In August 2016, I was contacted by Phi Mu Headquarters to help the local Gamma Theta Chapter redo their basement common room at James Madison University on Greek Row. After discussing the branding and the goal of updating the look to reflect Phi Mu, I met with the local adviser, Kelly, and several of the young women who make up only part of the 250 members. They told me they wanted the room to feel cozy and homey, but the style they would like to see was “Sophisticated Bohemian”. Not a common request, and not usually my style of project, but it sounded fun. I have two college-aged daughters and I felt like I could design the perfect room for these young women.

The New Phi Mu Common Room at James Madison University

Phi Mu Fraternity: The Sorority House Makeover at James Madison University by Bluestone Decorating.
The new sitting area in the Phi Mu Fraternity House at JMU. With custom window treatments and a palette of pinks, purples, and deep reds, this area allows for a formal sitting area yet relaxed conversation.

The space is 30’x22′, so I felt breaking it into smaller zones would bring the cozy factor. Previously, the television was centered on the back wall and the green sofas formed a U around it. The dining table was near the windows. In order to offer a “formal” seating area that could also feel like it was part of the more “informal” television area, I moved the dining area to stretch down one wall. There is now a more formal-feeling entry area as well. So two oversized zones became four cozy areas that still allow for traffic flow without feeling cluttered.

The Concept: Floor Plan

Phi Mu JMU: The furniture plan
How I laid it out in design software. Initial rendering…

What exactly is Sophisticated Bohemian?

Hmm, I wasn’t really sure when I started this project. I decided it was somewhat bohemian, which encompasses a mix of patterns, colors, and textures. But it would have a more grown-up feeling than a dorm might. No tapestries on the walls or Christmas lights strung around the room. A pulled together, cohesive room that looks curated and elegant, yet relaxing and soft. That’s what I decided to make Sophisticated Bohemian, anyway…

I started working with the color palette. Phi Mu usually features a soft, carnation pink. The chapter members wanted a deep wine color. As everything had to be approved on the National level, we compromised by choosing Sherwin-Williams “Concerto” SW 6298 for the upper walls. This gave us a soft, dusty rose color. The palette would range anywhere from a pale pink to a deep, royal purple. For the lower walls, I chose “Repose Gray” SW 7015 and the chair rail is “Creamy” SW 7012.

The Concept: Pulling the Pieces Together for the Client

Sophisticated Bohemian Concept Board
Concept board for Phi Mu

By adding lots of layers to the room, we would get that feel of “collected over time”. A wide range of patterns in our furnishings, window treatments, art, and accessories would make it feel like it wasn’t put together to match, but to blend. As long as we stayed with the overall style and within the palette, anything would work well. I started by building a Pinterest board for Sophisticated Bohemian ideas, and that allowed me to not only bookmark products we may want to purchase, but to look at unifying factors within those rooms that we could use in this one.

Before: Hot Pink & Lime Green with Shabby Chic?

Any of these elements could have worked in another way, but not together. These are a few of the “Before” photos I took when I first visited the house. Four large lime green sofas. Hot pink walls, with the chair rail painted pink as well. Peach on the lower wall. Cream French Country style hard furnishings. No bueno.

Sophisticated Bohemian Custom Window Treatments

During discussions, I learned that they are required to clear the room during Recruitment. Which meant none of the new style was going to show. I opted to splurge a bit on the windows. They would be staying even if the room was empty. With only one large 10-foot window and two sidelights, it was important that as much light as possible come in, but still allow for privacy. My first design concept was to use one of the large medallion tapestries as a cornice fabric. But with a 10′ span, it wouldn’t stretch. Here’s my silly little sketch:

Phi Mu Sophisticated Bohemian Window Sketch by Crystal Ortiz


After meeting with my favorite seamstress at Seams Like Home, she explained why my tapestry wasn’t going to work, so we went through her books of fabrics and found the gorgeous ikat from Kasmir Fabrics that we used instead. I’m blessed to have Heidi – she can tell me about problems before they arise!

Kasmir Fabric chosen for Phi Mu JMU Window Treatments

The creamy white sheers were almost the same color as the chair rail, and a deep garnet taffeta hangs on each side in a fixed position. When I see them brush the floor, I think of a gorgeous ballgown.

Custom Windows at Phi Mu Gamma Theta
Isn’t that window gorgeous? Seams Like Home did a fantastic job with the creation and installation. Photo by Crystal Ortiz

Furniture Choices: Some New, Some Old, Some Custom, Some Stock…

The ladies of Phi Mu had already started looking at furniture, and I helped them make final decisions. The sofas are from EmeraldCraft and were ordered with a dark gray fabric. Because they automatically come with throw pillows, and we didn’t want plain gray, we chose 3 different fabrics in whatever shades of purple we could find at Grand Furnishings.

Phi Mu Fraternity: The Sorority House Makeover at James Madison University by Bluestone Decorating.
Highlighting the members of Phi Mu by having their Chapter photo professionally hung over the sofa, a focal point as you enter the room. Photography by Chris DeLoach.

I also went with the tables & chairs they had previously looked at, and those are counter height from Klint furniture, part of the Trisha Yearwood collection.

Phi Mu House Makeover at JMU
A closeup of the counter-height chairs and the table for Phi Mu. Photo by Crystal Ortiz
Phi Mu Fraternity: The Sorority House "Sophisticated Bohemian" Makeover at James Madison University by Bluestone Decorating.
I created two small floral arrangements for the tables, using the signature Quatrefoil in the planters and chargers that Phi Mu already owned.

