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Jill’s surprise makeover: the plan

Two hours of pushing with no medications, not so much as a tylenol: that’s how my firstborn came into the world. He looked like a grumpy old man with pointy elf ears, and dang if I didn’t want another one almost immediately after. I forgot the puking-with-every-contraction part of labor, and felt myself romanced and whisked away by the tightly-curled baby fists and milk-drunk baby sleep faces.
Room makeovers are basically the same thing. Except at no point should you be pushing eight pounds of anything out of your ladyparts.

But still: you forget the hard work, because the end result is delightful.

Right about this time last year, a few friends and I went in on a surprise makeover for a mutual friend. We had one week and about $200 to pull it off, and you can see the before-and-after here.

It was exhausting and addicting, and when Erin asked me if I wanted to do it again, I said yes so hard and so fast. We weren’t planning on making over a room: this one just happened.

This is our mutual friend Jill and her (gorgeous) family.
They live in the house where her hubby grew up, but they’re renting it from his mom, so they haven’t wanted to invest the time or energy in really making it their own. They’re a busy family – probably just like yours – and the thought of tackling their living room felt a little overwhelming, plus they weren’t sure how long they’d be in this house, so they just… lived with it.

Jill talked all the time about the changes she would make if they had the time or budget… and Erin and I just steepled our fingers in a Finger Pyramid of Evil Contemplation and said “Eeeexcellent,” taking notes of all her preferences so we could surprise her with a makeover while they were out of town.

This is their living room:
These are the things Jill never loved about it:
1. It’s DARK. Like, really, really dark. There’s just that one tiny window and a door with a small window for natural light. All the trim is grolive (a word Erin and I invented for gray-olive) and the dark orange-wood bookcases and stone wall just contributed to the cave-like quality.
2. The layout is TOUGH. Right now there’s just the one sofa, with a distant recliner in the far corner. It looks like this:
The room is long and skinny with a million doors and pass-throughs. Total head-scratcher for Erin and me on how to lay it out better! As it was, if they had company coming over, one person sat on the sofa, one person sat on the recliner in the far corner, one person sat on the fireplace hearth and one person sat on the floor. Basically impossible to have a real conversation.

Ready for our devilish scheme?

The challenge:

Completely make over this room with new furniture and new everything, for under $500, in one week, without Jill suspecting a thing.

We originally thought we had about a month to plan before Jill’s family was going out of town for a few days. But then at the last minute, we realized they were leaving for a different trip and would be gone for a week, so we’d have more time to execute the plan. However, they were leaving the next day. And we’d have one week to do everything: the shopping, the painting, the projects, everything.

*Nervous gulp.*

The process:

1. Analyze Jill’s style.
Obviously we wanted to make a room that Jill would love, so it’s not about Erin’s style or mine. You can see how we analyzed Carrie’s style – and how you can do this for yourself – in this post.

Jill’s pinterest boards were a big help. Her style skews pretty traditional/transitional, and she loves blues and neutrals. Here are a few rooms she had pinned:

Favorite Paint Colors blog

Atlanta Homes Mag


That’s just a small sample, but the girl is consistent: soft blues, neutrals, traditional furniture. Makes it easy for us!

2. Find a better layout
We’ll talk about this in the next post, but we just couldn’t leave the room this way: it didn’t function for them. I don’t care how pretty a room is if it doesn’t work for the people who live there. Finding a more functional layout was a major priority for us.

3. Create a design plan
Did I mention we had one tiny week and $500 itty, bitty dollars? We had to use what we could find on a rush, in a week. So here’s the design plan.

The plan

The lead fabric
Remember in this post when we talked about the major mistake to avoid when you’re redoing a room, and how starting with a lead fabric will solve all your problems, fix your life and help you lose ten pounds? Meet our lead fabric:
Neutral bird fabric
Erin found several yards of that at a yard sale. For $3. MAJOR score. It looks just like the bird fabric in Jill’s inspiration photo above, and it has all the blue/grays and neutrals that she loves, with a nice transitional bent. (I have no idea what that fabric is called or who makes it! Anyone know?) (UPDATE: Thanks, Liz! It’s Heritage House Windsong fabric, which runs $30/yard. Win!)

