Too Many Closets & Not Enough Space: How EHD Stylist Emily Bowser Tackled Her Awkward Master Bedroom




image credits: top left via apartment therapy | top right via studio ashby | bottom left via archilovers | bottom right via sarah sherman samuel
Emily Bowser, lead EHD stylist here with some Makeover Takeover (MOTO) realness! If you read my first post about buying my income property, you know that that whole ordeal left my husband and I pretty strapped financially from the process, so getting around to actually decorating and furnishing has been a LONG process. If you haven’t read it, I basically bore my soul (and personal financial information) in a dissertation-style post about the woes of home buying/ownership/renovation in Los Angeles. Candid is my middle name so I figured I would approach my master bedroom/bathroom Makeover Takeover just as frank and open.

Quick recap: 
Bought our tiny two-on-a-lot circa 1930 income property in late 2016 for $600,000 with $22,000 down (FHA). Knew we had $100,000 of work that needed to be done to the property (which we cobbled together via a renovation loan, family personal loans, work bonuses, and some savings). Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Classic “I bought a lemon with no real backup plan” situation. $230,000 later, the houses are livable (but we still have very pressing issues to tackle that we’re putting off.
Considering all of that, you may be surprised to know that I am in Switzerland with my husband to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. There was an all too brief period after our refinance (and before my husband lost his job) that we felt like we weren’t in financial ruin. During that time, we bought this trip, so here we are! Luckily the trip included a lot of meals and it’s a bike trip so no rental car needed! However, you’re likely not here to read about my trip, so let’s keep going. 

About a month before we bought the place, I started working for EHD on a freelance basis. I’ve been a part of pretty much every major shoot you’ve seen for the past 3 years. So, even though you may not know me well (I try as hard as I can to stay BEHIND camera), I’ve actually been around for a minute (do the cool kids still say this?). I’ve been working on this room for that entire 3 years; that’s a long time for a space that is maybe 120 square feet (in an 863-square-foot house). Granted, it’s been a crazy few years but also A. Despite what you may assume, MOTOs are expensive (things add up fast even with some gifted items). B. I am the busiest I’ve ever been in my life. MOTOs take TIME; C. I have a thing where I take something to 80% and then halt. Good enough? Fear of failure? Decision paralysis? In this issue of Bowser Is In Over Her Head and Can Only Blame Herself, we’ll hit the numbers, the hours and the real emotional toll that even a professional, at least THIS professional, goes through. Instagram and blog photos can make it look easy, but I want to pull back the curtain and show you that it’s okay if it takes a while to design and style a space because of any/all of the aforementioned reasons. I’ll have the reveal for you tomorrow, but today, I’m walking you through the “intro”: i.e. all the insane, unknown issues we had to fix to get to the “after.”

It’s hard to know where to start because a lot of the problems I had in this house that cost real $$ were throughout the whole house (electrical, foundation, plumbing, flooring, venting, roofing, drywall, paint…you get the point) and a lot was done at the same time so breaking it down to just this room is a little tough, but let’s just go with…
Flooring
When we bought the house, there were three different types of flooring—original wood in the living room and spare bedroom, tile in the dining, kitchen, laundry area, hall and bathroom, carpet in the master bedroom. Worse yet, the tiled spaces were separated. You would walk into the living room with wood floors and to the right, dining, kitchen, laundry (all connected) were tiled. You would go through the living room to the hall where the hall and bathroom on the right were tiled, the spare bedroom on the left had wood floors, and the master at the end of the hall had carpet.
Cute pic of the hall headed towards that gorge carpet sitch.
Here’s the carpet in this room close up. You can see why this room wasn’t even on the Redfin listing for the house.

The finishes were in terrible shape, but beyond that, the fact that they were all DIFFERENT finishes was almost too much. It made the space feel disjointed, which is funny because I live in a circle. You can walk from living room to hall to master to laundry to kitchen to dining to living and round and round you can go, all circling my teeny tiny bathroom (you’ll see that in the coming days, too). In the beginning stages of demo, we realized there was original wood under the dining room tile and the severely termite-damaged wood floor was actually save-able. I would have preferred to have the same flooring throughout the whole space with maybe tile in the bathroom and laundry room. It would make the small space seem the most cohesive. However, with wood in the living, dining and spare bedroom, I would save money by giving them a little love and keeping them original. After we were able to pull up the carpet in the master, we found out that not only was there NOTHING under the carpet (no padding, only subfloor) but it was not original to the house and probably added at some point in the mid-century.

There are two doors into and out of the master—one to the hall, one to the laundry (that we assume used to be a small patio). You would think if the living and spare (and I guess ONLY original) bedroom had original wood, the hall that connected them would be wood. Nope. Nothing but subfloor under that tile. For obvious reasons, it made sense for the kitchen, laundry and bathroom to be tile. To save money, we thought briefly about just replacing the carpet in the master and continuing it through the hall, which made more sense than trying to either match the original wood of the living and spare bedroom or making it the same floor as the bathroom. We still had the problem of three different flooring finishes though which I was not excited about (particularly in a home this size) so we came to the decision to make the master and hall tile, as well. This way there were only two different types of floors.
Expansion
My master bedroom isn’t large, but before we took two closets out, you couldn’t fit a full bed with nightstands in this space. Where the headboard now sits were two, rather large, closets. One was for the spare bedroom, the other for this room. There was a weird but large (for the room) closet that was added on even later than the bedroom (’70s?). It’s about 5’x6′ and around the same size as the one in our former apartment (a space I knew we could make work). Two closets for the master seemed like overkill, but because each closet on that wall was a square, only taking out one closet wouldn’t give me meaningful space. Like most things in this house, it didn’t feel like we really had options, either live in a bedroom the size of a small nursery or lose two of the four closets in the house? I trusted my organizational know-how and got rid of the closets.

