I’ve always loved sharing projects around our house, from little things like how I organized my clutches when I lived in a studio apartment or how I decorated the entry in a previous rental to big projects like gutting the kitchen and remodeling the hall bathroom in our current home. I will preface this all by saying I am 100% not a professional designer so everything I share here is just my two cents as someone who appreciates and loves to look at and learn about interior design but has zero formal training and has made truly countless decorating mistakes along the way.

That said, I’m always flattered when readers email asking for my input on solving a decorating dilemma they’re facing. And I would LOVE to take some of the trial and error learnings I’ve applied to my own various living arrangements over the years to help some of you make your spaces feel more like home! 

I had a lovely reader named Sarah email me looking for help with the sitting room in her family’s home and she was kind enough to offer up her decorating dilemma to kick off this new series! I’d love to hear what you think of this new series as well as any ideas you have for Sarah’s space in the comments! Without further ado, our decorating dilemma:

design darling decorating dilemma series


I am struggling to finish (well, start really) a front sitting room in my house. We live in a colonial style home that’s pretty open and this is the only room that I feel lends itself to be cozier. I love old homes like yours, but unfortunately we ended with with a 90s build that lacks character.   As much as I love light and bright in the rest of our house, I know that my husband would appreciate the change. He currently has an antique tall cabinet in there that houses his scotch and bourbon collection, so I think the space needs that slightly darker and collected feel.  

Agh, just saying darker kinda freaks me out a little, but I know that my husband will LOVE it and I’m also itching for a small change. I have very similar interior taste to yours — simple, classic, and preppy. Did you ever think about painting a room darker and if so, what were your top colors?  I just want a classic and timeless vibe for the room and would love any help!

decorating dilemma

decorating dilemma

We went back and forth over email a few more times after the above message and she’s considering either a tan grasscloth wallpaper scenario or choosing a darker paint color to play up the coziness of the space. She prefers the small dresser between the two front windows, is pretty indifferent about the white Ikea sofa, and has historically had the antique liquor cabinet on the wall where the short dresser is photographed here but felt it looked too narrow on the walls. She and her husband also have young kids. Now that you have some context for her space and the decorating dilemma, here’s how I would approach it!

decorating dilemma

decorating dilemma

First, I love that you’ve brought in a couple dark wood pieces to give your newer home more character.

And second, I’m all in favor of an Ikea sofa, especially in a home with young kids. We happen to have the exact same one in our playroom and it’s comfortable and completely washable so I definitely don’t think you need to budget for a new sofa in order to make this space feel more finished.

In response to the question about paint colors, I can think of only two spaces I’ve lived in with darker walls — our childhood playroom which was painted a chocolate brown/taupe-y color that made for extra cozy family movie nights and the sitting room in my family’s house on Nantucket where a white sofa pops against navy blue walls. I also instantly thought of Erin Gates who writes the incredible blog Elements of Style and recently did gorgeous dark brown walls in her home office:


I always start a new decorating project by browsing lots of inspiration images on Pinterest. And things I’ve saved on Instagram and seeing what speaks to me about each space. So I rounded up a few spaces I like with darker walls in the colors it sounds like you and I are both drawn to so you can see if there’s one you respond best to.

Here are a couple more spaces with brown walls:

*design by Sherry Hart

*design by Mark D. Sikes

And here are a few with varying shades of blue:

design by Annie Brahler



And I’m of course a big fan of grasscloth wallpaper having hung it in our home office! As I get older, I also find myself more drawn to layered spaces with a mix of finishes — think bright white lacquer across from an old wood piece or something leather next to something wicker or rattan. I’ll share a few mock-ups with paint colors in a moment (I kept all the paint/wallpaper above the chair rail and the wall beneath the chair rail white — perhaps some of you would do otherwise?), but next I’m going to share how I’d think about furnishing each little space within the room.

lamp  //  similar artwork  //  rug

Do pardon my very rough Photoshop work — can you tell I’m not professionally trained? 😬

But I think your dresser is the perfect size for between the two front windows and it looks like you have a couple art pieces propped against the opposite wall that could work right above it with a little brass lamp like this or this. I love the idea of using gold or dark wood frames regardless of what paint or wallpaper direction you go in! I’m also assuming we keep your existing sisal rug and used this similar one as a placeholder in my little collages. Of course you’ll want to add in things like a stack of books, a topiary, or a couple framed photos here as well — I’m just going to address the bigger pieces in the room or else this post will take three hours to read! 😂

gold mirror  //  plug-in sconces  //  sofa  //  side tables  //  leather ottoman  //  rug

Next let’s tackle the large blank wall where your sofa is.

