Brownstoner: 6 Ways to Transform Your Living Space Without Actually Renovating
Published on Brownstoner, October 30, 2017
Whether you own a townhouse or rent a studio, you want to feel at home, surrounded by decor and furnishings suited to your tastes. If budget constraints or lease restrictions prevent you from shaping the home you want, consider these cost-effective DIY enhancements.
Of course, if you rent, you should always get your landlord’s blessing to avoid losing your security deposit. But as these changes are cosmetic in nature, it shouldn’t be difficult to obtain.
6. Rethink Wall Colors
The easiest (and most obvious) way to drastically change the look and feel of a home is by repainting one or more walls in a new hue. If you have a room with crown or picture molding, chair railing, or wainscoting, even better: Painting these to match the walls unifies the space and can heighten textural contrast, while painting the details in a contrasting color results in some period-inspired character.
“For painted accent walls, we like to choose walls that are the main focal point in the room, such as the one behind your bed,” says Cristina Casanas-Judd, partner at Me & General Design. “Or you can carve a nook within a room by using paint or wallpaper in a corner of the room or an alcove.”
For some inspiration, look to the trends and forecasts the leading residential paint brands release annually, such as Sherwin-Williams’ Colormix Forecast 2018, which is presented as different color families as opposed to a single “it” color. Benjamin Moore declared Caliente AF-290 — a hot, deep red — the 2018 Color of the Year, alongside complementing palettes. Behr unveiled its 2018 Color of the Year, a blue-green called In The Moment, and related tints, many of which possess a woodland-esque feel.
Interior designer Jennifer Levy of CAVdesign advises, “I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to paint color. So much depends on the actual architecture and the light in the space itself.” And for anyone wondering about dark versus light hues, she adds, “I think that dark colors do tend to make a room look smaller; they tend to come in towards you. But they can create a warmth and coziness in a space as well.”
Before you paint an entire wall, pick up oversized paint chips or sample jars and paint a section within the room where you intend to use that color to see it in context and how the light in that space affects it.
5. Add Pattern or Art
Alternatively, make a bold statement with wallpaper. This treatment used to get a bad rap due to its laborious installation, designs that go out of style, and wall damage from removal, but new lines are changing the game with easy-to-remove, temporary papers.
Slightly transparent and digitally printed, Brooklyn-based Flavor Paper‘s EZ Papes line features a prepasted ground that’s water activated when you’re ready to hang. When you tire of the design, it’s just as easy to remove it, once again using water.
The 24-inch-wide, Class A fire-rated papers are mold and mildew resistant and ecofriendly, and come in a choice of 12 whimsical patterns, including an adaptation of Andy Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth portrait and an original Brooklyn-themed artwork — called “Brownstoner,” of course — by local illustrator Ian Ferguson. Just remember that because this series is slightly transparent, you’ll want to be sure the wall you’re pasting it onto is a solid, light color.
Another brand of easy-to-remove wall coverings is Tempaper, a lead-, phthalate-, and VOC-free wallpaper whose water-based inks and adhesives enable easy removal and even repositioning. However, for best results it should be used on a surface primed with eggshell, semi-gloss, or satin paint. Like Flavor Paper, Tempaper has a selection of handsome and cheeky designs such as a pink-and-gold take on camouflage and designer Cynthia Rowley’s cherry blossom graphic on a silver ground.
“We love to install wallpaper in bathrooms,” says General Judd, the other half of Me & General Design. “This is where you can go as bold as you want. Unlike one might think, wallpapers can be super durable and today there are numerous ones with texture.”
4. Swap the Lighting
Some homes have charming period fixtures that give them character, while others have builder-standard eyesores such as flush-mount ceiling fixtures that resemble female anatomy. Changing a hardwired fixture isn’t as challenging as it looks, as long as the wiring is in good condition, but we recommend hiring an electrician or handyman to do the deed for safety and liability reasons.
