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There may be no place like it, but that doesn’t mean even the most beloved home can’t benefit from an occasional facelift. That’s a notion not lost on homeowners who have embraced home improvement projects in a big way. According to Michelle Hillgoth, marketing coordinator for the DesPlaines, Illinois-based National Association of the Remodeling Industry, Americans spent $265.6 billion on home improvement projects in 2004. And 18 percent of those projects were carried out by homeowners themselves.

While do-it-yourselfers can invest thousands of dollars in improvements, small changes can create big new looks, even on the tightest of budgets. The addition of decorative molding, new cabinet or door hardware, lighting fixtures, and interior doors can transform a home from dated to inspired without spending a fortune. But the simplest home mini-makeovers begin with a can and a plan.

Grab a Brush
“Painting a room is good place to start,” says interior designer Rita Harrison, of Rita Harrison Interiors in Corbin. “It’s an inexpensive way to get a new look started.”

According to Tom Strunk, representative for Sherwin-Williams Paint’s Lexington, Richmond, Somerset, Corbin, and Danville Stores Group, a standard size family room can get a fresh coat of paint for about $100, including brushes, rollers, and accessories. The key to a successful result, he says, is choosing high-quality paint that will stand up to years’ worth of cleaning.

“The first thing to look for is durability, then texture,” Strunk advises. “Flat paint is the best product to cover a surface that may have imperfections, although with low-quality flat paint you will lose washability. If wall imperfections are not an issue, choose a satin paint for a quality finish and more cleanability.”

Then, he says, don’t skimp on quality. High-quality paint can cost as much as $40 a gallon, says Strunk, but the cost is offset by durability. Also, depending on color and wall surface, quality paint is more economical; it’s likely to cover old paint in fewer coats than less expensive counterparts.

When it comes to color, keep it low-key. Interior designers say shades of white or other pale neutrals create a clean, neat look that won’t lose appeal over time, or clash with existing elements such as furniture fabrics.

“Designers get a sheet of new trend colors each year,” says Harrison. “The average homeowner probably can’t repaint or change their accessories and fabrics every year. Besides, especially if the plan is to sell the home, neutrals are more appealing to buyers.”

That’s not to say makeovers can’t embrace a trend or two. Painting a focal wall in an entryway or elsewhere with a darker shade of the main color or with a complementary color can lend drama to an overall scheme. Textures and faux finishes applied prudently under dining room chair rails or in small spaces, such as a powder room, can create a sophisticated look.

“Just remember less is more,” Harrison advises. “Too much texturing or faux finishing will make the room look busy.”

Think Trim
If new paint freshens up a room, Harrison says adding trim at wall bases and adding decorative crown molding near ceilings will update any room in a house.

“In the past, trim at floor bases and around doors was narrow,” Harrison says. “The new look calls for wider trim at bases and around doors, and decorative molding at ceilings.”

Increase the width of wood trim by adding stained or painted-to-match extender caps. Increasingly, though, homeowners are turning to urethane decorative products to add distinctive touches to dining rooms, family rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, and beyond.

“Urethane molding products can be used everywhere, even in bathrooms and laundry rooms,” says Kathy Ziprik, spokesperson for Fypon Ltd., an Archbold, Ohio-based manufacturer of decorative urethane millwork. “They’re popular because they are cost-effective and easy to handle.”

According to Ziprik, molding designs range from the most traditional, such as basic window and door casings and dentil molding, to the more ornate, featuring scroll-and-leaf and ribbon-and-bow designs.

The material is designed to stand up to humid conditions in kitchens, baths, and laundry areas, and is do-it-yourselfer friendly thanks to complementary decorative blocks that eliminate the need for mitered corners. Like wood, urethane molding accepts paint well and lends itself to faux finishes.

Urethane molding is also pocket-friendly, says Ziprik, with costs for trim and molding ranging between $2.15 to $14 per linear foot. “Most people spend between $4 and $5 per linear foot,” she says.

