not in the style of my couch, the couch will look really weird, and if I DO get something in the style of my couch, I may as well put out a bowl full of unwrapped hard candies and cat hair and call it a damn day.

I want to make my place awesome but I'm totally commitment phobic. I need guidance rull bad y'all.

Dude, there is nothing in this apartment. How do people live like this??? Nature abhors a vacuum, Elissa. I would have filled this placed with tschotskes five seconds after moving in.

Well Elissa, you've come to the right place. I love to play decorating party, and I love an empty space. So, looking around I notice some fairly modern pieces that need to be integrated with the awesome grandma couch. I also see that the front room is pretty tight and needs to remain open. She can't paint because the apartment is a rental. When I asked Elissa if she had any ideas or if there were any things she wanted to avoid, she mentioned that she liked Persian rugs and hates glass.


I'm going to overlook that for now, Elissa. Let's get started with some inspiration:

So is it possible for a grandma couch to look modern? If the homes of Nanette Lepore and Annie Schlecter are any indication, then absolutely -- especially if you want to reupholster it in a punch color. I'm just guessing that isn't an option right now.

This room gave me a mini brainwave: Elissa can't paint, but she can add big color and/or texture through a folding screen. Putting something sculptural in that back left corner would rock, too. So, I propose she buy a cheapo screen off CL or Overstock and staple some fabric to that bad boy. It couldn't be easier. Even duct tape would work.

Keeping that in mind, I found this groovy bird of paradise fabric that I felt had a Persiany feel. I really like the muted but interesting colors:

And then I made it into a folding screen... ok, I pasted it onto the wall in photoshop.

My formula for designing her space went a little something like this: CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP. I mean, why else would she ask the world's biggest penny pinchers for advice? Ok, seriously -- to create an eclectic/transitional vibe that would embrace the grandma couch yet avoid going Miss Havisham on Elissa, I mixed an organic pattern with a modern, geometric pattern, and kept the furnishings light and airy so that the room would feel open.

Room #1 source list: Tapestry is $30 from Amazon, Rug is $179 from Ikea, floor lamp is $79 from Ikea, coffee table is $40 from Seattle craigslist (I might paint the base black...), sweet Thonet chair is $25 from Seattle CL, velvet pillow is $32 from Urban Outfitters.

Did you see all that craigslisting I did? Hells yeah.

I also did another room with a Persian rug I found off Seattle CL. I'm calling this one, Ike's Room With Grandma Couch.

Room #2 source list: fabric is $7/yd Ikea Kajsastina, rug is $150 off Seattle CL, floor lamp is $249 from CB2, reclaimed wood and metal coffee table is $116 from Overstock, leather Wassily chair is $70 from Seattle CL, velvet pillow is $32 from Urban Outfitters.

At this point I became weary of photoshop,and then I decided to just pull a textile combo that could be used with the furnishings I selected above. You can use your imagination goggles, right?

Tree of life tapestry is $38 at Urban Outfitters, Ikea rug is $179, magenta velvet pillow is $28 at UO. Dizang this would make a cute room. Also, apparently I love stripes. And hot pink. Who knew?

I'm sure that once art and accessories are added in, Elissa's pad will be killer. I'm pretty excited about this room, in case you couldn't tell... maybe I went a little overboard?

Do you guys have a favorite combo?

Thanks, Elissa, for writing in with your question. I had a super fun time playing decorating party with you!

Got Money? Old Money

I am a bargain hunter. A recessionista. A hardcore frugal shopper through and through, down to my very pith and marrow. Without the holy trinity of Craigslist, Ebay and thrifting, I would own a rug, some pillows and sheets. Oh, and those all came from Overstock -- bought with internet coupons, of course. Most of the time, I get high off scoring big ticket items on a budget, but lately I've been feeling a little resentful of my staunchly middle class life. I kinda wish I was born rich. Hell, while I'm outing myself as a class traitor and a jackass, make that stinking, filthy rich.

old money

Simon Upton

Before I launch into this embarrassing ridiculousness, let me first apologize and say: World, I know how lucky I am to be solidly middle class. Really. I honestly, truly do. However, there is nothing like house hunting to give you a case of the green meanies. Once you really start looking, "I can make do" turns into "I want," and then "I NEED," super ultra fast. Ok, I'm done with the bourgeois guilt. Let's play: pretend we're rich old money. On a budget.

Step 1: You are probably going to need a Chesterfield sofa.

aristocrate sofa

Y'all, Chesterfield sofas are expen$ive. Coming in at under $1100 including shipping, this version from Zuo Modern won't (totally) break your piggy bank. Yes, the black is perfectly serviceable and moneyed, but the silver option would be Kapow Zing. Of course, bling like that is for tawdry nouveau richies, only. (Thanks, Raina, for the tip!)

Now, add in a couple of pastoral accessories and we're in business:

beth dow

Beth Dow 11x14 print, $50 at 20x200


Pendleton 5th Avenue Throw, $128. Looks so casual fancy you can practically smell the Benjamins stacked high in the safe behind Grandma's portrait.

Step 2: You definitely need an old family portrait. At least to hide the safe.

old money

Mads Morgensen

old money greg natale

Greg Natale

old money ilse crawford

Ilse Crawford

old money

Gunkelman Flesher

old money

Eye Spy

What's the matter? Don't have an antique oil painting of great great great grandfather Alistair McScarypants? Yeah, me neither. I come from a long line of farmers and drunken Irishmen, which is charming, but not so heavy on the heirlooms. How about a painting of your loyal servant in Grandpa's stead?

etsy pet portraits

Aw, Baxter never looked so handsome. Bonus: rich people love dogs! But don't bother getting Scruffy the pound puppy's portrait painted. Pedigree matters. Custom oil painted portraits of your pet by Johnspaintings on Etsy, $120.

