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Feel Good Reveal!! Arlyn Surprised Her Parents With A Much-Needed Flash Makeover…In TWO WEEKS

by Arlyn Hernandez 24 Jan 2024 0 Comments

Back in 2020, I dove deep into inspirational non-fiction/self-help books geared toward creative people. One of my favorites was “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and I’ve held on to the notion she shared in it that ideas are living things that jump from person to person until they get realized. I’m sure we all get ideas constantly, but I know when I get one that leaves me with no option but to move forward with it. It feels different. Like a pulsing glow inside my chest, a nervous energy that feels as if it’s buzzing out of my skin. It’s the only thing I can think about, determined to figure out how to bring it to fruition. 

I had one of these ideas two weeks before Christmas this past December. A little thought that made its way out of my mouth in a conversation with my husband, Charles, which instantly breathed life into it. “What if I redo my parents’ living and dining rooms for them when we go back to Florida for the holidays?” There it was. Alive. I was simply going to have to figure it out…from California…with essentially a week before everyone who might be willing to work with me on this would disappear for the rest of the year. Cool. Easy, right? 

You see, my parents were in deep need of at the very least a new sofa. Their two beloved cats had done what cats do best: gone to town on their upholstery. Besides that, their sofa and loveseat were about five years old but looked like they were at least twice that in age. I’d always joke that I felt like I was crawling into a crater because each cushion was so severely indented. 

a before of my parents’ living room. they bought these sofas about five or six years ago and the cats have had their way with them. plus, the cushions were in bad shape and everything else just felt a bit too heavy with the beige walls they weren’t allowed to paint per their lease agreement.

I had also heard my mom mention in passing that my dad wanted and needed a recliner, as he had been suffering from some health issues that required him to elevate his legs regularly. (They were fresh off an 8-day hospital stay for said health issues and both feeling very down, exhausted, and burdened.)

My siblings and I had toyed with the idea of pooling some money to just get them a new couch both because they needed it but also to lift their spirits and make them feel comfortable and excited about being home. But, as you already know, I had a better option: work with all the brands that have been so generous to us here at EHD to see if they might be willing to help us go further with a whole new living room setup, a new dining table (which they also needed), and some other decor to freshen things up on the first floor of the townhome they live in. 

their dining table was a bit wobbly and only had room to sit four and they needed at least six chairs to seat the number of guests that normally came over. to the left of the space was these barstools that had seen far, far better days. I had helped them pick them out at pier1 imports over a decade ago for a previous kitchen remodel. they had served their duty.

I ran the idea that same weekend by Jess, and by Monday, I got to work emailing everyone I knew was wonderful to work with but most importantly had great furniture that could get to Florida immediately. Our friends at Article came through for me BIG (HUGE!) TIME, and I rushed to get a mood board together to send them final picks within a day or two. The only problem was that I didn’t know any of the dimensions of my parents’ spaces, and I would have to be very creative to make sure everything fit properly without them finding out as the plan was to keep this whole thing secret until Christmas morning. I ended up asking my dad for a video walk-through with the excuse that I was getting “some pictures printed and framed for Mom as a gift,” and I needed to see all the walls to find the right spot and size. Another lie: I needed to know the dimensions of their tile so that I could guestimate how big the frame should be. Maybe he suspected that the request was a strange one, but he played along—18”x18”. From there, I could roughly measure out the spaces and their existing furniture, and make some educated guesses as to what might work. 

the entryway needed some more impact. a happy place to land when they walked through the door. so many of the things in the left photo were mine at some point in my design journey: the lamp, the hurricane lantern, the etc. wood sign, the pillar candle holder. blast from the style past.

