Trying Out Reader Suggestions For What to Do With My Living Room (No Shelves? New Layout?)

Emily Henderson Living Room Options 13

We had an open, serious conversation about “the day” for weeks before it actually arrived. My love of rearranging furniture is only matched by his hatred of the same hobby/task. But from the last post on my living room, so many of you had GREAT suggestions and we wanted to try them, both physically as well as with Photoshop. I needed Brian’s brute strength as well as his opinion as it is his house, too. So with a smile on our face and a proper meal in his belly (no hangry Hendo) we, with the help of Julie, Mallory and Sara, rearranged the living room (and Photoshopped) and “played” around to find out how it could be better. Brian doesn’t like to “play” this game, but I used my rarely played manipulation card and told him how important it was to you, and to the business. And guess what? WE LIKE IT MORE. And we are still married, so that’s pretty cool. He was actually a great sport.

Today, you get to see the options, read my opinions with the always interesting “WHY”?

Here’s where we were the morning of “the day” (catch up on how we got here, HERE and HERE):

Emily Henderson Living Room Options 01

We’ve struggled with this room for the following reasons:

  1. It has no place for a TV (and we don’t have a TV room) so orienting the room to be functional with a TV is impossible, thus the projector screen, which is totally fine but that’s why we face the windows (which is lovely and you can see kitchen from here so it is the best view).
  2. It is our family and living room so all that furniture has to be COMFY and kid-friendly. Once you’ve owned a comfortable sofa (which news flash, are rarely cool/edgy/stunning), you can’t go back. Especially if you are one Brian Henderson (and I get it, no argument there). So making this room stylish and unique (things that, yes, are unabashedly part of my artistic value system) while being comfortable is HARD.
  3. It’s a long room and while YAY for us for having a big room, it’s not so long that you can create zones (plus you don’t want to break it up in the middle of the windows) and so I’ve cluttered up the back trying to “engage the space.” Those bookshelves only provide about 8 inches of depth, aka a novel but I shove my coffee table books in there and they hang off precariously.

The first and most common suggestion/change came from reader Jessa who said this:

I think you need to remove the credenza and the dresser. It’s just way too busy back there with the bookshelves – too many surfaces and too much stuff! The bookshelves are a great architectural feature – let them shine!”

So remove the credenza in the back we did.

No Credenza

While I love that Serena & Lily piece, it is nice to have less there and because of its height and depth, it felt too big. I also removed the tall standing lamp that was by the sofa which I miss light-wise but boy was it too tall to go there (at least from this angle).

Many of you commented to Photoshop out the shelves, and I was deeply curious myself if they were the culprit for the busyness.

No Shelves

I know this isn’t a fully done room. The art doesn’t look good and we need something to anchor the far corner, but we missed the shelves! Plastering over something original, despite them being shallow and not very tall, did seem crazy. I know that I could make this version work (maybe a tree and a chair/ottoman in the corner) but it’s not worth the risk (and expense) to do it.

No Shelves No Furniture

I also tried just taking out basically all the furniture by the shelves, because some of you mentioned it was all too “junky” back there, so we took out the bench and the hand, too. And obviously, this is also too empty. Maybe with another anchor piece on the left and more art, but I think it falls flat.

Another way I was super excited to try was to face the sofa towards the fireplace:

Sofa Facing Fireplace

For this, we borrowed the Lawson Fenning sofa that we have been thinking about buying. It’s shorter than our sectional so we used it in this configuration. Now, we didn’t move the camera, but obviously this isn’t the angle that we would typically shoot it. Here is why it didn’t work:

  1. The area behind the sofa (by the piano, which you’re not seeing in this shot) is so dark and becomes very unwelcoming.
  2. There is nowhere for side tables on either side or you can’t get around into the room.
  3. That sofa is REALLY low and it still really blocks the room and just makes it generally uninviting (you’d see this angle from the front entrance of the house and the kitchen).

Sofa Facing Fireplace + Nook

“Have you ever tried a sofa running parallel with the piano and fireplace with a sofa table behind it? That would open the bay window up for chairs across from the others.”

