Big Bang for the Buck

Big Bang for the BuckIt only takes a few bucks and a little imagination to transform your homeBy Lis King

Those heady days of over-the-top remodeling, easy credit and surefire returns on every project are over, but according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, we’re ready to improve our homes again. In modest ways, mind you. Money is still tight, and homeowners aren’t entirely confident that the housing slump has really bottomed out.

The good news is that beyond those boring but necessary repairs, there are lots of affordable projects that will make your home look and feel better, and professional designers say you may even be able to improve your home without spending any money at all.

“We often start home improvements just because we’re bored with our surroundings,” explains designer Kelly Porter-Smith of Porter-Smith Designs in Destin.

“Simply moving the furniture and accessories around could be the change we’re craving, and remember to edit, edit, edit,” she says. “We’re an acquisition-minded society. Over time, people tend to add things, so a room’s original composition is lost. And a cluttered room is never attractive.”

Cassidy Pickens and Lindsay Miller, designers with Lovelace Interiors in Destin, are on the same wavelength.

“It doesn’t take much to give a room a whole new look,” Pickens says. “And if, after moving around the furniture, you still feel that you want some new elements, you can do so on a shoestring budget. Just change out some accessories, such as lamps or pillows.”

Consider Redesigning


Sometimes, though, homeowners face seemingly unsolvable dilemmas. Porter-Smith lists cavernous rooms, unmanageable collections and odd traffic flows among them.

“Buying new furniture won’t solve those problems,” she says. “Instead, you might hire a professional designer to help you. Handing over a home to an objective outsider for a few hours could save thousands of dollars otherwise spent on new furnishings. In the trade, we call this ‘redesigning.’ The ‘redesigner’ mixes and matches items from different spots in the house, groups accessories for impact, and re-hangs artwork.

“This process reintroduces homeowners to underused spaces and teaches them to enjoy collections and accessories more,” Porter-Smith says. “If a painting, for example, hangs in a certain place all the time, you don’t notice it after a time. It has faded into the background. So put it in a closet for a while, or hang it in another room. Editing and rotating collectibles and accessories are absolutely among the top things you can do for a room.”

One common designer edict is to immediately remove three things from every room in your house. You’ll feel liberated, we’re told. And when it comes to redesigning, it’s smart to give the professionals access to your entire house. Redesigners look for treasures and treat their jobs a bit like flea market shopping. Don’t be surprised if they even look under your bed.

Lovelace Interiors designers Pickens and Miller recently did a bit of redesigning themselves and wound up using an old screen/room divider to function as a queen-size headboard.

“Because of its uniqueness and height, it offered much more interest than a conventional queen-size headboard,” Pickens explains.

Add-On Architecture


Homeowners invariably admire elaborate crown moldings when they tour upscale houses, but few realize how many other forms of architectural detailing there are, and how much drama they can add to a home’s interior and exterior. However, such details are surprisingly inexpensive, and many are within the realm of do-it-yourselfers.

Just adding wainscoting or a chair rail can take a dining room from boring to interesting. Both add welcome texture to a blank wall, and with a chair rail a homeowner can be especially creative, using two different colors or wallpapers above and below the rail.

Ceiling medallions, arches, door and window casings, cornices, handrails, columns, balusters and fireplace mantels are among the many other ways to make indoor spaces special.

More often than not, these elements add a note of traditional formality, but there is no reason to feel left out if your home’s style is contemporary or country. Clean-lined trim is readily available, and post-and-beam structures are always dependable wow factors for lofty living and great rooms.

Many types of architectural trim can be bought at places such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, and some of these stores teach installation techniques. Even more affordable are the moldings and other trim reproduced in plastic, and when they’re painted you can’t tell them from the real thing.

For exteriors, think of adding scrollwork to gables or accent porches. In addition, shutters are an architectural add-on that can ratchet up the color scheme.

Kitchen Makeovers


Describing a Niceville kitchen, Kelly Porter-Smith demonstrated how small, frugal updates can bring big results.

“This was a vacation home, and we were told to keep costs at a minimum, a common request these days,” she says. “A new backsplash is always an excellent kitchen improvement, because it’s so visible. Yet the area is limited, so you can afford to splurge on some special material. In this case, I chose an aqua glass tile. We call it coastal blue. It’s very beachy, a perfect pitch for our region. Then we painted an adjoining wall the same color and mounted glass over it to mimic the glass tile effect.”

Arthur Grudzinski of Delphin Design in Destin is another champion of creative kitchen backsplashes. Glass tile, a homeowner favorite, is now down to about $10 per square foot, he says, versus $40 per square foot not too long ago. He is especially proud of a bit of budget magic he performed in a small townhouse.

