Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe
Room refreshers for $500 and less
From creating a faux granite countertop to adding a wall4
mounted fireplace, here are easy, affordable ways to transform
your space.
By Elizabeth Gehrman | GLOBE CORRESPONDENT FEBRUARY 01, 2013
WITH SPRING APPROACHING, everyone’s looking forward to new beginnings.
Tearing out the old kitchen and starting from scratch or adding on a family room can
run into serious money, but there are plenty of smaller projects that can make for big
transformations with little cash outlay.

> $100 and Under
After a few years of homeownership, many people start building up a small inventory
of unused furniture. “Revisit some of that stuff in the attic, garage, and basement, and
start swapping things out,” says Kimberly Merritt, a design instructor at the Academy
of Design and Decorating in Peterborough, New Hampshire. “Think about what the
possibilities are, because oftentimes they’re endless.” Some pieces may take on new
life with a coat of paint or fresh upholstery, or simply by being moved to a different
room than the one they’re meant for. Try using the dining room’s hutch in the living
room as a bookshelf, for example, or placing a love seat along one side of the dining
table as banquette seating. “Sometimes people think all they have is junk,” says Mark
Haddad of Haddad Hakansson, a design firm in Belmont, “but they have some
beautiful pieces they’re just not utilizing properly.” Cost: $0
Bookcases or display shelves take on a whole new look — and brighten up the entire
room — when you line their backs with fabric or wallpaper. Merritt suggests creating
inserts using Homasote or another lightweight board covered in stripes, zigzags, or
toile. “When you get tired of it,” she says, “just pop the inserts out and reupholster. It’s
a quick fix, fun to do, very inexpensive, and you can change the look whenever you’re
in the mood.” Cost for a 4-by-8-foot bookcase: $50
Perhaps the simplest way to transform your space is with a can of paint. “Painting a
room can give you a lot of bang for your buck,” says Haddad. Paint an entire room —
powder rooms or small bathrooms, in particular, call out for “really splashy colors” —
or just a ceiling or accent wall. “Not only does it anchor the furniture,” he says, “but it
also adds interest to the space.” Cost for 1 gallon of paint and supplies: $60
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

“One thing that is totally underrated because we got traumatized by it in the 1970s is
wallpaper,” says Celine Riard, owner of Chic Redesign in Framingham, “but it’s an
amazing way to bring a space to life.” A 15-by-15-foot room with 8-foot ceilings will
require 11 rolls at as little as $30 each, but Haddad recommends doing only an accent
wall for a more dramatic look. “It’s not as expensive as a whole room, and you can still
get the effect of a very special detail,” he says. A 15-foot wall 8 feet high requires only
three double rolls of paper, and, because there are no corners, is easy enough for any
DIYer. Cost for one wall: $100
To freshen worn hardwood floors, painting is easier than refinishing. You need only
roughly sand the floor before laying down a coat of paint in a solid color or a
checkerboard, striped, or diamond pattern. “If you have more time, you can do a
stencil,” says Merritt, “which can look almost like a custom tile.” Decking paint, she
points out, can stand alone, since it cleans up well and is more rugged than regular
latex, which needs a couple coats of polyurethane over it. Cost for a 200-squarefoot room: $100
> $200 and Under
An underused utility room or closet near the kitchen can become a space-saving
pantry with the addition of a few shelves and other organizers. Big-box home stores
have lots of options, from hanging baskets to corner units; wire shelving can cost as
little as $4 a linear foot, while a more finished look can be achieved by hanging painted
pine with decorative brackets for as little as $5 a foot. IKEA offers even more choices
at budget-friendly prices. Once the room is done, Merritt suggests you make the back
of the door “organization central.” She recommends using chalkboard paint, hanging a
magnetic or fabric-covered bulletin board, and perhaps installing a hanging pocketstyle mail organizer with key hooks underneath. “That lets you utilize all the space and
give everything a place,” she says. Cost of all supplies: $175
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

