Fluffing the Nest on a Dime: Cheap Home Improvements

April 10, 2012 | Posted By: Karen Ho Fatt | Categorized in: Home & Auto
I live next door to the Joneses. You knowÖthe people that are always flashing their money and making the rest of us look (and feel) bad. Fortunately, Iím 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. Iím an interior designer and clients visit my home office frequently. My home, then, is the most obvious showcase of my decorating ability. If itís sloppy or lackluster, clients arenít likely to hire me. So how do I get the designer look in my own home without the designer price tag? Iíll let you in on a few of my secrets:


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 canít 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, ďWhispering Wheat.Ē I spent $20 on the samples, which is a small price to pay for the room of my dreams.


Whether used indoors or out, accessories pull a look together and give it definition. Accessories donít have to cost a lot to create high impact. In my garden area, Iíve 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.


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. Iíve never bought a brand-new piece of furniture in my life and frankly, donít 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 motherís basement. Check online sites like craigslist or try thrift stores. I donít 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 youíre handy with a sewing machine, slip covers are fairly simple to make and can breathe new life into an old chair or sofa.


Lighting can make a huge difference in your homeís 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, youíll 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, youíll 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, youíll be an expert. Some good projects to tackle yourself include painting, tiling, screening a wood floor, and installing doors.

You donít 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, youíll 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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