Sylvia’s Surprise Makeover: The Living Room
We do a lot of makeovers over here, as you know. But this one, this one is my favorite makeover I have ever done. It is for a family that I care about so much, that needed it so badly and that truly appreciates it. The client? My nanny, Sylvia, and her family.
Sylvia has been working for our family for over a year. We have two children under the age of three that are so lovely, but caring for both of them all day, every day is absolute insanity. Between both kids she survives 4 naps, 9 snacks, 2 super messy meals, 2 – 15 temper tantrums (depending on the day!), 4-5 meltdowns (hers or his), and 97, 428 things out of place that she (and the kids) help put away before we get home. We don’t have a yard so amidst all that she has to get them both out of the house, down 27 stairs to a car, and she takes them to a park or preschool/class where one of them probably isn’t so into it.
She loves them, they love her, and she stays positive all day. Every day when I get home my kids are happy, well taken care of, and the house is put together. That last part is baffling to me (HOW???) and yet its really the key to my sanity and marriage.
I know that it’s hard, and yet every day she says what a great day they had. I don’t think she is lying – I know they have fun. But she is protecting me. I know that she knows that hearing the horrible nuances of raising a 9 month old and a 2 1/2 year old together are not what I need at 5:30pm when I’m DYING to squeeze my children, take over and feel like I’m the one truly raising them. Sure she tells me everything important, but she doesn’t just generally complain about them or act exhausted. EVER. I try to thank her every day, all day, but her job warrants so much more than my casual gratitude. What she does for my family, what all nannies do for any families, is so important, intimate, emotional, and personal on top of being such exhaustingly hard work.
So, I kept trying to think of how I could repay her. I would give her furniture after shoots that we didn’t need and she gladly took it, which made me think that maybe she wasn’t psyched about how her house looked. I kept thinking what if I could go in there and just surprise her?
But her being so amazing wasn’t the only reason why I was compelled to do this – she has had more than her fair share of challenges. I’m not telling you this so you feel sorry for her, or to somehow exploit her life, but it’s one of the reasons that I was extra compelled to do this. Sylvia moved here from Mexico by herself when she was 16, after her mother suddenly died (I’ll spare you that tragic story). She moved in with relatives but immediately was on her own. She met Riccardo, her husband, a few years later and they married and started trying to have a family.
Over the course of the next few years she got pregnant 4 times and miscarried in the 4th or 5th month every, single, time.
For anyone who has ever been pregnant or wants kids – hell ANYONE in the world, this is unthinkable pain. My eyes fill with water every single time I think about it. To think, each time that you were going to have a baby, start a family, create a future and then every time have that taken from you. I just can’t imagine.
She was able to carry her 5th pregnancy to 25 weeks when her water broke, and she went into labor and thank God, Ricky was saved, born weighing 2 lbs, three months early. He was in the NICU for four months, and she and Riccardo were there every day, basically just praying that he lived.
When she told me all of this I was 7 months pregnant with Elliot, a perfectly healthy pregnancy (lucky me). I kept putting myself in her shoes and couldn’t imagine how stressful, emotional and overall terrible that must have been for them. After Ricky she went on to have two more miscarriages, again in the second trimester – six total. Six. Six. I can’t. I had one at 10 weeks and I was distraught. Six at 16 – 20 weeks?? It’s unimaginable pain. Over and over.
And yet she takes care of my kids every day. Happily. Her life has been far more challenging than mine, she has been dealt a much harder hand, and yet she has taken that hand, brought it back to the table, played it with a smile, and won.
Sylvia and her family remain such positive, happy people. Ricky is an awesome, smart, funny and kind kid who worships his parents, and Riccardo is hilarious and such a bright, happy light every time I see him. They have such a good marriage, close family, and amazing outlook on everything.
In short, they deserved a better, happier home and like most hard working people in this country they couldn’t afford what they wanted. They weren’t proud of their home, and she told me afterwards that they were embarrassed by it. I’m a firm believer that your home is a reflection of your emotional state, and vice versa, and that state needed to change. There is disparity in our two lives, we were born into different situations, and I have a job/passion that allows me to try and close that gap a tiny bit.