We also liked that the birds are a little more saturated in color, so to keep everything feeling updated and fresh, we decided to bring in some graphic blacks and whites with teals and that beautiful rust color.

Here was our rough working plan:
Transitional living room design plan
Jill’s husband and her mother-in-law (who owns the house) were privy to the plan, so we knew we had carte blanche permission to change anything, including painting the bookshelves. The only restraint? One week and $500.

Did I mention we only had a week?

And $500?

And needed all new furniture?

NO PROBLEM! *nervous laughter.* *runs and hides in a hole.*

Stay tuned for all the details! What do you think — could you do a whole room in a week? It seems easier when it’s someone else’s house for some reason. Said the girl who’s on Year Six of making over our house.

Let's connect


  1. AH!! Was reading through sure I was going to get an after pic. You naughty little tease! The plan looks lovely, can’t wait to see it all finished 🙂

  2. I love these super-top-secret missions of surprising a friend with a room makeover. They make me so happy inside.

  3. ooooh–my living room is loooong and skinny with doorways on 3 of the 4 walls, and not much natural light. I’m excited to see how you tackle it. I LOVE that garage sale fabric.

  4. So, I’m going out of town next week. Just saying. 😉

    Love this – can’t wait to see it all come together!

  5. This is so exciting!! I sure hope you’ll post the reveal before the week is up. I’m finally going on a week long vacation for the first time in 11 years and don’t want to miss it! The reveal I mean, not the trip.

  6. Love it! I so know you can pull this off at $500

  7. I have full confidence that the two of you can pull this off and I am SO excited to see it 🙂 Great plan! I can’t wait to see how you solve the floor plan 🙂

  8. I am now left with that ‘waiting for exam results’ feeling from now till The Reveal. TEASE does not even cover it.

  9. I love that you do this! I can’t wait to see the reveal. :]

  10. Accckkkk! I’m hanging here! 😉 How fun and exciting and I can’t wait to see the progress. You all are so great for doing this for your friends.

  11. HAHAHA.. you got me. I was reading fast and scrolling down for the reveal. Now I am intrigued indeed. Can’t wait….

  12. You know, I never thought to equate these crazy flash makeovers with childbirth, but you’re right. Down to the “I’ll never do THAT again!” that lasts approximately 8.35 seconds before you’re researching baby names again (or stalking friends’ Pinterest boards.)

  13. Love that you’re doing another flash mob makeover! This is gonna be good.

  14. I was really looking forward to the ending! Are you done with the makeover but just haven’t posted it? Because if you aren’t, aren’t you worried she might see this? But also, if you aren’t done, how come you are adding coral? She doesn’t have anything like that in her pinned photos. I would like the coral and think it is good design, but like you said, it’s for Jill.

  15. I started out laughing out loud then ended cringing- one week to finish a room!!! I have started off every room saying “this will take me the weekend” and 6 months later I’m still working on it… Good luck can’t wait to see what happens!

  16. what a challenging space. looking forward to seeing what you did with it.

  17. i always love your room makeovers! can’t wait to see this!

  18. Can’t wait to read more about this and see how it turns out! It gives me hope that I can re-do a room in our house on a budget 🙂

  19. Very similar to my den layout! Wished I’d seen this post before I started to redecorate! Looking forward to seeing the redo! 😀

  20. What a score that fabric was! It’s Heritage House “Windsong Ivory”, and it generally runs about $30/yard!

    It’s gorgeous and I can’t wait to see what y’all do with it.

  21. PS: Might also be the “parchment” colorway of the Windsong fabric, my bad. 🙂

  22. YOU HAVE ME TOTALLY INTRIGUED! I can’t wait to see what you guys came up with….hurry up already, ok?!

  23. Ashley Marzka says:

    My turn! My turn! We have a tricky space that needs some purpose & color in our loft! I’ll provide however much money you want and you can have as much time as you need! Actually, why don’t you just move in for the rest of the summer and enjoy all Grand Haven has to offer with me 🙂 Did I mention there’s a nail salon right downstairs in our building and a dessert shop across the parking lot?! xo – miss you!

