living room- before & after

As most of you know, the USG generously provides our housing and its furnishings at the majority of posts across the globe. We are allowed to ship a certain weight allowance of our own things based on family size. In a post like Luanda where daily movement is restricted and options for weekend exploration are limited, creating a comfy, clean and colorful home is paramount to one’s happiness.  We were told by others to bring small items (lamps, side tables, rugs, art, tchotchkes, etc) to personalize and in doing so, rid the space of that predictable ‘foreign service look” that we all know and love. I hope to post more entries from other rooms in our house as I complete them, but since decorating activity is dictated by nap time windows, it’s just the living room for now.

The below “before” shot could have been taken at any number of foreign service homes around the world: standard issue Drexel Heritage sofa with brown lacquered side and coffee tables, brass lamps with dusty pleated white shades, and creamy white walls.  I began by having the warehouse guys haul away as much as possible. They have a tendency to pack these places to the gills.

First on the agenda was to address the sofas. The color combo wasn’t doing favors for anyone but the dirt it was clearly designed to camouflage. That strong pattern insisted that I wouldn’t be able to solve this problem by simply tossing on a couple of fresh throw pillows. I’d have preferred to make slipcovers myself to get exactly what I was looking for, but since fabrics here are limited to African prints, I decided that might be a bit much. Plus I’d already replaced the dark brown curtains (in this next photo which is on the opposite side of the living room) with some more airy and casual fabric I found here in Luanda.
After consulting the facebook “foreign service blogger” group, I was pointed in the direction of these slipcovers from IKEA. They come in many different colors, patterns and price points. Of course the ones I decided on were on the pricier end, but what a difference! The key is that they are multiple pieces, a separate cover for every cushion. I am amazed at how well they fit, pretty close to tailor made.The second order of business was greenery. I’ve always had a lush collection of houseplants, our home felt so sterile without them. I had found a lovely fern at the grocery store a while back, but I wasn’t willing to part with the $90 it was commanding to join us. In the end, I dug some spiky snake plants from our yard and transplanted them into containers we dragged along. I also nip branches from the scraggly front yard for other green little flourishes.

The photo wall was a project I’ve always wanted to tackle, even more so now that we’re far away. I found this frame set, which shipped hassle-free through the diplomatic pouch. Our walls are concrete so hanging things requires a work order and workmen with a masonry bit. Since the fish to fry in the Luanda housing pool are WAY bigger than my decorating issues, I opted to use these sticky 3m strips to hang everything in place. They’ve worked great so far. Nothing has come crashing down. Of course there are loads of other things I’d like to tweak, but for now this will do. I never really feel like I’m “done” decorating, do you? There will always be fresh temptations and treasures to add and edit. And God willing, plenty of safe and snuggly places to nap. 

27 thoughts on “living room- before & after

    1. my husband and I both read this and said in unison, “why not??” Talk about a missed opportunity. So sorry! We’ve been on the look out for an armadillo. Got any leads?

  1. Love the slipcover!!! What a difference it made for the whole room! Also love the pillow with felted hearts~never realized the felting process even existed. Everything looks so warm and inviting.My hat is really off to you in being able to accomplish such a polished look without so much as a trip to the mall!!! Of course my very favorite touch is little SweetiePie fast asleep and cozy on her Mongolian lamb throw! LYTP xoxo

  2. Excellent job! And I love the coffee table! It reminds me of one my mom had growing up. She bought it for like a dollar at an auction and then refurbished it. It was a farm contraption… a think where baby chicks lived. I wish I had time to do stuff like that! Adds so much character…

    1. that’s interesting. we actually bought this one in DC from a restoration guy who sold stuff at Eastern Market on the weekends. I was torn between this one and a restored industrial cart. Glad I went with this one, more versatility. I would be interested to know if it is some old farm implement. Definitely ups the cool quotient.

  3. I just moved to Luanda a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been checking in on your blog every now and again to get some insight on what I could expect. I’m in a hotel waiting for my new apartment to be ready, it’s happening at a glacial (or African) pace. It’s a brand new apartment and will either be furnished by the vendor or my company. I’m sure it will look more like your before pics rather than your after pics. I’ve got a few nick knacks in my air freight consignment coming from London (11 weeks and counting, slowest plane ever!). Hoping to make my new place less institutional and more cosy.

    1. welcome to Luanda! Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. I don’t know the city that well- but if you haven’t heard of the Angolan Field Group and third Thursday nights at the Viking Club- google it. Expats commiserating and blowing off steam. Good luck settling in.

      1. Thanks,

        I’m five weeks in and still in the hotel with no house or apartment on the horizon. I’m going to end up either crazy with frustration or a Zen Master.

  4. I think everyone should include dozens of packets of those velcro strip hanger things in their UAB. I certainly plan too!
    The room looks beautiful. I plan to fly you in to Moscow to do up my house.

  5. That’s a very cool spider-monkey looking handicraft near the bat. Is that a type of folk art? I think it really makes it work …

  6. You are a domestic goddess. As soon as we get to Havana (and get our stuff) I will be consulting you. Good tips and links here. Thanks!

    1. Melissa- I would totally do a house call consultation to Cuba! There may even be direct flights from Luanda…when do you guys get there?

  7. Amazing transformation. There is nothing like that thud that I experience somewhere in a hollow part of my chest when I first gaze onto a new Foreign Service room that looks exactly like your before picture. Now I really want me some Ikea slipcovers.

    But more than that, I enjoyed reading your other posts. Why have I not done so earlier? I always find that the first year I feel isolated no matter how good a place it is–of course, doing it with babies intensifies all these emotions. trust me, i know. But then, by year 1, you are totally into a grove. you’ll have a mommy group by then and forget there were even days without one. By year two, I feel like a local. By year 3, I’m usually ready to go. But boy do I hear you on the bittersweet-ness of some posts–adventure, intense, and also how the *!# did I end up here sensation. For me, getting the nest set up is a big part of making it really my home. And you, certainly are on your way. Kudos to you.

  8. I can’t believe this is an FS home! You have done such a wonderful job! What a cozy nest you created for your family. Just love it. Now, off to contemplate my living room. Thank you for the inspiration!

  9. You are one talented chick – making chicken salad out of chicken shit I think is the expression! I’m working on a tiki bar themed patio up here – “surf Lake Erie” is huge in Canada so we’re stealing a little Canadian schtick. (Do they do that on Lake Michigan too?) Kind of a 50’s / don’t-I-look-fabulous-in-my-swim-dress / Doris Day look. A couple stuffed fish would work better than the awesome bat – I don’t think I could crash on the couch with the bat on the wall… Wish you could come over for a creative juices consult!

    1. I wish I could too Jen!! Not now of course- with the blustery NY winter- but I would love to sip fruity cocktails and let our imaginations run wild. Of course I just happen to have the Perfect Dress! I am calling you soon though I think I may only have Richard’s cell #. Hope you all are well. xo

  10. Oh my lands Eve, you would never in a million years know it was the same space. You are VERY talented. The picture wall is beautiful.

    I have some things to send you and don’t have an address. Can you email in facebook?

    Thinking of you guys.


  11. you’ve done it, you’ve made a foreign service house look like a stylish real house! So, so, so hard to do! And the little bushbaby snoozing on the couch is the most perfect adornment for the whole room I think! 🙂

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