Autism Awareness: My Living Room

UPDATE - Since I posted this I have gotten ridden of the palmetto chair and we will be replacing the couch.   A chair will replace the loveseat.  I want to totally rip out the 80's storage and replace with something lower so that the TV (which is not shown in above picture) can be at a better viewing height. 

Hyacinth, friend of Pioneer Woman, has a team of designers helping her out. Oh, Hyacinth. I do see you need the help. Really you do. I mean, zebra rug? But don't be stingy, huh? Share the love. I've been trying to come up with solutions for my dark living room. We just moved in 5 years ago. ;-)

I'm artsy, but somehow when it comes to my living room, I get stumped and walk away. I've done this for 5 years, since we first moved into this house and plunked the furniture in a place that doesn't block traffic and stocked the shelves above the cabinetry with our tremendous collection of VHS tapes. Yes, VHS.

I have a boy who just turned 17. That boy has autism. He is sweet and sincere and also honest to a fault. Last week he told me I don't have as many answers to his questions because now that I'm in my 40's my brain doesn't work as well as it did in my 30's. Ouch, but true. He has the ability to remember incredible details. As in, his brain has a catalog of every video we've ever owned. He still loves to watch many of these videos. It's getting pretty hard to find functioning VHS players now. Yet we soldier on.... ;-) So my living room must house this amazing collection of VHS tapes. This is where authentic living comes in.

If you go to my links blog, you will see I have a whole section on "feather your nest" which lists fun decorating blogs. Melissa, of The Inspired Room, has a post today on white slipcovers, which was very timely for me, because I had been planning on covering my well-made but tired couches with drop cloths. But after reading Melissa's post about white slipcovers I am reconsidering. Why?

white slipcovers + 2 boys + 1 dog =

Too Many Discussions
About Keeping the Furniture Clean

But I still have a goal - I want to lighten and brighten this room up for very little money. I want this room to be warm, comfortable, cozy, fun, homy and not so dark feeling. I want it to serve the needs of my family, which means storage of the beloved VHS tapes and keeping the fish tank.

Here are my problems, and if any readers have suggestions for solutions, please make them.

Problem #1 - I must, yes must, keep all these old VHS tapes. They have a kind of fun colorful vibe, but the storage is hard for him to get back on the shelf, etc. I need some other solutions and I would like to HIDE these in an accessible way for my son. If you have inexpensive, easy to use and do solutions, please leave a comment. I want this house to work for my family and look homey, too.

Problem #2 - I bought good furniture 18 years ago. It's entirely functional although timeworn. They've already been reupholstered once. I just had them cleaned. I can replace the cushions and slipcover them (I know how to do this, although it takes time). The fabric needs to be inexpensive, though, and washable and sturdy. But not white. The giant chair in the right was an inexpensive impulse buy. It is the appropriate scale for a hotel lobby. It IS comfy but quite imposing. It's staying for now.

Problem #3 - Yes, the woodwork needs to be painted. That's on my list of "things to do which cost little money but will make a big impact."

Problem #4 - awkwardly placed windows above. One of the windows straddles between the living room and the stairway/foyer. It was designed to look good from the outside, though! I can't figure out what to do with these windows for coverings that won't draw too much attention to them. They need to be in the background.

Problem #5 - 1986 cabinetry. See above. We want to get a larger TV but this is kitchen counter height and would make it too high for ergonomic television watching. Because the couch is about 5 to 6 feet away from the cabinet. A larger TV would also make it harder to get the beloved VHS tapes down for my child with autism. I had thought of replacing this cabinetry with drawers below. That would be good for a future plan, but for now I'm trying to come up with lower cost solutions. I can sew and paint, but woodworking isn't part of my skill set (yet).

Problem #6 - the empty corner where 1970's misfit furniture congregates. See below. What I want to do is to put a round table, a light or lamp there, and a couple of chairs so that it would be a good place for game playing or homework doing.

A closer look....

Problem #7 - Giant Fishtank. See above. Slipcovering it is not an option. It's the price of love.

Problem #8 - This room has multiple doorways, windows, cabinetry that breaks up every wall except the one behind the loveseat. So I'm having to float the furniture away from the walls. I cannot figure out another way to do this.

Inventive inexpensive solutions welcomed. We sided our house last year and have to buy a new furnace this year so the furniture stays. I know there are some really creative minds out there!


Jody Kieffer said...

