Fluffing the Nest on a Dime: Cheap Home Improvements

I live next door to the Joneses. You know…the people that are always flashing their money and making the rest of us look (and feel) bad. Fortunately, I’m too old to care and I stopped trying to keep up with them long ago. After all, who really needs five flat screen televisions?

On the other hand, I do want my house to look neat, comfortable, and even a bit stylish without breaking the bank. I’m an interior designer and clients visit my home office frequently. My home, then, is the most obvious showcase of my decorating ability. If it’s sloppy or lackluster, clients aren’t likely to hire me. So how do I get the designer look in my own home without the designer price tag? I’ll let you in on a few of my secrets:

Paint

Paint is my all-time favorite remedy for any home decorating disaster. Inside and out, if the paint is crisp and fresh, the house looks better all-around. The trend today is for dark earth tones or rich pigments, although I still love the way light paint brightens and enlarges a room. Having trouble choosing a color? Spend the money for the 4 ounce paint samples. Paint chips really can’t give you a realistic view of what the paint will look like on the walls. Paint a square at least 12 inches by 12 inches, and live with it for a day or two. I bought six paint samples before I found the perfect color for my family room, “Whispering Wheat.” I spent $20 on the samples, which is a small price to pay for the room of my dreams.

Accessories

Whether used indoors or out, accessories pull a look together and give it definition. Accessories don’t have to cost a lot to create high impact. In my garden area, I’ve created a peaceful oasis with a fountain, some potted plants, and some fire pit furniture. Indoors, I use old books, family photos and my favorite Ironstone china to add charm and interest.

Furnishings

Buying new furniture is a lot like buying a new car. It loses more than half its value as soon as you remove it from the show room. I’ve never bought a brand-new piece of furniture in my life and frankly, don’t care to. Old furniture, especially vintage pieces that have a hand-rubbed finish, offer character and history. I find furniture at garage sales, estate sales, and even my mother’s basement. Check online sites like craigslist or try thrift stores. I don’t buy expensive antiques, but instead focus on well-made furniture with attractive lines. If a finish is marred, I simply get the marker out and touch it up, paint it or refinish it. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, slip covers are fairly simple to make and can breathe new life into an old chair or sofa.

Lighting

Lighting can make a huge difference in your home’s appeal, creating soft lines and a cozy ambience. Forget the high-end designer lighting stores, though, and head to your nearest home improvement store. Here, you’ll find a good selection of attractive lights, priced reasonably. Check the clearance section frequently. I recently picked up a chandelier for $25 and sconces for $3 each.

Free labor

Labor accounts for most of the cost associated with home improvement projects, but if you do the work yourself, you’ll save a bundle. My husband and I recently got several quotes for around $3,000 to tile our bathroom floor. We ended up doing the work ourselves and spent only $500 on supplies. If you want to do a project yourself, check out books or videos from the library. Talk with other savvy do-it-yourselfers and start with a small project. In no time, you’ll be an expert. Some good projects to tackle yourself include painting, tiling, screening a wood floor, and installing doors.

You don’t have to spend a lot to make your house into a comfortable haven. Just start small and tackle one or two projects every month. Before you know it, you’ll have the house of your dreams, while keeping your budget intact.

Karen Ho Fatt is an award-winning interior designer from Alberta, Canada. She loves nature and spends a lot of time outdoors at her country home. She also maintains a website dedicated to helping homeowners live the good life affordably. Her site includes reviews and information on backyard furniture, such as slate fire pits, from leading manufacturers.

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