How to take your living room from “man cave” to “girly”

Guest post by JenniMat

I recently moved across the country to start my PhD. An exciting time to be sure, but it meant I came to town with nothing but my clothing and my favourite art pieces. Everything I furnished my apartment with I got for free or from thrift shops, and as I didn’t have time to wait for exactly what I wanted I went for functional/necessary rather than what my design aesthetic would normally dictate.

The apartment I’d like to have is the following: girly and pretty with soft colours — what a dream.

Unfortunately, my apartment looks closer to a man cave than Jenni’s pretty apartment.

How do I work around these comfy, yet quite masculine, black leather couches to create something girly?


Ooh, Jenni, I LOVE a challenge. And girrrrrrl, your apartment is exactly that.

First, I could suggest slip covers, but unless they’re custom-made, slip covers drive me nutso — they’re always bunching up, or slipping off, and I can never get them to not look frumpy. So let’s keep the couches as they are — black and comfy. So now black is, obviously, part of our color scheme. Here’s how we girly and soften up the man cave…


I suggest a pretty pale grey for your wall color. Like the Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter color shown here. This will tie in the black and soften up the walls to allow for more girly decor.

I noticed that some of your artwork has pretty pinks. So let’s add pink and white in as our accent colors. (I was also thinking of doing a black, grey, white and turquoise as a color scheme too, until I saw your art work.)

Window treatments

These panels are my favorite — brighten up the small room with a white base, but girly it up AND tie in the grey of your walls with this pattern.

These panels are a less subtle option, to play up the black and white.


Never underestimate the power of accent pillows. Aside from being comfy, pillows can bring in color themes AND soften up the look of any room. I say look for pillows that have girly textures like this gray ruffly one; or tie in all your colors like the pink, gray, and black one; or one with pretty motifs like the pink and white paisley and floral pillow.


Rugs can work two-fold; they can ground a space (I recommend you move your couches into an L-shape to separate your office space from your living room, and then grounding the living room area with a rug). This sheepskin rug is good for girly texture… it’s also on sale!


Lighting: This is wear you break out your paintbrush and go to town on that lamp. Maybe a pink base? You can either keep that lampshade as-is, or perhaps do a flowery upgrade a la this lamp upgrade.
Table and chairs: A paint job would do that table and chairs set wonders. Maybe white or black and white? Perhaps even with toile seat cushions?
Wall art: I love the art you already have on your wall. Perhaps add a large mirror to not only bring more light into the space, but, if you get one that’s ornate enough, you can really girly up a space with a nice mirror. Or get hold of Umbra’s wall flowers (in white or pink) and make some sort of pretty girl mosaic on your wall, or above your office space.

Over all I’m thinking something like this:

Your turn!

Okay my lovely Homies, what would YOUR advice me to turn a large black leather couch-ed “man cave” into a girly hideaway?

Comments on How to take your living room from “man cave” to “girly”

  1. I love your advice about color–I was thinking the same thing. Black coordinates with almost anything, so integrate whatever bright colors appeal to you. Pillows and throws will break up the black monolith look.

    Also, it looks like your coffee table and dining table are wood–so could they be painted? You could go with a simple white or something more colorful.

    Incorporating as many light/bright colors as possible, along with perhaps more lighting, will really lighten your space up. Plants and flowers would help, too.

    Please share some photos once you’ve made some progress!

  2. Oh, my. I think your biggest problem is how dark the room is in general. If you’re not already using them, try replacing your bulbs with compact fluorescents. They’ll provide a cooler, brighter light that can help soften the room for you. Also, try spray painting that black fixture on the left white. It’ll look softer that way.

    Slipcovers are one good option for the couches, but I personally have never much liked the look of them, and I feel like they’re constantly sliding around under me when I’m endlessly turning to get comfortable. Another option could be to get some roll pillows in softer colors like lavenders, whites, blues or pinks, and put them right at the base between the seat and the back, and it’ll help round it out.

    I like the gauzy curtains, but I would swap to white ones with stripes of solid and gauziness, and then tie them back with a pretty ribbon.

    Mostly, just work on brightening the place up with lighter colors and more light fixtures.

  3. This pillow will girly up ANY room.

    I agree that more/bigger lighting would be good (ikea is great for inexpensive lighting), as well as lightening up the window treatments. (I’m incidentally obsessed with those medallion curtains) You might consider a shabby chic style coffee table in gray or another soft neutral, or a coat of spray paint and maybe a stenciled design on your current one.

    Also – throw blankets on your couches in whatever “girly” color sings to you. Slap some art on those walls too. A sconce here, a pretty flower print there would work wonder. Target (not a very offbeat shopping source but still…) actually has a really cheap mirror that I think is super girly but not obnoxiously so and is a decent size for only $20.

    Accessories are your best friend in this scenario. Not that you want to clutter things up, but the room is pretty bare so you have a lot of space to do things. Try your local closeout stores (TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, AJ Wright, etc) for inexpensive home accessories with a lot of personality. A tray with maybe a vase or a little figurine would look well on your coffee table. You have so many options! Have fun with it. 🙂

  4. If I were you and I wanted more girly colors, I would first paint the coffee table and kitchen table and chairs white. Then, I’d buy decorative bowls in pretty colors to fill with fruit or decorative stuff (one for the coffee table, one for the kitchen table) as well as candlesticks that I’d spray paint if I didn’t like the colors.

