Have you ever wished you could live inside your favorite books? All it takes to transform a basic room into a literary-themed oasis is a few key pieces, and I'm here to show you how! This is part three of my How to Live in a Book series, and today I’ll illustrate the theory behind immersive decorating by showing you exactly how I transformed an empty, weird-shaped room into a super fun Magical Common Room inspired by Harry Potter.
If you'd prefer to watch this discussion on YouTube (with lots more photos!) instead of reading through this whole, long post, please click here!
Just a quick review if you missed the earlier parts … I launched the Storyteller’s Cottage in 2017 to create immersive events based on my favorite books. The commercial property I bought was built in 1891, and I redecorated it so each room had its own distinct theme that could serve as a backdrop for a variety of bookish activities. The living room became the Victorian-themed Jules Verne Steampunk Library, the dining room was transformed into the Regency-era Jane Austen Salon, the sun room became the whimsical Alice in Wonderland Tea Room, an upstairs office became the Magical Common Room, and we even built a bookcase wall with a secret door into a Medieval Castle Keep. Two bedrooms were transformed into escape rooms that were themed to Agatha Christie and time travel, and within months, the whole house was filled with delighted book nerds enjoying enchanted activities like Harry Potter parties, Great Gatsby jazz supper clubs, masquerade balls, Jane Austen tea parties and even live murder mysteries.
Today I’m going to show you how I used the same strategies that I normally use to create literary-themed spaces for parties … to transform an entire house. I’ll share all of my secrets so YOU can also create magical, otherworldly spaces, inspired by your favorite books, on a very tiny budget.
Now let’s dive in to see how I transformed this catchall office space/storage room into a super immersive Magical Common Room that became the backdrop for all kinds of fantastical activities, from Harry Potter classes, parties and summer camp, to magical tea parties, board game nights, and more. Be sure to check the links at the end of this post to read or watch the rest of the series to see how I transformed each of the other rooms at The Storyteller’s Cottage.
This room is located on the second floor of the house, in a weirdly-shaped space that was created when the circa 1891 building was connected with new construction to the rest of the commercial property behind it. It had a strange L-shape, no entry door, and this open staircase to the third floor attic space. Despite its weird layout though, it had great potential for a space that seemed to belong to a castle -- especially since I wanted it to remind people of the Gryffindor Common Room, and we could pretend the staircase was heading toward the Gryffindor dormitories. And speaking of the staircase, this room also had a tiny closet under the stairs with wood floors and built-in shelves … and I know you can guess where I’m going with this … of course this would make a perfect cupboard under the stairs for Harry Potter fans!
It’s never a good thing to get into a copyright war with a large company over their intellectual property, so I didn’t want to recreate the exact Gryffindor common room … instead, I chose to decorate the space so it would remind you of the space where Harry and his friends hung out. To do that, I scoured the internet for all kinds of screenshots from the movies to see exactly what items stood out in the Gryffindor common room. Because, as I frequently remind you in my posts & videos, creating an immersive space, where you FEEL as though you’ve been transported to another world, doesn’t require buying a lot of expensive or authentic period items, it actually just needs a few iconic pieces to SUGGEST the environment you’re trying to replicate, and the visitors’ imaginations fill in the rest.
So looking at the Harry Potter studio photos, you can see that this room is really all about the red chairs, the red walls, the fireplace and the old paintings. So I knew I wanted to build my room around these four items, but before I could start, I had a construction project to complete.
This stairway originally featured a very crude, open railing when I bought the house, and I decided to box it in to give it the weight more appropriate for a castle, and to provide a backdrop for a freestanding fireplace in this little corner. I found this fireplace on Craigslist for about $100, and it really looks old and built-in.
With the banister boxed in, I had the perfect spot to hang this fantastic wallpaper that looks like stone castle walls -- which I found on Amazon, by the way. And with the wall filled in, there’s also a nice solid place to hang a round antique mirror over the fireplace, which I bought for something like $10 from the nice lady who sold me the bedroom set for Agatha Christie’s room.
As you know if you’ve seen my other Before and After posts & videos, to decorate a “blank canvas” of a room you want to attack it in five layers:
So to complete the background, I added this fantastic red paisley wallpaper on the other three walls of the space. This paper, just like the old-fashioned design I chose for the Victorian Library room, is out of style among regular folks, and was therefore quite cheap. But I loved it, and the minute this wallpaper was on the wall, the room already felt 95% finished -- it makes such a difference to the feeling of the space compared to the original plain white walls.
I painted the trim around the windows and the stairs a deep brown so it faded into the background, and added some old-fashioned wooden corner protectors in the same brown, so the wallpaper wouldn’t shred if people knocked up against these awkward outer edges.
Next I found these vibrant red and gold curtains on Amazon, and hung them in front of the windows with the tiebacks pulled to the center. This window overlooks the brick wall of the neighboring building, so pulling the curtains in front of the window makes them the focal point and directs attention away from the not-so-great view, while still letting in light.
I found this reproduction oriental rug on Craigslist in just the right size to fill up this weird square space -- it was totally meant to be -- and the background was done.