  24. So exciting! What a dream come true for both of you!

  25. So exciting. Can’t wait to see what you come up with. Love the fabric!

  26. YES! I’m crazy excited! I remember the other one you did and this will be AMAZING. Aaaaaah!

  27. I have just started following your blog and I love it! Can’t wait for the reveal of your friends room. I am planning on doing a lot of changes to our home once the kiddos go back to school and your blog has been wonderful inspiration for me. Thanks so much! P.S. I love that you paid off your house and do Dave Ramsey. He is super great.

  28. I am SO excited to see the reveal!!

  29. Looks like so much fun and such a challenge all at once! Can’t wait to see the result. I’d love a week to makeover any room in my house or a friend’s. And I think it can be done as long as you don’t mind long hours and have sheer determination. All I lack is the time factor!

  30. Caitlin L. says:

    So much fun! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!!

  31. teddymom says:

    Such great friends you are! Wonderful idea. I love the rooms that Jill posted that you’re referencing – but they all seem very LOW contrast, while your room plan has quite a bit of HIGH contrast items (coral/orange and black&white). I love pops of color in a monochromatic room, but Jill may not, in view of her posted pictures. Just an idea for you to consider.

  32. Kristina Heidel says:

    i can’t wait to see the after! this is better than “who shot JR?” i’m dating myself. 😉

  33. Linda C. says:

    Can’t wait to see the progress!! That space plan is going to be a tough one!

  34. Did you want any input about layout? Here is my thought, two couches flanking the fireplace (Perpendicular to the fireplace, parallel to each other) with a coffee table in between. This makes the fireplace the focal point like it should be and people can also sit on the hearth. The traffic from the door would go be going around the seating arrangement along the wall there. Maybe it’s not wide enough of a room so it might technically require a low couch in front of the window and a loveseat across from it. In the corner with the chair, there should be a separate arrangement, 2 chairs- one on each wall with a round end table between them in the corner.

  35. Can we be friends? I’d love a surprise makeover.

    Just kidding. Mostly.

    But seriously… love the plan! Can’t wait to see how it comes together!

  36. OMG! I have been drooling over this fabric for a month now… It’s available at the Online fabric Store and the pattern is Windsong Ivory by Heritage House. and that PRICE of $3 a yard is UNBELIEVABLY CHEAP! I am jealous…. and looking forward to this transformation…. HURRY UP AND SHOW US!! 🙂

  37. That’s quite the task, but I know you can pull it off. I hope your friends know how lucky they are to have such a generous {and crafty} friend like you!

  38. I love this! So glad you’re doing it again! I’m intimidated by the budget, the time, and everything!! I know you can pull it off! Can’t wait to see!

  39. I would love to do this! Must find a friend. I mean, I have friends. But you know. Will be fun to see how you pull it off. 🙂

    Two different people have asked me in the last month HOW on EARTH I figured out how to decorate my house. (I blame BHG for people thinking I know what I am doing.) They both were like, “I painted, and now I’m stuck!!” Thought of you and your STEP AWAY FROM THE PAINT CHIPS advice, then advised them on things like lead fabrics. 😉

  40. OMG YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME HANGING! I was so sure there’d be a “tadaaaa end result” at the end of the post (ok, the title says ‘the plan’ but who reads titles anyway? I don’t) that now I’m left with a massive cliffhanger! I.can’t.wait. Btw you’re welcome any time to revamp my house, I live in Brussels, Belgium, it’d be such a nice trip for you, right?… right? 😀

  41. Don’t make us wait too long, eeeeeeek!

  42. She deserves it, as well as the rest of the family!!!!!

  43. Can’t wait to see how this turns out. Your friends are super lucky!


  1. […] excited to show you guys Jill’s flash-mob surprise makeover results! But I thought we’d start with a little chat about how we handled her room […]

  2. […] and couldn’t get off the couch the day of the painting party Erin and I had organized for Jill’s surprise makeover. It was awful: flu-like symptoms, topped with massive waves of guilt for being […]

  3. […] here’s what happened. First we analyzed Jill’s style (without her even knowing! Is that creepy?) and figured out what we thought she’d […]

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