The best thing about my job is that I need/love to create content for you guys and makeovers are my favorite thing to do in the world. So I asked her if she was open to such a makeover and she quietly said, ‘yes’ but in a way that I knew was more like ‘what? really? are you serious?????????‘
I pitched the idea to Target with hopes that they would be one of many companies to gift items in exchange for link-love, (like we did for the shelter) and they said actually we’d love to donate everything. With my team taking care of design/labor and them donating the product we were gonna make this happen. She and her family would maybe get the home they deserved.
WIN. WIN. GAH. WIN.
Brian’s company shot a video of the whole thing. It was awesome having him there, too, leading up that team as it just felt so ‘our family for their family.’ We both love her so much, so having us both there was beyond special.
We, here at the Henderson household, are super proud to share this with you:
Maybe it’s because I know her and love her and her family (we got so much closer during this process, too) but I cry every single time I watch it. Brian did such an amazing job and while it should be a 22 minute pilot, those 6 minutes are absolute gold to me.
Now, for the whole process:
Let’s break it down, room by room. Today, folks, we are starting with the living room.
The space itself is a decent size and it has some cute architectural things happening like the archway between the living and dining room and the moulding that goes around the top. But they needed all new furniture and they had virtually no accessories. They had blankets on the windows because the sun was too bright/hot and didn’t really know how/where to hang curtains. They had one fan and one flushmount fixture (and needed more fans). The carpet was ok and I had intended at first on keeping it but there was even worse linoleum in the dining room and I couldn’t bear it. They deserved something better.
The furniture layout cut off the two rooms from each other and gave the tv all the importance. There was that little heater in between both windows but they said they hadn’t turned it on in years so we didn’t need to worry about it. Riccardo had painted the top band between the ceiling and the moulding black which was making the room feel shorter. Essentially as you can see, it wasn’t a happy, colorful home.
So, I asked them to leave anything that they wanted to keep and they essentially got rid of every single thing. EVERY PIECE. I asked them what their style was and they didn’t know, and said over and over, “Do whatever you want – we just want it to feel warm, happy, inviting and not too precious with nothing too fancy.” I was starting from zero.
They all three liked the color blue, he loved black and she loved brown and pink, too (I didn’t hear the pink part til the week of the makeover). So yes, they knew that they were getting a makeover but they had no idea what was going to happen in their home and they wanted to be surprised. We put them up in an which one of our lovely readers Michelle emailed about and donated for 10 days (in exchange for some design trade) while we executed the project.
We created a mood board to work off of and shopped the heck out of Target.com – for all five rooms.
Things always change, but that was the general vibe of the living room. I was out of town when the construction started but Peter helped to project manage (All the designers on my staff were too swamped to take this one so I hired a freelancer to help me execute).
We started by having the carpet/linoleum removed and all the walls painted. We painted the ceiling and the top of the moulding white (Chantilly Lace by Benjamin Moore) and the bottom half is a warm gray (Stonington Gray by Benjamin Moore).
Now you might notice something that we didn’t until I saw this photo – there was original hardwood underneath the carpet. At this point we had already ed who generously offered to donate the flooring and we had already gotten their landlord to choose what they wanted. The new flooring was delivered and ready to go down. The original flooring was extremely damaged with huge rectangles cut out in places – it would have needed to be refinished and in many places completely replaced. Had I known this before we started our really fast makeover process, we would have repaired/refinished the floor. But the truth is I didn’t even find out that the floor existed til I got back in town, on day 3, saw the process photos and the new flooring was already installed. We did have a hard deadline with this project due to everyone’s schedules so we couldn’t shove the timeline to rip up the new floor, nor did we have a labor budget to help cover the flooring in the first place, let alone to change it. The new flooring was a VAST improvement from the carpeting, certainly and walking into the space with the new floor and freshly painted walls was amazing.
So on day 5 we began the decorating/videotaping portion of the makeover which was obviously the most fun part (except for the reveal …. NOTHING was more fun than that).
This rug is part of the threshold collection, we bought a 9×12 and it’s GREAT in person. The blue has a lot of color variation so it looked high end and it’s busy enough to hide dirt/stains keeping everything from feeling too precious. I highly recommend it and everyone on set was impressed by it (also kudos to Target for starting to design/carry 9×12 rugs!!!).
We reoriented the room to center the sofa between the windows (again, they didn’t use the heater ever, nor did they know if it worked) and to create a conversation area. The TV is now on the wall opposite the sofa, to the right (on the left in that photo). It was a huge TV so those sitting on the sofa and the vintage club chair can easily watch it.
