Your Home: 100 ideas under $100

Designer tricks for every room

Architects and interiors specialists share their secret sources, strategies for clever styling, organizing tips, and other home updates you can do yourself.

By Marni Elyse Katz and Deblina Chakraborty
June 14, 2009
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Think inside the box Interior designer and color expert Susan Sargent, who has a home on Beacon Hill and a paint, textile, and ceramics business in southern Vermont, put together a "spice" palette for the home pictured at right. Most of the colors were then used to accent a grid of bookshelves. Susan Sargent Designs, 3609 Main Street, Manchester Village, Vermont, 802-366-4955,

Loosen up Ipswich artist Janice Colby has a message for anyone thinking about decorating -- not just painting -- a table or chair. "If you plan to paint patterns or designs," she says, "let loose. It looks better if it's not perfect."

Go for the bold For solid jobs, Essex architectural color designer Kimberly Collins Jermain recommends using rich colors to emphasize the silhouette of the piece you're painting. But if you have a matched set, don't use just one color, Jermain says. "Use similar but distinct colors, such as deep red and rich burgundy, then add a complementary color, like forest green."

Focus your efforts Wallpaper has made a big comeback. But Boston interior designer Kathie Chrisicos likes using it in a limited way in clients' living rooms. She papers only the fireplace wall, making it even more of a focus. (And often using just one roll.)

Split things up Belmont designer Kristine Mullaney, who helps some clients simply rearrange their own furniture, suggests uncoupling your sectional's parts. Often, she says, an L-shape cuts off access to part of the room, like a bay window. Use the parts instead to create distinct, discrete seating areas.

Bring the heat Don't take a sledgehammer to that tile hearth you hate. Paint it, says Jeanne Babel of Babel's Paint & Decorating. First, scrub off soot with TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water, then rinse and dry completely. Next, brush on Stix Bonding Primer. When dry, finish with two coats of semigloss. Babel's Paint & Decorating, 23 Cottage Street, Norwood, 781-762-3128, and other locations;

Read more into it Still organizing books by subject and author? Sure, that's practical, but color is much prettier. Start by sorting books into color groups, then "use a color wheel" as you re-shelve "to help guide your color transitions," says Watertown interior designer Urit Chaimovitz.

Sew nice If you're sewing curtains, pillows, or taking on a bigger project, Everything LEB ( blogger Lindsay Butler of Brookline recommends the upholstery selection at discounter Sewfisticated, where she recently scored high-end Schumacher fabric for less than $7 per yard. Sewfisticated Discount Fabrics, Twin City Plaza, 14 McGrath Highway, Somerville, 617-625-7996, and 735 Morrissey Boulevard, Dorchester, 617-825-2949;

Create boundaries If you work and play in the same space, add a divider to make your home feel more like home. NYX Jewelry designer Nicole Rueda-Watts sewed rings to the top of a huge stretch of gauzy fabric and hung it from hooks she installed in the ceiling of her Boston loft. When she wants to open things up, she uses a sash to pull the curtain off to the side. For a sleeker look, hang IKEA's Kvartal track and sheer white panels. IKEA, 1 IKEA Way, Stoughton, 781-344-4532,

Define your detailing Designer Susan Sargent painted the mantel pictured at left two shades of lime green. "It made the wall come to life," she says, "and emphasized the geometry of the fireplace." (She used the same trick in the room that's pictured on the cover.) As a finishing touch, she also painted an inexpensive lampshade with matching acrylic.

Minimalize to muslin Audra Boyle, owner of South End clothing boutique Looc, wanted to use an imported print to upholster the s hop's Louis XVI-style chairs. When she saw the cost, she decided to "embrace the unfinished effect -- it's chic," she says, and stuck with plain white muslin. This looks especially good on ornate pieces.

