Fall ORC: Private Den Makeover, Week 1

It’s my first One Room Challenge and I’m buzzing with energy! I’ve been watching the ORC for years, following the Featured Designers and the Guests in this big momma of all Before & Afters. And now I’m finally ready to join them! Starting today, you’ll see our private den evolve from a dark and moody, cozy (and cluttered) space to one that’s open, airy, and most importantly, fills a hole I’e been experiencing.

My husband and I fell in love with Santa Fe and the Southwest over 15 years ago on our first visit with our then 3 month old, first son.

He’s now 16 and we’ve been back 2 more times but the last one was 10 years ago. I’ve been longing for that place in a bad way recently. But other expenses have pushed a return trip pretty far down on our list of priorities.

For the Fall 2018 One Room Challenge, I decided to bring the desert to us.

From Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch, outside Santa Fe, NM. Photo by  Architectural Digest .

From Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch, outside Santa Fe, NM. Photo by Architectural Digest.

Let me back up a minute for those of you who are unfamiliar with the One Room Challenge. It all started back in 2011 with blogger Linda Weinstein of Calling It Home. She decided to challenge herself and a few other blogging friends to do a total overhaul of one room in their homes over a 6 week period, all the while documenting the details of their progress. Over the years, it has become a huge sensation in the design world with thousands of people joining the challenge and millions of people watching. It’s no surprise, really because who doesn’t love a fantastic “before & after?” And let me tell you, these transformations really are incredible! I’ve been so inspired time and again, and the ORC has been one of our go-to places to look for designers we want to interview for the Style Matters podcast. In fact, during the Fall 2018 challenge, you’ll see 3 of our previous guests redoing a room: Dabito, House of Brinson, and Vestige Home. I’m so excited to watch their rooms unfold!

Furthermore, the ORC has teamed up with two incredible media outlets who will each choose two guests to feature during the process. One is Better Homes & Gardens and the other is Candis & Andy Meredith of Old Home Love. Woo hoo! As you know, BHG has a legion of devoted readers who rely on the magazine to continually bring them fresh ideas and inspiration every month. And Candis & Andy are a powerhouse couple (they’re also totally charming and easy to relate to), who have resonated with all of us who love old homes. Their book, Old House Love, is one of my favorites; they have a popular HGTV show of the same name; and their new venture, the Home Love Network is a media company launching 17 original home-related series on You Tube. Not sure if I’ll cross paths with either Better Homes & Gardens or Old Home Love, but I’m excited to be part of something that they support! You can stay posted on all of the room makers by following the One Room Challenge blog:

Private Den Makeover:

A Desert Oasis

(I know, I know… cheesy)

So what’s the plan, Stan? Well, first let me tell you about our private den as it is in its current state. I refer to it as our “private” den because it’s only used by our family, meaning it’s not a public space where friends or extended family members hang out. It’s a really small room off of the dining room and the previous owners used it as a playroom for their very young children, probably because it was conveniently located on the first floor where the mom and dad were busy with things like cooking, folding laundry and relaxing after work. My favorite aspect of the den is that it’s where we keep our TV. This means that our living room, where we hang out with friends, is TV-free. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve consulted over the years who have struggled with the TV issue. I’ve had countless conversations about things like whether or not to put the TV over the fireplace and how to arrange the furniture with two opposing goals: one being to comfortably watch TV and the other to comfortably have conversations with people when the TV is off. This dilemma usually presents itself in open floor plan homes where the great big family room area is trying to do too many things at once. In our case, we have a floor plan that’s typical to old homes: multiple rooms in the small-to-tiny size range, rather than one big open space. And that meant that we could dedicate one room to the TV and one room to gathering friends together where the focus would be on conversation. Let me tell you, it has made decorating a joy!

BEFORE: Looking into the den from the front hall.

BEFORE: Looking into the den from the front hall.

The den has already gone through several transitions. First it was a gorgeous shade of dark purple with gray undertones. I loved it but about 8 or 9 years in, I was getting bored. It then went from purple to blue. Another shade that I absolutely loved. Because we don’t use the room much during the day, it felt right to go dark. At first I left the moulding and chair rail a light gray, which you can see in the two photos below.

Eventually, I painted everything the same color blue, including the door frames, the chair rails and the built in bookcases. You can see how this turned out in the next two photos.


So what needs to change? Well, the biggest issue is the couch. We hate it! It hasn’t been comfortable due to the sagging pillows and the faux suede has turned into this icky-looking fabric totally destroyed by the natural oils in our hands.

Next up on my hit list is the door that’s behind the couch. While we love the door itself, it was always awkward having the couch in front of it. It’s the only way to fit any seating at all in the room, but it looked like a mistake with a temporary solution. The door has to go.