There were a lot of nerves involved on my part, asking my brother and sister if they thought my parents would be offended I was going to come in and revamp everything without their approval. They both assured me my mom would love anything I did and my dad would be so grateful no matter what (both true statements). Almost nothing in their home was anything either of them cared for. Mostly hand-me-downs from me when I lived back east, thrift store finds that were never quite right, every imaginable sign that read FAMILY! FRIENDS! YOU’RE IN A HOME IN CASE YOU MIGHT BE CONFUSED, or homemade wall art my mom crafted with her Cricut. While there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with any of that, the space didn’t get very good light and everything felt a bit dark, cluttered, and heavy with the hodgepodge of things; not descriptors you’d want for two people who could use a fresh start. 

my parents live in a townhome that’s just one giant open space and nothing felt grounded enough to create distinctive areas. this double bookcase unit tried, but it honestly felt like it was floating in the middle of nowhere. (side note: this is why I don’t like big open-concept homes…unless you know what you’re doing, nothing ever feels like a room, but that’s just me.) also, peep the word art on top of word art (and frames).

The furniture order arrival was going to cut it VERY close, and I had a lot of limitations due to this short delivery window, but we were able to nail down a design, all the appropriate pieces—World Market, Juniper Print Shop and RugsUSA were also on board to help fill out the rooms—and we just had to wait until the big day to tell my parents. The plan was to print out all my designs (see below), put them in a box to wrap, and present them with it on Christmas morning. Then, we’d wait a week until delivery (January 3rd), I’d install and style it all, shoot it and leave on the first flight out January 6.

I was SO excited, nervous, and highly anticipating their reactions. Spoiler alert: They were in such awe and disbelief, and, of course, my mom’s nearly instant ugly cry when she realized what was going to happen was amazing (I’m posting a Reel on Instagram of the whole thing today so check out my profile for it). Seeing their pure joy and appreciation was the absolute joy of not just our entire family’s Christmas, but personally of my whole year. Being able to do this for my amazing parents who truly needed it was an unbelievable gift I was lucky enough to be able to do. 

After a week of scrambling, running around to World Market (THANK YOU AGAIN!!), Target, IKEA, Home Depot, and beyond to get the finishing touches, picking a ton of photos to print and frame—my parents’ favorite art will always be family photos—and a marathon two-day install plus photoshoot with Charles, it was finished. Meer hours before we boarded a plane and headed back to California. But the final result is one that my mom and dad are over the moon about. I want to talk you through it all, so let’s start in the main space: the living room. 

Creating A Cozy Lounge Area

Sectional | Coffee Table | Rug (back in stock soon!) | Recliner Armchair | Throw | Tassel Pillow | Green Lumbar | Blockprint Pillow | White Lumbar | Rust Lumbar

My parents have never owned a sectional. They were always traditional sofa and loveseat people, but my siblings and I knew they’d end up loving something that was one solid piece so more of us could sit together when we came over. Emily has been singing the praises of the Burrard Sectional from Article for years, and it was just the right size for them. I opted for the forest green color because, if you couldn’t tell from the before photos above, my parents are not afraid of color. Green is my mom’s favorite, in fact, so I knew this would be something she might have picked for herself. It’s 112″ which ended up being an ideal size for this area and by my count, my mom could be joined on it by all her grandkids with room to spare.

Yellow Accent Chair | Floor Lamp | Brass Wavy Bowl | Wood Tray | Green Box (for remotes!) | Green Glass Vase

Remember that need for a recliner? Well, THANK GOODNESS Article sells an option that actually looks good. A rarity, people. A rarity. The leather version I wanted wouldn’t make it in time but the fabric Ellow Recliner worked out great. My dad was so, so excited about it and it was just what he needed. This sits where the loveseat used to be, so I added in the Matrix Yarrow Gold Chair to fill out the area and also give more options for seating when more people came over. We all instantly fell in love with the chair. It’s cushy, gorgeous, and just the right size for a small corner. 