Here’s a fun gif of us building the room (fun fact, we wait until every single thing is put in exactly where we want it and then shoot us in stop motion ‘depopulating’ the space, backwards – video by , animation by Sara on my team):
So, are you ready to see the finished space?????
Yeah!!! Now it’s a happy, warm, pulled together space that feels casual and full of personality. When we were in the room we couldn’t believe the transformation – it’s such a different room and home. Everything is from Target (and linked up at the bottom of this post) except the vintage leather club chair and pouf that Peter found at a vintage store, the vintage map which we had in the studio and the which I already owned.
There was a hiccup with the design that is worth talking about (and kinda fun). We finished the room completely on Thursday night around 7pm, ready to shoot all the photos and the video beauties the next morning before revealing it to the family. Here’s what it looked like:
As I was leaving I looked at it one more time and thought this isn’t as fun or colorful as they are. It felt a little serious, traditional and safe, even though I really, really loved it. There was something about it that felt too formal which I was really afraid would intimidate them. So that night I made one more trip to Target and pulled a few accessories from my studio and my own home. Here’s a fun GIF seeing the difference just a few accessories can make:
I really really love both and even think that the first way was more “cohesive” but it didn’t feel right. We replaced the more traditional lamp with something more fun and glam. We switched out the matching pillows for some that felt more casual and eclectic. I replaced the pretty mud cloth with that pink throw to help bring in more pink for Sylvia and we added brighter, less serious flowers.
Everyone agreed that it felt more them. I knew they were already really nervous about this and since we had NOTHING of theirs to incorporate into the design (as they wanted to start fresh) I was terrified that they were going to like it, but not feel like it was theirs and be creeped out by it. It’s like if someone else dressed you for your own birthday party – no average pretty perfectly pulled together outfit would do. It was so important to me that they felt comfortable in it and that it represented them as much as possible. So adding the pink, more gold and making it feel more eclectic felt right (and looked so fun).
The entrance is probably my favorite vignette – parsons table with the mirror and lamp created such a lovely vibe. What you can’t see is that super fun gold and white skull above it, which we added that morning, too. Sylvia rocks a lot of gold (she once said, ‘I thought I liked gold but you ….you, emily REALLY love gold‘ in response to all my accessories in our house) so I knew she would love some extra glam in there.
My ‘deciding where to put the plant’ pose is one of my favorites. Also I’m doing the flare denim thing apparently and it feels like 2001 on the lower half of my body. The lower half of my body is also listening to David Gray all night long (although I love and Brian is SUPER into them – probably it reminds him of me in college … and life before two kids… ha…).
Speaking of family… we need to talk about something really important – the family photos. Sylvia and her family had some, which we framed, but they have never had professional family photos of them taken. So I called up , my favorite people photographer EVER (she shot us here, here, and most recently here) and she volunteered to spend an hour with them at a park taking their photo. The room seriously lacked ‘them’ in it, and I didn’t want to just buy random art to put on the walls. I had grilled them about their hobbies/interests/favorite places in the world and I got ‘golf’ from Riccardo, ‘Mexican wrestling’ from Ricky, and Sylvia said she really just wanted to look at pretty things. When we were shopping at Target together, Ricky and Riccardo both liked the globes there and I was desperate for a piece for above the sofa so I was so happy I had hoarded that vintage map. But still, we needed more of ‘them’. We had that vintage polaroid of Sylvia and Riccardo framed through (who is an amazing online framer which we always use) which you see on the desk but we wanted some more personal pics to use in the room.
During the big install week I had Danielle do Sylvia’s makeover (who does my makeup for shoots) for the video interviews to help her feel as confident as possible (she was really nervous) then afterwards they met Steph and took family photos for the first time in years. Stephanie uploaded them that night and we had them printed within a few hours at Costco. When we brought them into their home it made a HUGE difference instantly. All of a sudden it went from being a Target catalog, to being a home of a loving family. THANK YOU, STEPHANIE.
How amazing are these???
There were so many good ones, we had such a hard time going through them all and narrowing it down to just a handful to frame.
We peppered them around all over the house, to the point that it became a bit too much so we put up some of that pretty art from (left over from another project which we linked up below) to help it not be so family photo heavy.