Shade softly Back Bay interior designer Jeffrey Delvy insists on colored lampshades over harsh white for his clients' homes, often matching a color from a pillow or drape in the same room. To warm up a paper shade you already own, you can use any paint at all, he says -- as long as you use it on the shade's inside. Says Delvy: "I had black shades with bright white interiors that I painted copper," to create warmer light.

Display your cache Attractive china plates you've inherited or found at a shop like Upstairs Downstairs Antiques on Charles Street should be displayed, says Boston interior designer Annsley McAleer. Group plates with a color or theme in common, like roses or graphic blacks and whites, and let your space dictate the pattern. Before hanging, she suggests, use paper templates to try out different arrangements. Plate hangers cost around $3 at hardware stores. Upstairs Downstairs Antiques, 93 Charles Street, Boston, 617-367-1950

Trim down Lindsay Butler of Everything LEB ( recommends punching up pillows by attaching trim with either HeatnBond iron-on adhesive or Fabri-Tac fabric glue, though for pillows that get a lot of use, she recommends sewing (or having a dry cleaner do it).


Put on a new face A few coats of color on the drawer fronts update a dresser or built-ins quickly. Designer Susan Sargent says that using "two or three versions -- if you have the patience! -- of the same color is really interesting," though she warns against using too many different colors, "at the risk of a making it too much of a focal point." You can finish with new knobs, using one style to pull it all together.

Sit on it One of the reasons designers like rattan pieces is that they often can do double duty -- a stool is a table is an ottoman. Urban Outfitters sells a versatile low pouf for $88. Rattan furnishings are particularly nice in summer. "They help bring the outdoors in," says Boston interior designer Eric Roseff. Urban Outfitters, 111 JFK Street, Cambridge, 617-864-0070, and other locations;

Start at the top You can update old recessed lighting without an electrician, says Beverly interior designer and decorative painter Danika Herrick, using a can-light conversion kit such as The Can Converter ($50 for a 6-inch can). Then add a chandelier or pendant light. Light N Leisure, 120 Andover Street, Danvers, 978-762-7510

Gloss over it If you have an old chandelier that dates your entire room, take it down and coat it with any high-gloss white spray paint for a look that's hot right now, suggests Milton interior designer Taniya Nayak, host of's $100 Half-Day Designs series. Don't forget to stuff the sockets with paper.

Mark an occasion Boston architect Stephen Chung's dining room walls display significant dates in his family's lives -- including his two sons' birth dates and his wedding anniversary -- quietly. He painted the dining room in his Wayland home a flat white, then added the dates using shiny white adhesive numbers that he bought at Lowe's. "The numbers won't always be apparent," he says, since they're just 4 inches high. But depending on the flicker of a candle or light from another room, the numbers shine, prompting dinner guests to ask about them. Lowe's, 15 Commerce Way, Woburn, 781-376-5500, and other locations;

Live low South End home stylist Kara Butterfield swears by dimmer switches (your hardware store can explain how easy they are to install), and swapping out clear bulbs to low-voltage soft pink or white ones for instant ambience. No tools required.

Re-cover quickly North Quincy interior designer Melinda Cabanilla used fabric from Winmill Fabric -- it cost just $25 and covered six chairs -- in the project pictured at left. Here's her quick chair makeover how-to: Unscrew your chair's padded seat from its frame. The old fabric will almost certainly be stapled on; remove staples with a screwdriver, then use the old fabric as a pattern to cut the new. Readjust padding, if necessary, and staple new fabric taut (get someone to help you hold it). Replace seat. Winmill Fabric, 107-111 Chauncy Street, Boston, 617-542-1815

Repurpose the room If your formal dining room is infrequently used, try giving it another purpose that takes advantage of its quiet, suggests Carole Freehauf, a design correspondent for This Old House who has an interiors business in Plymouth. For example, move a comfortable chair, a reading lamp, and a small table of books from another room next to a window and you have an inviting library. You can whisk the arrangement away when company comes for dinner.

