Before and after: small space living room makeover

small space living room home decor

H&M; bow dress, Home Decorators Collection Watkins couch, West Elm chair, DIY pillows, Threshold bar cart, vintage trunk, Homegoods rug + mirror (similar), mini Meyer lemon tree – (my baby!)

I’ve gotten several requests to do home posts, and wanted to share a few favorite finds so far as well as a super easy pillowcase tutorial (coming soon!). Our space is very small and much of it is still in progress from renovations, adorned with luxurious cardboard boxes, rubble and paint swatches. We want a home that is bright, comfy and functional but just haven’t been able to devote much time to it yet. We do love to entertain guests, so the first area that finally saw a little progress is our living “corner”…

Before vs. After:
living room before and after 670

Although I was all emo parting with the old sofa thing that’s served us since Nick’s college apartment, this linen couch has to be my favorite element of the update. I wanted a slightly old-fashioned design with tufting and textured fabric, and Nick’s only request was “nap-friendly and not too girly.” Most couches we looked at were too wide for a small space, while loveseats were tight for two adults to sprawl out comfortably. I stumbled across this cute sofa by Home Decorators Collection that seemed to meet all of our needs, and was a bargain compared to other options we looked at! And FYI, just noticed they have free shipping for the holidays which is huge as it’s usually $150+ for pieces like this.

small space living room home decor2

Target tray, Homegoods cheese dome (similar) also good for trinket storage, Ikea pitcher

We were wary of buying a large furniture item sight unseen, so took advantage of a Chicago trip and trekked out to a HDC showroom (found inside a Home Depot). They didn’t have this exact couch, but we were pleased enough with the similar items to take the leap of faith and order online. Here are two other styles that we “tested” before going with the Watkins – I felt like Goldilocks and the three chairs:

Outfit from this post

home decorators collection couches

Arden Club Loveseat – 75″ wide (also comes in 93″ sofa)

Gordon Tufted Loveseat – 66″ wide (also comes in 91″ sofa or side chair)

Clearly there is something for every tufted couch lover…for our space, the Watkins ended up being the perfect happy medium both style and size-wise compared to everything we tried. If we had more room, then the larger Gordon tufted sofa would’ve been a serious contender.
The couch also comes with two little same-fabric pillows perfect for mixing and matching. I know little about home decor so my mind could only go at it like with outfits, starting with a neutral base and adding prints, texture, and accent colors to complete the look. Decorative pillows can be pricey and the right patterns are hard to find…but these easy ones cost about $10 each on average (including the pillow insert) and I took photos for a step-by-step tutorial.

target bar cart1

Threshold bar cart, undermount rack, thrifted map book and tray


Given the limited space we had to work with, we tried to keep the color scheme light and airy and find multi-purpose pieces whenever possible. This popular bar cart (no assembly required…woohoo) serves us as a drink/snack station, side table, and wine glass holder in one and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s Nick’s happy corner of whiskey manliness in a home full of handbags and shoes. We choose a simple wine rack hanger (can also find in-stores at BB&B; and Home Depot) to tack on, but depending on your needs, the choices for undermount hanging storage are plentiful. Just make sure the width will fit, and that the screws aren’t so long they’d poke through the top surface!

A coffee table with storage was also a must. We were donating appliances at a Habitat for Humanity “Restore” store and were giddy to spot this rustic cedar trunk in pristine condition – quite the upgrade from our cardboard boxes left over from moving! If you like such trunks, check your local Craigslist since I regularly see similar options on there.

Coffee table tray

Another great thing about making your own pillows is leftover scraps of fabric for coordinating small touches. I might’ve gone a little overboard with making a placemat, vase thingy, and a bow tie for Nick at his request ; ) This gold tray is plastic and shiny in-person, but when tempered using other textures like wood or fabric it looked nice. I can’t find it online but got it from the holiday section in store. If you’re tray searching, Target is a gold mine!

What are some of your favorite functional home pieces or small space decor tips? I’d love to hear them!

Leave a Comment


  1. None wrote:

    Hi Jean! Wondering how the Watkins sofa has held up in the past two years you've had it? Thanks!

    Posted 11.14.16 Reply
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Would you be willing to share the dimensions of your trunk? Trying to find a vintage one for cheap to restore myself, but am unsure of what dimensions to look for! Your trunk is exactly the size I'm looking for!