Bringing in plants and colorful pots is
an inexpensive way to make your home
more inviting.
Sometimes you need a large piece of art to balance the room — say, over the couch or
sideboard — but that can be expensive. You can get the same impact by uniting many
smaller pieces. “Use new frames on existing pieces,” Haddad advises. “Make a themed
collage wall with the family history or places you’ve traveled, or hang kids’ art. When
you frame it, all of a sudden it’s a beautiful piece.” To pick up works from emerging
artists, he suggests going to places such as the SoWa Open Market in the South End,
Mudflat Studio in Somerville, and Atlantic Works in East Boston, as well as to student
art sales such as the one at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Barbara Elza
Hirsch, an interior designer and principal of Acton’s Elza B. Design, notes that Etsy is
also a “gold mine” of inexpensive art. Cost for nine frames and prints: $180
They can really warm up a space, says Haddad. If
you already own some plants, buy new pots
periodically. “It adds color and texture,” he says,
“and ceramic pots are more interesting because
of their details, versus just the standard pottery
pot.” Stores like T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, and
HomeGoods often have pots on clearance, and
over time you can pick up an assortment of four
or five for less than $100. Haddad also
experiments with flea-market finds, such as old
dinner plates to put under pots and vintage
bottles as bud vases. Plants themselves vary
widely in price, but Home Depot and Lowe’s sell
many fine options for as little as $4 apiece. Cost
for assorted plants and pots: $150
> $300 and Under
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

“Lamps make a room feel more cozy,
intimate, moody,” says Belmont interior
designer Mark Haddad.
If your laminate countertops look tired, but you’re not ready to drop a few thousand on
granite, fake it with a Countertop Transformations kit from Rust-Oleum. The kit
comes in five colors that approximate the look of real stone, and with a little elbow
grease, you can rejuvenate your counters in a weekend. The $150 kit covers 30 square
feet, while the $250 kit covers 50. Cost: $150 or $250
“I cannot stress how important it is to have a really cool ceiling fixture,” says Hirsch.
just completely transforms a room and gives the
room an edge, makes it feel finished. Ceilings are
pretty boring, but when you raise your head and
see a really unique light, it just feels more put
together.” You can give a room an updated feel
by adding or rearranging table and floor lamps
as well, says Haddad; for example, move an extra
lamp from the bedroom, where no one but you
sees it, to the living room. “Lamps make a room
feel more cozy, intimate, moody,” he says. He
recommends adding dimmer switches to
overhead lights to up the atmosphere quotient.
Cost for ceiling fixture, dimmer, and two
lamps: $300
“Tiling is one of the most rewarding projects,” says Riard, and tiling a kitchen
backsplash is one of the most transformative. Big-box home stores periodically offer
free classes in tiling, and once you learn how to do it, you can install anything from
white subway tiles to tiny glass squares to funky, colorful patterns behind the stove
and around the kitchen cabinets to give the room a whole new look. If you want the
look with less mess, the DIY Network sells a Bamboo Backsplash Kit (available on
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe 2/3/13 1:18 PM Page 6 of 11
Need ambience? Consider a wallmounted fireplace that doesn’t require
Amazon for $225) that covers 15 square feet of wall space and includes peel-and-stick
tiles and pre-mixed grout. Metal self-stick tiles are even easier to install and cost about
$14 a square foot, while Smart Tiles give the look of ceramic in easy-to-cut selfadhesive sheets for around $10 for a 10-by-10-inch square. Cost for 15 square feet:
$225 and less
> $400 and Under
A great way to overhaul your kitchen for less is to paint the cabinets and update their
hardware. Big-box stores sell cabinet-painting kits, but they’re not really necessary;
simply prep your cabinets properly — cleaning and sanding them thoroughly and
removing hardware, then priming before starting to paint — and you can get many
more years out of them. Change the knobs in the bargain, and with a few days’ work,
you’ll have a whole new look. Cost for all supplies: $350
Bringing warmth to your living room, dining
room, or bedroom no longer has to be a major
renovation project with the new ventless ethanol
fireplaces available. You simply pour some gel
fuel into the firebox and light it to create a safe
flame. “So you can go from a very empty, dark
space,” says Riard, “to a real-looking little
fireplace. It creates a nice little ambience.” The
SoHo Wall Mount fireplace by Devco, available
from, is an affordable, stylish
option. Cost: $350
Almost any room can take on a fresh personality with fabric. In the bathroom, find a
shower curtain you love — Target, in particular, has lots of innovative designs — match
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