Get a leg up Don't have a dining room table? You can make your own, says interior designer Jean Verbridge of Siemasko + Verbridge in Beverly, who also suggests having fun with the design. Attach legs from IKEA ($7.50 and up) -- don't limit yourself to just four -- to an old door from a salvage shop and paint the whole thing a now color like bright raspberry, melon, or Chinese red. As soon as next year's hot colors become apparent, it's time to repaint.


Warm your welcome Disguise hollow-core doors by wallpapering them in a floral or strong graphic. If you're crafty (and thrifty), use wallpaper samples to make a collage. Wooden doors with panels are just as easily dressed up. Erin Gates of Element Interiors in Jamaica Plain used grass-cloth paper on her own home's paneled doors to add texture and conceal dings.

Put the kids to work Don't quell your children's artistic inclinations by confining doodling to paper. Buy a couple of large canvases or section off a portion of a wall with molding and let the kids loose with a predetermined palette and a bunch of brushes. It's a fun birthday treat that's less expensive than hiring a magician -- or a mural artist, for that matter.

Letter rip Alphabets make charming wall accents, especially when repurposed from unexpected sources. Gary Knell of Studio FKIA in South Boston isolated the "E" from an old sign advertising "TIRES." ABCs are aplenty on the flea-market scene; they look adorable mixed and matched to make a name. For a more uniform approach, letters are sold in a variety of colors and materials at craft stores, Urban Outfitters, and at Pottery Barn Kids. Pottery Barn Kids, Natick Collection, 508-653-4675, and other locations;

Affix it Skipping a headboard is an easy way to save big, but your wall needn't be bare. Decals in creative silhouettes are new to the market, and there's a huge selection sold online (search for "headboard decals"; prices range from $40 to $60 for these large decals). From delicate to graphic to soaring Gothic arches, you can affix this finishing touch to your wall in minutes. When you tire of it, peel it off.

Park their toys Tired of stepping on your child's endless supply of Matchbox cars? North Reading designer Mark Christofi put a client's collection to work -- as decoration -- by hanging picture rails across a wall in the bedroom to hold the cars. Thin ledges are ideal for displaying other collections, too, like the tiny windup toys you keep stepping on in the dark. Crate & Barrel sells a 3-foot ledge similar to the one pictured above for $19.95. Crate & Barrel, 777 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-262-8700, and other locations;

Go on stripe The curtains on the cover (they're in Susan Sargent's Beacon Hill home) are a Robert Allen silk with a woven-in ribbon band, but you can get the same effect by sewing ribbon to sheer curtains, she says. Just pin them on in even increments and sew right down the middle of the ribbons.

Hang it up Vintage maps do a lot of decorating -- and often for a small investment. Walpole designer Kelly McGuill, who incorporates vintage finds into up-to-date interiors, bought the one pictured here in a client's home at Brimfield for $5. Brimfield Antique and Collectibles Shows, Brimfield; this year's remaining shows will be held July 14-19 and September 8-13

Nix the night stand Matching night stands are so last century. Try a stepladder on one side (it frees up room in your broom closet) and a vintage chair on the other. A stack of luggage could hint at your worldliness and would be perfect for storing off-season sweaters. "Were you a band geek?" asks Roslindale Apartment528 ( blogger India Halcrombe. "Use your old music stand as a night table. It's even adjustable."

redo the doors Painter and designer Danika Herrick divulges her favorite fix for unsightly closet doors: Swap them out. Old shutters can work, she says, or salvage French doors or shoji screens, as pictured at left. Trim the new doors to fit or extend with metal mending plates, remove the hardware from existing doors, attach to the new ones, and hang. "There's a lot of math," she says, "but it's actually very simple to do."

Get growing Especially with a quiet palette, a climbing plant offers a punch of color that's not overwhelming. If your bedroom gets plenty of sunlight, says designer Gary Knell, plant passion flower in a pot with a trellis and let it climb.

