Editor’s note: This Milwaukee couple has taken on their second home renovation project, dubbed the “Midwest Malibu Cottage,” and has invited us along for the ride! Stay tuned for all those ups, downs and delicious before + afters! Check out the first installment here.

Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine.

We have crossed a finish line here at our Midwest Malibu Cottage and are ready to pull the covers off our first completed project, our Living Room! For the past few weeks we have discussed our material and finish selections, how we updated our fireplace and added wall treatments, and added function to this 435-square-foot space, hopefully giving enough color around where we were going and the path we took to get there so that these final, comprehensive shots all make sense. While we thought this process would take us six weeks to complete, it’s actually been about six months, not of constant work, but honestly there have been a lot of surprises elsewhere on the property that have captured our attention like frozen sewage lines, 70-year-old clogged drain lines, hundreds of trees that had never been cared for, and an invasive plant species found to be killing said trees (which is an ongoing eradication process), and just generally settling into a new place. We could not have factored for these unknowns, and owning/caring for this place isn’t our career, but it feels like we’re standing tall now. Putting a bow on this centerpiece room gives us a win we needed and honestly fuels us to keep moving on—we’ve still got eight more projects just at the interior of this place!

Our first steps into this house during that fateful, time-wasting open house were into this room. We’ve been thinking back on that first visit, when the light was so abundant in this space, where we envisioned the orange room instead as a bright, cool refuge, and we knew right away the formula to apply here. The idea of an airy, informal living space, with lots of exposure to the incredible landscape, was a key factor in our willingness to start all over again with a new house. For us, this project was a key component in making it all worthwhile. What we’ve executed here is pretty darn close to the vision we had that day, and we sit here now in the balmy green of mid-Summer, content with what we’ve achieved.

In our past, there have been some projects that we’ve had to explore our way through, allowing things to unfold organically, but this is one of those rare projects that we were able to just put our heads down and make it happen. Okay, we’ve been grandstanding like an opening act taking forever to come on stage—let’s take a look at things!

The Reveal

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

This room gives us major Summer vibes and we have carefully chosen the parts and pieces in here so that, in the dead of winter, we can keep that warm, sun-fueled energy alive. From our green plants to our favorite framed ocean-scape print, we have made decisions that support our quest for it to be Summer all year in this room.

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

We’d like to pause for a minute to bring up a mounting anti-white trend in interiors, just to say, so what? It seems to us that white’s recent popularity has helped people see that architectural details and curated pieces contribute to the sense of a place rather than resting on colored walls to do all the talking. We’ve utilized white to dress a neutral foundation, which allows us to play certain pieces off of one another, and with the space itself being neutral, we can easily take this room in any direction in the future with just a switch-out of furnishings. This is what works for us, and we are happy and proud.

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

In our previous home, we stuck to a pretty strict black/white motif, which we loved and still adhere to, but something concerning has happened to us in which we’ve been embracing blush tones—and we are not talking Millennial Pink, okay?—which seem to be giving us some warmth that we’ve been missing. We love the very slight hits of red, rust, peach, and pink that are sneaking around in here, and think they might even get invited into other rooms as we move along. We recognize that our tastes are evolving, which reinforces to us that our architectural decisions need to remain focused on fostering flexibility.

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

Our love for black and white is still not over, though! Confession: we have quite a pillow collection and can’t stop ourselves from buying more and more. Black and white pillows are something of a mission in life for us, and fortunately we’ve delivered several opportunities to bring out some of our favorite friends.

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

It is important to us to connect back to our Californian heritage, which for us has a lot to do with organic colors and textures, which we attempt to exhibit in framed imagery and Andrew’s (ever-expanding) plant collection. And, side note, know that every plant in this room was parked in every possible position while we did the load-in of our junk. Getting the plants in the right places was perhaps the most intense component here, something Andrew took very seriously and was not going to compromise! We continue our fascination with types of white marble, as a means of tempering with some cool surfaces here and there.

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

Learnings/What We’d Do Differently

At the completion of any creative project there is going to be that moment where you step back and recognize some things that just didn’t hit the mark, and there are definitely some of those moments here. If we had to do this all over, we would be looking at the following:

    1. Entryway flooring: We wish we would have thought far enough ahead to establish a moment at the front door where we could have integrated some resilient flooring. It would have been difficult to find a way to lay it out so it was architecturally relevant (which is why we didn’t do it), but it would have removed the threat we’ll forever face here of the wood floor getting damaged by wet foot traffic.

    2. Recessed lighting: There are a couple of recessed lights with which we mis-calculated the distance away from the wall (at the workspace niche), or we didn’t think about positioning (at the fireplace one of the lights is too close to an adjacent beam and leaves a bright scallop of light). We’ve learned our lesson like the plot of an 80’s teen movie and will make sure this doesn’t happen in subsequent projects.

Even within the styling of the room as we moved in and photographed for this reveal, we now see some areas that we’ll be working to adjust. It’s clear to us now that we were really excited to have our first room to play with in this house and may have gone a little crazy filling it up with treasures that have been boxed up for months. But accessories are provisional, and we expect that some things will find better homes in other spaces as we complete other projects here, that we are still settling into how we’ll live life in this room, and that our style will simply evolve over time. This is why we believe in creating architecturally neutral spaces, so that the objects and life within are the centerpiece and allow for evolution.

