Our Farmhouse Living Room Design Recap + How I Really Feel About Our Custom Paneling

We are gearing up for our reveal of the living room on Monday, but the renovation and design process of the house was so overwhelming (in the typical fashion) that I captured photos/footage but often didn’t share/post as much as I should have about the design process. It’s like it happened both so slowly (over 3 years) and yet with so much happening at once I didn’t do the best job of rolling it in real time. So we are going to recap some of the spaces and deep dive/dissect some of the design elements before we reveal the rooms. Today is all about the living room (with of course a sneak peek at the end) and I have some more clarity around my conflicted feelings about our custom paneling. Settle in, folks. It’s a thing. Everything is a thing.

When we first toured the listing in 2018 this room had so much potential, clearly. You are greeted pretty immediately by this room (after the entry – did you see the reveal on Monday?) and she is big, architecturally interesting, and the problems and solutions were immediate and clear.

What We Wanted To Change:

  1. She was DARK. Both with a lack of light and dark in tone/color. Now after living in the PNW for two years, I can say that there is a case for the dark/cozy room for sure (blog post, maybe?). But our first reaction was to lighten it up – in every way possible – ceiling color, add more doors/windows, and paint the walls. Again, I also recognize this was my natural light-obsessed California brain talking, but I don’t regret anything that we did light-wise in here.
  2. The flooring was from the 90s and not the worst, but not original or special. We knew that since we were opening it up with the kitchen we’d likely need to replace it all.
  3. The electrical/hard lighting situation was not helping – there were only 4 small sconces and you could just tell that once we’d try to replace those we’d see a lot more electrical issues (we were right).
  4. It felt almost unusably large, almost like the lobby of a lodge. This room just took up so much square footage, with the kitchen being undersized for the house. How do you make this space usable for a family of four without adding a million pieces of furniture to fill out the space?

What We Loved And Wanted To Keep:

  1. The three diamond windows were so pretty, but we knew we wanted to open that wall to the backyard (and future porch). We salvaged them and used them upstairs and in the pantry. Now at first, we were just going to put one French door in between the two big windows (which could totally have worked although I love what we did).
  2. The ceiling architecture is so pretty – so many older homes have damaged low ceilings so these being 9′ before the beams was a real treat.
  3. The fireplace is great – super classic, inoffensive, and appropriately sized for the room. It had a stove insert probably for heat purposes and we wanted to make it either wood or gas (so you can see the flame for ambiance).

So We Gutted…

Now no one wants to gut a house, but once we got the inspection report back (which I’ll share more about in a future post) it was clear that literally everything needed to be done to make it safe to live in. EVERYTHING. She is 110 years old and needed more than a facial or a facelift and I am not a plastic surgeon or a miracle maker. ARCIFORM obviously played a huge part in restoring this lady and remodeling it from top to bottom – thank god for them.

The paint had lead, the electrical was dangerous, and there was likely no insulation – all the normal old house stuff. So after the demo, there was some hope of getting the room that we really wanted.

We knew that we wanted to have a door to the backyard and worked with Sierra Pacific on these gorgeous scenic doors that needed a HUGE opening. Then we flanked it with two large double-hung windows. Doing these changes is a real thing and requires proper engineering and permits as well as installing a large track for the doors (so you have to fur out your walls to be at least a foot thick, among other things). The day they cut that hole we could see our future, despite it still looking like a horror house. We were incredibly excited.

It felt like such progress and we were full of hope. The Soake pool is where that pile of dirt is now, a much much prettier view. We centered the doors on the fireplace which was the right thing to do (but did give us a competing focal point and created some flow questions/issues which are now resolved).

Here you can see what it looked like with drywall, white oak windows (from Sierra Pacific), and Zena white oak flooring. This was right before any of the trim or paneling went up and if I’m being totally honest I prefer this no-paneling look (more on that later). I even kinda like it without window trim. But is it weird to have a 100-year-old four-square craftsman and eliminate the window trim and baseboard? Literally everyone said, “YES, THAT IS SUPER WEIRD”. Also, we had the original vintage windows upstairs that we felt needed trim. I wasn’t pushing for this, but the point is I liked how clean and simple it was. Your eye went to the white oak and not a bunch of millwork. But when we were designing this we were living in our timeless white oak, Scandi mountain house and I have grown to prefer the no trim window look. I may be very wrong about this BTW – so many people who I respect disagree with me.