Embrace the girly Interior designer Fernanda Bourlot of Simplemente Blanco in Boston says you can achieve a "fresh, ethereal feeling" with a pared-down palette, low lighting, and a simple swath of muslin over a bed. But when it comes to designing for little girls, try a canopy of airy mosquito netting (you can find one at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $30) and a string or two of twinkle lights to create a dreamy wonderland. Bed, Bath & Beyond, 401 Park Drive, Boston, 617-536-1090, and other locations;

Case the joint Take a cue from artist (and Pez collector) David Clancy, who turned an old drawer into a display case. Clancy cut thin pieces of wood for the shelves and made what is essentially a picture frame for the door -- he had glass cut for the front. "I hinged that to the drawer and glued a Pez dispenser to the door for a handle," he says.

Glaze it You don't have to repaint entirely for a whole new look. Here's how Natick decorative painter Monica Erickson creates an effect she likens to crushed velvet. Choose Behr's Faux Glaze paint in a color that is slightly darker than the walls. (It's sold at Home Depot, and a small room requires only about 6 ounces, so take advantage of sample jars.) Before painting, thoroughly clean walls. Mix three parts glaze with one part plain latex paint in the same color, then add water until it's the consistency of cream. Bunch up an old T-shirt, dip it in the glaze, and start dabbing, shifting the cloth to create random splotches. Home Depot, 339 Speen Street, Natick, 508-647-9600, and other locations;


Rack 'em Turn a wooden shoe rack into a towel holder. Designer Kelly McGuill found one with casters at a flea market; you could use almost any vintage rack. "The worn wood is a great contrast against glossy white bathroom tiles and soft, fluffy towels," she says.

Heat it Hang a rack or a row of hooks above a panel heater or radiator and you've got yourself a towel warmer, says Newton architect Stephen Reilly. He likes the Electric Panel Heater by Econo-Heat; it's 24-by-24 inches, slim, and can be painted to match your wall. It's about $110, and the running cost, Reilly says, is just 2 to 3 cents per hour. Available at

Grout it out Dingy grout is a design detriment. You'll need to get detailed regrouting instructions from a book or supplier, but tile installer Paul Grubb of Waltham has some trade secrets to share. Work one wall at a time, from top to bottom, cleaning before and after removing old grout to eliminate soap scum. Mix new grout to the consistency of mayonnaise. When smoothing the new joints, rinse your sponge with clean water after every two swipes. Finally, buff the tiles with terry cloth, and don't forget the sealer.

Miniskirt your sink Consider a miniskirt -- not a long, dowdy one -- for your powder room sink. To make Westford interior designer Deborah Farrand's version, you'll need about a yard and a half of fabric. Measure the sides and front of your sink and add 12 inches for each inverted pleat. Cut the fabric, finish the sides and lower edge, then attach the skirt to the underside of the sink with Velcro. Use silicone caulking on the back of the sink-side strip to ensure a lasting bond.

Divide and conquer "Separating small rooms into two halves," says Brad Dufton, owner of interior painting and wallpaper hanging company Color Theory in Boston, "offers the impression of more space." To get the look of wainscoting, run a piece of molding horizontally around the middle of the walls, then paint the bottom and molding portions one color and the top another. Or skip the molding and paint a thin stripe in a third color instead.

Shine on Stylist Kara Butterfield believes in the power of chrome. A spiffy new shower rod -- available at hardware stores -- helps create a luxe look, she says, with little investment of time or money. Don't forget the coordinating curtain rings.

Stow away Linen cabinet about to burst? Reuse the basic square vase from your last flower delivery to store washcloths in the bathroom. If you have a cylindrical glass vase that's tall and wide enough, use it to hold toilet paper.