My mind instantly goes to a round gold mirror because it breaks up the right angles of your existing wood pieces. And I love the way gold looks on all the walls in the inspiration images above. I think we can keep the white sofa that’s working fine for right now and warm it up with a leather ottoman — something like this would be ideal but two of these would give you a similar (albeit more modern) look for a little less. It also looks like you have a round wooden table on one side of the sofa that I think you could mix and match with something like this on the other side.

And this certainly isn’t something you’d need to add to make the space feel finished tomorrow. But a future “layer” that might be worth considering is adding sconces on either side of the mirror at a later date to give you another lighting option particularly if it’s a room you find yourselves entertaining in at night. These plug-in sconces are a great way to get the look without having to hire an electrician. And I think it can be more realistic to think about things you can live without for a while. Then add in at a later date if you find yourself still thinking about them!

framed intaglios  //  basket  //  rug

Last but not least is the wall with the liquor cabinet.

I would put it on the wall perpendicular to where you have the dresser oriented in the third photo in this post. I know you mentioned worrying that it’s too narrow for that wall. But I think you can easily fill the space with a couple frames on either side and maybe a basket on the floor for throw blankets or toys that have escaped the playroom. (We also have this faux fiddle leaf fig “potted” in the same basket in the size large and that could totally work here too — or maybe you have a green thumb and could manage the real deal?) I love the way these framed intaglios look in the first inspiration image I shared above but maybe you already own something similar that could work?

Again I don’t want to suggest that you need to click over and purchase every single thing tomorrow but rather think of similar pieces you already own that could work — repurposing things from one room to another or bringing something down from the attic is truly my favorite way to spruce things up so these are merely suggestions for things that might work or pieces you could keep an eye out for on Facebook Marketplace, etc.!

It’s hard to tell from photos but it looks like there also might be room for an occasional chair in the corner to the left of the dresser?

Definitely something you could add at a later date but I think something like this could work if you think it’d be nice to have a seating option opposite the sofa. Now that you’ve seen how I would approach each wall, I’ll show you how each little vignette would look with brown paint, blue paint, and tan grasscloth so you can get a feel for each!

It’s hard to recommend paint colors since different shades will look completely different from one room to the next, but a few you could paint samples of might be Benjamin Moore Middlebury Brown or Tarpley Brown, Benjamin Moore Kensington or Polo Blue, and tan grasscloth wallpaper from Annie Selke or lots of different brands on Decorator’s Best.

I’m so curious to hear which one you all like best! Benjamin Moore also has this color viewer on their website where you can upload a photo of your room and try out different colors (not sponsored or anything, just wanted to mention as it’s something I’ve been using a lot lately as we contemplate painting the exterior of our house later this year). Anyway here’s the tan grasscloth:

That’s all I’ve got!

What do you think? Are you drawn to one of these over the other? Or do you have a totally different approach to share in the comments? I’m open to all (constructive!) feedback. 🙂

And if you’re interested in sharing your own decorating dilemma for a future post, send me an email mackenzie[at] with a description of your projects, photos of your space and any pieces you plan to incorporate, and an idea of budget for any pieces you plan to purchase. I’m excited to share my two cents! 

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  1. I love this series idea! Please keep it up. I thought I’d like the Navy option best but I’m really drawn to the Brown. OP- please post a status update once you’ve made some changes!!

  2. This is a great new series! I hope that she circles back to you with progress pics once she’s made some changes. Will be fun to see how it evolves.

  3. How fun!!! This is amazing. We recently pained our dining room navy and have dark cherry wood dining room table with a brass chandelier and I am in love with it. I love the dark and cozy personally. That dark brown though, amazing!! I might have to do another room that color. We also painted our 1/2 bath a dark green and love that as well. I do love this post, thanks for sharing.

  4. Love your ideas. The first thing I thought of when I saw “preppy style” and “dark” was The Polo Bar restaurant in NYC. Love the decor there so she could look at photos of the interiors there for more inspiration.

  5. I actually love the brown paint, despite what I “thought” would like best! It’s unexpected and cozy. I’d definitely add a big leafy houseplant in there too, to bring in extra texture/contrast/an element of nature. So fun!!! Please do more of these!

