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Behind the Scenes of Our October Home Renovation

Designer and blogger Jen O'Brien pairs vintage Better Homes & Gardens inspiration with a modern, beachy aesthetic to create a cozy space for a Long Island family.

When designer and blogger Jen O'Brien pitched the idea of doing a deserving homeowner makeover to the Better Homes & Gardens editors, they loved the idea from the get-go. Together with volunteers from Rebuilding Together, a national organization that helps homeowners in need, Jen redecorated Karen Intorcia's Long Island home, which she shares with her four-year-old grandson, Liam. Jen wanted to make the space "pretty, peaceful, and family-friendly," and drew inspiration from old issues of BH&G. Fresh paint, built-ins with modern lines and hardware, new furniture and pillows, and a color palette of raspberry and beloved blues transformed this space into a bright, coastal home. Here, we get a behind-the-scenes take on how this pretty space came together.

Let's talk about how you approached the makeover once you received details about Karen and her home. What was your design process like? What was your vision for the space?

I was pinning a lot of ideas. I wanted it to reflect Better Homes & Gardens in that colorful sense. I set up a meeting with Rebuilding Together Long Island crew lead Robert Harper and Karen Intorcia, the homeowner. She gave me her design folder, and it had years and years' worth of pullouts from magazines that had the same feel. She had traditional, warm woods; linens; blues—her look was very much coastal style—and she told me, "I'm a very simple person, and I'm drawn to light and bright spaces."

Based on our conversation, I came up with something that was a little bit coastal and had a lot of texture and warmth. And I brought in a bohemian feel with fabrics. From there, I pulled together a design plan with some color. Once I realized it was one open space, I tried to bring in color that would stand out. Sometimes wall color can be tricky when you go bold, so I went white with the walls and then used pops of color throughout.

What did Karen ask for?

Karen told me that she hoped for a dining table she could fit her family around. Because the space is a perfect square, I decided that a 60-inch round table suited the space. Karen also likes the light, coastal feel. The light walls lend themselves to this modern cottage-y, coastal space.

Why did you choose the big ocean print in the dining room?

The ocean print is from Minted, and it's actually something I found before I met Karen or saw her space. After we talked, I knew it had to be in there—the picture acts like a mural because it's so large, and it really took on the feel of the room.

What gave you the idea for the built-in?

When I met with crew lead Robert Harper that first day, I had no idea I'd see the perfect area for a built-in. But I wanted a focal point for the room, and I know what it's like to have small children—I knew Karen would really value the storage. I put in Liam's books so they're accessible; there's Jenga in a glass jar and lots of boxes to hide toys.

What's the story behind the little wooden toolbox under the coffee table?

Liam really gravitated toward Robert Harper and his personality and love for children. I saw the little toolbox at IKEA and thought it was the perfect item to put Liam's toys in. I know with my boys, as much as you want to conceal toys, it's so nice and easy to have something under the table that you can throw the Legos, dinosaurs, and cars in.

How did you come up with the idea for the custom window treatments?

It can be hard to find custom-look drapes, so I was thrilled to see this beautiful indigo fabric on Fabric.com. The drapery fabric is a linen blend, so I could give Karen the casual feel and texture she craved. The botanical leaf print that's a little bit abstract works perfectly—it's a nice pop of color.

The rods from Lowe's are spray-painted gold to mimic the look of West Elm drapery rods for a fraction of the cost. I worked with custom drapes ages ago, and you must have a good rod. We paired 3/4-inch dowels with black brackets and spray-painted both for an extremely functional and high-end DIY. They're also more supportive, because they aren't hollow rods. I'm so pleased with the way they turned out!

Can you tell us a little more about the furniture and lighting choices in the room?

Because the room is rather small and narrow, I kept furniture low and lighting see-through. And I knew I wanted contrast and warmth. That's kind of my aesthetic: fancy and casual, modern and rustic, so it's a look all its own.

The chandelier is modern and circular. I wanted to be able to see through to the artwork on the wall. After choosing the chandelier came the sconces, which are clean and modern with cone shades—fluid where it's all one metal.

To keep things warm and cohesive, I kept most of the hardware and lighting in brass. We took brass over to the floor lamp and the hardware on the windows as well to throw in bolder choices. We also have some black accents with bench legs, planters, and the hardware on the barn door, and we added a black piece of art and accessories in the built-ins.

We wanted to experiment with various textures too. For the living room, I tried to balance wood textures in the built-ins with the metal.


Thank you, Jen!


Learn more about Jen and her DIY projects, thrifty decorating solutions, food inspiration, and moments as a mother on her blog, City Farmhouse.