When I arrive at the Hellertown ranch house of Morning Call readers AnnaMarie and Art Hunsberger for the makeover of their living room, the affable Art is fully engaged in a lively discussion with photographer Ryan Hulvat about the virtues of the iPod.
AnnaMarie and Morning Call Makeover designer Nancy Carroll are nowhere to be seen. It's not surprising to me that the women aren't part of the techno-talk, but where are they?
Art and Ryan shoo me to the basement.
The idea of The Morning Call Makeover is to draw from what a homeowner already has, adding advice and accessories, to help solve the problem they identified when they requested their room makeover.
AnnaMarie had told us that her living room just wasn't cozy enough -- despite a four-piece living room suite, new coordinated draperies, family baby pictures, her grandmother's lace and other decorating statements she had made.
As I head down the basement stairs, I can guess what Nancy is doing. I hear AnnaMarie's voice: "I just had no place to put it."
I join AnnaMarie and see that Nancy has pulled a sizeable black-and-white, vintage wedding photograph in a dark wood frame out of storage.
Looking out of this photograph are bride and groom Mary Zegalia and John Begovich, AnnaMarie's parents. The new Mrs. and Mrs. Begovich came from Croatian stock. Mary was 15 when she married in 1922, AnnaMarie says.
Nancy has scored her first hit, an heirloom, something meaningful and personal to restore to a place of honor in a room AnnaMarie feels is too cold, maybe too impersonal.
A little more rummaging and Nancy comes up with a pretty pastel oil painting in a white wood frame. "My sister-in-law painted that," says AnnaMarie. "I had country decor in my old house and it just seemed too big for that."
Nancy adds this painting to what's going upstairs.
The women continue to trawl the basement for things that AnnaMarie acquired because she liked them. Brass pedestal candlesticks, a wooden garden rocker painted a muted cranberry red. These are going to the living room with the wedding picture and painting.
Art has joined us now, and he eyes his New York Jets clock. AnnaMarie and Nancy stare him down. "The Jets are in the cellar and so is my clock," Art observes wistfully.
At least he prevailed when he suggested that AnnaMarie abandon the country theme that dominated their former Cape cottage when they moved into the ranch last June.
To turn over a new leaf, the Hunsbergers bought four pieces of attractive light ivy green upholstered casual furniture to fill the 17-by-21-foot living space, which had been created by knocking out a wall between a small living room and dining room.
AnnaMarie found a muted-floral fabric from which drapes were made to cover the room-length picture window behind the sofa. Her china cabinet dominated the right end of the room as you entered from the front door. Two matching utility shelf units were tucked next to the fireplace on the long wall across from the sofa, one holding the TV.
And it just didn't work.
AnnaMarie and Art did not find the room cozy enough to compel them to gather there. "I wanted to appreciate the fireplace," says Art. "I just couldn't bring it together," says AnnaMarie.
With her basement reclamations along with a stash of faux plants and other accessories at the ready, Nancy gets straight to her first big suggestion about the Hunsbergers' living room -- lose the love seat.
Rather than making the room cozy, too much furniture was actually cluttering it and making visual interest difficult to focus. In fact, the love seat obscured the fireplace as a focal point of the room.
With the love seat transferred to AnnaMarie's sitting room, Nancy proceeds to alter the floor plan. She arranges the comfy chair and ottoman catty-corner to the fireplace, opening it up to the rest of the room; the china cabinet switches places with the shelf units, de-emphasizing a disparate element; the lace-covered sofa table in the window corner finds itself next to the shelf units, ready to complete the design statement on that wall.
The Hunsbergers immediately see the difference. The room has lost its sterile feeling.
After the heavy lifting, Nancy's next order of business is to install AnnaMarie's mother's wedding photo in its place of honor over the table, which she artfully drapes with lace crocheted by AnnaMarie's grandmother Katherine Zegalia. To these personal representations of two older generations, Nancy adds a younger generation -- pictures of the Hunsbergers' grandchildren, Alicia and Fion Carlin.
Nancy uses the Hunsbergers' beautiful Waterford crystal vase, a tall lamp and books to balance the table array under the reclaimed photo. "If books are coming out, I'm getting some of mine out here," says Art, when Nancy asks him to raid the bookshelf in another room. An overflowing plant basket underneath the table completes the tableau.
(Later Nancy will revisit this table and remove the crystal vase in favor of another green plant. She likes that arrangement better but is convinced to restore the Hunsbergers' crystal because, I argue, it's a personal treasure precious to them. I suggest we thin out the faux daisy bouquet that sprouts from the vase and, after some pruning, Nancy is satisfied the grouping works. You can see Nancy's variation on the tableau in the photographs on this page.)
Nancy then flits throughout the room creating design touches with accessories.
AnnaMarie brings out more of grandmother Zegalia's crocheting, and Nancy grabs it to line the shelves in the shelf units. A doily goes on the table next to sofa, holding another grandchild photo facing AnnaMarie's chair by the fireplace. The homemade lace nicely complements that piece already on the coffee table and adds charm that can't be bought.
Turning her attention to the fireplace, Nancy replaces the decorative grill, a housewarming gift, over the mantel with a gilt-framed mirror that reflects the room and adds depth to the fireplace wall. She transfers the wooden apples from the mantel to the Longaberger basket on the coffee table and introduces the brass candlesticks from the basement, which immediately strike up a conversation with the brass table and floor lamps already in the room. Faux greenery in a vase completes the mantelpiece.
In fact, faux plants from Wal-Mart get a workout warming up this room and focusing the eye. A brass container of pathos goes on top of the china cabinet, and Nancy places containers of variegated ivies on the two shelf units. AnnaMarie likes that. "It draws your eye up," she says.
Nancy distributes burgundy pillows on the couch and in the garden rocker, which sits quietly on AnnaMarie's newly purchased rug.
She finishes up with the dodgy corner next to the sofa. When she installs a small tree plant, the florals in Anna-
Marie's drapes pop. When she puts the decorative grill removed from over the mantel on the wall, its scroll work seems the perfect complement.
Her suggestion for the completion of this corner is very fun. She grabs sister-in-law Martha Begovich's oil painting from the basement, sends Art for a children's rocker she saw there and then props the painting on the chair. It's a wonderful, spontaneous thought, but the painting won't stay on the chair. Nancy suggests the Hunsbergers get a small easel to hold it. The idea is lovely.
When Nancy steps back to regard the finished room, the Hunsbergers are nodding in appreciation. They like it a lot. "It just feels warmer," AnnaMarie says. "I can lie on the couch and watch TV without craning my neck," adds Art.
Nancy estimates that she has added only about $175 worth of accessories to the room, most of which the Hunsbergers decide to keep.
Next design step, Nancy says, would be a plasma TV in place of the utility unit holding the TV. Art is all for that.
She also says: Add a round, skirted table by the sofa next to the front door to enhance the entryway. Art doesn't seem to hear that.
AnnaMarie and Nancy agree that a scaled-down wing chair on the other side of the fireplace might also be a nice addition to the room.
The Hunsbergers agree that the biggest thing they've learned from their makeover is that, when it comes to living room furniture, less can be more. "We could have saved money not buying the love seat," says Art.