I'm not a decorator, but I do know about window options. Paint the window woodwork a light color that blends in with the walls. Then get shutters or Venetian blinds in a similar color. (There are now a number of places that sell inexpensive Venetian blinds. You can buy finish-yourself shutters that you could paint the same color as the woodwork.) That will allow you to control the light from the windows and still have a finished look. To dress the windows up a bit, add a pouf valance above the windows.
I would definitely get slipcovers for the furniture. Make all the covers a plain color so they all go together. It should be a nice background color that sets the overall color scheme for the room. Add throw pillows in a harmonizing print to add a splash of color. Make the window valances either in the color of the slipcovers or the throw pillows.

Miss Mustard Seed said...

Boy, that is a tough room! It looks like there are a lot of walk ways, windows, built-ins and special needs to consider.

First of all, I totally agree that painting the trim will brighten the room. I had pine trim in my home and it made the rooms so dark. Painting it white made a huge difference. Second, slipcovering the sofas would be a great idea. I have two toddles and I slipcover everything in white because I can bleach it. I do have to wash the sofa cushions about twice a month, so you have to be willing to do that. I also replace the slipcover every 2 years. One alternative is to buy colored duck cloth (what drop cloths are made out of) to get the weight, but not the white. You could try dying a drop cloth as well, but I'm not sure how it would take.

I think I would look for a narrow hutch on Craig's list for the video storage and place it either between the windows behind the sofa (if it would fit) or where the loveseat is. (I found one for $35 a few months ago.) Maybe place a pair of chairs in front of it or on either side of it? It's hard for me to get an idea of the space without standing in the room, so some of these ideas might not work. Anyway, you could put fabric inside the glass doors of a hutch to hide the videos. The height of a piece like that would balance the built-ins and the fish tank. Here's a link to the post with my hutch, so you can get a visual...

Speaking of the tank, I have no ideas. I think it's kind of like my treadmill. You want it, need it and just have to live with it. Our homes do have to work for our families.

Some other ideas...can you paint the built-ins? That would update them and make the room brighter. I'd also remove the baskets from the top and leave it empty or just put one large piece on top.

Can you add a chandelier or some recessed lights to brighten the space with lighting?

Add some artwork on the walls. You can use plates, trays, inexpensive uniform frames with black & white pictures of your kids, barns, whatever, or a large graphic sign...just some thoughts.

One last idea...what about losing the built-ins and put the fish tank in the recessed area. Will it fit there? Then you can arrange the furniture facing a different wall where you could sit a flat screen TV and console. This would definitely cost some money to do, but I thought I would throw the idea out there. You could perhaps add curtains or a sliding barn style door, so you could show the fish tank when you want and cover it up when you don't I don't own fish, so I have no idea the practicality of this.

Ha! This is a long run of some random ideas. I hope at least one of them gets the wheels turning for you. I totally know how it is. I have all sorts of things I want to do and very little money to do them. I can't wait to see what you do.

ACottageIndustry said...

Wow. When you ask for ideas, you ASK FOR IDEAS. LOL! Okay, I will put in my two cents for whatever it's worth...and I can only come up with ideas for some of the problems you posted.
#1- I would put a stack of vintage suitcases next to one chair or the sofa to use as an end table. Put the VHS tapes inside the suitcases and let him open them and choose what he feels like watching, then put them back in the suitcases. The same idea could work with a trunk as a coffee table.
#2 Slipcover them since you have the skill! has affordable fabrics if you do not have a Fabric Depot in your area.
#3 I would paint the trim white enamel.
#4 I can't say on this one until you choose a fabric for slipcovers, but I like the look and style of your windows very much.
#5 Oh my gosh! Paint the built-in a creamy white. Antique it if you like a weathered look. It will look lighter (not so heavy) and you will love it. It will look totally updated!
#6 I LOVE your idea of a game table and chairs...can you slipcover the two chairs you already have? Maybe in a washed painter's drop cloth, with numbers stenciled on the backs? (Just an idea, I have no idea what your style or taste is)
#7 No clue...move it to another room?
#8 I can't help without measurements of the room and all pieces of furniture, but I would lose the big chair...I know, I's staying. But....a smaller chair (even a simple wood one) would take away some of the weight in the room.
Well, I managed to ramble on quite a bit! Good luck with your many projects!!!!!! I'd love to see the progress along the way to re-invention of your room!

Unknown said...

Those cardboard decorative photo boxes could be a solution for VHS tapes. You can get ones that are really fun/cute and vibrant that fits your style and...they can then be placed back on the shelf where your boy knows were they are always kept. Each box would be like opening a present. yet it wouldn't be an eye sore for you ...instead they would be pretty boxes of all sorts and their only about 4 bucks a piece and would hold a handful of VHS tapes them at a time... Paint also does wonders to a room as well as a new piece of artwork ( like your paintings!)...even curtains would cheer up those windows...maybe a cool chalkboard would spruce up the middle of the windows. New throw pillows would cheer the couches and are easy to switch out for new seasons... I hope you will find everyones advice beneficial ...let us know what ideas you like and implement..we would love to see what you decide and come up with! Hugs, Mica

Dixie Redmond said...

