Declutter for 30 minutes a day. “We recently moved to a smaller house, and every day, I spend 30 minutes working through drawers,” says Mary Patton, a designer in Houston. “Having less stuff is so much better for your mental health.” If she puts together a pile to donate, she’ll drop it off the next day, so the items aren’t sitting in her car for six months.
Take a whole-house inventory. “Once you declutter, decide what you actually need” to bring in, Patton says. Go room by room and make a list of where you need a side table, chair or some new paint, and note what needs to be repaired. Otherwise, it’s easy to wander through stores’ home sections and get overstimulated and overwhelmed — and to come home with more clutter.
Add art. “I am a big fan of vintage,” says Cheryl Luckett, designer and owner of Dwell by Cheryl in Charlotte. “If I had $100 on a Saturday, I could do a lot of damage in an antique mall.” Vintage art at thrift or antique stores often comes with frames, saving you most of the cost of a new piece of art. “It doesn’t have to be large, either,” Luckett says. A small piece might work in a powder room that doesn’t have a lot of wall space. She also likes leaning small still-life pieces on kitchen countertops for color.
Paint. “Paint is the number one answer in my book,” Luckett says. A powder room could be done with one can of paint if the walls are in good shape and you don’t have to prime. Consider painting doors, too. “A black door does wonders in terms of elevating things,” Luckett says, as long as the room has enough light to allow for it. She also frequently paints furniture to give a room an updated look.
Add plants. Patton recommends picking up inexpensive plants, such as snake plants, and interesting planters at home improvement stores. For pots with a bit more personality, she recommends checking Wayfair. Search for the color you’d like, then filter for in-stock products to circumvent the inventory and supply chain issues stores are facing.
Hire an interior designer for an hour. Even though she’s a designer, Patton finds it hard to make decisions in her own home. We all need someone else’s perspective sometimes. Many designers have hourly rates and will come out for a short consultation to offer advice or a vision for your space. Or you can hire a stager to help you rearrange your home for better flow. “Even a good friend who has taste” can help, Patton says.
Create a gallery wall of family photos. Patton will often take a homeowner’s bin of photos, scan the best ones in black and white, and display them in frame sets she finds on Overstock, Amazon or Wayfair. She looks for sets of three that have thin, black frames and white mats and that come with a template to help you position them. “If you have a ton of pictures, you can get three sets and put them together,” she adds. As for the best place to do this, Patton says: “I like doing family photos in hallways and staircases, not in a primary area of your house.” Bay Photo Lab is her go-to for ordering prints.
Install corkboard walls. In a kitchen or children’s playroom, Patton suggests using stick-on corkboard tiles to create places to pin up family photos, Christmas cards or children’s artwork. The pieces are easy to change out when the mood strikes.
Change lightbulbs. “All of the lightbulbs in your house should be the same color,” says Patton, who prefers to use lightbulbs with a 3000K temperature. She also likes non-LEDs, because she finds it hard to get the colors right with LED bulbs. But whether you use incandescent or LED, it’s important to keep it consistent. Patton also recommends installing dimmer switches to control light levels.
Try plug-in lighting. “Plug-in wall sconces are a really fun way to add levels of lighting to your home without having to run wires and power through your walls,” says Ariana Grieu, a designer with SM&P Architects in Baltimore. Sconces on decorative cords can be wrapped around large wall hooks for an ultramodern look. Even large pendants can be plugged in and hung from the ceiling for additional lighting. (Ikea and other retailers offer budget-friendly options.)
Add sheer curtains. Grieu recommends hanging sheers behind heavier window treatments. They offer privacy for transitional moments in the early mornings and late afternoons, “when we’re not quite ready to pull the curtains,” she says. They can also filter light the rest of the day. Sheer panels can be found at Target for about $40 each.
Wallpaper the ceiling. Grieu likes to put accent wallpaper on the ceilings of small rooms, such as sitting rooms or powder rooms. (Their size can keep wallpaper costs down.) “I tend to keep my other living spaces more neutral, since so many elements have to coexist in a single space,” she says. But she likes “funky and colorful powder rooms.” Textured ceilings will first need to be made flat. And before hanging the paper, determine how you’ll remove it when the time comes. Peel-and-stick wallpaper comes off easily; traditional wallpaper will last longer, but it’s harder to remove.
Replace hardware. Luckett recently bought a white desk and swapped out the hardware for something fancier, and “now it looks custom,” she says. Whether it’s furniture or cabinets, new hardware is an inexpensive update. Look for hardware from build.com or Wayfair. In terms of what to choose, Luckett says: “There are no single right answers in design, and I’m not a proponent of teaching people that there are. The larger the hardware, the more visually impactful, but that’s not to say that big is always better.”
Add color. Luckett likes to draw inspiration for accessories from a main fabric with multiple colors. She chooses a color from the fabric, then finds coordinating dishes, vases, pillows and throws to add interest to a room. She says you can find vintage dishes and vases for about $20 or $30.
Create decorative moments. Grieu likes to add pedestals of various heights, or even a stack of books, to “create decorative moments and give interest to clusters of intermixed objects” on bookshelves, coffee tables, mantels and more. She also likes to use pillar candles, dried flowers or greenery, and small frames. “Odd numbers are always more appealing in terms of clusters,” she says, and three is her favorite number for grouping pieces together.
Lindsey M. Roberts is a freelance writer in North Carolina.