before and afterInteriors

Before & After: An 1890s Bedroom Gets a Modern, Yet Classic Update

by Erin Austen Abbott

I discovered something recently — painting a room isn’t all that hard to do. For 14 years my husband Sean and I avoided painting our bedroom. Fourteen long years of living with a color we weren’t happy with. That’s a really long time to avoid a glaring problem in the aesthetics department. There’s a backstory, of course. When I bought our home (pre-husband), the 15-foot-ceiling room was an eggplant color with a texturized gold faux finish on the original plaster walls. Daunting doesn’t begin to explain the feeling of defeat that I was feeling from painting the room. I went off on tour with the band I worked for at the time and hired a friend to paint the room for me. This seemed like the answer to my problems, because even if I had tried to paint it myself, where would I get a ladder tall enough? I picked out the color I thought I wanted and all would be fine when I returned home. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For the next 13 years, I lived in a bedroom with a color I didn’t like that never got fully painted. The trim around the room never was completely painted and so, for all those years, I made do with a yellow room trimmed in eggplant and gold. I hid it well for a long time — until I couldn’t handle it any longer. I dreamed of a calming color with the trim painted in the same hue, like something out of an old British period film. My husband and I finally landed on painted all the way up to the ceiling, all the doors, trim, windows, and I even painted the desk facing the now opened-up bay windows. I’ve never felt so calm in a room before. It completely changed the mood of the room in the best way possible. I even painted my hallway in the same because I love it so much. It only took us two days to paint the whole room. Why did we wait so long?

Since we now have so much grey in the space, I decided to make sure there were pops of color mixed in with warm tones of wood, such as the dresser that was my great, great grandmother’s in the corner and the beer garden bench that sits at the foot of our bed. We switched up the bedding, opting for School House Electric and matching in varying sizes. A throw from and another found on a trip to India complete the bed’s look.

The walls are made from plaster, so we repaired previous damage from nailing into the walls and I decided to group art in a stacked way along the mantel. A bookshelf in the corner houses all of my son’s travel books and souvenirs in one place. We moved the bed away from blocking the bay windows and opened up the massive (yet still not long enough for this ceiling) curtains that once served as a makeshift wall behind our bed. The ceiling fan that came with the house (that never got used) was replaced with a beautiful fixture from . It’s custom made to fit the room, so it doesn’t feel too small hanging from the tall ceiling. Against the gold ceiling plate, it fits perfectly. We also removed a large, old gas heater that we stopped using years ago due to the Co2 it was putting out into the room and the fear that I had that the room would explode every time I had to light the heater with a match.

Many pieces in the room are hand-me-downs or thrifted, but now the room is very edited so that it doesn’t become a catchall moving forward. There’s still a small room off of the bedroom that I’d like to one day customize with California Closets, giving me both a small office and a closet in one. Hopefully I don’t wait another 14 years for those changes.

Photography by /

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

A peek from the bathroom that connects the two bedrooms. The  color blends nicely next to the ocher velvet curtains. Side table lamp from

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Before, the bed was positioned in front of the bay windows. Now, it’s moved to the other side of the room, allowing the bay windows to be opened up.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

One painting hangs in the room, from painter , with a closer look at the Schoolhouse Electric lamp.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Your first look at the yellow that we lived with for so long. We moved the dresser to the opposite wall and gave height to the area with the taller hand-me-down dresser and an array of globes, but took down all the art.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Our bedding is from and the grey pillows are from Cotton and Flax. The blankets at the end of the bed are from and I bought the elephant quilt on a trip to India.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

The side table is a vintage folding stool and the lamp is also from Schoolhouse Electric.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

A small slice of our vintage globe collection that is now around 18 in total.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

I love stacking books to elevate something. We can easily pull a book out to look through when needed, but giving that extra texture under the lamp is something I’ve always been drawn to. The lamp is vintage.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

I tried to make sure the art on the mantel felt like one collection or body of work, so I stayed in the same palette of pink, navy, and gold. I felt it looked so nice against .”

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Here you get a look at the eggplant and gold under the yellow and also a look at the previous mantel. The same gold was painted on the mantel before.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

A closer look at the art on the mantel. Artists include from left to right: , Jack Guner, , , , , Tom Kirkpatrick, , , .

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

A stack of old Anthology Magazines gives height to the art.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Before, an old builder-grade fan hung from the ceiling, gathering dust.

Now a stunning fixture, handmade in New Orleans by hangs in its place.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

The light fixture by  now hangs in place of the fan.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

With the bay windows now open and not covered by a bed, you can see the short curtains. Even at 11′ long curtains, you get the idea of what a massive ceiling height we’ve dealt with. The rug was a hand-me-down from my grandparents.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

A sweet vase of flowers can usually be found sitting in this window. Vase made by .

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Before it felt like an eclectic mix of thrifted housewares against the yellow wall. With the new color and a shift in styles, we decided to clean out all the over-styling and pared the room down.

A closer look at the shift in paint color from “Lemonade” to “.”

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Just pulled away a little bit, you can see where the bed once was. We took down the venetian blinds that came with the house and opted to leave the windows bare for now. In the summer, all the windows are filled with green from the trees just outside, creating a makeshift curtain. You also get a sense of the gold peeking out that was never fully painted over, mixed with the cream color that lined the eggplant and gold as well.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

The transformation is beginning to show through. We opted to paint the trim as well because we wanted a completely seamless look. It feels timeless this way.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

Again, you get a look at the curtains and how short they are. I do love these curtains and I like the way it gives texture and contrast to the room. For now, the length doesn’t bother me. We also have four animals, so I know they would collect dust and fur if they reached the proper length. You get a peek at our six-year-old’s travel center in our corner. This way he has books and activities on hand to climb into our bed to read or stretch out on the floor and play. More art lines the top of the bookshelf.

Before & After with Erin Austen Abbott on Design*Sponge

This little desk was passed down to me from some dear friends. It was missing some hardware and its previous green color clashed with the room, so I decided to paint it in Gray Timber Wolf as well, to continue the seamless look. I replaced the hardware with versions.

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  • Very nice transformation. Why don’t you just add some length to the shorter curtains in a different color? Maybe a grey? Color-blocking. They will indeed gather pet fur etc, but a quick shake usually does the trick, and then a vacuum.

  • Great transformation!
    Question, where is your headboard from? We are looking for something just like that for our guest bedroom.
    Thanks :)

  • Where did you get the ochre curtains? They are an amazing pop of color against the blue headboard and timber wolf walls!

    • Hi! I can’t remember… we’ve had them for a long time. I think it was either Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel. Thanks for the comment!

  • This whole space sings to me. I love the quiet drama you have evoked by painting the trim and desk out to match the walls. And I love the lamps, and the abstract art piece, and the mustard curtains, and the warmth of the woods and the rug. And the globes! Really, I love it all. It manages to feel so tranquil and soulful at once. What an amazing (and inspiringly do-able) transformation!

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