It’s hard to feel comfortable and cozy in a living space that’s seen better days. At Sarah Clark and her girlfriend’s place, the worn-out living room was definitely ready for an upgrade—and the couple was definitely ready to be able to relax in a more modern space. “This home was built in 1918 and retrofit with one bad patch job after another ever since,” Sarah says. “The walls are made of plaster and had dozens of holes, cracks, and dings covered by paint that was at least 25 years old, according to the landlord.” 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the pair found themselves spending a lot of extra time in the space—so it felt like the right time to finally make it as warm and inviting as possible. The couple aren’t exactly new to DIY, thanks to a unique arrangement with their landlord. “I have an agreement with my landlord that I’ll pay dirt cheap rent and fix this little house up for him in exchange,” Sarah says. “This was room three of seven, and being stuck inside felt like a great time to jump on it.”

After filling in all the wall’s holes, Sarah and her girlfriend painted the room in a deep charcoal hue and painted the brick fireplace white. The contrast allowed for the rest of their decor to pop. “The green in our plants and the warm tones in our guitars really jump off the dark background,” Sarah says.

For extra texture, they covered the mantel in faux wood contact paper, which made for a unique border between the white fireplace and bar cabinet and the newly painted deep gray walls.

Pulling this room together took a week, done on top of the couple’s day jobs—and it was all done on a budget of about $200. Everything from painting to the hanging guitars to covering of the mantel was done by Sarah and her girlfriend, but they needed slight assistance for one part of the reno: “We did end up calling in our friend and handyman ‘Hot Ryan’ to fix the electrical,” says Sarah. “After I opened everything up and saw ancient wiring—later finding out it was from the 1950s—I decided to call in some help.”

Sarah’s advice for anyone who’s similarly feeling uninspired by their living space? Don’t be afraid of jumping in to tackle the redo. “Do it! It was elbow grease and one exasperated yell at contact paper, but it was so worth it and we absolutely love our room,” she says.

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