Thank you to those of you who have offered comments so far. This is what I'm hoping for - your ideas will spark more ideas for me. And I know I will use some of your ideas - so keep them coming.

I will definitely be painting the built-ins and slipcovers are a yes - and the orange chairs will be great before/after shots. That's the great thing about where it is - the after shots have lots of possibilities!

Keep the ideas coming. Yay!


Rebecca said...

Hi Dixie! I loved reading this post & the ideas that everyone has come up with.

I thought I would offer some ideas & links to great fabric shops.

I remember seeing the photo of your newly sided house & I LOVE the red you chose. My suggestion is to bring the red inside in little pops. I know lots of folks have suggested slip-covering & I agree with that suggestion. offers really great prices on linen. You can purchase in 20 yd bolts. Occasionally (like right now) their medium weight linen is on sale. The heavy weight linen is offered at 10% off periodically too. I've purchased bolts & yardage from there before & have been very happy. I would suggest a natural, taupey linen for your love seat & couch & maybe a pretty subdued red linen for your oversized chair. T

Moda has a beautiful line of fabrics right now that I think would be beautiful mixed. It's all in shades of taupe, gray & reds & creams & the entire line is just beautiful. Here's a link to a great little fabric shop that carries it: I can imagine pretty red pillows on the natural couch & the more subdued colors showing up in a couple pillows for the chair.

Maybe those orange chairs would be beautiful slip-covered with red ticking?!?

I love how your furniture floats away from the wall. If the space behind your couch allows, I think I would cozy a table up to the back of it. Maybe place a pretty quilt over the middle of it with a lamp & some books & family photos & such. You could put baskets underneath for storage. Maybe give each child a basket so they can help tidy up from time to time.

If the space is too tight for a table, maybe use an antique wooden ironing board. Lots of times you can find them for around $20.00. They're usually slim & make excellent "tables" for behind the couch & are great for lamps, drinks, etc.

Window coverings? I would do a simple curtain, but instead of two, maybe just one the entire width of the window & pulled to one side.

Hope this helps a little. After reading your post, I just couldn't quit thinking about what I might do & wanted to share. Can't wait to see what you decide to do with your space! Please share photos as I ADORE befores & afters!

Alice said...

Hi Dixie! Why not put the videos is in the lower part of the cabinets where the doors hide them and put whatever is behind the doors in decorative storage boxes or baskets on the open shelf’s.

Do you have an IKEA anywhere close to you? They have great storage solutions plus showrooms that give you ideas for how to decorate a room.

I would paint the back wall above the cabinet wall and the insides of the open shelves an accent color. Whatever accent color you use on the wall inside the cabinets use it in the room for pillows, window shades, rugs, artwork etc.

Paint the cabinet antique white . . . then sanded it to distress it. You could also distress the windows trims, moldings and the fish tank stand. To the fish tank add some colorful tank accessories based on your accent color.

I would upholstery the two orange chairs. Simple to do. Remove the covers. . . use them for a pattern and staple it back on each chair.

I hope this helps you come up with some great ideas!
Enjoy! Alice

Anonymous said...

Dixie, I stumbled across this post via a link on the Young House Love blog. I had to comment because I have a 19 yr old boy with autism and I laughed so hard when I saw your pictures because HE HAS ALL THE SAME VIDEOS AND WATCHES THEM OVER AND OVER!!!! When I see a cheap VCR somewhere, I buy several and stash them! I don't really have a solution for you for the videos because we have the exact same issue. I have some cheapo bookcases in his closet that we store his on. Usually they are all over the floor of his room! All his clothes go in his dresser. Anyway, I know I'm not much help but I can certainly empathize with you!


Anonymous said...

Hi! Found your blog through Notes from a Cottage Industry and wonder you how solved your living room design dilemmas! I will definitely read more of your archives...just LOVE your writing style...but a quick route to the related posts in the interim would be appreciated muchly! Thanks and best wishes!

Dixie Redmond said...

Hi, Anonymous! I am still working on this. We're ditching the furniture above and buying a new sofa. I'm working on being more organized in all kinds of ways, including blog writing. So will try to label these posts better. In the meantime I created a whole blog for my house so I can document progress made...

Dixie Redmond said...

And also THANK YOU to all of you who offered suggestions. They have been saved and I am loving the ideas.

"Do not let what you cannot do
keep you from doing what you can do."

John Wooden