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

What we do not regret is the decision to call for assistance in completing some of the work here. Making the investments in hiring tradespeople, while expensive and not-budgeted-for, made a huge difference in keeping things moving for us. Had we not hired a painter, who knows how much longer this project would’ve taken, and who knows what the state of our relationship would be right now. Painting, for us, is one of those types of work that just really… presents challenges. And the assistance of an electrician to execute the actual wiring of our new recessed lighting is just the right thing to have done for the safety of the house itself. Essentially we have, over time, learned our boundaries and come to accept that we’re going to have to pay out of pocket to overcome them.

And while we’re writing our own report card, we think it’s fair to look back on where we started and compare our initial ideas to the final product:

So there you have it! Our first beachy room with Wisconsin views is on the books, and we are tickled …dare we say… pink! (Get it? We surprised ourselves allowing pink tones in the room? Bueller?) After years of living in rented apartments, where you adapt your lifestyle to the type of space you’ve chosen, it is such a great feeling to adapt a space to your lifestyle preferences – that’s where Home happens for us. Last time we talked, we asked for your thoughts and prayers for our relationship as we carried out the final move-in here, and we’re happy to update that this was perhaps one of the most harmonious styling events we’ve gone through together, which we take as a testament to our continued growth together as a collaborative team; all high-fives and no low blows this round! It’s been a great process, sharing all of this project with you, and we’re already hard at work on our next endeavor. We’ll be back soon with our next project and can’t wait to share with you the next room on the list at our Midwest Malibu Cottage. In the meantime let us know, in the comments below, your thoughts on the highs and lows of this project—we’ve got lots of work left to do here and we openly confess that there is plenty of room for suggestions! And we are always sharing more details on Instagram (@florals4spring / @kielaaron), so hopefully we hear from you soon!

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

midwest malibu cottage living room reveal — west elm

Get the Look

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deb bourne

September 14, 2018

Beautiful! Love the front windows and door, all the light (I’m a sucker for more windows), and just about everything else you’ve done.

Lorrie

September 14, 2018

Looks great!!!! Like the black edging around the front door.. sets it off…. and the door into dining room is really cool with all the glass panels. The little office cubby turned out cute!
Like the upholstery on the bench. Very clean cut.

Gigi

September 25, 2018

I love your home. I’m working with this color pallet now with a new condo. I have a small backsplash area and I have picked a black rock tile. that should pop nicely. Thak you for the inspirational photos.

ALLI

September 27, 2018

The white looks brilliant and the plant placement is perfect! Great job, guys!

N

September 28, 2018

So petty and light!! What color white did you use? There are so many out there. Thanks!

Michelle

September 28, 2018

Love the rug. Is this West Elm? What’s the name of it and what size. Beautiful job!

Becky

September 28, 2018

Love the space! I to have a long narrow living room that I am trying to layout out and love wear you have the sofa, tv and fireplace. Curious, how far away is the sofa from the fireplace?

Tatiana Cordoba

September 29, 2018

Todo me encanta!!!
Que diseños tan espectaculares!!!
Felicitaciones!!!♥️

Maria Makarski

September 30, 2018

Love, love, love it! I’m usually a more color girl but this is such a relaxing palette. I am also so happy to see living plants making such a comeback. They add much warmth when using neutral tones and pops of color. Even your cute pooch is a design element!

Aislinn

September 30, 2018

That little dog won my heart. The home is beautiful too!

Peggy Lawler

September 30, 2018

I love it!! Very fresh, very comfortable. I’m not sure about the anti-white movement, haven’t seen anything about that but I am new to this stuff. We are renovating my house I’ve had for 32 years and I feel your pain as we are doing this ourselves with my husband executing everything with a helper or two. Luckily he is a very handy and creative person! I think you have done an outstanding job and I love that your little dog “fits in”. Perhaps he was your “inspiration piece” :). Live and learn as we go, that is what life is about. Lovely room.

S.Q.

October 1, 2018

I love the brightness the reno brings to the Living Room. It’s beautiful, inviting and relaxing — Opening a B&B any time soon?
I also love the TV table. Where in the West Elm repertoire can I find that item?! I would love to have that in my new apartment.

Gail Petrie

October 3, 2018

You’ve done a great job with this room! The only thing that I would mention is a lack of lamps. I’ve always felt that lamps are essential for ambiance/practicality in a living space. (I even have three in my kitchen!) While the light is streaming in beautifully during the daytime, how could one sit on the sofa or chairs and read at night? Or just have soft lighting? I know you’ve left space behind the sofa for the traffic pattern (and to create a cozier seating area), but maybe the furniture could be shifted toward the wall to be closer to electrical outlets. Also, the entry table could use a lamp. I know interiors are always evolving; perhaps you’ve considered all these things!

Taylor

October 9, 2018

I would love to know where you got that drum end table (the one with the white bottom half). Thanks!

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