15 things you can do to improve your home for less than $100 each
By Lindsey M. Roberts
Special for the Washington Post
In the midst of this real estate hot moment, you might find yourself unable to move into the home you desire, or maybe you had to buy a house without seeing it and you have little money left. to renovate it. Or maybe you’ve been staring at the walls while working from home during the pandemic, and now you wish you could completely redo your kitchen.
Your dreams may be bigger than you can achieve right now, but three interior designers say there’s always hope. Here are some small changes you can make — each for less than $100 — that will breathe new life and energy into your home.
Declutter for 30 minutes a day. “We recently moved to a smaller house and every day I spend 30 minutes working in drawers,” says Houston designer Mary Patton. “Having fewer things is so much better for your mental health.” If she gathers a pile to donate, she’ll drop it off the next day, so the items won’t sit in her car for six months.
Take an inventory of the whole house. “Once you’ve decluttered, decide what you actually need” to bring, Patton says. Go room by room and make a list of where you need a side table, chair, or new paint, and note what needs fixing. Otherwise, it’s easy to wander through the home sections of stores and be overstimulated and overwhelmed – and come home with more clutter.
Add art. “I’m a big fan of vintage,” says Cheryl Luckett, designer and owner of Dwell by Cheryl in Charlotte. “If I had $100 on a Saturday, I could do a lot of damage to an antique mall.”
Vintage art at thrift or antique stores often comes with frames, saving you most of the cost of a new piece of art. “It doesn’t have to be tall either,” says Luckett. A small piece might work in a powder room that doesn’t have a lot of wall space. She also likes to press small still lifes on kitchen counters for color.
To paint. “Paint is the #1 answer in my book,” says Luckett. A powder room could be done with a can of paint if the walls are in good condition and you don’t need to prime. Also consider painting the doors. “A black door does wonders in terms of raising things up,” says Luckett, as long as the room has enough light to allow it. She also frequently paints furniture to give a room an updated look.
Add plants. Patton recommends picking up inexpensive plants, such as snake plants, and interesting planters from home improvement stores. For jars with a little more personality, she recommends checking out Wayfair. Search for the color you want, then filter in-stock products to circumvent inventory and supply chain issues that stores face.
Hire an interior designer for an hour. Even though she’s a designer, Patton struggles to make decisions in her own home. We all need someone else’s point of view sometimes. Many designers have hourly rates and will come in for a short consultation to offer advice or a vision for your space. Or you can hire a stager to help rearrange your home for better flow. “Even a good friend with taste” can help, says Patton.
Create a family photo gallery wall. Patton often takes a homeowner’s bin of photos, scans the best black-and-white ones, and displays them in frame sets she finds on Overstock, Amazon, or Wayfair. She’s looking for sets of three that have thin, black frames and white mats and come with a template to help you position them.
“If you have a ton of photos, you can get three sets and put them together,” she adds. As for the best place to do it, Patton says, “I like to do family photos in hallways and stairways, not in a main area of your house.” Bay Photo Lab is his go-to for ordering prints.
Install cork walls. In a kitchen or children’s playroom, Patton suggests using stick-on cork tiles to create places to pin family photos, Christmas cards or children’s artwork. The parts are easy to change when the mood takes you.
Change bulbs. “All the bulbs in your house should be the same color,” says Patton, who prefers to use bulbs with a temperature of 3000K. She also likes non-LED because she struggles to get the right colors with LED bulbs. But whether you use incandescent or LED, it’s important to stay consistent. Patton also recommends installing dimmers to control lighting levels.
Try plug-in lighting. “Plug-in wall sconces are a really fun way to add levels of lighting to your home without having to run wires and power your walls,” says Ariana Grieu, designer at SM&P Architects in Baltimore. Decorative cord sconces can be wrapped around large wall hooks for an ultra-modern look. Even large pendants can be plugged in and hung from the ceiling for additional lighting. (Ikea and other retailers offer budget options.)
Add sheer curtains. Grieu recommends hanging sheers behind heavier window treatments. They provide privacy for transitional times in the early morning and late afternoon, “when we’re not quite ready to draw the curtains,” she says. They can also filter light the rest of the day. Clear panels can be found at Target for around $40 each.
Line the ceiling. Grieu likes to put accent wallpaper on the ceilings of small rooms like living rooms or bathrooms. Their size can reduce wallpaper costs. “I tend to keep my other living spaces more neutral because so many elements have to co-exist in one space,” she says.
But she loves “funky, colorful wet rooms.” Textured ceilings will first need to be made flat. And before you hang the paper, figure out how you’re going to remove it when the time comes. Peel and stick wallpaper removes easily; traditional wallpaper will last longer, but is harder to remove.
Replace hardware. Luckett recently bought a white desk and replaced the hardware with something fancier, and “now it looks custom,” she says. Whether it’s furniture or cabinetry, new hardware is an inexpensive upgrade. Look for hardware on build.com or Wayfair.
As for what to choose, Luckett says, “There are no one right design answers, and I’m not a fan of teaching people there are. The bigger the material, the more visual impact it has, but that doesn’t mean that big is always better.
Add color. Luckett likes to draw inspiration for his accessories from a main fabric with multiple colors. She chooses a color from the fabric, then finds matching dishes, vases, pillows and throws to add interest to a room. She says you can find vintage dishes and vases for around $20 or $30.
Create decorative moments. Grieu likes to add pedestals of varying heights, even a stack of books, to “create decorative moments and interest in intertwined clusters of objects” on bookshelves, coffee tables, mantels, and more. She also likes to use pillar candles, dried flowers or greenery and small frames. “Odd numbers are always more attractive in terms of clusters,” she says, and three is her favorite number for grouping pieces.