Go green Bring the outdoors inside with earthy bathroom accessories -- especially if the room doesn't have a window. Pick up a leafy tree-pattern shower curtain, replace your old towels with bright green ones, and use a patch of "grass" ($10.50 at Bowl & Board) to hold your toothbrush. Bowl & Board, 255 Elm Street, Somerville, 617-661-0350,

Take a stripe Not only do horizontal stripes make a small space like a bathroom seem larger, they're easier to execute than vertical ones. Decorative painter Danika Herrick suggests a dozen 8-inch-wide stripes if you have 8-foot ceilings, since the wider the stripe, the less taping you'll need to do. Start with clean, mildew-free walls, measure the increments, and mark with blue painter's tape, pressing firmly to prevent bleeding. When the color is dry, apply clear acrylic to extend the life of your paint job.


Clear the decks If a jumble of small appliances is cluttering your countertops, clean them and start over, says interior architect Lisa Foster, principal of the Providence firm Reconstructure. Choose your most-used tool as a starting point -- the coffee maker, for example -- and put anything that doesn't match it in the cabinets.

Create a splash Adding a backsplash is a great way to spruce up a kitchen, and you don't have to use tile.'s Taniya Nayak suggests using vinyl wallpaper -- it's inexpensive and easy to clean -- instead. She likes Moda wallpaper, which is sold at Waltham Wallpaper & Paint ($80 and up per roll). Waltham Wallpaper & Paint, 591 Main Street, Waltham, 781-893-3732,

Steel yourself Another Taniya Nayak tip: Update old appliances with faux stainless-steel contact paper. It's sold by the roll at design-minded hardware stores and online (search for "stainless-steel contact paper").

Make color work Try a red or a green color scheme in your kitchen. According to Lisa Foster, they offer desirable personal and environmental benefits: Reds whet the appetite, greens suppress it. Her picks for wall paints are C2 LoVo and Benjamin Moore Aura.

Brighten at the top If you have a small kitchen with a strip of wall between your cabinet tops and ceiling, install a mirror along the wall, says architect Stephen Chung. The ceiling looks as if it extends infinitely, he says, and makes the space feel roomier. He recommends Wallex Glass in Arlington ($11 per square foot if you have it installed, $5 if you install it yourself). Wallex Glass, 1476 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, 781-648-7600,

Step on it Since cabinets are usually all one color, use Flor's patterned modular tiles to add pattern to your kitchen, says North Quincy designer Melinda Cabanilla. Circle Furniture carries the tiles locally, and you can find an even bigger selection at Flor's company website ( Circle Furniture, 425 Great Road, Acton, 978-263-7268, and other locations;

Get a grip The easiest way to update old cabinets is to install new handles or knobs, says Providence's Lisa Foster, who likes the inexpensive and fun stainless-steel finish Attest handles from IKEA. "Always look for solid or single-piece construction," she recommends. "Handles composed of multiple parts can unscrew or break over time."

Start really, really fresh If your wooden cabinets are old and outdated, paint them, Taniya Nayak says. The trick to a nice result is thoroughly cleaning and lightly sanding surfaces to remove any oil or grime before applying Kilz, her recommended primer. Then paint cabinets and frames in a semigloss or satin-finish paint. For the kitchen, she says, use Benjamin Moore in black or antique white.

Shelve it Create displays of glasses, dishes, or containers on open shelving, suggests Marblehead residential designer Molly Frey. Wooden shelving brackets similar to the ones pictured here are easy to make, she says, or for a wide selection of ready-made brackets ($50 and up per shelf), visit Lynn Lumber. Lynn Lumber, 180 Commercial Street, Lynn, 781-592-0400,

Write things For a playful backsplash or even for a whole wall, interior designer Stephanie Rossi of Spazio Rosso in Foxborough recommends using Benjamin Moore Chalkboard Paint. She used the paint to create an area for grocery lists in one client's home.

Put it out there "Green and white is a perpetually fresh palette," says Sarah Desmond, an interior designer at Jody Trail Designs in Sudbury, so "accessorize" with items from your fridge by setting out fruit or other produce in pretty bowls.


Place everything That chest of drawers just sitting there in an upstairs bedroom would make an excellent hall table, says Sudbury's Sarah Desmond. Use it as storage and switch out mittens for flip-flops as the seasons change.

