Your Home: Do-It-Yourself

45 projects under $45

Perk up your living space with these easy and affordable design ideas.

Grouping collections Group collections together to create more of a visual impact. (Photograph by Eric Roth)
By Molly Jane Quinn
October 24, 2010

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Deck the Walls Create homemade decals. Make temporary decorations out of peel-and-stick contact paper. “I have a particular fondness for contact paper, being a child of the 1960s,” says Reading interior designer Mark Christofi. He suggests using cookie cutters to trace a design onto the paper for use in a bathroom or mudroom.

Cover walls with fabric. “Papering your walls with fabric using liquid starch and a squeegee is great, because of all the wonderful choices you have with fabric versus wallpaper,” says Portland, Maine, designer Linda Meyers, who co-authored the DIY design tome Tossed and Found with her husband, John Meyers. She suggests scouring flea markets and yard sales for inexpensive bolts of fabric in funky patterns and using Linit brand liquid starch. Perfect for rentals, the fabric is easy to remove from walls with water and a sponge.

Consider your words. Use pages from old dictionaries or books to line the walls of a home office or library. Unlike fabric or wallpaper, however, the ink on printed pages may run, so be sure to do a test, and use decoupage glue like Mod Podge instead of wallpaper glue to adhere the pages to the walls.

Add drama to an interior reveal. Differentiate between adjoining rooms that are connected by arches or deep reveals by painting just the underside of the reveal a bright, perky color. “Decorating is all in details,” says Ryan Donnelly, general manager of Webster & Company in the Boston Design Center.

Get started with a designer kit. “Lots of graphic designers and artists have started making their own do-it-yourself products, like Lotta Jansdotter’s stencil and stamp kit,” says Mari Porcari, who sells the kits at her Cape Cod boutique, Weekend. “Basically, for less than $20 you can get a kit that will make dozens of projects for walls and fabric.” (217 Main Street, East Orleans, 508-255-9300,

Make Some Fabric Magic Give blah pillows pizazz by applying felt shapes. Simply use a stencil to trace a pattern onto a sheet of felt, cut out the shape, and whipstitch it to the front of the pillow or use iron-on tape to adhere it to a sham. For a personalized look, make a monogram using felt letters.

Dream up a custom upholstered headboard. Duxbury interior designer Megan McClure fastened about 2 yards of fabric to a panel of rigid foam insulation with upholstery tacks and screwed it to the wall behind her bed. You can update the look whenever you like. “I just swapped out the [original] fabric for a fresh boysenberry velvet,” she says. Look for decorator fabric for about $5 a yard at Sewfisticated Discount Fabrics in Somerville and Dorchester. (14 McGrath Highway, Somerville, 617-625-7996 and 735 Morrissey Boulevard, Dorchester, 617-825-2949,

Dress up a slipcover. Add interest to a plain slipcover by adhering decorative trim with iron-on tape. Visit discount stores like Freddy Farkel’s Fabric Showplace in Watertown to find fun options, including beaded and tasseled trimming. (86 Coolidge Avenue, Watertown, 617-926-2888,

Go beyond oilcloth. At Zimman’s fabric store in Lynn, you can find Marimekko patterns ($44.95 per yard) treated with a laminated coating. The coating makes the fabric impervious to water and easy to wipe clean. Wrap a single yard (56 inches by 36 inches) of fabric over a kitchen tabletop and staple the edges to the underside for a cheery, modern alternative to standard-issue oilcloth. (80 Market Street, Lynn, 781-598-9432,

Recycle a sweater into a cozy sham. “I used to work with just wool [sweaters], but now I work with just cashmere – you can pick them up at Salvation Army for five bucks,” says Michele Fandel Bonner from the yarn shop Seed Stitch in Salem. She first cleans the sweaters in her washing machine with a hot wash followed by a cold rinse, a process that also felts the material, before trimming into the desired shape for a pillow using a rotary cutter.