At that range, adding molding to an average size 12-foot-by-12-foot room could cost as little as $200.

Designers also turn to urethane products for decorative elements, such as corbels that do double duty beyond accenting crown moldings to become decorative accents for shelves, or alone as small, wall-mounted pedestals for showcase accessories from small sculptures to collectibles.

“People can be as creative as they choose,” Ziprik says. “Molding can even be used to create a dramatic interior entryway from a foyer or to another significant room in the house.”

Updating Doors
In fact, many home mini-makeovers include replacing mundane or dated interior doors with new ones with lots of style. According to Jason Ford, president of Cumberland Millwork and Supply in Bronston, changing out a door can lend an entirely new look to a room. Hollow, paneled doors with either four or two panels become design elements, he says, especially when they replace smooth, nondescript ones.

“The hottest look right now is the two-panel door,” Ford says. “And the hottest of those is the radius panel, which has rounded rather than a square panel look.”

According to Ford, hollow panel doors cost an average of less than $100 installed. New hardware—door knobs or handles—will send the per-door cost upward, depending upon hardware quality and design.

“Many people changing doors, or even just changing hardware, are replacing round door knobs with lever handles,” Ford says. “Anything brushed is hot now, especially brushed nickel and burnished bronze. People want the antique look.”

Mini Kitchen Upgrade
Aside from bathrooms, kitchens are the spaces homeowners are most likely to make over, says Michelle Hillgoth of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. According to Hillgoth, homeowners spent an average of $1,195 on do-it-yourself minor kitchen remodeling projects in 2004. But even a few far less expensive changes can give a kitchen a brand new look.

According to Kitty Thompson, president and owner of Southern Kitchens & Baths Inc. in Harrodsburg, kitchen cabinetry is a good place to start a mini-makeover on a budget. A few well-chosen design elements and a plan are all it takes.

“Most kitchens that are being upgraded are 25 or 30 years old,” says Thompson, who is also a designer. “You can always tell a 1970s-era kitchen by looking at the cabinets. They’re very dark, and the hardware needs updating.”

Thompson recommends starting a kitchen makeover by assessing the kitchen’s current look, then choosing a new one. If cabinets are the starting point, make sure the new look complements the overall design theme.

“For example, a retro contemporary cabinet pull on a colonial-style cabinet probably won’t do the trick,” she says.

Once the plan is in place, revive tired cabinets with a fresh coat of durable, high-quality paint. Then follow with a glaze to accent the cabinet design.

“Off-white with a burnt umber glaze is a very popular cabinet color right now. The glaze hangs in the recesses of the cabinet doors and the overall effect is an opaque look,” she says. “Then upgrade the hardware.”

Cabinet hardware—pulls and handles—are easy to find in hardware stores, specialty stores, and home centers. Prices range from just cents to several dollars. Thompson recommends passing on the low-end hardware choices. Instead, invest in higher quality options for their quality and durability.

“The least expensive pulls range between 50 and 85 cents each. But they’re hollow and not likely to stand up to everyday use,” Thompson says. “Quality pulls are solid and range in price from $3.50 on the lower end and $27 for designer pulls. Oil-rubbed bronze and brushed nickel are the most popular looks for pulls, and chrome pulls are popular to add a retro contemporary look.”

Whatever the makeover’s scope, or the size of the budget to finance it, designer Rita Harrison recommends taking the long view of the changes to any living space.

“Do not buy into a trend unless it’s something you can live with for a long, long time,” she says. “The most important thing to remember is that a home should be a reflection of its owner’s personality. It should be filled with things you love and can live with every day.”


Money is no object when deep-pocketed divas and corporate moguls get a yen to spruce up their spaces. But for most other homeowners, the budget dictates the scope of makeover plans. Fortunately, there are things, designers say, that can be done to get a fresh, updated look without breaking the bank.

