Maybe your friend is a clutterbug?
sg784, I don't think your house looks empty. There are a couple empty corners (the big area on the other side of the kitchen island) and the furniture arrangement is a little awkward (lined up couches in the living room) but not completely empty.
[Do you need some more storage for those extra pots and pans on the floor? Or are you in the midst of putting things away/decluttering? A hanging pot rack over the island might be nice if those are all keeper items.]
I don't even think the walls look bare. With all that color up there--what an improvement, by the way!--I think the walls look plenty filled up.
I would tweak the arrangement of the two collages over the living room fireplace so that they are both centered over it, even if they are hung at different heights.
I think the votives are fine, they probably look very pretty in the evening all lit up, but if you want something more, maybe cluster them all together on one end of the mantel with something stacked under two of them at different heights for variety. There's a design blog called The Nesting Place that has some really great tutorials on simple, use-what-you-got decorating and especially mantel pretty-fying.
If it were my house, I would move the loveseat into the empty corner in the kitchen area, to make a second sitting area for reading cookbooks or a place for friends to sit and visit while I'm cooking. Then I'd move the couch and coffee table closer in to the fireplace in the living room, so that the walking path goes around and behind the seating, rather than in front of it.
Can I say how much I love your kitchen fireplace?! It is just like the one in several of Tasha Tudor's Christmas books. Her family always set up their Nativity scene in the little kindling box area with votives and hay.
How lucky you are to have an old house! And what a great job you've done fixing it up. Congrats!