Black Side Table | Blue Bud Vase | Large Canvas Art | Canvas Art Frame | Beige Knit Throw

When the furniture arrived and was set up by the Article team, Charles asked me why I chose a left-facing chaise for the sofa. It was a fair question, as I went back and forth about it. The right-facing chaise would have probably made more sense in a space that was more closed off, as you never want to walk into a chaise when entering a “room” but my parents have one giant great room downstairs that needed some help to feel cozier. The left-facing chaise closes off the living area to the dining area, essentially creating a room without any walls. Plus, I know if the chaise were on the other side, the recliner and accent chair would have to float in the middle of the room with their backs facing out and I didn’t love that. This was the right solution given the circumstances. 

I love all these side tables from Article. The wood, glass and leather sling one is SO GOOD, and I want it for myself except that my living room is tight and it wouldn’t fit. The black one between the chairs adds some visual softness. 

Dotted Blanket | Geo Pillow | Wood and Glass Side Table

Article’s Agotu Walnut Coffee Table was one of the only ones that could make it on time and it serendipitously worked out because it’s a great size and shape paired up with the sectional and also happens to be SO pretty IRL. It’s massively heavy due to the marble and super sturdy. I noted to my mom that we didn’t have a ton of options in terms of coffee tables but she kept saying, “It’s okay, I would have picked this one!” though I’m guessing she would have said that even if a cardboard box showed up. Moms, am I right? 🙂

Media Center | Woven Basket | Frames (IKEA, Assorted)

Let’s talk about this TV gallery wall situation. So many of my parents’ storage pieces were open, so you could see everything from every angle and it made me itch. I knew they’d love the Oscuro Walnut 73″ Cabinet both because it’s lovely but also the ribbed glass still felt light and open while masking what was inside a bit. Above it, the walls were ITCHING for a statement. The ceilings are pretty high, and again, there is no room delineation here, so I cooked up this gallery wall for a one-two punch of creating a big statement to balance the large sectional, line up the living room, and also satisfy my parents’ preference for photos photos photos. I weaved in some beautiful art prints from Juniper Print Shop, an old Jane Denton x Emily piece I had, and a watercolor of Old San Juan my parents have owned since my youth. 

That’s another thing. I really wanted to honor some of the things that were already here that did mean something to all of us. Some art, lots of blown glass pieces (like the one by the TV), souvenirs from their travels, and porcelain figurines my mom has collected over time. None of it is necessarily what I would have picked for the sake of styling the room, but this is my parents’ house, not a model home and it was so important to keep “them” in every little space and vignette. I drew the line at all the random birds and word art though. Sorry Mom, but you’ll have to fish your 17 frames with the words “family” and “grandchildren” on them out of the garage, okay? 

WAIT! Before moving on…there isn’t a good photo of it but it’s worth a mention. My parents’ townhome is a rental, and their landlord is very strict against making changes. No painting, no changing out lights, no taking down vertical blinds, no making holes larger than nail holes for art. But the giant sliding glass door in the back was screaming for curtains. After tons of research, I found these brackets-slash-curtain rod holders that attach to the top rail of vertical blinds. They fit the extra-long rod I ordered from Amazon which does a pretty nice job of covering the front part of the rail so it just looks like traditional drapery hardware. GENIUS!!! Especially because they’re like $20. I had curtains I never got around to using that were the right height so I brought them with me in my suitcase and now they hide the ugly verticle blinds.

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old (Furniture)

Credenza (existing) | White Table Lamp | White Lamp Shade | Plant Basket | Brass and Marble Tray | Horizontal Madrid Art Print | Vertical Moonrise Print

Moving on…I decided not to replace my mom’s existing cherry credenza (or a display cabinet in the dining area) because I knew she loved them and the richness was nice to add some depth to the new things I brought in. Her beloved Aura frame, which shuffles through digital copies of photos, stayed where it was before but I swapped out the lamp for something better scaled to the piece, added some pattern and color with Juniper Print Shop prints, and fished out some glassware from the China cabinet. A plant was also very much needed. 