“The kitchen had granite countertops in a yellowish color,” Grudzinski says. “We chose 4-inch by 4-inch tumbled marble tiles, set on 1-square-foot mesh, for the backsplash, but then we inserted dots of granite matching the countertop in each corner of the tumbled marble tiles. The result was elegant. Nobody would ever guess how inexpensive it was.”

Replacing cabinet hardware is one of the most effective kitchen upgrades, according to Miller.

“They’re to the kitchen what accessories are to a dress,” she says.

Another designer trick is to specify a wood-paneled appliance, which is cheaper — and easier to maintain — than a stainless steel one. Also, remember that there is no reason to buy a $1,500 faucet. A $200 “knockoff” looks and works just as well. And if you must replace cabinets, kitchen designers say that products from small manufacturers are less expensive.

Light Up Your Life


Professional designers love lighting as a makeover tool, and Kate Powell, owner of Beautiful Lights in Destin, calls it jewelry for the home.

She advises homeowners to keep scale in mind when they buy lighting.

“If a home is more than 10 years old, the fixtures and lamps are bound to be small and outdated,” she says. “So changing the lighting to something large and dramatic will provide an instant lift. And don’t be afraid of juxtapositions. For example, a contemporary chandelier can give a traditional home an edge. Same thing happens when you add a traditional chandelier to a contemporary home.”

Unusual ways to handle lighting problems are one of Powell’s strengths. Along the Emerald Coast, where concrete ceilings are common, two of her solutions are strips of Sheetrock or a decorative ceiling medallion to allow the installation of decorative and functional lighting. Recently, she designed a square of mini-lights to be installed over a Jacuzzi.

“It added great ambiance,” Powell says.

Coastal design is much called for in the Emerald Coast, and Powell accommodates it with lots of handcrafted pottery lamps with stenciled seashells or mother of pearl inlays; sea urchin lamps; and watery, bubbly chandeliers, dripping with seashells and crystals.

Bring On the Paint

Every designer under the sun agrees that the most effective home improvement device is color.

“Be it in the form of new paint on the walls, a bright-colored chair or a few new pillows, a pop of color can transform any room,” says Miller, of Lovelace Interiors. “a quick do-it-yourself fix can be achieved by applying a coat or two of neutral white paint to an old piece of furniture — a dresser, for example. Then choose another color — spa blue would be good — for the top. Use a hand sander on the edges to give the piece a weathered look.”

“Paint is the least expensive look to give a home a fresh look,” agrees designer Kay Fant of Destin’s Posh Interiors. “I especially like metallic paints. We did a lot of silver metallics in a kitchen, and I love copper as an accent. Recently, we painted a guest bathroom in copper, creating an alligator effect, and in a foyer we used it with drifts of glitter. The cost was one-third the price of the wallpaper that inspired the look.”

The Paint Quality Institute, an organization that educates consumers, contractors and retailers on the advantages of using the highest quality paints and coatings, gives this lowdown on cost: A gallon of the highest-quality latex paint will cover about 400 square feet of wall space (the space in a 12-foot by 15-foot room with a couple of windows). Add the cost of rollers and brushes, and the entire makeover will come in at less than $100.

Says Debbie Zimmer of the institute: “When you consider the low cost plus the simplicity of repainting, and the dramatic difference a coat of paint can make in the appearance — and enjoyment — of any space, you just may want to put this project at the top of your to-do list.”

Designer Tips


Miller and her colleagues at Lovelace Interiors think art is a good way to enliven a space, and prints on canvas (Giclée art) are a good way to stretch the budget. They also like colorful throws as accents.

An area rug is a great way to update a room, and Ashli Bugby, manager of Rug Décor in Destin, says you can do that for as little as $48.

“A sea grass or sisal rug with a colorful border is a tried-and-true coastal look,” she says. “But how about a bamboo shag rug? It is unbelievably soft. You’ll never want to put on shoes again.” For a really big effect, she likes rugs that are pieces of art.

Changing the bedding is a universal designer favorite, but don’t buy complete matched sets of towels, say the pros. It’s cheaper and more interesting to mix up different shades of one color.

Painting your front door a new color, say bright blue or yellow, and painting just the edges of your bookshelves are colorful suggestions. Other ideas include hanging two large mirrors on opposite walls to bring new sparkle to a room, and removing upper cabinets if your kitchen is cramped and replacing them with shelves. You’ll get just as much storage space, but without the bulk.

And paying homage to color forecasters, designers say when all else fails, buy something purple for a room — a pillow, a throw, a bunch of flowers. Anything, really. After all, nothing wakes up a room like a little purple.