Non-Toxic Living Room Update


Our home was build in the ’50s. About 8 years ago it was in foreclosure and in bad shape. A family bought it and did basic renovations. They did a great job, but some of the houses still looked dated and just wasn’t our style. The living room has a huge floor to ceiling window which I love. It also has a fireplace with a built-in stove. The previous owners had built solid wood bookcases all along one whole wall. Seth and I both agreed that we wanted to pull them out. They were well built, but we wanted the room to feel cleaner and less cluttered. We needed to paint the walls and update the fireplace also. The flooring isn’t our favorite, but it’s fine. We don’t want to put in the big dollars to update it right now. Here’s what it looked like when we bought it. I forgot to take a “before” photo so this is from the listing.

Going Toxic-Free

I knew I didn’t want to spend much money, but I also wanted to do as much of the updates completely toxic-free as I could. The more I become aware of how toxins creep into our everyday life, the more determined I become to do what I can to keep them out. Obviously, pulling out the built-in shelves was toxic-free. It just took a crowbar, drill, and some muscle. We were actually able to reuse some of them in the guest unit that we rent out as an Airbnb. The rest of the shelves we either got rid of on Craigslist or put back in our barn for future use somewhere else.

We both agreed we wanted to paint the fireplace. We decided on white in order to brighten the room up. The previous owner also left all this gorgeous 60-year-old barn wood back in one of our barns. They were 12″ wide planks that were in great condition. We knew we wanted to incorporate those somehow as well. We ended up covering both walls with them on either side of the fireplace. We weren’t sure about the other walls and trim color, but eventually, I decided to paint all the trim black and do white walls.

The Fireplace

I knew you could use conventional paint on brick, but I really wanted to go toxic-free. I’ve used milk paint on furniture in the past, and I read a few blogs where people had used it on brick. I thought I’d give it a try. I emailed the company I use, Old Fashioned Milk Paint, and the owner emailed me back and assured me the paint would work great on brick. I didn’t even need to seal it afterward.

Please don’t confuse milk paint with the currently popular “chalk paint.” Chalk paint is still toxic! Milk paint is not toxic. It is edible it’s so safe… although, I can’t say I’ve tried it or that I ever will. My sister’s old, crazy dog, on the other hand, ate a whole bag and was perfectly fine. Milk Paint is made from milk protein and lime. Super safe. And it smells like chalk from old school chalkboards. Milk paint is actually one of my top 5 favorite products of all time. I use it on lots of different things (furniture, wooden kids toys, Easter eggs, kraft paper gifts, and basically anything else I need or want to paint).

So, I ordered a gallon of this in Snow White. My friend came over and helped me paint. Milk paint comes in a powder form. Basically, you blend it with hot water (whisk it by hand or with a hand blender) and then you’ve got paint! You can mix colors or adjust the thickness. It’s so easy to use.

We lightly sanded the bricks, because they were pretty slick. We then sprayed the bricks down with my basic vinegar cleaner and wiped them dry.

It took three coats of paint to thoroughly cover the bricks. I think we could have done it in two if I’d mixed the paint up thicker.

You can see how much better it looked just being painted! This only cost $60 in paint. We did end up replacing the wood stove which was $2000 with labor, but I’m not including that in my “update” cost. Granted, the original stove wasn’t that nice-looking, but that didn’t bother us. It ended up being really inefficient so we replaced it with one that had a fan and actually blew hot air into the house. You’ll see it in the pictures at the end.

Barn Wood Wall

What’s nice about the barn wood wall is that once we pulled out all the built-in shelving there were a few gaping holes in the drywall. It was nice to not have to patch those. We just covered them with wood. All we did for the barn wood wall was cut planks to the size we wanted and screwed them into studs (which proved to be hard to find – apparently whoever built the house didn’t space the studs evenly). My friend and I did one wall, and then I paid a handyman $100 to finish the other wall for me. Finding time to put up a barn wood wall with three small children running around the house proved to be impossible. Best $100 I’ve spent in a long time!