Cabinet Paint Color | Brass Knobs | Inlay Frame | Rug | Wavy Water Print (Top Left)

Okay, let’s talk about this giant bookcase unit. I don’t know if the story I have of it in my head is accurate, but I doubt it’s too far off. Basically, my mom saw it at a charity shop she used to volunteer at and it sat around forever so she eventually got to take it home for either pennies on the dollar or for free. That, or she got it from her friend who got it from a thrift store. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was painted the absolute worst shade of beige with this bizarre brown brush stroke treatment that took it from blah to very bad. 

The area was far too large to get rid of this, plus they benefitted from the storage, so I came up with the idea to paint it a bold mustard yellow (Lamplit by Behr specifically) to make it a feature rather than something we all wanted to hide. I did the whole thing one night after the baby went to sleep and filled in streaky parts the next morning. Some restyling of the shelves was in order, and as easy as it would have been to go to a place like Target, and buy a bunch of random “pretty” things to fill it with, that would have been, uh…meaningless. The top shelf houses some books as well as two vintage cameras that were my grandfathers’ (each belonging to a different one). The metal trio are brass pharmacy mortar and pestles my dad—who worked in pharmaceuticals a great part of his career—has had forever, the gold Elton John-like glasses are a tchotchke my mom insisted we keep and display (“Sure mom, whatever you want”), the snowglobes were all given to my mom over the years by us kids, and the rest can tell a similar story. Porcelain angels from decades ago, collectible plates from cruise locations visited, diecast vintage cars from my dad’s Corvette enthusiast phase…etc. etc. etc.  It’s uniquely my mom and dad, and even if it’s still a little cluttered by Instagram standards, I love it because it represents so many parts of their life and our family. 

Side Chair | Side Table | Sconce | World’s Cutest Toddler (mine, not for sale)

These units used to be nearly flush with the right wall, leaving too large of an open area to the left of them before the living room area started, so we shifted them over just enough to fit in a little seating area. I grabbed art from the entryway and even the downstairs powder bath to fill it out, and added in this pretty swing-arm sconce from Article in case someone wanted to sit in the chair (from World Market) and read. 

Funny story about the rug you see in the foreground. Rugs USA was kind enough to supply me with four rugs for the spaces I needed to revamp. I shopped entirely from Emily’s line for them (more on that in a bit), and I made a mistake with the dining area. I ordered a 5×8 Blue Jay which is far too small for a 6-8 seater table. I know this. I know this without even seeing the size of the table. But everything was so rushed that this one got by me. RugsUSA tried to rush me a new larger 8×10 but it sadly didn’t make it in time for the shoot. I used the small 5×8 rug creatively just for the photos to get it in in some capacity. 

A Dining Room Fit For Family

Dining Table | Dining Chairs | Tall Vase | Short Vase | Butterfly Print | Sisters Print

Speaking of the dining room. I could regale you with yet another thrift store find story, but I’ll skip the details just to say that my parents have wanted a 6-seater table for years. However, at the time they moved in here after selling my larger childhood home, they settled on a metal and glass 4-top they got for free (I think) with chairs my mom reupholstered with a friend. It was too small for the space visually but also for their life and needs. I was so happy Article had a large table—the Conan Oval Dining Table—that was available to ship on time so I could give them what they wanted. You’ll notice the table is light wood and the chairs are dark wood, and that’s again due to the limitations of the turnaround time but it actually looks pretty okay in person and brings together all the varied wood tones throughout this floor. The blue chairs tie back to the navy part of the living room rug (the Rowena from Emily’s line which I’ve loved since the first moment I saw it—it’s out of stock right now but there are more on the way!). 

Counter Stools | Rug

The stools they had were in bad shape and also just felt too visually commanding, so I opted for the beautiful short-backed leather Sede Toscana Tan Walnut Counter Stool from Article. Honestly, no one really sits here anyway, but the wall felt too blank without them (and these turned out to be so comfortable that maybe they’ll get more use). 