    Posted 4.21.16 Reply
  3. Mary Ng wrote:

    Hi Jean! I've been a long time fan and I have been checking into your blog constantly for home decor updates! You have fabulous taste! I am moving into a new place at the moment and would love to get more inspiration off you. Would you please do a house tutorial?

    Posted 5.25.15 Reply
  4. Jean wrote:

    Firm but comfy! We've been loving it!

    Posted 5.7.15 Reply
  5. Jean wrote:

    We have floor cushions, dining chairs, and two bar stools at are kitchen counter – we've never run out of seating space yet! : )

    Posted 5.7.15 Reply
  6. I apologize if this posts twice…didn't see my comment. How comfortable is the couch?

    Posted 5.7.15 Reply
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    I love the couch! I am in the process of shopping for furniture for my small living room and love the look of yours, but what do you do when you have company? Where does everyone sit when it's not just you and nick?

    Posted 1.24.15 Reply
  8. Jean wrote:

    Hi Samantha! I went to the Habitat for Humanity "Restore" in West Roxbury. It truly is hit or miss so I wouldn't exactly recommend making a far drive out there, but if you're passing by in the area they are interesting to check out in addition to Savers Thrift Store which is a bit further along down VFW parkway! I live in the south end and spent a long time in Brookline before that by Coodlige Corner (absolutely love that area). Welcome to the city!

    Posted 1.22.15 Reply
  9. Jean wrote:

    Thank you! Yes, it's Natural Linen : )

    Posted 1.22.15 Reply
  10. Anonymous wrote:

    Love the freshness and cozy vibe of it all! Question – is the color of your sofa Natural Linen? Thanks!

    Posted 1.22.15 Reply
  11. Merrie K. wrote:

    Loving the bar cart.Your living space is amazing!!
    -Merrie K.

    Posted 11.27.14 Reply
  12. Julia wrote:

    Thanks ladies! 🙂

    Posted 11.26.14 Reply
  13. Hi Jean! I live in Boston as well and am a big fan of your website – it's so helpful for having style in a city with crazy weather! (65 today and snow in 2 days? what?!). I really love the trunk you got and was wondering which Habitat for Humanity store you went to? I'm sure they aren't going to have any other trunks, but it sounds like it would be fun to check it out regardless!
    Also, just curious what area of the city did you move to? I'm relatively new to the city and am still learning the different areas, and its fun to see what other apartments look like from other areas of town. Thanks again for keeping this blog!

    Posted 11.24.14 Reply
  14. Wow, this looks amazing! The couch looks very comfy too!


    Posted 11.22.14 Reply
  15. Beautiful living area. You've got great taste, done up to feel & look comfortable. Enjoy!

    Posted 11.22.14 Reply
  16. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks Jean!!

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  17. midori wrote:

    that was my first apartment couch (except in black–it's in my office now) and i still kind of love it. i didn't put the legs on because i like being close to the ground, haha.

    it's the ikea klippan w/ a fabric slipcover (for the commenter above me)!

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  18. Anna Marie wrote:

    Once I get my own place I will use this post as inspiration! this is exactly my style! The couch is the main attraction.. love it

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  19. Jean wrote:

    Hi there – if you email their customer service via Facebook or online, they offer a 10% coupon for anyone who asks (or did back a few months ago! I got this as a housewarming gift but found the coupon for my family). I know the shipping is a bummer. It's really tough to find these in the northeast at this stage of growth. I looked all over the internet in the spring/summer as well as locally and this seemed to be the most reputable site since they offer a 3-year guarantee to replace your plant if it dies. My planter is 10" and I found it at TX Maxx or Marshalls (or Homegoods…same chain of stores!).

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  20. Jean wrote:

    Hi Phoebe – I think it was TJ Max!

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  21. Jean wrote:

    Hi there – thank you for your kind words! It's always exciting redecorating so I hope you have fun with the process. You might be thinking of another blogger though regarding the links…I haven't heard of yellow brick home before and don't remember sharing home blogs since I don't really follow any – sorry!

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  22. Anonymous wrote:

    And whoops yet another extra question: did you get any shopping coupon by any chance. The shipping cost is as high as the cost of the tree! (I'm also in Boston.)

