By Sacha Strebe / Domaine
Are you ready for a room refresh but have more dash than cash? You’re not alone. Our wallets are often less enthusiastic about our aesthetic needs and desires than our hearts, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo it altogether. Sometimes all you need is a micro makeover. After all, a few simple updates and minor tweaks are all it takes to transform your space from meh to magnificent. And it doesn’t need to break the bank.
Interior designer Max Humphrey believes every stylish room only needs three things; books, layers and art. “They’re the single most important design accessory there is,” he told MyDomaine. “Layers, because minimal rooms are boring; and art, because it adds personality and says something about you that furniture never can. And it doesn’t have to be expensive art.” We quizzed Max, along with Krista Schrock and David John Dick, cofounders of DISC Interiors, for more affordable updates you can carry out in snap.
If you’re looking for a low-cost upgrade with high impact, Humphrey says to add a bar. “There are tons of bar carts out there, new and vintage, or just use the top of a sideboard and some cool trays,” he added. “They’re fun to style with vintage glassware, monogrammed napkins and colorful bottles; your friends will love it, too.”
Humphrey said moving your furniture away from the wall will really give it that transformative effect on a dime. “You can get that designer-y look and create an intimate conversation space by floating everything off the wall,” he said. “Even just a few inches.” If you really want to define the space, Humphrey recommends buying an area rug that’s big enough to fit all the furniture on. You’ll be amazed how this simple move makes a massive difference.
But what if your furniture is looking lackluster? It’s not always convenient to replace these big-ticket items, but Dick and Schrock said you don’t have to. Just reupholster your existing pieces in new fabrics and textiles to introduce color or pattern in a new way. “It can completely reenergize a room,” he said. “For a recent project, we took their existing chair from Design Within Reach and selected a textile to update the chair’s look and style.” Voilà!
The dining room is the jewel of the home. It’s where we feast every night, entertain our friends and families, and catch up on the day’s events. It’s for this reason that the room needs to be special. The quickest, most cost-effective way is to change out the overhead lighting. “Apartments always come with terrible pendant lights,” Humphrey said. “You can find a cool new or vintage pendant or chandelier at great prices, and it’s not hard to swap them out.”
This simple switch applies to renters, too. “Just keep the old pendant in a closet and reinstall it before you move out,” he added. “You can take the new one to your next place. I’ve done this at every single one of my apartments, and it makes such a difference. Then add a dimmer switch for $10 from the hardware store.” If you’re not sure how to install one on your own, Humphrey says he looks up YouTube tutorials, but if you’re still not confident “just tip your superintendent a few bucks to do the work for you.”
While retiling is on the long-term agenda, we have a couple of thrifty solutions to ramp up that style dial fast. Buy yourself some cool embroidered hand towels,” Humphrey said. “Don’t let your guests dry their hands on the soggy bath towels hanging over the shower curtain rod. There are tons out there, or search eBay for vintage French linen ones with monograms. Don’t worry if they’re not your initials; it’ll just add mystery.”
Need an update and a little more space? Schrock and Dick said you can have both with the installation of a decorative mirror. “Often, people bring in pattern with wallpaper or a patterned shower curtain, but we love to bring in a graphic mirror, such as a black-and-white mirror, that becomes a new focal point. It’s an easy way to refresh the bathroom.”
Sleep is vital to our survival and our sanity, so the humble bedroom needs that comfort factor, with a dash of chic for the sweetest of dreams. If yours is looking a little nightmarish, Schrock and Dick say a quick bedding upgrade is all it takes to ditch those the bad vibes and introduce new textures and color.
“Early in our career, one of our clients told us she changed her pillows with the seasons, and we love this idea of bringing new life into a room simply by rotating linens and blankets to freshen up a room,” they said. “For bedding, decorative blankets and pillows are simple updates that make a big difference.”
As the first thing everyone sees when they enter, your foyer deserves a little love. While there are several ways to spruce up your entryway, both of our experts agree that wallpaper is one of the most transformative. “I’ve bought prepasted removable wallpaper online for very little money and installed it myself,” Humphrey said. “It’s not hard to do at all and you can get a totally custom entry, like the ones you see, and love in design magazines.”
Humphrey says installation is easy, too. Just dunk the paper in the bathtub to activate the glue, and then stick it on the wall and trim to fit. “It’s nerve-wracking at first, but you get the hang of it,” he said. “If you’re in a rental, it’s really easy to peel off so you don’t get dinged for your security deposit,” Schrock and Dick concur red. “Wallpaper is visual eye candy, and it can really transform how a room feels,” they told us.
Hallways can be long and vacuous when left untouched, but their narrow nature makes them fiddly to design around. This is where the gallery wall comes into play. “Hallways are great spots for gallery walls because they’re contained spaces, so it’s easy to fill them up with frames,” Humphrey said.
“Don’t overthink it,” he continued, “just pick out a few images online of gallery walls you admire and start hanging your frames. A good rule of thumb is to keep the same distance between frames consistent, but in the end, there really are no rules; the more frames the merrier.” Framing can be costly, but Humphrey has a low-cost trick: “I used to buy art and photos from secondhand stores just for the cool frames and then swap out the art with stuff I like better,” he said.
While the obvious (and much-loved) upgrade to any small kitchen is to add a rug, Humphrey said greenery is the way to go. “Houseplants are cheap and make every room brighter,” he said. “If you’re lazy like me, you won’t need to go far to water them since your sink is right there. I like using cool baskets as containers and just dropping the plant in there so I don’t have to deal with repotting them.”
Decorating a nursery on a budget is challenging, but your bundle of joy deserves the best, right? One foolproof, cost-effective way to change up your nursery is to paint the ceiling. Schrock and Dick slathered a muted pink on the ceiling of their client’s nursery, and it completely transformed the room. “At sunset, this whole room glows,” they said.
But of course, this simple update applies to every room of the house. All you need is a can of paint and an afternoon spent painting with friends. “Everyone knows the trick of painting the walls of a room, but painting the ceiling adds something unexpected, draws the eye up, and also reminds us of one our favorite artists, James Turrell, and his skyspaces,” Schrock and Dick said.