Hang It All Frame interesting fabric remnants. “In my wanderings in junky antique stores and consignment shops, I often come across really fun bits of vintage fabric,” says Lincoln-based fabric designer Mally Skok. “I love the naive flower prints in primary colors from the 1950s and 1960s – some of them would look adorable framed.”

Take your own art photos. Online services like Snapfish can print a collage of your digital photographs on stretched canvas for as little as $39.99, or a 12-inch-square print of a single image on canvas for $44.99.

Turn ordinary objects into works of art. Group worn cutting boards together to make an interesting wall hanging in the kitchen. Or create a cluster of unexpected decorative accents: Nor’East Architectural Antiques in South Hampton, New Hampshire, sells keyhole covers starting at $6. The intricate patterns take on new relevance when arranged out of context. (16 Exeter Road, South Hampton, New Hampshire, 603-394-0006,

Make a statement with colorful beads. For his designer showcase room, completed this summer at the W Residences, Boston interior designer Eric Roseff filled clear 6-inch-square acrylic shadow-box frames with chunky coral beads and Native American silver-and-turquoise cuffs, and then hung the squares in a small powder room for a pop of color.

Rework vintage board games. “Gather the playing pieces of any particular game and install them in a standard shadow-box frame that’ll hang on the wall or sit on a shelf,” says Boston interior designer Michael Ferzoco. “Use the actual boards to create a collage on the wall.” For a child’s room, he suggests using peel-and-stick Velcro so kids can move the playing pieces around.

Treat Them Right Paint just the windowsills. “To add tremendous atmosphere to any room, consider painting the windowsills and sashes,” says Concord-based color consultant Bonnie Krims. “The color doesn’t have to be bright or bold to make a big impact.” Krims suggests looking to furniture and accessories in the room to find the right shade of paint, and even bringing a favorite item to the paint shop to get the color right.

Sew an easy valance. “Rather than go through the hassle of searching out just the perfect match for your new bedroom set, purchase an extra bed skirt to repurpose into a valance for a quick window makeover,” says Kristen Dennison of The Fabric House on Both Target and Kmart offer basic bed skirts for about $15, making it possible – with just a few sewing skills under your belt – to make window treatments for less than $45.

Incorporate pretty hooks to hold curtains. Flip a decorative wall hook from vertical to horizontal to make a singular curtain tieback. “At night, you just untuck [the curtain] and voila – instant privacy,” says Boston interior designer Tricia McDonagh.

Fashion a custom drapery rod. Embellish a wooden dowel by using a decorative knob as an end cap. “Depending on your style, you can add a modern fix with clean nickel, or rustic with forged iron, and even a bit traditional with glass,” says Jill Goldberg, who owns home-goods shop Hudson, which has locations in the South End and Wellesley. Discount stores like Ocean State Job Lot often stock interesting knobs for less than $3 each. Rather than screwing the knob into the dowel, attach it with a strong adhesive, like E-6000 multipurpose glue.

Decorate paper shades. Peel-and-stick paper honeycomb window shades aren’t exactly design forward. But you can turn these throwaway shades into a kid-friendly decorating project with some water-based paints. Let tots put their own unique imprint on their room by swirling a design on the paper. For a psychedelic effect, stretch the shades open and dribble paint over the paper, a la Jackson Pollock. And because the shades stick to the interior of a windowsill with built-in adhesive strips, they’re easy to remove.

Refresh the Furniture Perk up a blah desk. Decoupage decorative paper to drawer fronts for a burst of color and pattern. Amy Madanick, co-owner of Rugg Road Paper Company on Beacon Hill, sells a selection of hand-printed and imported papers ($3.50 to $15 per sheet). Her friendly staff can help you select a paper that will respond well to decoupage glue – no running or streaking – and match your decor. (105 Charles Street, Boston, 617-742-0002,

Create a shabby-chic folding screen. Re-purpose unused or old wooden shutters by attaching simple metal hinges at the top and bottom of three panels. Lightly buff old shutters with rough sandpaper to remove any flaking paint, and pre-drill holes for screws to avoid splitting the wood. You can find shutters for sale on eBay for about $25 a pair or at architectural salvage shops. Or try befriending a construction crew; they often toss old millwork during renovations.

