Jazzing up your living room doesn't have to leave you penniless. Try these low-cost ideas.
After:Inspired by the Asian-print fabric used throughout the room, red accents complement the soft sage walls.
| Credit: Jean Allsopp / Styling Mary Leigh Fitts

It's amazing how far fresh paint, a few yards of fabric, and some smart ideas will go to spruce up a room. Before we went to work on this living room, dark-stained wood and bland walls dated the dreary space. Leave it to Assistant Projects Editor Mary Leigh Fitts to prove that high style doesn't have to cost a fortune.

First Stop: The Fabric Shop
Because the dark wood above the fireplace seemed to take over the space, Mary Leigh suggested using fabric there to soften the look and make the room more colorful and cozy. The homeowners' furniture had neutral upholstery, providing a clean palette to build on. For visual impact, they decided on an Asian print that offers the bright, bold pattern the room lacked.

Putting It Together
The couple removed center pieces from the paneling to make room for the new upholstered ones. They carefully measured the recessed areas and created frames by nailing together 2-inch-wide wood trim pieces. Next, layers of batting were wrapped around the frames. Finally, the decorative fabric was stretched across the front of the frames and secured to the backs with a staple gun.

The panels attach to the wall with self-fastening strips (available at sewing and craft-supply stores) that are placed on the backs of the panels and inside the recessed areas on the wall. The panels can easily be removed as the homeowners' tastes change or if the fabric needs cleaning.

Mary Leigh used the fabric to determine the sage green wall color as well as the living room's overall theme. Red Asian accents fill the space, perfectly complementing the green walls. Inexpensive oxblood vases accessorize the bookcases. Mary Leigh also replaced plain-Jane shades on the swing-arm lamps with ones that have more personality. A red, woven rug anchors the room.

Center Stage
When dealing with a bold pattern such as this one, it's best to use it throughout the room to get the print's full effect. Try incorporating the fabric as custom Roman shades and accent pillows, like these homeowners did, or as drapery panels. The most visible place, however, is above the fireplace, where you see the entire print.

Fast Fix-up
After updating the mantel area, they focused on the fireplace. The brick surround was painted the same color as the walls for a unified look.

A trip to a stone shop proved profitable for this couple. The tired terra-cotta tile hearth was removed and replaced with travertine marble. After the tiles were tossed, a large piece of kraft paper was used to make a template of the area. It is important to note the precise measurements directly on the template; an 1/8-inch difference can affect the fit. The couple found a marble remnant and had it cut into three pieces for easy installation. Working with a remnant allowed the couple to use a more expensive product on a budget. Once in place, the marble was secured with grout. (Hint: Use a grout that's the same color as the stone for a seamless look.)

The final accessory is really more like artwork. Commissioned by the homeowners, a local artist designed and crafted a new, oversize iron fire screen that was inspired by bamboo.

Media Center Smarts
Narrow bookcases left no space for electronic equipment, so a carpenter made a triangular base that rests on the floor. The front panel, which conceals a DVD player, looks like a continuation of the baseboards.

"Drab to Fab" is from the July 2004 issue of Southern Living.