Here’s the former closet on the left. Yes, I’m very aware of how creepy this room looks even though it’s in the middle of the day, and white. Note how the closet door had to be shaved down.

This was the other closet with a weird ’70s accordion sliding door. 

This is facing the former closets after demo (the two squares on the ground covered up huge holes so no one fell through), because, turns out, the floor under the closets was very compromised and by compromised I mean falling into the abyss. I would like to say this was the first set back we had but we had already found out that the roof that was only a few years old was severely damaged (installed incorrectly) and rainwater was pouring into our already termite-infested walls and that the kitchen we were going to “live with for a few years” had water damage and we would have to do an entire kitchen renovation we weren’t planning on. No, this was maybe the fifth or sixth big thing in the (maybe) week of owning this house. At this point, we were laugh-crying at the new revelations that awaited us with every passing day. The damage? I believe it was $6,000. EVERYTHING that went wrong was $6,000. Down two closets and $6,000 invisible dollars.
Walls & Windows
There’s a waterfall effect whenever you open up walls. BEWARE. Opening up one corner near some termite damage that we found after the former tenant moved out and moved their furniture turned into the photo above and basically having to replace everything in the house. At this point, every wall was opened up. One positive to having to replace all the original electrical and every window in the house? New drywall. Most of the house was the original stucco and it made it feel like the walls were caving in on you. It would be gorgeous in a bigger house with more character but in this little bungalow, it was aggressive.

All the windows, sans the laundry room window, were replaced. They were put in some time in the ’50s and not put in well. Almost all of them had water damage and then the termites had come in and destroyed the wood framing. We kept the windows in the same places and I think all the same size in this room (that’s almost always the cheapest route). Something kind of funny about this house is how low the windows are. In this room, they are only 26 inches from the floor. They are also on three of the walls and awkwardly in the middle of them, this made finding furniture, specifically storage furniture that we desperately needed after removing two closets, very hard.
Former closet, small window with old AC window unit (fun fact: used men’s tighty-whiteys used as insulation for that unit); bigger window to right.Here’s the low and largest window next to the closet we kept.This room has two “entrance” doors. One, to the right of the window, goes to the laundry (which I presume used to be a patio). The open door goes to the hall.Storage Problem-Solving
Removing the closets fixed our first problem: where to put a bed. Initially, we had an IKEA storage bed in there because we could not, for the life of us, find a low enough dresser to fit anywhere in the room without blocking a window. We also bought an IKEA storage bench to hold all of our extra sheets and blankets to free up space in our hall closet.

The bed was a little too high and clunky for our tastes, so we eventually replaced it with a very cheap and simple Overstock bed that I knew would eventually work with the headboard I had ideated but didn’t have the money to execute at the moment (inspiration below). The nightstands above are vintage and I’ve had them since 2011(?). They were too shabby chic for my tastes now but again, they fit in the space, had a lot of storage, and didn’t require $$. I painted them that dark charcoal when we lived in our last space, which made them feel less cottage-y. The marble light on the right used to be in our living room a few years ago and it was our only light other than the ceiling one until literally last week. I know everyone is going to ask about the wall hanging. I’m sorry to say that it is vintage. I found it in Seattle and it is part of a buoy line? I think that’s what they’re called. Like lane dividers in pools but cooler and not plastic. When I saw them, I had a physical reaction. My friend Lauren lent me an old bag so that I could check them and get them home. They are the muse for what the space is now (tomorrow!) but you should know I had them for a year and a half before the room actually came into fruition. I like to muse a lot, what can I say?

Speaking of musing, this was the bed I was originally influenced by on Pinterest:
image via apartment therapy
I liked the built-in feel of it with the wrap-around. I thought it would make the space seem more expansive and custom. Originally, I was going to do it with raw plywood and go all the way to the ceiling which I still think would be really cool but ultimately wanted something that felt softer. From there, the idea became: “what can I actually easily do?” Shorter, not ceiling height, and in panels (which would make for easier install). Turns out Sarah Sherman Samuel had a similar and obviously more professionally done idea for Mandy Moore’s bedroom:
image and design via sarah sherman samuel
When I saw this, I did think I should scrap it all (in the name of “originality”) but ultimately it was the idea I liked the most for myself SO HERE WE ARE. I guess Mandy Moore and I have one more thing in common: two cats. We both have two cats.

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to share something I’ve found interesting about myself that might help anyone who feels “stuck” with a room design. Coming into styling, it was very very important for me to learn from Emily that you just need to start, to put the pen to paper and create. I procrastinate, possibly because my natural state is more of a muse-r and less of a do-er. Styling is DOing. Sometimes you come into a completely empty space in the morning and that space better be ready to be photographed by EOD. You cannot wait for inspiration to strike. Don’t have that completely perfect vase? Make the less than perfect options work. Or maybe put a lamp there instead. Or a decorative object. Or a glass of water. Funny thing is, when you start, inspiration generally comes. “Finished is better than perfect” is something Emily says a lot and something that was freeing for me with work but when it came to my own space, I had stopped dead in my tracks. Knowing it was going to be on the blog, that I couldn’t hide behind the brand or the camera and that this space would be just ME, that was a lot for my blend in and disappear (enneagram type 9) personality. You could say I over-mused this bedroom. Sure, I was broke, sure, I didn’t have a lot of free time but I was waiting for perfect and perfection wasn’t going to come. Perfect is boring anyway, right?

On that note, I’ll leave you with a little (black and white) sneak peek, Emily Henderson style because that lady loves a “sneak peek”. Come back tomorrow to see how this all played out in the master bedroom.
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