Being surrounded by beloved belongings is among the great comforts of home. But eventually, the vase that was so irresistible five years ago, or the throw pillows that were so stylish a few seasons past, lose appeal, becoming, well, clutter.

So atop any home mini-makeover list should be a plan to spruce up by packing up all those items that have lost their luster. The process provides a chance to start a makeover with a fresh canvas, and it costs absolutely nothing. But don’t rush to the rubbish bin.

“Pack those things away for a while,” says Cathy Munisteri, owner of Eclectic Style in Bowling Green. “When you do the next makeover, bring them back. You may like them again.”

$25–Make a Small Change
Not enough to go far at high-end department stores, this much cash could net a few accessories at a resale shop, discount department store, or antique outlet. Scour resale shops, antique markets, and even yard sales for items that fit into your mini-makeover plan.

“Discount retailers are good places to shop for pillows and other small accessories,” advises Brenda Martin of Martin Design Co., Bowling Green.

$50–Get Painting
This sum is probably just enough to cover supplies to add a splash of paint to create a focus wall in a foyer or cover an entire small space such as a powder room. Check out paint departments at home centers for mis-tinted, unclaimed, or returned paints at discounted prices. But make sure the color fits the scheme: just because the price is right doesn’t mean the color works.

$100–Get More Paint
That’s about what it costs, designers say, to cover a room with good, quality paint. Bear in mind, however, that at this price, it’s a do-it-yourself project. Hiring a professional painter will send the cost skyward.

$500–Do it All (in Moderation)
Paint a room, and purchase a few new accessories such as flower arrangements, accent pillows, candles and holders, even some artwork with this budget. Several modest changes brighten up the big picture, designers say.

Over $500–Think Bigger
Use this much pocket cash to invest in a new piece of furniture, reupholster a favorite chair or small sofa, or brighten up a room with some new light fixtures.

Finally, designers advise making changes wisely. Relying on personal preferences, not trends, will yield a more satisfying result, whatever the budget.


Deciding that a room needs refreshing is easy. Choosing a design scheme for making it over is the tricky part. Happily, there are resources aplenty to help get makeovers off to a well-inspired start.

According to interior designers, makeover inspiration is everywhere—the key is to sift through the mountain of ideas to find the ones that are just right for each project.

Hit the Books – There’s no shortage of home décor on the magazine racks at book stores,
supermarkets, or home improvement centers. Bring home a few and thumb through each page, scouring each photo for whatever catches the eye. Look beyond the picture’s focal point to scope out wall coverings, window treatments, wall moldings, furniture arrangement, and accessories. And pay attention to the way stylists use color and textures throughout.

But don’t just concentrate on what earns lots of preference points. Pay attention to the turn-offs, too.

“Knowing what you don’t like is more important in making decisions than what you do like,” says Rita Harrison, of Rita Harrison Interiors in Corbin.

Take a Tour – Take advantage of the best that interior design professionals have to offer by browsing through Design Showcase House Tours. Frequently presented in conjunction by contractors and product distributors, interior designers use these as opportunities to show off their best work.

Check out the way designers use color, texture, lighting, and accessories to create a specific look. Also, pay attention to details such as the placement of furnishings, accessories, collectibles, and artwork to add spice to themed décor.

Window Shop – Home furnishing stores are a treasure trove of ideas, designers say. They are brimming with not just furniture, but accents from wall hangings to floral arrangements to throw pillows. The trick is to see through the merchandising to find the look that fits the project.

Peruse areas that feature the most appealing style, whether traditional, contemporary, or colonial. Pay attention to the merchandiser’s use of color, texture, furnishings, and accessories. Find a sales associate and ask why items are grouped together to achieve a specific look.

Finally, dream big. Find the most expensive store that offers that sought-after look, then set out to emulate it with less expensive pieces.


For tips on finding home makeover treasures at flea markets, antique markets, or resale shops, click here: house treasure

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