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  • By Jacqueline Hosford, ASID

Transformation: old to new

There is sometimes great joy and pleasure in seeing favorite, comfortable and comforting furniture and furnishings come to new life with a well-done facelift. Or perhaps even a wonderful room updated is just enough. Not everything needs to be completely redone, tossed out forever. Sometimes you want to keep the things you have loved, refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for years of new life. This approach still needs a designerly eye, but the effort is particularly worthwhile, especially for those of us who get sentimentally attached to some of our things.

I enjoy discovering the new and intriguing, and I love everything to be attractive, but not necessarily trendy. As I child I recall being ornery in that way, always wanting to do something different from what everyone else was doing. These days my creative soul still likes to buck the trend in favor of self-expression. Transforming an existing piece in the spirit of adaptive reuse—with care and creativity­—can be a very fulfilling exercise in self-expression.

Fabulous modern revision!

There are any number of reasons you might want to refresh an old favorite instead of buying something new. It might be your granddad's 1950s-style easy chair that you can’t bear to part with. It might be an old oak kitchen table that reminds you of years of happy family times. It might even make good economic sense, investing in reupholstery when the pieces you have suit the space plan, work well style-wise, and have frames in good condition.

If your pieces are decent quality in the first place, reupholstering them could very well be less expensive than purchasing a new piece of similar quality and design suitability. Or, some among us might just be committed to not adding more to the junk heap when it could be refurbished and live a whole new useful life.

Design transformations occur with small or large changes, or both. Think of it this way: there is a “micro-level” of transformation: the reinvention of a specific chair, for example. And, there is a more “macro-level” whereby an entire space is reimagined, either entirely from a blank slate, or refreshed ­with a few very judicious transformative design choices. Every level of design is considered in relation to the other elements for a truly impactful transformation.

Transforming just one piece in an existing designed space often demands greater design ingenuity, because with that one piece, you shift the existing design balance. It’s tricky to rely on one design element alone to deliver all the design magic. It’s more possible to rely on a few well-chosen elements to do the trick. (And, of course, with a blank slate the sky’s the design limit!)

A recent project is a terrific example of how a transformation can happen with reinvention of larger space by renewing or changing out just a few elements. (MAKE SURE YOU SEE THE SLIDE SHOW BELOW!)

The project design conundrum was twofold: The first requirement addressed needs at the micro-level: to update or replace two large upholstered swivel chairs and a two-sectioned curved sofa. The three pieces had served the owners well for 25 years, but were showing their threadbare and flattened age. The pieces were, however, just the right fit for the room and excellently served the function of a comfortable, casual living room. We went through the exercise of pricing new pieces versus reupholstering. In this case, because the pieces were still so suitable as far as space planning was concerned, and their basic design form could be transformed with well-chosen fabrics, they could be updated nicely, and for much less money than purchasing something new in a similar quality and fit.

The second more “macro” aspect of the design solution centered around integrating the function and aesthetics of a large rectangular living room space (visually divided in two by architectural columns and beams), which previously had dedicated the far end of the room as a “music studio.” The sticky issue presented itself immediately: What to do with the floor covering.

One half of the wooden floor was covered with a relatively expensive antique oriental rug, and the other half was bare wood. After some discussion, the best approach to relating the two ends of the room together needed to be addressed at the floor plane with a new coordinating rug. But we didn’t want to break the bank on a new antique oriental rug. To transform the room space into one cohesively designed area, an extremely carefully considered rug material choice was in order.

For the transformation of this room space, well-chosen fabrics, one artfully selected area rug, and some minor rearranging of accessories and art would do the trick. But the right choices were crucial to ensure success of this approach. The new fabrics had to be casually luxurious with just the right patterns and colors to mimic the feeling of the traditional oriental rug. The added rug would hint of the Orient, at peace with but not fighting the existing rug. One exquisitely embroidered floral cushion fabric and the patterning of the navy cut velvet/linen on the chairs were the design solution heavy-hitters, bringing the room together by reflecting the patterns and colors of the oriental rug onto the opposite end of the room.

Voilà! A design transformation coup d’état. An artful blending of new, contemporary style and old style fabrics completely transformed not only the worn-out chairs and sofa, but the entire room. See the slide show, below, to get a look at before and afters.


Jacqueline Hosford, ASID, principal of Jacqueline Hosford Interior Design, loves working with clients to design their spaces for optimum function and each client's ultimate delight. Jacqueline is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID); is certified by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification; and is an adjunct professor of interior design, State University of New York (Purchase). Jacqueline is a graduate of Barnard College-Columbia University, and the New York School of Interior Design with highest honors. She can be reached at

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