Spray paint a wicker chair. Old-fashioned wicker furniture is suddenly modern when seen in a bright hue. Scrape and sand off existing paint and then spray paint the chairs outside (use a dropcloth) on a still day.

Add a little fur – faux or real – to hard seats. South End designer Lisa Kreiling used sheepskin throws ($25 at IKEA) on wire chairs for the study she designed at April’s South End Urban Showhouse. The soft material is an easy way to take the edge off wooden or metal seats.

Change up the fridge with chalkboard paint. While not exactly a piece of furniture, an older refrigerator can be an eyesore in the kitchen. Remove the handles, roughen the surface of the doors with sandpaper, and then apply chalkboard paint ($25 for 2 quarts at Home Depot) – several coats, for an even surface – to the door fronts.

Refurbish Your Hardware Cover plain wooden knobs with patterned fabric. “A fresh modern fabric can give your project the perfect pop of color you’re looking for,” says Kristin Dennison, who runs the Etsy shop The Fabric Farm. Dennison suggests using a decoupage glue to adhere fabric remnants (less than $8 a yard at to knobs.

Mix and match hardware for an eclectic look. Purchase a few exciting knobs (there’s a selection for $8 to $10 each at Anthropologie) in varying colors, patterns, and materials and intermix them with existing hardware in your kitchen or bath. Go for maximum contrast when selecting new hardware, but choose one unifying element – focus on a particular shape, such as rounded or square, to create cohesion.

Reuse an old chair. Don’t throw out that broken ladder-back chair. Instead, saw off the seat and legs, and use the chair back as a towel rack. Nail saw-toothed picture hangers to the back of the top rung to hang from the wall. Just be careful to hang only light items, like hand towels, to avoid pulling on drywall.

Clean up rusty chrome. Instead of tossing chrome door handles and cabinet knobs, try rubbing the rusted spots with a sheet of aluminum foil. Dip a ball of foil into a bit of water to buff chrome to a high shine and remove blemishes. This simple technique also makes rusted chrome hardware at flea markets worth a second look.

Turn knobs into coat hooks. Use the knobs you’ve removed from cabinets (in the tip above) to create a custom coat rack for your mudroom or hallway. Purchase a length of wood from a lumberyard or find scrap wood that fits the space, and paint it to match the decor. Pre-drill holes for attaching the knobs to the board. Then, attach two saw-toothed picture hangers to the back for a firm mounting.

Lighten Up Personalize a lampshade. “You can add soft, warm light to any room by gluing ribbon trimmings to an old lampshade,” says Colette Katsikas, manager of the boutique Essentials in Northampton. “It’s a simple and affordable way to change the tone of the room – all you need is a few yards of ribbon and a glue gun.” Ribbon at Essentials starts at just 10 cents a yard. (88 Main Street, Northampton, 413-584-2327,

Invest in new bulbs. “I’m a big advocate for the fluorescent bulbs, but you have to be really selective, because some of the light that they emit isn’t that fantastic,” says interior designer Herbert Acevedo, who owns the store Shor in Provincetown. He recommends Earthbulb’s soft white CFLs (about $8 each at Ace Hardware), which he uses in all his designs. They have a round bulb rather than the coil of other compact fluorescents. “And it’s a pretty, warm, soft light – not flat. They’re actually very multidimensional,” says Acevedo.

Rewire an oldie. Maine designers Linda and John Meyers are known for their ability to score designer lighting finds at yard sales, thrift stores, and even sidewalks on trash day. Granted, for the novice thrifter, a lamp with outdated wiring can be scary. But Fix Masters in West Roxbury will rewire and replace the socket of a single-bulb lamp for between $20 and $30, making that freebie on the side of the road a bit more appealing. (1751 Centre Street, West Roxbury, 617-323-1163,

Recycle glass bottles. With minimal tools, you can turn a wine bottle or old-fashioned apothecary jar into a custom lamp. First, head to Home Depot to purchase a Westinghouse Make-a-Lamp kit ($10) and a glass and tile drill-bit set ($9 for four bits in different sizes) for use with an electric drill. Then clean the glass vessel, carefully drill a hole near the base for the cord, and follow the instructions in the wiring kit. Tips for drilling glass include using a jig to keep the piece stationary, allowing the drill to cut on its own (don’t apply extra pressure), and, of course, wearing safety goggles.