Many of you might be worried about how/where they are going to watch TV, but don’t worry – we got them all set up. It’s on the black credenza (which was in their bedroom) in the corner making it viewable from the leather chair (when angled) and the sofa. It’s a huge TV so the blue chairs can definitely watch as well.
Here you get a peek into the dining room!! After living in the space for the weekend they determined that they for sure like the setup and we are going to mount it on an arm so that it comes out and angles for them (I didn’t want to do that until I was sure that they were sure, as mounting a tv isn’t cheap or easy to change). For the still photos we angled the vintage leather chair so that it was completely profile, facing the matching chairs, but functionally it works better when its tucked a bit back and can see the tv (which you’ll be able to see in the video). Without the context of the tv in the straight on shot, however it looked weird so we moved it.
Let’s chat about the curtains. We gave them two different treatments on every window – the matchstick shades that go up and down and filter the light, and the curtains that can be closed or open (also filtering the light and adding more privacy). If both are closed it is VERY dark. We actually thought we were ordering the medium toned matchstick (we bought ours on amazon) but they came in really bleached so we had to make do (although I don’t mind them at all). We bought the 96″ curtains online and had them hemmed (which worked well in here but not so well in the other rooms … stay tuned).
Now the height of the curtain was controversial. Obviously you always want curtains to be hung as high as possible so the ceiling looks higher and the room looks bigger (see my guide HERE). But right above that picture moulding the ceiling started sloping in. I was out shooting the interview segments with Sylvia when they were being hung so Peter sent me photos to have me weigh in. Here is the slope and how it would look if it were above the moulding.
Here it is right at the moulding.
From the photos I thought that we should still hang them higher as I don’t love curtains shoved at the moulding, but he text me ‘Everyone disagrees with you and thinks its super weird to hang them above the moulding’. Well, you can’t argue with that. After I returned I totally agreed and was glad that they didn’t let me dictate the height.
A quick note about the ceiling fans – these guys are WAY more powerful than ours in our home (which are nicer looking but are no longer for sale … probably because they weren’t as powerful as they should be which I didn’t realize until I stood under ). These have inspired me to either install these or get ones in our three bedrooms (they are magical in my friends guest room that we put them in). These seriously cooled down the room.
Ricky needed a place in the living room to do his homework, or at least to keep it organized since his room is on the smaller size – he likes being out with his family. So we set him up with a little corner desk area.
Fun fact, that desk has a pocket on top where you can plug in multiple computers or tech and then the desk itself has one cord that plugs into the wall. I hope all you ‘please don’t photoshop the cord out of your life’ folks are happy with that photo (I sure wasn’t psyched about it but have promised not to photoshop them away … why didn’t we just tape use black tape and adhere it down the back left leg????).
Man, that was a big, fun project followed by a not quite as big (but still epic) blog post.
It was an insane transformation and by the end of the week I barely remembered what it looked like before we came, so we figured some before and afters are in order:
I was so nervous and excited for the reveal, I can’t even tell you. They saw the living room first and their faces just dropped in shock and then instantly recovered in HUGE smiles and tears. This week we’ll be revealing each room to you every day but if you want to see each of the rooms now, go watch that video. I cry every time. Sure, she’s my nanny and I know personally how much this means to her and how much she deserves this so it’s a little closer to home for me.
A huge thanks to Target for gifting all these beautiful pieces of furniture and accessories for this project and helping to fund the production. I can’t overstate this enough – Target is a company that cares a lot about family and community (and society), and while that can sound super abstract I can tell you first-hand that they have seriously enriched the lives of my family, and Sylvia’s family. And happy families improve a community. I’d love to encourage other companies to think about creating content in this way as its effects are far more reaching on so many more levels than a traditional advertising campaign. Kudos, to Target for taking the risk and saying ‘yes’.
I’m so proud of this makeover. And not in the same way that I’m proud that Charlie is wearing ‘big boy underwear’ (although I am). I proud that we did this. I’m so proud (and grateful) that Sylvia is who she is, that we were able to make her house look so beautiful, and that Target, a huge corporation, is the kind of company that was willing to put resources behind something like this.
This is how you help a community get stronger, how you make the members of that community become happier and how you shape a new generation to be compassionate and empathetic to everyone in any community.
Meanwhile if you want to support the company that supports a makeover like this or if you just like this design 🙂 here you go:
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*Photography by . Great design/styling help from Peter Dolkas, Video by.