Step 3: Get a pony. Preferably one that wins prizes and things. Or catches foxes.

simon upton old money

Simon Upton

What, fools? Did you think I was going to tell you how to buy a horse on the cheap? Sorry, I'm a blogger, not a magician. But I can direct you to these fine equine inspired products:


Wary Meyers Horse print, $75. Lewis and Wood Equus print wallpaper and fabric. Priced in pounds, so don't ask me how much it costs. I'm a blogger, not a mathematician. Oh, and don't forget to buy Karly's horse print. It's extra nice.

urban outfitters

Urban Outfitters Equestrian Rainboots, perfect for navigating horse poop and rain puddles, $48.

Step 4: You're going to need more wallpapered and upholstered prints. Way more prints.

francois halard

francois halard

old money

Francois Halard

lewis and wood

I will always have a soft spot for crazy scenic prints, but for the love of all that's British tinged Americana: no toile de jouy. This look is more English country or Connecticut Regency (yes, I just made that up) than Marie Antoinette. Lewis and Wood papers and fabrics keep the hunting look alive. Let's hope the foxes fare as well.

ikea hovas

Also, prints should swath everything that can be swathed. Ikea's Hovas chair is the perfect candidate for an obnoxious floral print. Plus at $499, it's keeping (most of) your hard earned, middle class money in the bank. Bonus: the slipcovers provide ready made patterns for all you folks with sewing skills. Kaching! That's the sound of all the money I just saved you.

elle decor old money

Elle Decor.

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. I kind of love the way it makes my eyes vibrate.

Step 5: Get an indoor pool.

diamond baratta

Diamond Baratta

No, your membership to the Y is not going to cut it. Rich people like to summer away... away from what, I'm not sure. Away from their mansions? Away from their servants and beautifully kept grounds? It defies logic, but there it is.

I'm afraid this is where I become markedly unhelpful. Dammit, y'all -- I'm a blogger, not a third generation investment banker, or an oil tycoon, or a Mayflower descendant. If I were, I'd invite you over to my indoor pool for cocktails and water polo. But you see, there are some things that just can't be faked in the quest to live like old money. Indoor pools -- along with owning your own airstrip, having a township named after your ancestors, or knowing how to play squash -- belong only in the provenance of the super duper rich.

Whatever. I don't need to be rich. I'll always have... something.

I'll let you know what that is as soon as I figure it out.

I Don't Actually Need Anything, But...

It's the Monday before Thanksgiving and I know what's on your collective mind: turkey and giblets. You were daydreaming about giblets, right? Because I really sense a giblet zeitgeist sweeping the nation... no? Well, I have been known to be wrong. Occasionally. Anyway, I should be preparing for the annual Thanksgiving trek, which will be made exponentially more interesting this year by the presence of a certain 4 month old someone during the six hour drive to Texarkana, but instead I have Black Friday on the brain. It's not that I believe sales are more important than family, it's just that I'm still on a decorating kick and I stumbled onto something I want, and damned if I'm paying full price for it (because I'm broke). Also, if you were trying to decide what to buy me for Christmas, here you go:

urban outfitters

I know! It's so... normal. So reasonable at $68. So very much not a bedazzled reindeer skull. But this colorblock rug from Urban Outfitters represents a little slice of inspiration for me. I think I want to redo my bedroom. You know -- the bedroom I've never showed you because it's so two years ago. I could keep most of my furniture in my fantasy redo, but I'm going to need a new headboard and linens. And a new rug. Me likey this one. It feels kinda Bauhaus to me. But I need it to go on sale because that other stuff ain't gonna be free, and you know I just redid the dining room, and when The Hunny reads this he is going to KILLKILLKILL.

I digress. Sort of. You see, after I found this rug, I started looking at UO's other offerings, and you know -- they have some good stuff.

urban outfitters

Like these pillows. I'll take the top one, and maybe if Karly is nice, she'll get the bottom one for a Christmas present. I'm a very giving person.

urban outfitters

I would also like to give myself this origami quilt. I'm a bit concerned about the flowery underside, but I think overall it would do a swell job covering the futon in my office.

urban outfitters

I could give this bench to Ike for his room, because I'm sure it tops every four month old's Christmas list.

urban outfitters

I tell you, The Hunny has just been slavering over this cotton Rorschach rug a la Andy Warhol, and who am I to deny his dreams? Of course, I wouldn't put it on the floor. It would make a much better wall hanging or upholstery material.

urban outfitters

I'm sure there's someone out there who really needs this Rya style shag rug, but no one's going to buy a 4x6 rug for $198, Urban Outfitters. Put that baby on sale!

urban outfitters

I am really digging the arty prints and finishes on lots of UO's home goods. I wouldn't be mad if someone gave me this paint splatter vase.

urban outfitters

However, I am wondering what you dudes think about this Painter's Chair, so called because it's covered in... paint. It's $298. Thoughts?

urban outfitters snuggie

And, ok, I know it's not related to interiors, but I had to show you UO's Booty Buddy Blanket. THAT IS A SNUGGIE. And yet I find it repulsively compelling.... This confirms my suspicion that Snuggies might actually be awesome if they came in nicer prints.

While I'm busy twiddling my thumbs waiting for some of this stuff to go on sale, you might want to head over and check out the home goods UO already has on sale, like Alexander Girard quilts for DIRT CHEAP (if you like that sort of thing),  good deals on kilim rugs, and cute lamps. It's never to early to start Christmas shopping. For yourself. I mean for others.