Dumpy to Divine on Less Than a Dime
We’ve all been there at one time or another. Living in a not so glamorous place can be a choice, a necessity, or for some, an investment opportunity. If you’re currently residing in budget accommodations that are well, a bit dumpy, here is a list of affordable strategies you can put to work this weekend, no matter what your budget.
- Putting up with paneling. Frequently seen in older apartments, the dark and dreary color can really get you down. There are numerous ideas out there for painting it. Many of them involve filling in the grooves before painting, which in my opinion is way too much effort for a rental. Prime it well for sure, and then select a color scheme. Leaving the grooves in can work for a more formal satin stripe look (just alternate between matte and semi gloss paint on the vertical sections, but with the same color), or a simulated barn board look if you are OK with a Colonial color palette. For those interested in exploring paneling strategies further, there’s a more detailed post on my family blog that you are welcome to use. It’s based on information I put together to deal with this stuff on various income properties we’ve looked at over the years.
- Scrub a dub, dub. Seriously, you’d be amazed what a thorough and deep down cleaning will do. You’ll have a much lighter, brighter and open feel to your place if you take the time to get all the icky bits out of the corners, nooks and crannies.
- Black spray paint, chalkboard paint, and black paint in general. In my opinion, this is one of the most effective cheapskate decorating resources on the market. Depending on the project, there are times when textured should be your paint finish of choice and times when you’ll want to go with either matte or glossy. Black works for many reasons. As an old theater trick, it makes flaws virtually disappear. (I’ve been told it has something to do with light being absorbed rather than reflected.) Also, it grounds the room to a certain degree. Depending on the companion decorating scheme you choose, black spray paint (and black paint in general) can be used to support looks you might see in Europe, in a loft, modern décor and also a more traditional looking home. Some things I’ve used black spray paint to update over the years? A supply box from an old fishing tackle box, a pair of seriously beat up floor lamps that looked like a million bucks when I got done using only 4 bucks of spray paint and a set of matching shades from a dollar store, an old section of gate I turned into a large kitchen ceiling rack, a set of formal dining room chairs that were sturdy with a great shape but had seen better days ( I accented with gold pen afterward and stapled cool coordinating ethnic fabrics on the seat cushions for a less than twenty dollar redo), the rebar pot rack here at the lake house (I swear the location and picture do not do it justice. This would look great in an urban loft.), our seriously dilapidated but sturdy mail box post when we purchased a new security mail box, old tripods and (this one was my husband’s project) a homemade pedal stand from beat up plywood for band equipment. I even updated an antique iron bed that gets oohs and ahhs from guests. Another great idea I’ve seen using black paint include refinishing a collection of mis-matched picture frames picked up at yard sales. Once they are all the same color, you can do a great gallery wall of photos and indie-art. Also fun are giant chalkboards and calendars painted on walls, and spruced up office furniture items like file cabinets, waste baskets and rusted metal desks. Yup, black paint gets it done.
- Painted floors. This works particularly well on ugly linoleum, and is very similar to the technique used on certain floor cloths. Concrete can be painted if you don’t want to stain and seal, as can certain wood floors that may be beyond refinishing. The trick to having your work last is good old fashioned urethane. Lots of it.
Paper bags. No, I have not lost my mind. Brown paper bags or craft paper can give you a really great leather look treatment on your walls. There are other uses for this medium as well which include ceiling touch ups and even floors. Very cool.
DIY fabric accents. While years ago, I used to sew detailed embellished gowns and pleated blouses that would make any Mom proud, I have to confess. So many years abroad and away from a sewing machine have atrophied my skills to the point of pathetic. So if sewing isn’t your God given talent, I’m with you. However, even those with minimal skills can pull off simple home decorating items and save themselves significant cash. Curtains are a huge money grab if you buy them in a store, particularly a design store. Find a great source for fabric remnants or recycle some fabric from a cool larger item and see what you can do. Other projects that are relatively simple compared to tailored clothing? Pillows, accent throws, custom sheets, adding trim to towels, making your own coordinating napkins and tablecloths . . . getting the picture? DIY projects in this arena really allow you to have a custom look for a fraction of the cost.
Silver toned fixtures and accents. Not only are chrome plated and steel items cheap and easy to keep clean (remember the gourmet kitchen and spa bath posts?), they are also frequently the industry standard in many areas which make them scream “professional” and “better” and “cutting edge”. This technique can provide just that extra touch and appeal that can come with pairings of old and new. Even an open shower in a raw concrete shoe box sized urban apartment can look super sexy with a giant chrome rainfall shower head. With a large set of steel shelves filled with every bathroom item and linen you could ever want placed outside of the spray range, all you need is a pair of rubber flip flops, and a few sets of those stretch cable and clip ring sets from Ikea and some lengths of opaque fabric for a no sew room delineation. If you really want to live large, get a large stainless steel bench custom made so you can sit and enjoy an at home pedicure under your giant waterfall shower head. Track or stage lighting from the ceiling with a spotlight on the bench will make things extra sexy, even on a major budget.
- Crisp linens. This basically is an extension of the point I’ve made above. Pairing newer items with old is a great way to make the older items appear chic while in essence doing absolutely nothing to them. Stark white Battenberg pieces against even rough concrete can make a statement. If white isn’t your thing, and you want to use what you have around the house, even the limp cotton curtains you were about to give up can be seriously amped up with a can of spray starch. With this strategy, family heirloom linens can make a comeback even in urban homesteads. Think about it.
These eight strategies, along with power shopping, represent my favorite ways to spruce up a dumpy living space on a shoe string. While reasons to live in a smaller or distressed property can range from necessity to affordable access to a more expensive market area, to wanting to eliminate overhead and live rent free, we all need strategies to be able to actually tolerate and enjoy the space as we move along our respective financial paths. I do hope you will all continue to feel comfortable enough to share ideas and ask for support. That’s what we’re here for. Happy decorating!