Then there’s the overall pervasive sense of too-much-stuff that takes over. All four of us use this tiny room. We eat snacks in here. My kids do there homework on the couch (I know, I know… a bad habit we’ve not squelshed). We go through bills, snuggle up and nap, fold laundry and spread out the detritus of life in here. On top of all of that, the bookcases have books and mementos stuffed in them and one wall is jam packed with black & white family photos. I love this room, but with the exception of the 10 hours after it’s been cleaned every other week, it’s kind of a mess.


So what’s the goal?

I do have a vision for the space. Actually, it’s more of a feeling I want to conjure up than a vision.

Without getting too literal, I want to remind myself and my husband about how we feel when we’re in Santa Fe, both the lively cultural environment and the backdrop of those stunning desert cliffs, the thriving succulents everywhere and the colors of the rocks and sky.

I don’t want it to scream “desert” when it’s done, though. And I don’t want it to look like a desert-themed trinket shop. Instead, I want to bring in aspects of that environment that are expressed in a way that’s very personal to us. So you may not recognize it as “desert,” per se. But hopefully, we will!

As I’ve said, the first order of business is to find a new couch. I’m very excited to be collaborating with Jonathan Louis on this important piece of the puzzle! Their furniture is so well made and beautiful, and we love their commitment to artistry as well as craftsmanship. Not to mention the loyalty they have with their employees—it’s truly a family centered operation. Here’s the sofa I’ve chosen. It’s from the Cantrel Collection.

Photo by Jonathan Louis. Sofa from the  Cantrel Collection .

Photo by Jonathan Louis. Sofa from the Cantrel Collection.

I love the detail of the tufting and the classic mid-century vibe that’s going on. I’ve chosen a sage green color, based on some of the plantings that are ubiquitous in Santa Fe. The fabric has a beautiful weave to it, giving it a layer of texture that I really appreciate. And, important for napping, it’s very soft!


The biggest change will be in the color of the room. Although I love the dark blue, I want to be reminded of a very specific color palate you can find in Santa Fe. While Santa Feans don’t shy away from bold, saturated color, there is another look that is equally dramatic in some homes and restaurants I’ve seen, at that is the rooms with all-white walls. It’s as if these rooms have been bleached by the sun, showing their beauty through an aging process. Now, I suspect this effect is enhanced by the fact that the walls are made with adobe so that their natural texture gives it a lot of depth. This is what keeps it from looking institutional or bland. Since we don’t have adobe walls, I started thinking about how I could go white without loosing that depth. And that’s when I realized I could do something I’ve been wanting to try for years… wallpaper! I wanted something whose pattern was layered on to a white background. And since I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the founders of Hygge & West for the Style Matters podcast, I reached out to them to see if they’d be willing to help me out. I’m thrilled to say that Aimee & Christiana are generously supporting my project! I’ll be using Slice, in charcoal, designed by Heath Ceramics in collaboration with Hygge & West.

Photo by Hygge & West

Photo by Hygge & West

Now, I can see why you wouldn’t think this was very desert-like. At first glance, the geometric design doesn’t remind you of the free-form, sculptural elements of the rocks and plants of the desert. But to us, we see the sun in this pattern. It’s woven in, over and over, the way the sun is such a vital part of the desert landscape. Secondly, the lines have a hand-drawn quality, reflecting their origin from makers of ceramics. And hand-thrown pots, bowls and sculptures are a big part of the Santa Fe aesthetic. So to me, the wallpaper has multiple personal references that resonate with our experience in that part of the country.

Photo by Hygge & West

Photo by Hygge & West

With those two major decisions made, the next choices have to do with paint color, the rug, and possibly the credenza. I’m still working on those and I’ll keep you updated. But this brings up an issue I’m a little nervous about. Most people working on the One Room Challenge have everything planned out ahead of time. And in this first week, they often share mood boards and floor plans to give a sense of what you can expect to see at the end. My problem is that I don’t really work that way. I have one or two strong ideas for a room that I want to try, and then then I wait for the other aspects to unfold, or more likely, to reveal themselves to me in some unexpected way because I’ve gone antiquing or thrifting and come across an object that I didn’t know I wanted more than life itself! So I know I’m taking a risk here, not developing a fully thought-out design plan. And I’m sharing this unconventional decision publicly. So yeah, I’m nervous. But I’m also really, really curious to see how it all comes out in the wash. And since my podcast is all about following curiosity to see where it leads, I’m gonna go with that. In the meantime, here are my vision boards that get more to the feelings I want to experience than the actual representation of what the room will look like.


And here’s a gathering of objects (including the wallpaper) that Karen and I put together to get me started:

You can see two other  Jonathan Louis fabrics  at the bottom of the photo that were eventually nixed in favor of the sage green choice.

You can see two other Jonathan Louis fabrics at the bottom of the photo that were eventually nixed in favor of the sage green choice.

Stay tuned for demolition next week! We’ll be tearing out that 2nd door and enclosing the room…

xoxo Zandra

Zandra Zuraw4 Comments