  6. Love this new series!! The darker blue would be so cool. And hey, your photoshop skills are infinitely better than mine would be… Haha

  7. I too thought this room would be the adult room for drinks since the antique cabinet was there. I see long printed drapes covering the windows with or without a cornice on each. And whatever blue is on the drapes would be the wall color and accent pillows on the sofa. I would recover the IKEA sofa with a dark washable corduroy or velvet, have some dimmable lighting, some music in the background and this would be a very good adult only room for when the littles are in bed. Or a nice room to talk in as a couple or welcome visiting adults to. I was raised in a home where only the adults used the front living room of the house. Well that’s my two cents. I’m sure it will turn out lovely for whatever you choose that works for your family.

  8. The navy paint is old school Ralph Lauren, go with the brown for a Mark Sikes updated look. Test the brown paint against the wood tones before commuting to a particular shade. Head to “antique” stores for a set of framed prints on either side of liquor cabinet. More personal, interesting, unique and cost effective than the intaglios.

  9. Love love love the darker colors, I’m more partial to the blue though! I think layering a pretty Persian rug over the sisal would make it even cozier and a pretty way to bring in more color!

  10. I love the blue! How about considering painting the walls and trim (baseboard and crown molding) in the same color (i.e Hale Navy) with contrasting finishes – i.e walls in matte finish, trim in semi/high gloss?

  11. I think the blue provides just the pop of color this room needs! It’s great, and it makes everything pop. With the brown and the grass cloth wallpaper, everything looks very dull. The blue makes it look cozy and fresh.

    Great idea for a new series! I love it! I also love how much thought you put into your response. You could have just said a few things, but you went above and beyond, and that’s really thoughtful of you.

  12. This was a fun post! The grass cloth wallpaper is too similar in color and texture to the rug, so I’d definitely go with paint, but I’d suggest wallpaper on the back of the liquor cabinet- either grass cloth or a fun clubby pattern. If would provide another layer of interest seen through the glass doors and would help the liquor collection pop more.

  13. This is so fun!!! I hope to see many more of these posts!!

    One hot tip for mock ups is the website! You can paste the image URL or upload a picture and it takes out the background. I use it to create mock ups in Google Slides if I want to look extra profesh 🙂 I have zero Photoshop skills lol.

  14. I love this new series idea, and this is a terrific kick off! Even though I am naturally drawn to blue in my home, I think the chocolate brown rendition looks wonderful here. I hope that your reader sends you pictures of the space after she paints/wallpapers and arranges the room how she likes- I’d love to see the “finished” space (I know these things are a work in progress. I am an – ahem! – older reader and they are still a work in progress in my own home 😊). Happy new year!

  15. LOVE this new idea for a series & how much work you put into this post. So fun to read this morning! I echo other commenters – would love to see any snaps she’s willing to share of the final room, even if it’s in a few months!

  16. I love this new series! What a fun idea!

    Like you, I absolutely LOVE interior design, but I’m not classically trained. Just trial and error. I love what you’ve come up with, with darker walls. But thinking about the scotch and liquor cabinet, is there space to make this room somewhat of a “lunge” per se? Like maybe four club chairs around a coffee table where after dinner (or pre dinner) drinks can be had or a way to incorporate books as somewhat of a library? Not sure on the spacing, but just an idea!

  17. I love this idea, Mackenzie!

    For Sarah, I would also recommend checking out Farrow & Ball for colors–they do really great, deep, rich colors better than anyone. You can then have the color matched by Benjamin Moore for a more cost-effective look! A favorite cozy den with dark walls is Asia Baker Stokes’, which was featured in Vogue last year.

  18. Such a great idea for a series. I hope you do follow up posts showing how the room turns out after following your suggestions.
    One thing to consider ( and you may have already done this) is to have the darker wall color be something that is pulled from another area of her home. It looks like that room is right off the entrance and fairly open to the rest of the house. If so, while I prefer the brown, it looks like navy is more her ‘ thing’.
    Can’t wait to see how it looks all finished.

  19. This is such a fun series! Love it.

    Also, not saying she needs to do this but there are loads of options out there for an IKEA slipcover if she wants to keep the sofa but move way from white. Good luck!

  20. Wow, this is such a fun series! I love the blue rendition (but I am always attracted to blue, so that’s no surprise!). I have no helpful feedback, but a small piece of encouragement with regards to fear of dark color: there isn’t an abundance of wall space in this room between the window and the opening to the other room, so that makes it a great space to try a darker color because it will feel less overwhelming! My parents painted their living room a deep dusty blue a few years ago which I LOVE. I was initially fearful of it being too dark, but because the room doesn’t have a ton of wall space, it made it cozy without feeling dark! Hoping the same for Sarah 🙂