2. Large furniture
Next, I moved on to the large furniture. This room was set up in a lot of different ways over the years to accommodate various different types of activities -- sometimes it was a Hogwarts classroom, sometimes it was a meeting area for the Mysterious Pendragon Society, or for book clubs, or for writing groups, sometimes it was set up for board games or Dungeons & Dragons … but in every version, the furniture in this room always centered around these two perfect red armchairs. These were just $25 on Craigslist for the pair, and they really did the job to mimic the red seating in the Gryffindor Common Room. And they were comfy too!
At first I also added a long wooden bench and used it with various small tables, but later I moved that to another room and added a tall bookshelf instead, to hold all our fantasy-themed board games.
In more recent years, I moved the two brown paisley armchairs from the Victorian Library up here and grouped all four comfy chairs around this vintage game table, which made a very cozy spot for reading and book discussions.
3. Accent furniture
The accent furniture in this room was fairly flamboyant, out of necessity. Since the room is so small, each individual piece had to really pull its weight and have a lot of flair to give the space that eclectic, “collected over centuries” feel that the Gryffindor Common Room has.
I added this old sewing table that I picked up for free from someone I bought some other furniture from, and these cool old piano stools with claw feet that could move anywhere in the room for seating.
A funky royal-looking chair lived in the corner for a while, then moved into the castle room, and I added a simple coat rack and hung a house scarf on it so it looks like a Hogwarts student recently breezed through.
One last item in this category is this charming grandfather clock from Craigslist (which someone told me is actually a grandmother clock because it’s small), that sits in this unused corner sort of in the entry or approach to the actual common room area. Nothing else would really fit here, and I love how it sets the tone for the vintage feel of the space.
I left the overhead lighting alone in this room (aside from adding these cool light covers), and just added a few small table lamps, then when we had evening activities, we turned off the main lights and used battery operated pillar candles all over instead.
And then it was time for the real fun - the accessories! Everything I brought into this room was either something I already had or something I picked up for less than $5 at my local thrift shop.
I started with the fireplace, since it’s a focal point and the first thing you see when you walk into the room. The mantel is the perfect spot to create magical still lives, which changed regularly as we held different activities in the room, but always included some combination of old books, potion bottles, this fantastic crystal ball (which was donated by a good friend of the Cottage), sometimes a cauldron, which I picked up for free from a Japanese restaurant that was closing, and even our treasured Triwizard Cup.
As a subtle nod to Harry Potter, I printed out and laminated these envelopes from Hogwarts and attached them with fishing line to look like the letters that poured out of the Dursley’s fireplace when they wouldn’t let Harry get his mail.
Sprinkled around the room on tables and shelves are more nods to the magical atmosphere of this room, including dragons, poison apples, magic spell books, and a bit of Harry Potter fan art.
Occasionally, when we had special events we’d hang these floating candles from the sprinkler pipes, but the local fire marshal didn’t care for that so we would take them right back down after each event. These were just made from little battery operated tea lights wrapped in printer paper.
I hung a few more pieces of art on the walls, most of which were actually graphics I bought and downloaded from Etsy, then printed out and mounted in frames from the thrift shop.
And speaking of art … have a look at this mysterious staircase! It looks like the staircase that leads from the Gryffindor Common Room to the dormitories, but where does this one actually go? Well, if we follow it up past the fancy gold mirror and all the proclamations from Umbridge, we take a few turns and end up at a very interesting landing that we named the Artist’s Garret.
It’s separated from the rest of the third floor by this door by order of the fire marshal, who wouldn’t let us use the top floor for the public because it only had one means of egress (this one staircase), but they did approve the use of this tiny landing since it was obviously right on top of the exit route.
I furnished this with a vintage desk with a fold-out surface and cool cubbyholes, and this tiny spot became a very popular space for local writers to come and work during the day, and for the kids who came to events to hang out together, which they loved because it feels like a secret clubhouse. I added a short bookcase and a beanbag chair, and the sign across the door to the rest of the attic storage space reads “Do Not Enter - Here There Be Dragons!”
The very best part of this desk is that it had actual secret compartments, and we used those a lot when we had scavenger hunts, custom escape games, and fantasy quests for our Percy Jackson & Harry Potter summer camps.
Under The Stairs
Now there’s one last secret in this room, and it’s the Cupboard Under the Stairs. It already had wood floors, built-in shelves, and a light that you could turn on by pulling a string, and I added this tiny nightstand and two chairs to hold my Harry Potter chess set. There’s a beanbag in the corner for reading in peace, and I covered the walls in the old Harry Potter posters that my sons had outgrown.
This room was one of the places in the house that would literally make people gasp when they saw it for the first time, hidden behind the Dumble-Door (get it?)
And that’s how I created a Magical Common Room at The Storyteller’s Cottage! Before the pandemic, we held all sorts of fun, fantasy activities here, including Harry Potter classes and book clubs, Hogwarts at Night parties for grownups, summer camps themed to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Dungeons & Dragons, magical tea parties, board game nights, live murder mysteries and much more. We even had people come specifically for photo shoots where they would dress up and take pictures for their Instagram or YouTube channels!
If you ever visited the Storyteller’s Cottage and spent time in the Magical Common Room, tell us about it in the comments or email a photo to info at storytellerscottage.com!
Remember, you can see all kind of additional photos of the Jane Austen Regency Salon transformation on our YouTube channel!
Stay tuned for Part 4 of the How to Live in a Book series, featuring the renovation of this long and messy office space into an amazing medieval castle room hidden behind a secret bookcase door.