Low-cost storage bins can reduce clutter
while adding visual interest.
new towels to it, and, perhaps, if you’re feeling handy, buy a second shower curtain to
adapt for the window. In the bedroom, “new bedding sounds simple,” says Haddad,
“but it makes a world of difference.” Queen-size duvet covers and bedspreads typically
sell for around $200, as do sheet sets; both are significantly less at websites like and stores like HomeGoods and Marshalls. For the dining room, new
curtains, tablecloth, runners, and cloth napkins work wonders, while many dining sets
have cloth-covered seats that are a breeze to reupholster: Simply pop out the wood
insert, remove old fabric, and staple the new fabric into place. In the living room,
Haddad recommends adding sheers behind long curtains. “They give you a sense of
privacy,” he says, “but allow the light to come through.” Accent pillows on the couch
and chairs liven up the space and can be changed seasonally. Dress rooms in winter
with wool, boucle, Ultrasuede, or even faux fur; in summer, change to raw silk or a
colorful cotton. Cost to redo fabrics in one room: $100 to $400
> $500 and Under
Reglazing, done by a professional, is a practical way to get rid of that old pink
porcelain at about a third of what you’d pay to replace the tub. It lasts for years and
may save you enough to buy a swank new toilet and vanity. Cost: $500
“Sort your stuff and get storage bins,” says
Hirsch. “Any room can benefit from that,
whether it’s your office or the kids’ bedroom or
the entryway.” Shop for supplies at places like
the Container Store, IKEA, and Target. In the
kitchen, consider lid racks, pullout trash bins,
and back-of-the-door spice racks, and add a
freestanding cart or island to fill with small
appliances and cookbooks. For children’s rooms,
shelves with canvas bins conveniently stash toys,
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

while organizing the closet by clothes’ colors or
sizes can help with the morning rush. And even the dingiest basement can be
brightened up with a fresh coat of white waterproof paint, a shelving rack, and some
bright, coordinating colored boxes from the storage section of your local big-box store
— use one for extra electrical supplies such as extension cords and adapters, one for
paint brushes, one for tape and twine, and so forth. Finish the revamp with one folding
table for screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, and power tools, and another for gardening
supplies, from potting soil to extra planters. Cost to organize one room: $450
If living space is at a premium, consider converting an underused closet into a home
office. If you have a 4-foot-wide closet, start by removing any built-ins and freshening
up the walls with paint or wallpaper (two double rolls can cost as little as $60). Next,
spray-paint two two-drawer file cabinets ($55 each at Staples) a bright color to
complement the walls. Place an easy-to-clean IKEA Galant white table top ($70) over
them to create your work surface and add three clean-lined Ekby Jarpen wall shelves
($25 each) above to hold books, papers, baskets, and knickknacks. Lighting is crucial
in a small space, so be sure you have a bright overhead fixture as well as a task lamp;
an electrician can install a double outlet for as little as $150, so you’ll have a place to
plug in your computer, phone, and whatever else you might need. Finish the space by
hanging pegboard or corkboard on the doors or painting them with chalkboard paint.
Tuck in a small swivel chair (as little as $25 for IKEA’s Snille model) and get to work.
Cost: $490
“A small bathroom can be so boring,” says Hirsch. “But it can be updated to feel more
put-together and inviting with a few minor details.” She recommends starting with a
bold, graphic wallpaper for a “big bang effect.” Then, up the luxe factor by switching
the dull overhead light to a mini chandelier, and add spa-like finishing touches such as
a sea-grass basket to hold rolled hand towels, a clear glass liquid-soap dispenser, and a
vintage flea-market mirror. “Just a few small changes can create a sense of quiet and
visual harmony and unity that make people feel pampered,” Hirsch says. Cost for a
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