Breathing Life Into A Dark Entry

Console Table | Framed Canvas | Black Table Lamp Base | White Lamp Shade | Rug | Mail Holder | Rattan Round Box | Pedestal Bowl

Moving on to the entryway. It is quite dark but at least it’s a good size. The furniture that lived in there originally was not, though. Kind of dinky, tbh (sorry Mom), and adorned with all the metal scrollwork Kirkland Signature had to offer my parents in years’ past. I knew I wanted a slightly larger console table with a place for them to store their shoes and was so happy when I found this Lincoln Wood and Jute Console Table at World Market. It’s really, really beautiful in person; everyone was fawning over it including my dad who normally pays no mind to these kinds of things. The bottom shelf now serves as a landing spot for shoes, while the top shelf houses a mail holder and some options for where to plop keys and garage door openers (they were on the kitchen breakfast bar previously). One of my sole missions in my redesign of their home was to bring in some bright, happy moments since it all felt heavy before, and this great framed canvas by Amira Rahim from World Market livens up this foyer. I love it and so do my parents. 

Vintage-Style Brass Mirror | Decorative Urn

In the little wall nook (a builder’s special here in Orlando), I went with a pretty vintage-inspired brass mirror also from World Market to help spread whatever light it can around the space. Another cute rug from Em’s line, this time the Blue Oregon Plaid Wool Rug in a 4×6 works far better than a small red bamboo doormat they had. (HOT TIP: If you don’t like your floor but can’t change it, just get rugs to cover most of it. When in doubt, hide.) 

And finally, the hallway leading from the entry into the rest of the home also houses an office nook (to the left in the above photo) where my dad works occasionally. I didn’t get around to shooting it because I didn’t really do much in there but I did add some pretty curtain panels on a tension rod (tucked behind a wall arch) so they could hide it away…and all of my dad’s papers. I moved the original foyer table into the hallway because it fit perfectly, grabbed some random things my dad had in his office nook to style it, and also placed my dad’s laptop, tablet, and mousepad/mouse on the second shelf because he normally just leaves it on the dining table (he has both a work computer and personal laptop for those wondering why he wouldn’t just put it in the office…no space). 

Wondering About Emily’s RugsUSA Line?

Oh, and because I mentioned talking more about the rugs, I just wanted to say quickly how much better these are in person than they look online. Not that they don’t present beautifully, but I was pleasantly surprised by both their quality and designs when they arrived. They do not read “affordable” by any means. These are great quality rugs that would sell for probably twice what they retail for here anywhere else. So if you’ve been on the fence about any of them, hopefully, this helps to convince you to give them a try because I think you’re going to be very happy with them. We were. (No one paid me to say this, just thought it would be helpful to share.)

Two Very Happy Parents

Parents (mine)

And that’s it! I think I got it all. These two smiling people are genuinely so happy with their new home, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. My dad ended up in the hospital again recently for just a few days and when he got out, my mom said they were both so happy to arrive home to spaces they loved so much. His medical episodes should hopefully stay in the past now as he’s on the mend and we’re all so relieved. There’s no more helpless feeling than when your parents (or any loved ones) are having health issues, you’re on the other side of the country and your only life line is a phone to check in daily.

This has been one of my greatest pleasures, and while I would have loved a little more time to make even more improvements/swaps, all that matters is how happy my parents are with it all. The two of them have given their kids their everything all of our lives. Constant outpourings of love and support, and I am who I am because of it. Mom and Dad, if you’re reading (I know you are), just know how much we all love you and appreciate you both. Your kids, your grandkids, your cats (don’t let them destroy that sofa PLEASE). Enjoy your new home, and hey…maybe next Christmas I can surprise you with an upstairs makeover! We’ll see… 🙂 

Your friend in make-it-work-no-matter-what design, 


*Thank you again to our friends at Article, World Market, RugsUSA, and Juniper Print Shop who were instrumental in helping me to pull this off at all, let alone SO quickly.

**Design and styling by Arlyn Hernandez

***Photos by Charles Dundas-Shaw

The post Feel Good Reveal!! Arlyn Surprised Her Parents With A Much-Needed Flash Makeover…In TWO WEEKS appeared first on Emily Henderson.

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