All of the bookcases, the media center, the sideboard, and credenza were previously in the room (see before photos above). I rearranged them and placed a runner over the sideboard.

Little Details have Big Impact

To reflect the Phi Mu branding, the knobs on the media center (now being used as a console at the entryway) were changed to small lion heads. This gorgeous watercolor art was purchased online through a handmade site, and I found the frame at a local craft store.

Phi Mu Fraternity: The Sorority House "Sophisticated Bohemian" Makeover at James Madison University by Bluestone Decorating.
Creating an entry where none existed. The Sir Fidel Lion of Phi Mu is represented through a piece of art purchased online as well as the small lion head knobs on the cabinet.

Seating is critical when 28 women live in the House, and membership is almost 250. Multiple seating zones allow the room to be divided into intimate conversation, yet lots of space to add more chairs when a meeting is required. The purple tufted velvet chairs were perfect for the entryway, which also showcases awards that belong to the local Chapter.

Phi Mu Sorority House at JMU
These little velvet chairs are so comfy, and made the perfect sitting spot in the entryway. The custom Phi Mu pillow was found online. Gamma Theta awards are displayed on the bookcases, and the Charter was later hung between the cases. Photo by Crystal Ortiz

The fun creamy colored print chairs were an Urban Outfitters find and pulled the room together. So many aspects of our color palette were in those little chairs.

Phi Mu Fraternity at James Madison University
Aren’t these chairs from Urban Outfitters awesome? Photo by Crystal Ortiz
Phi Mu House Makeover by Bluestone Decorating
The back view of the chairs from UO, just inside the door as you enter the House. Photo by Crystal Ortiz

Because the heavy art could not be hung until the following week, I can’t show you the Charter hung on the wall, nor the large Quatrefoil mirror that later went up along the wall by the dining tables.

Phi Mu Fraternity: The Sorority House "Sophisticated Bohemian" Makeover at James Madison University by Bluestone Decorating.
A view back toward the entry door. The purple velvet tufted ottoman can be used for propping feet up, setting down a stack of homework, or extra seating for a large meeting.

Adding lots of small tables in similar size/scale provided plenty of space for setting a laptop aside while working in the room, or decorative accessories when it just needs to look pretty. There are 3 squared end tables and 3 round accent tables within this room. Lots of lamp lighting as well – 6 table lamps and 2 floor lamps, so the harsh overhead lights are only necessary for meetings or events.

Sophisticated Bohemian Phi Mu Sorority at James Madison University by Bluestone Interior Decoratoring
The new sitting area in the Phi Mu Fraternity House at JMU. With custom window treatments and a palette of pinks, purples, and deep reds, this area allows for a formal sitting area yet relaxed conversation.

The art was mostly found online. I fell in love with this canvas when I found it and put it on the must-have list immediately.

Phi Mu House at JMU
The world map art, made up of small hearts of various shades from our color palette. Photo by Crystal Ortiz

And these were online finds that didn’t break the budget. A hint when choosing art: Go as big as you can afford or your space allows. Let the art make a statement. So often, clients are afraid to commit to large art. The way I see it, bigger is better.

Phi Mu Fraternity: The Sorority House "Sophisticated Bohemian" Makeover at James Madison University by Bluestone Decorating.
With two dining tables lined up together, the focal point down the wall was a piece of art hung over their existing sideboard, flanked by new buffet lamps.





Phi Mu at JMU House Makeover
Go big with art! I chose this piece because it had so many colors from our palette available. Photo by Crystal Ortiz
Phi Mu Sorority House at James Madison University
The view straight ahead as you walk in the door of the Phi Mu House at JMU. Photo by Crystal Ortiz

How long did it take me to pull off the Sophisticated Bohemian House?

The custom furniture took the longest, although we were told 12 weeks, it arrived after about 9. Most of the smaller furnishings were ordered online and had to be warehoused for as much as 30 days. It did require a moving van and movers to get it all installed.

I spent about 80 hours over several months working out all of the details, the sourcing, the design plans, the shopping, and the final installation. I loved seeing it all come together, from initial concept to sourcing all of the pieces. I’m sure at times my Clients thought I was crazy, they weren’t sure about my vision, but they were amazing to work with and I would do it over again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. The Chapter President left me a wonderful testimonial, and my contact at National texted that she felt it was gorgeous. Yay! Nothing is better than a fully finished design project with happy clients! In fact, here’s the Review that National left for me on Houzz:

“After finding Crystal listed on the Houzz website and having a lengthy conversation regarding the details of our project, our decision was made immediately due to Crystal’s professional knowledge and ability to work within our timeline. Crystal was able to select appropriate furniture and décor for a large sorority space that needed to follow university guidelines as well as national organization guidelines and met our deadline with a close eye on our budget. Crystal was able to take a specific color palette and transform our vision into a realty with custom window treatments, on trend décor and durable furniture. I would highly recommend Bluestone Decorating for future projects and enjoyed working with Crystal at each level.”

  • Sheila Mendoza, Housing Coordinator, Phi Mu

The design fees for a new client would be the equivalent of a room-and-a-half at the Premier level.

Want to see ALL of the “After” photos? They’re right here, in my Portfolio.



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