Reflect on you Supply grandeur in a small foyer without taking up much space by adding a floating shelf and a mirror, suggests's Taniya Nayak. She suggests hanging a Lack shelf from IKEA between 36 and 42 inches off the floor, with a mirror (she likes the selection at HomeGoods) above it. HomeGoods, Tedeschi Plaza, Braintree, 781-356-3560, and other locations;

Slipcover your console If your style is clean and tailored, tie in your console table by adding a simple fabric "slipcover," says Dee Elms of Terrat Elms Interior Design in Boston's South End. To make one, cut a piece of fabric that's large enough to cover the top (with seam allowances) and sew it to hemmed flaps that fit the sides, front, and back -- you'll need a piece in back, or the cover will slide off. When you come in and kick off your shoes or rain boots, tuck them away underneath.

Smarten up Sarah Desmond suggests another way to show off your style while organizing your stuff: Repurpose useful items you have around the house. A planter you like, for example, can be an umbrella caddy, or a champagne bucket can hold mail.

Frame someone Architect Stephen Chung pieced together an interesting portrait of his son Jet in their home's entry. He took a series of photographs of Jet, each focusing on a different area of the body, then pieced them together. You could also create a whole "person" with the knees, face, and torso of different family members, for example.

Punch up the door Add a bright splash of color to your foyer by painting the inside of your front door, says This Old House correspondent Carole Freehauf. Or, to make a door you don't want to play up disappear, stick with a neutral color or match the walls and trim. "But if you love apple green," she says, "why not?"


Lay down a base Going outside doesn't mean leaving defined, designed spaces behind. Marblehead designer Molly Frey recommends repeating some of the color and flair of your interior with an outdoor rug (she likes the 5-by-8-foot Mad Mats rugs sold at Comina). Comina, 39 Atlantic Avenue, Marblehead, 781-631-2558, and other locations;

Get crafty's Taniya Nayak once made a beautiful mosaic patio table. She bought 15 4-inch bathroom tiles in coordinating colors, wrapped them in a towel, and gave a few whacks with a hammer. Using a wooden coffee table as her base, she glued the pieces into a pattern with Liquid Nails, then, once the glue was dry, grouted between the tiles.

State your style Bring design to the bottom of your driveway with mailbox numbers that match your home's style, says Foxborough's Stephanie Rossi. She likes the selection of contemporary numbers at Home Depot in Waltham. Home Depot, 100 1st Avenue, Waltham, 781-672-0900, and other locations;

Branch out Stephanie Rossi frames her front door with fallen birch limbs arranged in matching planters. (They're simply anchored in the dirt in her planters, which in summer hold ferns and in winter, greenery.) To create the framing effect, she uses branches that are more than 10 feet high.

Go rustic Designer Melinda Cabanilla suggests creating a chandelier by using several pieces of driftwood and aluminum wire to hold the pieces together, adding string lights, then hanging it with twine.

Make it match An umbrella in a bold color can quickly transform an outdoor space, says interior architect Lisa Foster. Just remember to complement your home's exterior color. For example, greens look great with oranges, she says. Tie in whatever color you choose with more than one element, so if you add an orange umbrella, find cushions to match.

Click for less If you're planning to re-cover cushions, Melinda Cabanilla says to look online for deals on indoor-outdoor fabric. "I bought 9 yards for $36 at," she says. The fabric was sold as flawed, but wasn't noticeably so. The site also sells remnants in top condition.

Improvise a table A piece of rectangular glass set atop a large planter makes an outdoorsy side table, says Looc boutique owner Audra Boyle.

Play games Hang your outdoor game items -- such as mallets and balls from a croquet set or a pair of oars -- on the side of a shed or pool house, designer Linda Merrill of Chameleon Interiors in Duxbury suggests. She says go with "anything that fits your own style and interests and will age well."

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