Before & After: Sarah’s Real World Makeover

I have to admit that one of the best parts of this makeover came at the end of the email chain between me and the homeowner, Sarah Hubbell. While sharing some details and photo credits with me, she casually mentioned that in addition to editing Emma Magazine, she was also one of the house members of The Real World: Hollywood. I am a confessed Real World addict, so when I heard the season, I instantly knew who she was. Thinking about the full circle that this has made from my TV screen to a beautiful home on my computer screen makes me smile.

After her time on The Real World, Sarah founded a beautiful home and lifestyle blog, The Hubbell Chronicles, and became the editor-in-chief of Emma, a magazine devoted to DIY, entertaining and all sorts of crafting ideas. She and her husband moved into a 1940s ranch home just before Sarah gave birth to their first child. Sarah describes this living room (the focus of the makeover) as the “owner’s only idea of an ‘update’ because the rest of the house looked untouched in seven decades’ time.” Covered in faux wood paneling, the room was begging for a makeover, and with the help of their friends, Sarah and her husband did just that. The full makeover and furnishing details continue after the jump. Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing this with us! xo, grace

Photos by Gina Meola, Stephanie Fay and Michelle Herrick

The full post continues after the jump . . .

Sarah and her husband discovered that under the paneling of the living room was actually a brick wall. But with a baby on the way, they decided not to open that can of worms (and start a demolition job) and instead chose to paint. With help from their friends, Sarah and her husband painted a coat of oil-based primer followed by a creamy white finish.

The sofa, a Craigslist find, is slip-covered for easy cleaning. Sarah painted the desk chair white and recovered it with fabric from an Urban Outfitters shower curtain. Most of the furniture is thrifted, with the exception of the TV stand (Ikea) and the desk (World Market). The wall-mounted bulb planters are from CB2 and were a quick way to bring in a bit of color. Sarah explains that “committing to an all-white room (especially with a baby on the way) raised a few eyebrows, but we have not regretted it . . . yet.”

Photos by Gina Meola, Stephanie Fay and Michelle Herrick


Bright,clean,airy and fabulous. Budget friendly as well. Great job!


I can hardly believe this is the same place! Phenomenal work!


oh my- BLESS HER! I love the wabi-sabi that is knotted wood, that I can never bring myself to paint over it… yet I can’t bear the dark, cave-like environs it produces. This is courage + vision & very, very inspiring. Hooray!


What a fantastic transformation! Its amazing how colours and textures have such an impact on a space.


Love the side chairs! I’m confused though because in some pictures there are gold poufs in front of the sofa and in others there is a wood table – or maybe I’m not looking at it right?


The interior of my mom’s house, the house I grew up in, is covered with pine paneling. Sure it’s cozy, but it’s also dark and dated. I’m going to show her this post, maybe I can sway her to paint!! Thank you, thank you for this inspiration.

Jackie Yarmo

These are the exact walls in my office and now… i will paint them. Thank you for the inspiration! I am always afraid to paint wood but this just turned the corner for me.


Such a fantastic space, Sarah! I’m suddenly inspired to get more creative in our home. Love it!


I saw a home renovation show (years ago), where they lived in a warmer climate and had concrete floors. The couple had two young boys, and said it was a great choice. Durable, and easy to clean.


Oh my goodness. Bet that took a ton of primer. Well worth it, because it looks fabulous.

Lisa Barrett

Beautiful, beautiful make over. The floors look amazing – and I can’t quite believe they are stained concrete, they look so warm and rich. Just the right touch. Well done Sarah.

Erica W.

That IS a real world makeover. I love it — what a difference some paint makes and a change of furniture. Really great (and realistic) before and after.


Great makeover!
Although I would have probably kept the natural wood look for the doors only.


I have to admit–I love knotty pine. It’s a classic!


I’ve never seen old wood paneling look better! Beautifully light, bright, modern space. Nice work.


Love, love, love this look! I have paneling in my basement and i want to paint over it like that :)


Oh dear I hate it when people leave negative comments but I loved it so much more before it was painted! It looked woody and full of character rather than a bland blanket of white. Good job we dont all have the same taste though I guess, that really would be boring.


Wow! This looks way better than it did before! I was looking into a home that had similar wall wood paneling and 1970s green carpeting and couldn’t handle it. Your pictures give me the imagination to buy that home, which was an eye sore! Thank you.


I have ugly wood paneling in my kitchen and I’ve been trying to decide if it would look okay painted white.. this has made up my mind, I can’t wait to get to it!


You’ve provided hope for those of us living in a wood paneled world.


Sarah, could you do a little source list? Specifically the rug and gold poufs? Thanks! Beautiful space BTW :)

gabrielle falk

Just beautiful. You can never beat the fresh colour of white, with its many varying shades on offer. Fabulous job.
Gabrielle (Sydney, Australia)


love the makeover, but also have to say that I love that you are displaying “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” My all time favorite book ever!

Lisa Jensen Interior Design

FINALLY someone painted over the paneling in order to keep the architectural detail versus removing it and having boring flat walls! I did the same paint-over-panel in a similar room and will now post my own BEFORE & AFTER project photos in my brand new (1 day old) design blog.


I own a place in North Lake Tahoe-great location, but replee with late ’60’s decor, including similar faux wood wall paneling. I primed and painted the walls white, and still marvel at the marvelous, inexpensive upgrade! Next project: removing the acoustic from the ceilings!
Question: I have a leather pouf chair that 30 years+ old, in great shape. Does anyone have a suggestion for a way to dye/change it to gold?


I would like to do the same at my house. Have you done the SANDING first? Painting is not the problem but sanding scares me :/


Great transformation on your living room! I once lived in a small house with those same pine walls in every room. I always wanted to paint the walls, but settled for just painting the trim. This really brightens your space. Well done!