Ok, so here is where a hiccup came for me (many people don’t agree with me). We chose to do horizontal large beadboard paneling in here to add some architectural texture, but only up to the window sill. When we fell in love with this look it was at Anne’s cabin where she did it really high up and white-washed it so you could still see the knots and grain. We chose to instead paint it. Fine. How could that go wrong? It added a pretty wall element, of course, but it also made the room more formal – something I’ve been battling since we moved in. You’ll see…

I love the paneling when it was wood but it was poplar and not stain grade (same with the window trim). All the millwork was custom run, btw, which was extremely expensive (over $60k just for the materials for the whole house including the family room, out bedroom ceiling, mudroom, and the kitchen) – not including labor to install. Brian and I were ADAMANT that this was an architectural element we wanted so badly. This wasn’t something we were on the fence about – we were POSITIVE. I don’t consider any of this a mistake, it’s just looking back I don’t think we needed it for this room.

What Do I Wish We Had Done Instead?

Now, I want to be very clear that Jamie and the ARCIFORM team designed and executed this PERFECTLY. This was a design choice that Brian and I made. Now that the living room is done, I feel differently but many many times I wished we had done stain-grade white oak window and door casing to match the windows, with white baseboards and no paneling. I’m over it and I mostly love this room, but I have this pathological compulsion to expose myself to anyone that comes into my house or blog. (I’m like that dog who immediately rolls over and shows you her belly upon first meeting. I love so much about this house – which I will yell loud and proud, but I’ve struggled with the paneling in here SO MUCH. And it’s OK! This room is objectively SO PRETTY and I feel like I’m allowed to show and tell you all my regrets without people thinking that I’m complaining or that I don’t think that it’s so pretty. It is. Very rarely do you do something custom and expensive and realize later you not only didn’t need it but perhaps would have liked it better without doing that expensive thing. So if you’ve done that in any way before know that you aren’t alone.

But we had to keep moving… we were moving in in a matter of weeks.

When we walked in after the priming I had mixed feelings (accompanied by a pit in my stomach). I was so happy that the ceiling was bright and white, but I missed all the warmth of the wood and realized that painting the paneling and trim work was not going to be the look I had originally wanted. But when it was masked off like this you couldn’t see the wood flooring, wood windows, or wood cabinets. There was so much wood in here!!! Surely it was warm but we just couldn’t see it! But I just felt so disappointed in myself (these were all my decisions, BTW, not ARCIFORM – they were mostly here for the layout and weighing in on my choices, getting square footage and drawings, etc, but these design decisions came from us).

Ok, What’s The Biggest Challenge With The Paneling?

My biggest issue is that trim work can look more formal and fancy – but going too simple can look builder-grade. I love the profile that ARCIFORM designed for us (a 4″ with a tiny bead on both ends). Having the paneling only installed to wainscot height (we chose window sill) made it hard for me because painting them the same color as the walls would look like we just didn’t make a design decision – like we forgot to create a difference between the painted wood and drywall. And yet painting them two different tones or wallpapering would surely make the room look busier – so many doorways, so many lines, so much contrast. It just wasn’t what I had originally envisioned.

So on the two days before them finishing the paint job on, I pitched to Brian for them to paint the paneling a light tone of blue. We loved the color of our doors on the second floor (see here), so in UTTER HASTE, we were like, “Let’s just do that”. This was not my best moment, but likely relatable.

When we walked in after the first coat, both of our bodies and mouths screamed, “OH DEAR GOD, NO”. I think Brian made some sort of “Easter house” remark. Cool, cool, cool. We fully realized we were rushing it all and that is not the best head space to be in. But as you can see painting and repainting paneling is a THING.

I was starting to panic. Brian reminded me that our mountain house is 100% white and wood and we love it. Right! yes! White! Maybe it will be ok??? With literally ZERO time to make a different decision (without holding everyone up) we asked them to go back to the original plan and just paint it all white.