Hmm…maybe? We staged these there by grabbing some chairs from the dining room and pretending there was a table between Julie and me (the photo above). It wasn’t compelling enough to make it work. The space (with this sofa size) is just too tight.

So we went back to the first configuration. But I was unsatisfied with the bench in the corner.

Blue Sofa Facing Window

The corner (with the bench) felt like wasted space…like nobody was really going to sit on that bench in that corner…it was just for looks.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Living Room Lores11

So I brought in the chaise lounge that I’m still hoarding (waiting for the perfect fabric) and I like it, but it’s a lot of upholstered pieces in a row. One of those chairs has to have some sort of wood arm, IMHO.

Blue Sofa + Leather Chairs

So we tried these chairs that I’m hoarding (and likely selling). I got them at the flea market for $300 a piece (I believe from vendor Makers & Smiths) and while I love them, they aren’t comfortable enough. But it helped show us that yes, a more streamlined, less upholstered chair would help.

The sofa that we borrowed was a lighter khaki so we Photoshopped it dark blue and, of course, I like it way more than the beige on our rug.  

Brian also told me that he LOVES having the chaise lounge on the sofa, which means we can’t have the chaise on the sectional AND the chaise in the corner.

Gray Sofa + Gray Chairs

And then I remembered that I have these two super comfy chairs in storage, that do have wood arms. It almost looks like a matching set, like we put all three pieces (sectional, two chairs) into our cart. But it also kinda works, it’s just not interesting. My favorite go-to combination is upholstered sofa + wood arm/upholstered chairs so I think that this could work, but I just wish that one of these pieces was more stylish or said something more interesting.

So then I thought that maybe I just need to put a pattern on the sofa…give it some weight through a throw or even reupholster it:

Striped Fabric On Sofa

I have this Zak and Fox fabric that we are going to use in the kids’ room (if I ever get to it, I swear they are going to be 6 and 8 by the time I finish it and they won’t want to share a room anymore). It was too strong, for sure, but I’m still thinking that we need more quirk in here, so maybe it is a pattern—big or small.

For now, I added a darker throw and some stronger pillows that helped it work with the gray chairs. OH and I found this bentwood rocker that I got at a thrift store and wanted to try in here for some more “English quirk.”

Rocking Chair

I do like the quirk but it’s pretty busy against those shelves. it would work if the shelves were gone but I think we have officially settled on keeping the shelves.

BUT DON’T WORRY GUYS. I found ANOTHER chair and ottoman in storage that I love and have been hoarding for its perfect spot—the vintage number by Børge Mogensen.


It needs to be recovered and I could do it in some sort of pattern….

Then lastly, we Photoshopped the beams white and took down the art just to cut down the visual noise SOMEWHERE without having to nix the shelves.

White Beams No Art

There is a better balance to it, but I think that once we get another color on the sofa, it will need to be balanced with the beams being wood-toned (i.e. how they are right now).

And because Photoshopping options is so dang fun (thanks Sara!), I tried something else…

Should the sofa be pink? Let’s see:

Pink Sofa

Or floral? I’m desperate to bring in more pattern, color and quirk and nobody has loved floral fabric their entire lives more than me (post coming soon).

Meanwhile, this (below) is where we are at right now and I like it more, I do.

Emily Henderson Living Room Options 17

It’s super warm and inviting, with enough vintage to make it interesting. I’m still exploring a different sofa or maybe just a darker sectional (since Brian is now all of a sudden running for office on the “I need a chaise sectional” platform). I might be able to do a sofa with ottoman situation, but it’s going to take some shopping. Plsu, the chair in the corner still needs recovering.

Here is a little GIF with all the options:

Emily Henderson Living Room Options Gif

Brian was such a good sport and didn’t complain even once which was impressive. He and his friend Derik started an Instagram account called @mywifemakesmemovefurniture and they are going to post this kind of stuff there. Derik’s wife, my good friend Annie, also has the disorder/desire to rearrange furniture obsessively and we know we aren’t alone.

So which is your favorite version? In the photos, I kinda prefer the Thonet rocker, just because it’s more interesting than the squared-off armchair, and I’m committed to using that pretty antique chaise somewhere in my life…

***photos (and Photoshop!) by Sara Ligorria-Tramp

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