    For the kitchen table, I’d also buy pretty placemats to lighten things up.

    I’d buy a cheap but more modern and colorful shade for the lamp and paint the lamp post (probably white, too), but buy a nice and colorful rug for under the coffee table (Target and IKEA have some decent cheaper options). Lastly, I’d add some super colorful throw pillows to each couch. Maybe 2-3 per couch? It’s also super easy to make throw pillows if you have, or can borrow, a sewing machine!

  5. Since your living room is sharing a space with your dining area I’d start there. A pretty light colored table cloth with a vase of fresh flowers in the center and some cushions for your dining room chairs will make your table into a cozy dining nook.
    For the couches I’d go with the sugesstions of brightly colored throw pillows. I’d also put a fuzzy blanket over the back of one to make it seem like a more inviting place to snuggle.
    Depending on how DIY your feeling here’s a tutorial on turning your coffee table into a tufted ottoman that scream girly to me.

  6. In addition to all the great ideas above – I would put some mirrors on the wall to help reflect light back into the room and lighten the place up: maybe kinda like this?

    In addition to painting the furniture, you could scout your thrift shops for pretty sheets / fabrics you like, and modge podge a fabric to the table tops and chair seats.

  7. Actually, there are slipcovers out there that don’t suck. You can get fitted slip covers that fit pretty tight. Still loose? Pool noodles wedged deep into the cushions locks the slipcover in place.

    • Yeah, but over leather couches? I feel like there is nothing for the slip to hold on to, even if it’s really well fitted, and it will still slide all over the place. I am definitely not a slip-cover expert though, having hated the only one I have ever used. 🙂

  8. Black and pink is a classic combo – paint the walls whatever shade of pink appeals most to you (soft pink is the most feminine, hot pink the sassiest, coral pink the trendiest) and get accessories (throw pillows, blankets, lamps, curtains, rugs) in a multitude of pink shades and patterns.

    • Unless the author of this post owns the apartment she probably can’t paint the walls. I have heard that some rentals (particularly in countries other than the US) allow the tenants to paint the walls, but I’ve never actually seen a rental where this is allowed. Most renters in the US are stuck with the wall color their apartment came with, which is usually white or beige.

      • Of course can cover the walls with something else, so long as it doesn’t damage the walls, it’s just the paint color that most US renters are stuck with.

        • We’re allowed to paint our rental apartment (and were allowed to paint the previous one, too), but we’re in Canada. The only condition is that we paint reasonable colours (check with superintendent or landlord if unsure), or we’re responsible for covering them before we leave. Maybe it’s different in the US, though, I don’t know.

          • Unfortunately, yes it is different in the US. Many rentals don’t even let renters use nails or tacks on the walls let alone paint them.

    • This is exactly what I was going to suggest. I love a black and white theme with pops of pink everywhere. I would love to paint a room pink, but I have not been able to convince my husband. Decorating was so much easier when I was single!

  9. You could paint or upholster your coffee table! If the legs can come off easily I’d recommend replacing them entirely with shorter legs from a hardware store (most places have them and they’re around $2 each. For me fancy-legged furniture screams femininity. And if you got shorter legs you could upholster the top with some super pretty fabric stapled over foam. Everyone else’s suggestions are great too!

  10. Get throw pillows that won’t slide off the black leather couches (or you’ll end up with pillows on the floor more often than they’re on the couch). Gray is fine – but I’d paint one wall pink if that’s the scheme you’re going to go for. Whatever shade of pink you like, as long as it’s not Grandma Flower or Grandma Mauve Pink. More lights – more light in general. I might also go the cliche route and add that light with a bunch of smaller paper or rattan lamps from IKEA. Get something to soften the coffee table – maybe a bamboo runner that’ll stay in place, or something similar that looks Japanese, painted black?

    • So “this pillow” isn’t very descriptive. The link goes to a cool Edvard Munch, “The Scream,” pillow…because you’ve to weird it up in your girly enterprise!

  11. I don’t have any advice, but I did wonder, does anyone know who makes that couch in the picture of the sheepskin rug? It’s awesome, but there’s no info on it in the amazon ad for the rug.

  12. Lighten up the space! I’d suggest white sheer curtains instead of black (or eggplant or whatever colors your current ones are). And a lighter shade for that side lamp (amber shade is masculine-y) – maybe something lacy or with ruffles? Even a brighter white light bulb (those bluish tinged ones or compact fluorescent) could help with that lamp. Replacing your other floor lamp (the very masculine looking black one with multiple bulbs) would also help.

    A pretty floral tablecloth on your table in the back and some (matching?) seat cushions on those cute chairs (which are already painted pale green or grey?) would look exceedingly girly. You can’t go wrong with pretty artwork (metallic or white frames will look more girly than black or natural wood) and you can always drape fabric on the walls or above the sliding doors or put up a valance above your windows. The bare walls contribute to the “manly” look.

    I vote to leave the leather couches as-is and drape some throw blankets over the backs and add a girly throw pillow or two. You could paint the coffee table, but it looks like a nice natural light wood, so if you lighten up the rest of the space, it should fit right in.

    Really, it’s just a matter of brightening up the space. The dark furniture, computer area, plain wood furniture, bare walls, and dark lamps/curtains are what is making the room look so “masculine.” Brighten everything else up, and the couches won’t look quite so dark and masculine.

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