DIY for Newbies: 5 Living Room Projects You Can Master Like a Pro

Thursday Jan 30th, 2020


Maybe it’s been a while since your living room got any love. We get it—it’s easy to get sidetracked by all the different ways you can upgrade your kitchen or bathroom.

But the living room has played second fiddle long enough. If you’re ready to let this room take center stage, there are lots of ways you can add some oomph to the social hub of your home—without shelling out big bucks for a contractor and interior designer.

Here are a few easy living room remodeling projects that anyone—and we mean anyone—can tackle on their own. Power tools are optional, but not required.

1. Paint the room

Paint your walls for an instant makeover.

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: A fresh coat of paint will instantly transform any space, including your living room.

“Paint is probably the single-biggest low-risk thing a homeowner can do,” says Shawn Finley, owner of Noble and Oak Renovation & Restoration, in Liberty, MO. “Either the whole room or even just picking one wall and painting it a bold color can make a huge difference.”

Paint is also an instant solution to a living room plagued by dark, dated wood paneling. Instead of ripping out the paneling and installing new drywall—a big undertaking for DIY newbies—pick up a bucket of primer and some paint. Just don’t cut corners on the prep.

“When you’re painting over wood, like a paneling, you have to prime it with an oil-based primer,” says Alan Damato, project manager at Third Coast Renovation in Milwaukee. “Otherwise there’s a yellowy color that can fade through.”

Pro tip: If you used water-based primer (oops) and yellow spots are starting to come through, a can of white spray paint could save the day.

“Spray the stained areas that came through that aren’t perfectly white, and paint over it again in the final color,” Damato suggests.

2. Give your fireplace a face-lift

Give your dingy or dated fireplace a makeover with a coat of paint. You can also use your fireplace as an opportunity to make a bold statement.

When Finley and his wife lived in a ranch home with “virtually no character” and a fireplace straight out of the '70s, Finley says his wife had a moment of inspiration: Why not paint that ugly fireplace and the wall behind it black?

“I just couldn’t envision it looking anything but awful; who paints a wall black?” Finley says. “But a week later, we had a black wall and fireplace, and it looked incredible. The bold statement against our otherwise bland, white house guided our decor and color scheme throughout the rest of the house.”

3. Choose your own wainscoting adventure

Wainscoting can add depth and character to a room, and you don’t have to be a professional carpenter to install it.

The easiest way to achieve the look, Finely says, is by putting up a strip of chair rail trim on a single wall, or around an entire room. Then, paint the new trim and the wall below it in a color that contrasts the top of the wall.

“Boom—wainscot,” Finley says. “Or at least it would look like wainscot to someone galloping by on a horse.”

You could also install a more forgiving material like shiplap.

Lauren Sieben is a writer in Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Milwaukee Magazine, and other outlets.

“With shiplap or things with a rustic look, if you’re not perfect, it doesn’t matter,” Damato says.

After all, those little imperfections can add charm. Look for shiplap at the hardware store, and when you’re ready to install it, be sure to find the studs (framing beams) before you hammer in the finishing nails, or your hard work might come crashing down.

If you’re ready for a 200-level renovation project, board-and-batten wainscoting isn’t too hard to install with the right tools (a miter saw, a brad nailer, and some pine from the hardware store). You could also opt for beadboard paneling, which you can purchase in sheets at home improvement stores.

4. Add decorative and functional storage

“I’m a huge fan of track shelving because it can create the effect of a built-in at a fraction of the cost, and it can be put up in an afternoon,” Finley says.

To get started, screw in some tracking material where you want to install your shelves—just make sure you’re attaching it to studs and staying vertically plumb.

Then, put the shelf brackets where you like them, set your boards on the shelf brackets, decorate, and "sit back and enjoy a glass of your favorite beverage in your awesome new boho/industrial-styled living room,” Finley says.

Track shelving also provides an alternative to a large TV console when you’re short on space. You can conceal TV cords by running them along the tracks and strategically placing a few books and plants in front of them.

5. Update your soft goods

New window treatments—or any window treatments at all, if you don’t already have them—are an easy way to brighten up your living room. Swap out the old for something updated, like a new curtain rod or drapes.

When installing a curtain rod, you probably won’t get lucky enough to land on studs in the wall, Damato says. In that case, be sure to use drywall anchors for your screws—the anchor will help support the weight of the rod and your curtains.

Once your window treatments are set, look down: Is it time for a new area rug? Whether you have hardwoods or carpet, layering an area rug under a coffee table or sofa can make a room feel more cozy and complete. Bring out your inner interior decorator and shop for a statement-making rug that introduces a new color or texture to the room.

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