4-by-5-foot powder room: $430
If your mudroom or entryway has become a disorganized catchall, reorganizing and
beautifying it can help inspire family members to keep it neat. After painting the room
a standout color, the first priority is to create a surface on which to install matching
bins or baskets. Even a single 8-foot-long shelf can make a world of difference in
getting miscellaneous stuff off the floor. “Tag the bins by what they hold, such as
mittens, et cetera,” says Hirsch, “or with a family member’s name. It creates a sense of
unity.” Not to mention a sense of personal accountability. She recommends installing
pegs or coat hooks underneath the shelf to hold coats, hats, and reusable shopping
bags, and adding a boot tray or two to the floor. A 4-by-8 area rug and a bench for
changing shoes can make the place feel homey at a cost of around $150 each, less if
you shop Craigslist. A dry-erase calendar with corkboard can aid in the organization
effort. “You can pin up important invitations, notices, tickets for the Saturday game,
and emergency numbers,” says Hirsch, “rather than putting thousands of magnets on
your fridge.” Finish the look with an interesting container to use as an umbrella stand
and identically framed family photos, kids’ drawings, or, to visually expand the room,
a mirror. “It’s all about streamlining,” Hirsch says. Cost: $500
“A lot of people have a rug that is too small or totally outdated,” says Riard. If your
furniture is neutral, a new rug can add a splash of needed color that you can then pick
up with accent pillows and a throw. Cost for 8-by-10-foot rug and matching
accessories: $500
“Most people never think of another way to put their furniture,” says Celine Riard,
owner of Chic Redesign in Framingham, “but it’s a great way to change a room.” How
to get started:
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

✚ Decide on your focal point. In the living room, that’s usually the fireplace or the
television. But resist the temptation to combine them, putting the flatscreen over the
fireplace, where it can be too high and awkward. Nowadays, Riard says, with LED and
plasma, “most TVs have a very good viewing angle,” so the TV can be off to the side, as
long as you can see it from every comfy seat in the room. If you don’t have a fireplace
and don’t want to make the TV the center of activity, create a focal point with an
accent wall or artwork.
✚ A common mistake is to push all the furniture against the walls. Instead, consider
“floating” larger pieces in conversational groups toward the center of the room,
anchored by an area rug. “You don’t need more than 18 inches distance between the
sofa and the coffee table,” says Riard. “That’s almost like your little island of coziness.”
A console table behind the couch, she adds, can give you a place for lamps and favorite
decorative items, and if there’s space, the perimeter of the room can hold bookshelves
or a shallow computer desk.
✚ If you have a long, narrow space, split conversational groupings by placing two
couches or a couch and one or two chairs at one end, with the pieces facing one
another around a coffee table. At the other end of the room, two chairs and a side table
make a cozy nook.
✚ Consider angled configurations. “It’s not space-saving,” Riard says, “but it’s a great
way to change the room,” particularly if you have a lot of doors and windows that
make traffic flow awkward.
✚ Separate the set. “People get hooked into buying a matching sofa and love seat,” says
Riard, “but it’s more unique and stylish to break it up.” Bring in that wingback chair
from the bedroom instead or perhaps a pair of wicker seats from an outdoor set. And
remove any unused pieces; rooms can be overwhelmed by too much furniture.
✚ Remember designers’ “rule of three.” Groupings, whether of furniture or
accessories, are best in odd numbers, three being the most typical. Artists and
photographers know this as “the golden triangle,” and it can apply to anything from a
trio of vases to tables on each end of the couch and a painting behind it.
Room makeovers for $500 and less – Magazine – The Boston Globe

Elizabeth Gehrman is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments
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