When we walked in on move-in day (the finished cleanup the day before) I loved so much about the house and this room. It was so transformed and I saw so much beauty. But it’s like my stomach knew before my eyes did and I got a pit immediately. So many people had worked so hard on this house, that for me to say anything negative out loud was not going to happen. But to me, the living room looked so unfinished. At the time the only solution was to build a time machine to go back and not put up the paneling and use white oak window and door trim to match the interiors of the window. In case you are wondering why we didn’t do that it’s because we just financially and mentally couldn’t go back into the construction phase. I couldn’t rip stuff off that we had just spent SO MUCH MONEY to custom-make and install. Ironically, it was a bit of a dark time for me because I kept it all inside besides the occasional breakdowns to Brian. I was just so disappointed in myself and full of regret, but nothing was so bad that it was a mistake that needed to be fixed. No pity here – FYI, I had opposite reactions to the kitchen, mudroom, sunroom, and our bathroom – all so beautiful I wanted to cry and can’t wait to show you the rest of them soon. But this room!! I really felt like I messed up on this room in a non-fixable way and yet I KNEW that it wasn’t a huge deal that was worth losing sleep over.

We Moved In… August 2021

Our rental lease was up, school was starting in eight days and I was DETERMINED to move in and get the kids settled before they started school. It had been a long, mentally rough year and in my mind moving in would solve all my woes. So without construction fully finished (ARCIFORM busted their asses to get us that close – THANK YOU), we moved in and decided to live with the furniture we had for a while, which was the best decision (and really we didn’t have a choice)… Once I got art up on the walls it was starting to feel more like our home. I liked being in the space a lot but the words “stark,” “cold” and “unfinished” always floated around.

A reader, Misty, reached out and offered to photoshop the living room with different paint/wallpaper options.

Now these colors I don’t think are very representative of the samples I had. Both of these were meant to be WAY more muted (or at least they seemed to be that way in person). But my reaction was so bad when I saw them photoshopped that I didn’t even want to consider pursuing or tweaking. But as you can see, for a while I thought about painting the walls a light color of the pink bedroom upstairs which I love SO MUCH. The photoshopping just made it a hard no.

Then I asked her to put the entry wallpaper in here (which wasn’t up yet, obviously). Sometimes I think it’s just the rendering and now that it’s in the entry I’m wondering if I should have done this paper instead in the living room, but the photoshopped photos did NOT convince me (and it would be very expensive so not something you just “try”).

I even asked Misty to do a different neutral on the walls and paneling/trimwork that was not yellow, but it sure looked like it was!

I almost gave up on doing anything until I found this soft blue/gray called ‘Mantra‘ which is really pretty. We left for a weekend and it was done in one day. Painting drywall isn’t a big deal, it’s the paneling that is (requires so much paint, sanding between coats, etc).

It does look pretty, for sure. And at this point, so many of the other elements make me so happy so I’ve stopped fixating on the paneling.

Shoot Approaching – Time For Furniture and Accessories

In case you missed it we customized our dream coffee table (that we are obsessed with) with two local makers (shout out to Purl and Billy). Read this post if you want to learn how we did it or how much it cost.

The Layout

Then we arranged and rearranged literally every piece of furniture to try to find the right combination… I wrote a post about my dream sofa and how we landed on this one.

We even produced a Youtube video with Michael Raines to walk you through the layout issues and show you where we landed.

Sneak Peek

The full reveal coming on Monday (if I get my act together to write it in time!). There are a few more elements that I need to walk you through that we’ll be deep diving into this week before the reveal. So for all of us design nerds, we’ll be diving into our fun window panels and art!

Geez, she is nothing if not wordy. This blog started out 14 years ago as a journal, so sometimes that’s what you still get. 🙂 Come back Monday!!

And a huge thanks to ARCIFORM for the architectural design and perfect execution of the carpentry in this house. Just because I don’t like every single of my own design decisions doesn’t mean that they didn’t do their part perfectly. Anne, Stephyn, and Jamie – THANK YOU FOR BEING A PART OF THIS LADY’S PROJECT 🙂

*The Pretty Photos by Kaitlin Green

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