Buy a shade slipcover. Cedar Grove Gardens in Dorchester offers fabric lampshade covers ($33 to $38) in three sizes and a variety of patterns. The stretchy fabric simply slides over the shade, no special tools required. (911 Adams Street, Dorchester, 617-825-8582,

Go Green Add color to a room with houseplants. “Buy a plant instead of another home accessory and see how your room becomes more colorful, naturally,” says Concord color consultant Bonnie Krims. “They often have fascinating leaf shapes and can even serve as a focal point.”

Bring outdoor planters inside. Take a concrete pedestal urn or birdbath and use it to decorate interior spaces. “I also found an inexpensive birdbath from a local flea market and filled it with many different varieties of ferns; it stayed in my living room for years,” says interior stylist Kelly McGuill of Walpole.

Box up your botanicals. “Old boxes, baskets, and drawers are all great, inexpensive ways to showcase flowers or plants,” says McGuill. Just make sure that you include a watertight insert, like a plastic bowl or dish, and, if needed, use pieces of Styrofoam under the insert to achieve the desired height.

Create a pedestal. “You can really help add drama to any wall or corner by bringing in a large-leafed plant, and by placing it on a pedestal or large stack of books, you’ll create a grand appearance,” says Jill Goldberg of Hudson in the South End and Wellesley. Hunt for fabric-covered books at yard sales to create the look.

Branch out. Large natural branches arranged in a vase add an organic element to any room, but are even more compelling when realized in bright metallics. Try jazzing up branches with Krylon’s glitter spray paint for a shimmering effect.

Accessorize It Use an antique metal tray as a message board or for decoration. “Metal trays come in all sorts of shapes and designs, and [some] look so great they belong on the wall,” says Jocelyn Sinaur, who sells pretty vintage trays at her Red Chair Antiques in Peterborough, New Hampshire. “Just add a hook to the back and use with interesting magnets.” You can attach a D-ring hanger or saw-toothed hanger to the back of the tray using instant-bond glue. (14 Depot Street, Peterborough, New Hampshire, 603-924-5953,

Turn costume jewelry into magnets. “After years of combing flea markets, I’ve ended up with a stash of amazing costume jewelry that I rarely wear,” says Mari Porcari of the Cape Cod’s Weekend. “So I took the backs off pins and earrings and glued magnetic circles to the backs to make fun, sparkly magnets.”

Develop an instant library. “If you are looking for quick fixes, head to your local used-book store and grab some fabulous-looking old books to fill those shelves,” says Hudson proprietor Jill Goldberg. Zero in on a particular jacket color for a tonal look or go for a cheeky collection by scooping up pulp-fiction novels.

Group candlesticks. “A wonderful artist named Ted Muehling designed a set of candlesticks, each slightly different in height and shape,” says Newton interior designer Susan Corson. She suggests gathering candlesticks together and making your own arrangement. “You can make it as eclectic as you like, mixing different materials (like glass or porcelain) or different colors.” If you don’t already have a collection of candlesticks, search for inexpensive finds at thrift stores and consignment shops.

Hunt for hidden treasures. “Flea markets, garage sales, your local hardware store, and nature are great ways to find affordable treasures,” says Walpole’s Kelly McGuill. “Shells, sea glass, bottles, candlesticks, old trophies, vintage alarm clocks – all make incredible, inexpensive additions to your home, especially when grouped together.”

Molly Jane Quinn is a freelance writer on Cape Cod. Send comments to


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  • Your Home: Do-it-yourself