When shopping for a replacement wall sconce, ceiling lamp, pendant or chandelier, keep in mind the lamp’s canopy or base plate should ideally cover the opening where the old fixture was installed. Otherwise, you’ll need to do some extra filling, spackling and painting to cover what’s left of the old opening.
Plug-in fixtures can do wonders in dark corners and rooms where hardwiring doesn’t exist. Crate & Barrel’s CB2 brand is among several retailers who carry attractive plug-in fixtures such as cloth-drum pendants for hanging over a dining table and swing-arm wall sconces for reading in bed. These will usually have decorative cloth cords that are made to be seen and long enough to install just about anywhere.
3. Spruce Up the Cabinetry
Try giving existing kitchen cabinets a facelift if they look dowdy but are otherwise sturdy and in good condition. There are two ways to go about doing this: painting and swapping hardware. The former is more involved and therefore will be time consuming, but can radically upgrade the look of your kitchen if done right.
“If it’s a rental and you get permission from your landlord to repaint, prepare the cabinets by priming with something like Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3, which is specifically made for repainting slicker surfaces,” says Levy. Also, “make sure they’re super clean and degreased because that will be the thing that keeps the paint from adhering.” Note that there are several steps to take before any of this, however, such as removing doors and hardware and light sanding.
Upgrading cabinet hardware is relatively effortless. Think of it as jewelry for the kitchen: Perhaps you want to go from ornate turned pulls to minimalist bars, or from a bright and polished chrome to on-trend brushed bronze or black.
Simple knobs are typically universal in screw size so simply unscrew the old and insert the new in the same spot.
With handles and pulls, you’ll need to remove the old ones and then measure the distance between their screw holes. If you want to avoid drilling and filling holes, find pulls that have the same distance for an easy swap.
2. Refresh the Backsplash
There’s a demolition-free trick to enhancing simple white-tile backsplashes in kitchens or bathrooms. Jennifer Levy shares, “MIBO makes this thing called tile tattoos. If you have a basic backsplash, you can apply these little tile decals and they’re really, really cute — not tacky.”
Available in a few mod patterns and colorways, the vinyl decals are designed for application on 15-centimeter-square tiles and come in packs of eight. They’re waterproof once applied, but are also easily removable.
Some companies such as Smart Tiles make a peel-and-stick backsplash product for vertical surfaces. Smart Tile’s coverings sport a gel layer that gives the faux-tile-and-mosaic graphics a dimensional effect.
You should apply them only to smooth, painted surfaces as they don’t stay adhered to textured or imperfect walls. Be forewarned, though, that removing Smart Tiles after use can damage the paint job.
1. Indulge in a Fancy Showerhead
You might not be able to retile your 1970s bathroom, but you can at least splurge on a nicer, newer showerhead that’s free of lime scale, looks more high end, and boasts bells and whistles such as massage jet–like sprays.
Assuming the existing showerhead has a basic fixed wall arm, you can find a wide range of multi-spray showerheads that will fit the arm. Many now offer multiple sprays to suit each user.
Some of these are handheld models, which are convenient not just for bathing but also for cleaning the shower or tub walls. Hansgrohe’s Raindance Select E is a handsome choice that offers three spray modes easily changed by pressing a central “select” button.
Bathers with limited mobility might consider Moen’s Attract Magnetix handheld showers, which uses a strong magnet to mount the head back onto the arm without the strain of reaching up and over the holster.
Those who like to take their NPR podcasts or favorite playlists into the shower can add a waterproof speaker — but combining audio and shower in one is even better as it affords a cleaner, clutter-free look. Kohler’s Moxie showerhead has a built-in Bluetooth speaker that magnetically attaches at the head’s center.
Recharge the speaker simply via USB cable. Previously this product was available in chrome with an off-white face and speaker, but more recently Kohler launched the speakers with color on the rear to inject just a tiny pop of contrasting color when attached to the showerheads.
Finally, if you can take on only one of the above projects, Jennifer Levy has advice for you: “What is that one thing you see every day that is really bothering you? Ask yourself that question and then focus on getting that thing done.”