How One Designer Created a Stylish Living Suite Perfect for Entertaining

Midcentury inspired living room with nesting tables and white sofa.

Design: Gretchen Murdock; Photo: Christopher Stark; Graphic: MyDomaine

If there’s something we never get tired of seeing, it’s a great makeover. Whether it’s transforming a retro bathroom into a modern oasis or giving a lackluster bedroom a fresh look, pros perform these design miracles all the time.

To give designers a chance to showcase their favorite makeovers—and to bring you plenty of inspiration for your own home—we’re sharing the best before and afters we’ve seen in our series, Makeover of the Week. Take notes for your next renovation.

“My clients are design risk-takers and have an appreciation for detail, which really showed with this project,” says interior designer Gretchen Murdock. “The space was previously used by their au pair, but as their two children grew older, the homeowners wanted to make the area more functional, creating a cozy living/media room where they could cuddle up on the sofa to watch movies and also entertain guests with a wet bar and kitchenette. The challenge was to create a minimal, warm, and inviting space while incorporating their needs.”

Meet the Expert

Interior designer Gretchen Murdock is the principal of Modtage Design in San Francisco. She is known for creating modern spaces that celebrate both contemporary and vintage design elements.

Before:

Before shot of cramped living space.

Courtesy of Gretchen Murdock

“The previous space had a low and awkward ceiling transition throughout, with steps leading to multiple areas and levels,” Murdock shares. “There were also columns in the center of the room which made it difficult to utilize the space fully. The first step in the redesign was a structural overhaul and excavation to open up and level off the footprint while better preparing this San Francisco home for potential earthquakes.”

After:

Midcentury inspired living space with wet bar.

Design: Gretchen Murdock; Photo: Christopher Stark

“The new design maximizes the space to accommodate all of the client’s requirements,” Murdock notes. “For example, we designed a custom walnut divider screen to separate the main living room from the rest of the suite, allowing natural light to pass through and giving the illusion of a larger space. White oak floors were installed in a herringbone pattern to honor the original 1906 home’s Edwardian architecture, which transitioned to diamond-shaped tiles in the kitchen that were laid in a whimsical zig-zag style. In a nod to the client’s love of Scandinavian copper, we designed a unique copper inlay where the two floors meet and used copper hardware and fixtures throughout the space.”

What Changed:

  • Color theme: Warm Scandinavian neutrals mix with peacock hues and copper elements to give the space a minimalist yet modern feel. 
  • Couch: A neutral linen sofa features plush textured monochromatic charcoal pillows.
  • Coffee tables: The circular nesting coffee tables provide flexibility when entertaining. 
  • Rug: Scandinavian-style geometric patterns in the wool rug play off the adjacent diamond pattern in the kitchen floor.
  • Wood floor: White oak flooring has a walnut inlay and a herringbone pattern, a nod to the Edwardian style home. 
  • Floor tile: The diamond-shaped black and white tiles have been laid in a whimsical zig-zag pattern.
  • Cabinets: Lower cabinets were painted in a peacock hue (River Blue by Benjamin Moore) and are framed in solid walnut wood; the sole upper cabinet houses an appliance garage.  
  • Shelves: A floating shelf above the sink doubles as a dish rack drain while the shelf behind the sofa provides a spot for beverages and design accessories.
  • Pendant: The circular globe shape of the opal, brass, and walnut light fixture mimics the silhouette of the dining table. 
  • Table and chairs: The eating area features a vintage Saarinen tulip table and matching chairs that were reupholstered in a Scandinavian-designed wool fabric; a banquette provides extra seating.
  • Projection screen: A projection screen is hidden in a walnut ceiling box and can be lowered for movie nights.  
  • Low storage cabinet: The drawers in the lower cabinet below the projection screen store dishes and barware.
  • Wall tile: The black and white diamond wall tile in the kitchenette is in sync with the adjacent floor tile.   
  • Room divider: An operable wood divider separates the space between the living room. 
  • Wall ladder: The lower section of the ladder has been dipped in oxide for added interest. 
  • Wall art: A graphic piece of art displays graphite lettering across a white background over the banquette. 
  • Wine fridge: Side-by-side refrigerators maximize cold storage space. 
  • Plant: Simple olive branches placed in a black pot bring in an outdoor element.
  • Paint color:  The walls were painted a soft gray hue (Distant Gray by Benjamin Moore).

Shop the Look:

Cozy living room with leaning ladder decorated with throw blankets.

Design: Gretchen Murdock; Photo: Christopher Stark

Coffee Table
Carl Hansen & Son Coffee Table
Shop

“I love these famous Hans J. Wegner nesting tables because of their timeless and clean Scandinavian design,” Murdock notes.

Bloak Ladder
Lostine Bloak Ladder $575.00
Shop

“A vertical wall ladder can be used to display everything, from plants to towels to blankets,” Murdock explains.

Arc Dome Pendant Light
Allied Maker Arc Dome Pendant Light $1,320.00
Shop

 “I love how the wood element on this hanging pendant adds warmth to the fixture,” Murdock shares.