My First Place

FIRST PLACE: Before & After Gallery

This is how our first house looked when we pulled up for the very first time.  Certainly a charming little structure, but it needed some TLC.  Two years and over a dozen gallons of paint later, my husband, Matt, and I turned the place into a cheerful, breezy home.  We didn’t get to upgrade every room before we left, but we are really proud of the ones that we were able to finish.  This page has a gallery of before and after shots of favorite projects from our first place.


Boring, not to mention dirty(!), white paint covered every wooden surface of the house, the 32(!) windows had no screens and were painted shut, and the cracked sidewalk was enough to make my civil defense attorney husband jump out of his skin every time someone walked past.

Embrace My Space: Exterior Makeover

We started by replacing all the grody windows with energy-efficient Restorations brand windows (can you say tax credit?).  After the new windows were installed it was abundantly clear that the “white” paint on the shutters and fascia needed to be freshened up.  Of course, I wasn’t sold on repainting the shutters white.  We decided to paint them glossy black after a weekend visit to Alexandria, VA, where solid brick houses with painted shutters abound.  The shutters on those houses ran the color gamut, but after seeing a few homes boasting black we settled on this classic color since the focus of our facade was going to be our poppy, green front door!

Here is our originally dingy, dishwater-white front door as it went through its color transformation.  Inspired by the exterior of my favorite Key West conch house, which you can read more about here, we drenched our front door in Japanese Fern by Behr Paints.Embrace My Space:  Front Door UpgradeTA-DA!  Humdrum no more!  Thirty-two windows, a few coats of paint, some potted plants and one sidewalk later our home looked like it received a (rather pricey) neighbor makeover on Curb Appeal: The Block.  Except with these two guys in cut-off t-shirts instead of John Gidding.  Darn.

  Embrace My Space: Exterior

I really loved that front door!  Apparently, so did a few other people because our front door actually snagged us third place in HGTV’s Fantastic Front Door contest!

HGTV Magazine Collage


FRONT ENTRY:  At first the front entry was painted a warm yellow hue, which was very welcoming.  Unfortunately, this is the best shot I could find of this space before we took over.  I think you can get the general idea of what’s going on here. We put our own stamp on the space by coating the walls with Valspar’s Homestead Resort Spa Green. The “Here Comes the Sun” artwork is from Oh Dier!  The words have special meaning to us because they are from the song that I walked down the aisle to when we got married in Key West.  The typography art was the perfect complement to our handmade wooden sun art that we purchased from an artist at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival.  We hung a capiz shell chandelier inside the threshold of the front door, which can be see reflected in the sun art in the photo on the right.


LIVING ROOM:  This was the living room when we moved in.  The prior owners had the entire first floor painted the same yellow hue as the front entry.  Again, it was warm and inviting, which made us like the house when we went to the showing.  Their style was full of global influences, as you can see from the red tribal rug in the living room.

Their style, not ours.  Although the color wasn’t overly offensive, we painted over it with blue a.k.a. Behr Premium Plus Ultra in Fountain Spout.  Since Pittsburgh has long, dreary winters, we drenched our home with bright colors inspired by our favorite vacation (and wedding!) destination, Key West, FL.  I know that the casual, beachy style is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it made us feel warm and cheery year round.  Here was our take on the space:

Rather than pushing our sofa up against the wall, we floated it in the middle of the space to create a cozy TV watching zone.  The chevron ottomans, by Missoni for Target, served as additional seating when we entertained guests.  When it was just the two of us, the ottomans were paired with our leopard print armchairs in a reading nook that was separated from the rest of the space using a curvy console table. 

I bought these funky flowered lumbar pillows on clearance at Arhaus.  I love how the bright, poppy flowers play with the sophisticated palette used for the leopard print on the chairs.  The combination is unexpected, but it works because of the different scales and colors of each pattern.  I used the pillows to create a color story for the rest of the space, using lots of reds in particular.   

The console table, with its airy design, glass top and shimmery finish, helped to anchor the reading nook as its own separate part of the living room without taking up too much visual space. 

We painted the inside of our bookcases a glossy shade of blue (Sea Exposure by Valspar).  The dark color served as a lovely backdrop for our photos and other keepsakes we’ve collected during our travels.  The sunburst mirror is from Ballard Designs, and I lusted after it for months before I finally ordered it.  When I finally bit the bullet, the mirror was on backorder for 2 months and it arrived broken.  Alas, we glued on the broken piece and got a 10% discount for our trouble! 

Here is one more shot of the bookcases from a different angle.  Our coffee table, which is made from a weathered gray wood, is from Arhaus.  We searched high and low for the perfect sized coffee table.  It was worth the wait because this one turned out to be just right.  The glass top and center shelf made it perfect for showcasing the beautiful, hand-painted bowl we bought on our honeymoon in St. Lucia that we didn’t know where to display.  *Sigh*  I really miss hanging out in this room with a big bowl of chili watching the Steelers on Sundays.  Yes, we ate chili (and ketchup and pizza and spaghetti and drank wine) in the living room on our white sofa.  Slipcovers people!!  They are magical; you can wash them. 