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  23. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for the response. I forgot to also ask what pot size you need in diameter and height. And where to find those pots at a reasonable price. Thanks again!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  24. Anonymous wrote:

    I just moved into my own little place and was looking to purchase an Ikea couch (really love yours Jean! sadly, it's out of my budget 🙁 lol). Can you ladies tell me the name of the Ikea couch you are discussing? Thanks!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  25. Nick wrote:

    Nope, since it's on the underside I wasn't too worried about cracking or anything. The wood screws that came with the under mount rack just went straight into the wood.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  26. Anonymous wrote:

    Hi Jean, I love your attention towards each and every small detail while upgrading your home. You are truly inspiring to many including me. I am in middle of making some changes to my home decor also so having idea's is great.

    I vaguely remember in one of your past blogs where a follower posted almost 10 links for other home blogs which I am not able to find anymore. Would you please redirect me to the post date or repost the bloh home links for reference. I just remember one of the blogs as Much appreciated. AK

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  27. P wrote:

    I love the lemon tree. Where is the planter is from? (unless that's the one it came with). Congrats on your new place and making it feel like home! 🙂 – Phoebe

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  28. Jean wrote:

    Aww, I can definitely relate to your anecdote. We also had old behind new for weeks as it awaited its craigslist sale, and I couldn't bear to not sit on it too : ) We use the trunk to store manuals and instruction booklets that come with all the crap we buy…since when you need it you can never find that stuff! A Talladega nights DVD sounds much more fun and exciting, though!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  29. Jean wrote:

    Hi Marissa – unfortunately I don't see anything that can help identify more info : / I asked the person when we bought it if they knew any more about the story or brand or where it was donated from, but nada. You can try searching trunk, wood trunk, etc. on craigslist as my friends have bought and sold similar items on there, although I know craigslist is a total hit or miss marketplace and can differ widely from city to city.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  30. Jean wrote:

    Hi Chin! I'm not very familiar with that style of jacket, to be honest with you! Barbour is very popular here in the Northeast so when I do see that style, it almost always turns out to be Barbour. When I have more time later I can take a look online and try to find some similar options for you.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  31. Jean wrote:

    Hello – I was pretty indifferent between those two colors! I think initially I preferred oat heather since it's a more muted neutral, but in the end went with winter white since it looks nice with holiday outfits.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  32. Jean wrote:

    Hi there – mine is the 3-4 years. I wanted lemons already and their (very helpful, btw) customer service suggested 3-4 years. I've had it for maybe 6 months and it still looks the same in height and bushiness…it's a dwarf tree so my understanding is it won't get taller (hopefully!). As a warning though as with all plants, these trees are susceptible to disease and need proper attention, care, watering, etc…we've had a few issues already like disease and over/under watering but it's been a learning trip with lots of questions for their customer service!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  33. Jean wrote:

    Hi Shenu : ) They are real roses. Congrats on your new home purchase!!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  34. Jean wrote:

    Hmm..maybe we have low expectations / high tolerance for less comfortable stuff, but we were very happy with the old Ikea couch! Had lots of naps on there and guests did too.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  35. Anonymous wrote:

    Hi Jean which lemon tree size did you choose? 2-3 or 3-4 years or bigger? And how tall and bushy was the one you got? Thanks.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  36. My favorite part of this is when you said you approached decorating your home like you approach outfits. Adorable. 🙂

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  37. Anonymous wrote:

    hi jean! could you please let me know which color cropped ann taylor sweater you ordered? trying to decide between the winter white and oat heather.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  38. chin wrote:

    I love this! Jean I've been following you for years. I love this post, but I was trying to get your advice for Barbour style jackets, and I couldn't comment on your military jacket blog post from a few years ago. Could you recommend any jacket brands or styles that are similar to these but not >$400 like the barbour style. Doesn't have to be extensive, just a few comments, Thank you!!!;=l&tid;=68596338

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  39. Feyi A wrote:

    Lovely!! xx

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  40. IH wrote:

    Love home decor posts!

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  41. Marissa wrote:

    I am in love with the trunk turned coffee table, and am now on a hunt for one. Does yours happen to have any identifying information (name, numbers, etc) that could help me with my hunt. Thanks!

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  42. EVA. wrote:

    aaamazing! It looks so chic <3


    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  43. andrea wrote:

    I love the finished area Jean! It looks so simple and sophisticated…perfect! Oh, and I'm definitely ordering a mini lemon tree!


    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  44. Goldilocks & the three chairs! Hahahaha. You did a magnificent job with decorating. I adore the little sunglasses in the cake display. Little touches like that really warm up a space. :] // ▲ ▲

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  45. Love the bar cart! You have a very beautiful living room:)

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  46. Emily wrote:

    My husband also stipulated that I wasn't allowed to decorate our home with anything too "girly". I managed to sneak in some purple pillows but otherwise everything else is fairly gender neutral. 🙂

    Jemily Life

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  47. Mady T. wrote:

    love the new living room!


