Built to last…Small Projects – Big Impact

Wow, this economy has been slow about turning around. If you are like me, you are taking a second look at how you spend your hard-earned dollars. And while we may not have the necessary budget to tackle a major home improvement project, you may want to do what many homeowners are doing and that is to choose a more strategic approach to remodeling – by refreshing rooms and undertaking small projects one at a time.

Where to begin

The first step is to set a budget. It could be $50 or $5,000. The point is to set a limit and stick to it. With creativity you do not need to spend a lot. I like to think of the HGTV show “Design On a Dime”. They would create wonderful spaces with next to nothing.

Begin by selecting just one room. It could be the Living Room, Bedroom, Kitchen or Bath. Pick the room that will give you the greatest impact. With a few small steps, you can change the look and feel of your space. You may want to start small and if you are satisfied with the results, then move on to another space.

Next (and this is the fun part), you need ideas. My recommendation to all my clients is to start looking at magazines, articles, etc. and start a scrapbook of ideas. The pictures don’t need to be precisely like your house or space. They don’t even need to be what you want. The idea is to gather a collection of various ideas to get the “feel” for the space you would like to have. Maybe it’s a paint color. Perhaps it’s a furniture grouping or a light fixture. Consider a favorite hotel or restaurant or an outdoor spot that you enjoy provide the inspiration for your bedroom, dining room, or bath.

Let’s begin with color. A fresh coat of paint is an easy way to give a room an instant face-lift. Single-color schemes make small rooms larger and a neutral palette can expand your space more. Or, add drama with colors like deep reds, eggplant, ochre, and dark blues or greens. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Paint is cheap.

If it’s a bedroom or living room, move all the furniture out and begin with a clean slate. Now, measure the room and make a drawing to scale. Now sketch the idea you want (it’s ok to refer to your scrapbook pictures). Don’t get stuck with placing the furniture like it was. Remember, you are trying to achieve a new look. Now, let’s go “shopping”. No, we’re not going to any stores. Begin right at home.

One way to anchor a furniture grouping is with an area rug. If you don’t like the one you had in the room, maybe you have one in another room. Try that one. Same goes for end tables, lamps, etc.  Let’s go “bargain shopping” in the other rooms of your own house. Look at furniture from a new angle. A dresser does not need to be a dresser. I made a great entertainment center out of an old dresser that my neighbor had thrown out. Try cutting down a table to make a coffee table. Consider painting wood furniture a different color. Dining room chairs are easy to recover with new fabric. I recently saw a wonderful kitchen banquette where the back of the seating was made from two headboards. The point here is to be creative (aka – save money).

 Putting it together

A single dramatic focal point for a room you’re remodeling makes the improvement more obvious. Try a special piece of furniture, an interesting piece of art, or one wall that’s painted in a bold color.

Collections and objects that express your personality or your family history will make your home more interesting to your guests and more enjoyable to you. If the objects are small, try making groupings. Get some of those old photos out and put them in matching frames.

Lighting is probably one of the most important aspects for your room. Try adding dimmers to existing overhead lights to change the mood of the room. Choose light fixtures that are pleasing to look at – whether they are switched on or off.

Don’t forget plants. One beautiful plant can be a strong design statement. Your own personal style will dictate whether a dramatic green plant or a beautiful bouquet of flowers is best.

Last (but not least) have fun. Remember, if you set your budget on the low side and you don’t like the results, then start over. However, if you do like the result, then move on to other rooms.

DAVID H. WULFF, AIA Emeritus, is an Architect living in Lake Lure.

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