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  • Writer's pictureJackie Singley

Family Room Decorating Challenge

We have a finished family room in our basement. Pros: it's a big space, gets decent light, and has access directly to the driveway. Cons: it has wood paneling, old glued on fiber ceiling tiles, and a Vermont slate tile floor. So it looks very dated.

And while clearly the best thing to do would be to demo the floor, ceiling, and walls, I didn't want to spend extra money on this space when every bathroom in the house and the kitchen need complete remodels. So I found myself with a decorating challenge on my hands. How could I style this room and make it current without changing the foundation of the room? Was that even possible? I was committed to trying.

Before photos

Here are two before photos of the space (more below).

These really show how dated the space looked. Without replacing the walls, floor, or ceiling, I would be totally reliant on furnishings and accessories to freshen up the room. A part of me doubted this would be possible.

Planning the space

Function and layout

Eventually, this family room will be a great space for our boys to host their friends and hang out. Given the size of the space, I wanted to continue to delineate two spaces. I wanted to keep a lounge area and an eating/game area.

I knew I would incorporate the table my parents handed down to us since it was in good shape and would save some money. The chairs however were very dated so I would donate them.

An old table and chairs

I also had an unfinished wood armoire that I planned to keep in the space for storage and a TV. I would position it as a bridge in between the two spaces so it was viewable comfortably from both the lounge area and table.

An large unfinished armoire

Wood paneling decision

I really struggled trying to decide whether to paint the paneling or not. I didn't feel good about painting the walls because it's not sheets of paneling. It's real wood and in great shape. Once you paint, you can't go back. On the other hand, almost every article or blog I've read says you should paint wood paneling.

Because the room gets decent light and isn't overly dark, I didn't think I needed to paint it to lighten up the space. But then again, I was concerned there could be too many types of wood mixing in the space (the walls, the table, the armoire) which made me want to paint the paneling.

In the end, I decided to put the room together without painting the paneling to see how I liked it. I feel like I'm in the minority on this, but I wanted to give it a go.


I needed a new sofa obviously. My Brother and Sister-in-law were getting rid of this one when we moved in, so it was temporary.

An old green plaid sofa

A rug, sofa, window coverings, and new ceiling lights were on my shopping list. The sofa would be my biggest ticket item in the room. But what style and color had me stumped.

Color pallet

I needed to go with a solid color for the sofa and rug. The floor was staying and it is a very busy pattern and multi-color. I couldn't go with white. The thought of teen boys hanging out with super light furniture in the future horrified me. Cream was out for the same reason. I needed something cool to counteract the heavy warm tones of the walls. I wanted the floor to essentially disappear, so I didn't want to pick up any of those colors. I landed on a heather grey.

For accents and accessorizing I decided on blues. More specifically, navy and peacock blue. I thought blues could also help cool down the space. An important note here is to think about undertones if you'll be using existing furniture or fixtures in a space when decorating. In this case, the floor reads green, but there is a strong blue undertone (and some of the tiles are navy) so this is another reason blue accents work well in the space.


This was the hardest part to figure out. I like transitional design. I'm drawn to a tailored, clean, fresh look. But I didn't see how this would be possible given the walls and floor were staying. Given it is a basement family room, I knew I could go a bit more casual so that worked in my favor. But the challenge was it had to look like a room that belonged with the rest of the house. After much mental debate I decided to go with a "Southwestern-lite" look.

Every room needs some black in it and I thought this would allow me to incorporate some darker accents in textiles, furniture, and accessories. For example, I placed a table runner over the top of the armoire to break up the wood and bring in a little texture.

A unique way to use a table runner

I found blue jewel tone and navy accents played well together with the black accents and coffee table (another hand me down). Never be afraid to mix blues and blacks. It's a favorite of mine and can be very pleasing to the eye.

Finally, to help give the room some continuity with the rest of the house, I decided to work in some gold accents.

Time to shop

I bought the sofa first. I purchased it from a home decor and design store called Homestead in Princeton, New Jersey. I decided to do a right facing chaise because there would still be plenty of room to move easily between the two sides of the room. I thought it would also help avoid the "all your furniture pushed up against the walls" look.

I didn't want a traditional style sofa. I wanted something transitional, but casual, and because of all the hard lines in the room (vertical panels, rectangle tiles) I had to make sure the arms weren't too squared off.

The rug came from World Market. Unfortunately, I can't find it on their website but it is a heather grey wool rug. Here are some similar options:

I picked up the floor lamp from OfferUp for $20.00. This was a great find because it brought in some gold and lamps like these go for significantly more retail.

Styled bookcase and gold floor lamp

I found the dry sink on Craigslist. This was an unplanned purchase. I spent $30.00 on it. I just thought it was so neat. When I found out it was handmade by the seller's father, it made me love it more. I decided to position it near the table, by the exterior door. I use the drawers and cabinets to store extra planters, seeds, and gardening tools. If my son and friends want to hang and play games at the table, the sink could be used in a more traditional sense as a counter for snacks or drinks.

Ironically, it was built using the same paneling as our walls. There was no way I could keep the wood finish because there was already too much brown in the room, so I painted it using chalk paint. Then I swapped out the wooden knobs for some funky gold and black ones from Nordstrom.

Window coverings

I went with natural woven shades from Smith and Nobel. Here is a link to the exact color I selected. Most of the window dressings throughout my house are from Smith and Nobel.

Natural woven shades and succulent


I don't have much art in the room. I wasn't sure if it was better to try to cover up as much of the wood as possible or leave more negative space.

The picture above the sofa is an upcycle. I spray painted the frame gold. I ordered the image from an Etsy shop and replaced the existing photo. I would link to the Etsy shop but unfortunately, it is no longer active. Here is another art upcycle I did using another Etsy seller. If you have hold frames, you could source any photo you like for an easy upcycle.

New grey sofa, art, and lamp

The fifth wall

Now it was time to deal with the ceiling. I decided to give the tiles a coat of white ceiling paint. They had never been painted and the paint just freshened them up. It was really my only option if I wanted to do anything to the ceiling.

The ceiling lights were tricky. I had to go with flush mount lights because the existing cans were big and square (very weird!). I had to find lights that were wide enough to cover the existing openings, but not too deep given the ceiling height. I think the original lights were some sort of commercial can lights and never meant to be used in a home. The situation really limited the light options available to me, but I'm much happier with the new lights. Here is a before and after of the lights.

The reveal

Here are a few photos of the space now.

I'm going to live with it for a while and see how I feel about the space. One thing that drove me crazy was the grout. No amount of scrubbing would get it clean so now I'm looking into options to paint it.

What do you think? Now that you've seen the room updated, would you paint the walls? Add more artwork? I would love some feedback and additional recommendations.

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