    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  48. Jean, the "after" looks terrific! I adore the sofa and the the chest turned coffee table. The white rug over wood floor looks really fancy and nice. =)

    amadea |

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  49. Sasa Zoe wrote:

    Wow, it's great! I love the chic table<3

    Shall We Sasa

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  50. you have down an amazing job with the space Jean. It looks beautiful and relaxing, truly your own.

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  51. Anonymous wrote:

    Aw! I can relate to your emo-ness regarding the old sofa. My boyfriend and I went through the same thing when we upgraded to a better sofa. However, we weren't expecting to get a new one so soon and ended up pushing the old sofa behind the new one (and took turns sitting in each one bc TWO sofas) until it was sold on craigslist. To say we were attached would be an understatement. However, the decor looks very personalized and fitting to your style and I love the trunk. What do you store in it? Hopefully a big comfy blanket and a Talladega Nights DVD. 🙂

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  52. Julie wrote:

    Great post! We're also decorating our condo so it's neat to see what someone else is doing. I'd never heard of HDC before–will have to check them out. I'm a huge fan of the tufted look too. We bought a tufted couch from Crate and Barrel a few years ago and are the hunt for several tufted leather club chairs for in front of the fire place.

    I absolutely love that chest! What a great find.

    Style by Joules

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  53. Gorgeous photos! So cool to see your space. Your sense of style definitely translates into your home decor 🙂

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  54. Stephie wrote:

    Your living space is lovely! I love the couch and just every single thing featured! I can't wait to see more home decor, I'm always looking for inspiration.

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  55. annie lee wrote:

    what a beautiful home!!

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  56. Love your new living space area. The couch is beautiful and the threshold bar cart is stunning. It all fits so well together! You have an amazing sense of style. 😉

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  57. It turned out perfectly!

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  58. Anonymous wrote:

    Love this post….!!! Moving to our new house soon 🙂 More decorating tips please!I want to focus on the living room and bed room first!Are the white roses from ikea too?


    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  59. The couch deliberation photos are too funny! I'm off to buy a lemon tree (no clue you could grow those indoors!) or maybe a lime tree…

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  60. Great post! I have wondered about under mount storage on the bar cart! Did you use a drill to prep the holes?

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  61. The linen couch looks really comfortable and the design is quite elegant too, what a great buy! Love the bow print dress, it looks really cute and pretty!


    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  62. Michelle R wrote:

    Exciting! Your living room looks pretty. That is awesome that you stumbled upon that trunk. I am looking forward to the pillow tutorial. I have a bunch of pillow inserts that need covering. 🙂

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  63. LOVE this couch and what you did with this space.

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  64. Connie L. wrote:

    Aha… you really looked like you loved that couch 🙂 Don't worry, I do the same thing whenever I find a comfy couch.

    Connie from theconbonz

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  65. Loving the 180 transition! The tuft on the sofa is great!

    Liz @

    Posted 11.19.14 Reply
  66. Heyitzme wrote:

    Perfect. Thanks for the pic. loving the coffee table so much.

    Posted 11.18.14 Reply
  67. Love this little tour… that tufted couch is perfect…love the bar cart… adding bow to the vase, cute! Perfect little space


    Posted 11.18.14 Reply
  68. So gorgeous! I love your before and after. I wanted a tufted couch too but James deemed it too girly lol. We found one (not tufted) that we both love. It's been almost a year and we're still furnishing our place. Looking forward to seeing more of your home posts!

    Posted 11.18.14 Reply
  69. Julia wrote:

    Such a fun home decor post! I totally agree with you on the part about "starting with neutral colors". I have been getting mostly white furniture for my place as well hoping that I can be creative on using colors. It's so much easier when you try to decorate your home for different seasons or holidays.

    Also, I have the same IKEA couch that you had. I found it very uncomfortable to sit or nap on it due to the low back support. How did you use it so comfortably for years (since your first apartment?)?

    For those of you looking for cheaper pillow cases but are not that good with DIY… IKEA has a lot of pillow cases for $6 each. I was just there this Sunday and their holiday fabrics are out too!

    Julia || Closet de Jules
    Recent Post: J.Crew Fair Isle Ski Sweater

    Posted 11.18.14 Reply

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