Trim, Wall, & Ceiling Paint

I decided to go with black trim which I never thought I’d do, but after seeing it on a blog here I decided to go for it. I felt like it really fit the “feel” of the house. I used Sherwin Williams paint for this. It cost $45. Looking back, I’m kind of kicking myself for not just using milk paint. I was worried I’d have to sand down the doors and trim a ton and then seal over the milk paint. Milk paint doesn’t do a good job sticking to slick surfaces. But I ended up having to sand for the Sherwin Williams paint anyways, so I should have just done milk paint. Not only would it have been toxic-free, but it would also have been more the look and feel I was going for. But the trim and doors still turned out good. The paint had a very slight odor (much better than I expected), but it was nice weather all week so I just opened all the doors and windows as much as possible for a few days to air out the room.

For the walls, I think I tried 10 different paint samples. None of them felt right, and I think I was really not feeling comfortable using conventional paint. Not only would it put off a slight odor, but it also isn’t good for the environment (as far as making and eventually disposing of it goes). My conscious just wasn’t feeling right about using it. Milk paint makes a paint product just for walls and ceilings. I’d read several different blogs about it. Some people loved it and had great success. Others said it pulled the plaster or old paint right off the wall. Crazy! I was nervous to order gallons of it and it not work. Then I realized I had milk paint leftover from the fireplace… why not test it!? Sometimes, I amaze myself at how long it takes me to think of a simple solution like that! So, I tested it. It looked great and stuck to the walls great.

I ordered 4 gallons (buy 3 gallons and get 1 free). My mother-in-law was in town last week and spent many hours painting the walls and ceiling. She did amazing. And she was a champ at trying out this unconventional paint.

I am so happy with it! The walls look great. The color is great. And my living room is painted in toxic-free paint! It does smell a bit like chalk in my living room right now, but that is so much better to me than the chemical toxic smell that normally you have with typical paint.

I’m actually inspired to maybe try mixing my own color for the kid’s room. I want to go with a light beige or grey. I feel so confident and happy with the milk paint, I can’t imagine going back to anything else.

The 4 gallons cost me $150. Not bad. Probably what I would have spent that same amount on Sherwin Williams paint.

Cost & Overview

All-in-all, the living room makeover cost me around $355. Might have been a bit more for screws for the barn wood and miscellaneous painting supplies, but my guess is that I definitely landed under $400. Not bad for such a drastic makeover!

I’m super happy with how it all turned out. If I did it over, the only thing I’d change is doing the trim and doors out of milk paint. But this being my first major toxic-free makeover, I’m happy with what I did, and I’m really happy with the results. It’s so nice to have a living room that’s finally coming together. I still need to refinish a few chairs, add a side table or two, and get some things on the wall, but I’m really happy with how the room is turning out! Here are a few before and after shots.


  1. Kirsten on April 11, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    LOVE how it all turned out! Good call on the black trim. It looks amazing, and totally goes with your house and style so well. Great job!

  2. Jenn Masters on April 11, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Looks Fantastic!! Have you ever used Ecos paint?

    • Lauren Dahl on April 12, 2017 at 12:26 am

      I haven’t. I’ve looked into a couple of different brands, but I haven’t tried any yet.

  3. Erica G on April 11, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Wow! Absolutely beautiful! LOVE the bar wood and the black trim! So inspired to use milk paint! Interior design approved!!!

    • Lauren Dahl on April 12, 2017 at 12:26 am

      Yay! Glad you approve! Lol! I’m not the best at this stuff… I should have you come over and give me suggestions!

  4. Connie Dominguez on April 12, 2017 at 12:23 am

    Can you share any kitchen updates? I can see you took down kitchen cabinets and did open shelves. I want to do the same, just wondering if you have any tips. Thanks!

    • Lauren Dahl on April 12, 2017 at 12:25 am

      I’ve started on the kitchen but haven’t finished it yet. I did have a handyman take out the cabinets for me and repair the drywall behind them. I probably could have tackled it myself, but I didn’t want to. The shelves are the same barn wood from the wall. I’m not going to be able to do completely non-toxic for the kitchen, but I’ll try to share what I did use when I finish!

      • Connie Dominguez on April 12, 2017 at 12:27 am

        Thanks! My family and I enjoy your blog, it’s inspiring.

  5. Connie Dominguez on April 12, 2017 at 12:26 am

    Your living room update looks great! I love your style and your commitment to keeping your home “clean”. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Martina Clements on July 12, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    This is GORGEOUS. Where did you find the barn wood for your wall?

    • Lauren Dahl on July 17, 2018 at 8:47 pm

      It was leftover from an old barn on the property. It is beautiful!

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