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Whether you’re looking to freshen up a single room or make your entire house a showstopper for guests, you may find yourself wondering how to get started. You don’t necessarily need an interior designer to help you achieve the right look or feel for a space, as long as you have a vision and feel confident about your decisions.
We’ve asked home renovation, design and decorating experts to weigh in on important details to consider as you prepare for your next home improvement project.
When designing and decorating your home, experts recommend:
When decorating your home, it’s often best to go room by room. But which room should you take on first? “Most people start in the room they spend the most time in,” says Gena Kirk, vice president of design for homebuilding company KB Home, based in Los Angeles. “In new-construction homes, it’s typically the great room or the living room and then the kitchen.”
For the sake of entertaining visitors, it makes sense to prioritize common areas. Once you’ve tackled the spaces where you spend most of your waking hours, you can work to improve bathrooms and bedrooms, followed by less critical spaces like the laundry room or linen closet.
While tackling your living room may be the ideal first project, don’t neglect your bedroom. “People overlook their master bedroom – especially families. They make sure everyone else is happy,” says Leanne Ford, co-host of the HGTV show “Restored by the Fords” and co-author of “Work in Progress: Unconventional Thoughts on Designing an Extraordinary Life.”
A bedroom doesn’t require the extensive plumbing, electrical work and new appliances that a kitchen or bathroom may require, and you can create a new look simply by adding new paint and light fixtures or lamps. Consider directing your budget for this room toward a comfortable new mattress or a chair to read and relax in. “You can redo your master bedroom for what, $5,000 all in, and you can create a kind of a sanctuary,” Ford says.
When redesigning a room, decide whether your vision requires simple changes like moving furniture and hanging new drapes, or if you’ll be starting a months-long project that requires construction. Taking on a do-it-yourself project, for example, isn’t just about how skilled you are, but “also what your appetite is for making a mess,” says Barbara Kavovit, founder and CEO of Evergreen Construction in New York City and author of “Heels of Steel,” a novel about the construction industry.
If you’re not up for having your living room covered in tarps for weeks to remove a wall and install recessed lighting, or even just a couple of days to paint the walls, you’ll want to stick to simply moving furniture and art around and patching nail holes.
A tight budget doesn’t mean it’s impossible to accomplish a new look and feel for a room – it just means you have to be strategic about how you spend your money. To redesign a room for less, Ford says: “It’s about swapping out lighting and a fresh coat of paint.”
Painting the walls a new color is a fairly easy project, and you can change the feel of a room with lamps that light upward instead of down or even upgrade your bulbs to LED. Investing in smart lightbulbs will give you dimmer and color-changing options without requiring any electrical work – instead, the lights operate from a remote or an app on your phone.
There’s no shortage of places you can look to find design inspiration for your home. Interior design magazines often showcase a heavily curated look that can seem intimidating, while design blogs and websites like Pinterest and Houzz can highlight more approachable and achievable aesthetics that will fit your house – and hopefully your budget.
Kirk notes that homeowners can take advantage of online resources, because it’s easier to find similar pieces of furniture or decor at a lower price compared to the pieces they see in a photo of a designer’s or celebrity’s home.
If you’re looking to take on a DIY project, Kavovit recommends sticking to those that can be accomplished with a limited skill set. Projects like painting walls and changing out fixtures don’t require construction knowledge and are less likely to go haywire.
“Change the look of your kitchen by painting cabinets. Put up some hooks; change the under-cabinet lighting,” Kavovit says. “You could even add a backsplash with some tile – even if you’re a novice.” Take advantage of online tutorials and how-to YouTube videos to follow a step-by-step project, even if it’s for something simple like replacing a light fixture.
A small project is also ideal if you’re unsure of just how you should improve a room. Subtle alterations can tell you if cosmetic differences will do the trick or if you ultimately need a bigger renovation. “Replace a faucet if it’s the kitchen or the bathroom. You can replace a shower head; you can replace a doorknob,” Kavovit says.
Consider replacing cabinet pulls, knobs or faucets, which you can find at any home improvement store, and mix and match to try out more modern or traditional accents in a room. A new shower head may be the change you were looking for, or it could make it clear that the size or placement of the shower needs to change.
If you’re excited about new trends or the changing season and want to embrace new colors and patterns, remember not to over-invest in those details. Kirk recommends keeping your large pieces of furniture like your couch and coffee table more traditional and neutral so they have more versatility and longevity. “Then use your accessories and those other elements to bring out the trends, so when trends change it’s easier to update,” Kirk says.
You may love plaid and deep greens or reds during the fall and winter, but come summer they look out of place. With a gray couch, you can change out green throw pillows and a plaid blanket for a pale pink come springtime.
While home renovation shows and Pinterest often highlight what styles are popular in the moment, Ford stresses that you shouldn’t follow a trend for the sake of fitting in. In any home she works on, Ford says she focuses on creating a space that an individual can feel emotionally attached to, rather than sticking to current trends. “If you don’t love it, do something different,” Ford says.
While contemporary design trends call for clean lines and neutral colors as the main focus of a room, you can still make a space feel fresh by mixing in pieces you love that aren’t actively trending. A Victorian chandelier can still be used as a focal point over a dining room table – just consider pairing it with some modern chairs or a table to keep the room from looking dated.
In a common area like your living room or family room, layout is important. You not only want to make it easy to interact with family and friends, but you also want to be able to watch a movie or listen to music. However, you can encourage more conversation and less focus on the television by keeping it from becoming the focal point of the space. In daily life, “TV is becoming less prevalent,” Kirk says. Consider placing your TV off-center so it’s still easy to watch comfortably, but make the focal point of the room the fireplace or a piece of artwork.
If you still want a centered, wall-mounted TV, you can use extended hooks or a sliding rail to cover it with artwork when you’re not watching a show. Samsung even offers a magnetic frame you can attach to your TV, allowing you to set the screen to an image when it’s off, making it look like framed art.
When you’re selecting new furniture for your living room and dining area, keep in mind how that space will most often be used. “Let’s say you have a large family (and) you have young children. You want a piece of furniture that’s going to hold up to that,” Kirk says.
A sturdy sectional makes a lot more sense when you have kids who are going to climb over the back and roll around than an antique sofa, for example. If you rarely entertain guests or host holiday dinners, a dining table that seats 12 is an unnecessary expense. Similarly, if you work in an office and rarely use the computer at your house, there’s no need to devote a room to a home office when it could be a spare bedroom or playroom.
Don’t limit your decor to furniture and framed photographs. Design principles of today focus on giving a room more life and texture with plants and natural elements. “People are starting to really be open to more sustainable products. They’re bringing the outdoors in,” Kirk says.
If you’re not confident you can keep lots of potted plants alive, incorporate other natural details like pebbles or shells in a bowl or vase, or freshly cut flowers on a tabletop that you can replace weekly. Photos or paintings that show off a landscape also help to bring aspects of the outdoors inside without requiring regular upkeep.