DINING ROOM:  When we moved in the dining room featured a weird frosted glass light fixture, which I lovingly called the Jetson Chandelier, and “modern” white wall sconces.  Also, I wasn’t kidding when I said the entire first floor was covered with the same yellow paint.   

We updated the dining room and neighboring kitchen with a warm greige called Mineral by Behr Paints.  The wall sconces were removed and replaced with fun artwork I found on Etsy.  The Jetson Chandelier also was replaced with this lovely capiz number from West Elm, which worked nicely with the casual, beach-inspired vibe we tried to achieve throughout our home.      

KITCHEN:  Other than painting, we didn’t make many changes in the kitchen because it was recently renovated.  This was one of the features that originally drew us to the house because we weren’t really in the mood to take on a full-blown kitchen renovation.  The thing that bothered me about the kitchen was these red restaurant-style pendants that hung above the counter.  The red just didn’t make sense with everything else that we had going on in the house.

We replaced the red pendants with these little beauties, which are made of recycled glass and chicken wire.  The oversizedness of these pendants was a complete happy accident.  When I ordered them, like an idiot, I did not check the dimensions because based on the price and the picture I was sure they were the same pendants that I had seen at a store on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.  I committed the worst of all interior photography sins by photographing these lights at night and while they were lit.  Shame on me, but it’s the only good angle shot I have of them.

To my surprise, when I opened the box I found two pendants that were twice the size I was expecting!  I was upset until it occurred to me that the larger size would be AWESOME!  And I was right.  By accident, of course, but I still take credit for this design decision.  After we hung these at our place they started to pop up in stores, which has led me to the well-reasoned decision that I am a trendsetter and that I should be a buyer for my very own store.  Hmmmm…

THIRD FLOOR DEN: One of the very best things about our first place was the third floor bonus space.  While the previous owners used this space as a guest bedroom (they had kiddos occupying two of the second floor bedrooms), Matt and I had the benefit as a childless couple to use this space for unadulterated and mind numbing TV watching. 

As you can see in the below picture, the walls were beat to hell so Matt had to do a ton of patchwork to make them somewhat presentable.  In case you were wondering, that orange IKEA tool kit sitting on the table was (and still is) our one and only tool kit.  Pathetic, I know; but we could only take the DIY projects so far and live to see the results.  One day I’ll have to tell you about how I had a meltdown whilst trying to hang curtain rods.  And when I say trying I mean Matt was standing on the ladder trying to drill into straight brick with the wrong type of drill bit and I was sitting on the floor watching him in a pool of sweat and tears (did I mention this house didn’t have central AC?).  The walls in the stairwell were so bad (and so tall!) that we hired a pro to plaster that area for us, which is why it looks so smooth and beautiful in the above shot.  As a side note, we used Andrew Merola Plastering for all of the plaster work at our first place.  If you are in the Pittsburgh area and in need of this type of work, these guys are clean, quick and very professional.

Because of all the weird angles in this space, we decided it was best to paint the walls and the ceiling the same color.  We went with Chopstick by Martha Stewart Living.  Here is a shot of the space with the fresh paint color. 

I decided that we needed a bit of drama because it was a little boring with all of the beige paint.  We decided to set the space off by painting the stairwell with a high gloss, deep-sea blue paint (Ocean Slumber by Valspar).  The high gloss finish looked amazing on the newly smooth walls and, because the ceiling was so high, we were able to get away with using a really dark, dramatic color without making the space feel claustrophobic. 

Below is a shot from another angle, where you can see how the shiny, deep blue really adds an interesting touch to the space.  A teeny tiny canvas painting we purchased at the straw market in Montego Bay, Jamaica greets you as you round the corner on the landing.  I like to play around with scale, and think that this colorful little canvas is unexpected and makes a big impact when placed on this large wall. 

I love to use pillows, throws and other textiles to add pops of color and texture  to my spaces.  This sofa is the first piece of furniture that Matt and I ever purchased together so it holds a special place in my heart!  On its own it’s kinda boring, but when you add the fun patterned pillows and the bright ikat throw the sofa feels inviting and unique!

MASTER BEDROOM:  I know this bedroom isn’t very “mastery”, but it had the largest closet so it became our bedroom.  I don’t have a before picture of this space; this is mainly because most of my “befores” were from when we did a walk-thru of the house before we bought it and I didn’t snap any shots of this room because there wasn’t much to write home about (or to post on Facebook).  The color on the walls was a cross between butterscotch pudding and baby poop.We painted it a soothing, seafoamy green.  I had the bright idea of painting the dentil mouldings in an accent color to show off this cool detail.  Matt loooooved me for this.  It took us weeks to complete (and don’t be too hard on us, we were both pretending to practice law during this time so we were working A LOT at our day jobs).  But let’s face it, the mouldings look really lovely coated with Martha Stewart’s Araucana Teal.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come here!


10 thoughts on “My First Place”

  1. Love this Sara……..can’t wait for more.

  2. The transformation never ceases to amaze me!

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