How to decorate a home in the short term, before a remodel
November 23, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

My sweetie and I own a small, fixer-upper home. We have many, many home projects coming up, including a big kitchen remodel that will probably be completed in six months. What can we do to make the place look nice until then?

The problem is the place kind of looks crummy now, especially our main living area (which is connected to the kitchen): it's very bare and has a lot of unrelated stuff in it. We don't want to do anything permanent in it until the kitchen is done (as that will inform many furniture and design decisions (moving a wall so the living area is smaller and the kitchen is larger, adding wood elements into the kitchen). For example, we have a far too big, not particularly comfortable sofa that we want to get rid of, but we don't want to buy one until we know more about the color/theme/other stuff from the kitchen. We want to add artwork, but don't want to invest in framing until we know more (and also have a better idea of what the walls will look like). Our bedroom is also super-plain and collects clutter easily because there's no storage (we have a plan to add some, but it's some time off--we have years worth of projects here).

We don't want to/can't spend a ton of money or time on making the place look nicer, but are wondering what we can do to make it a bit more pleasant and livable in the meantime. (I feel like this has been asked on Metafilter before, but couldn't find anything narrow enough in my searches).

Please share ideas! (Note we have a toddler).

(Thank you for your help on my previous home question!)
posted by Ideal Impulse to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get 5 gallons of ecru paint and paint. Sad paint makes for sad places. Ecru will be a nice, warm color and it's easy to paint over later should you want to.

If they're awful, prime and paint your kitchen cabinets. It's time intensive, but cheap and cheerful. Glossy white is something that's easy to live with. Paint your backsplash a funky color you love (if it's not tiled already). Otherwise, if it's just bland, but not all broke-down, live with it for a few months. Buy a nice Canvas art thingy at World Market for the walls. Add colorful apron, clock and pot holders.

You can buy a relatively cheap slipcover for the sofa. Get one you like.

Paint any mismatched wooden furniture. You can do white, or bold colors (like turquoise.)

As for art, there are gee-gaws you can hang on the wall, a nice quilt, mirrors, tin sculptury things you buy at Marshalls.

Bookcases are pretty cheap, get a couple in black, white or neutral fake wood. Style them with books, vases, photos, etc.

For the bathroom, get a toilet etagere, use baskets on the shelves to hide your less attractive toiletries. A basket on the floor with rolled up towels is attractive and useful.

You can get cheap pieces at thrift stores and paint them up. It's easy and it looks really good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Table runners are inexpensive, and can make a difference. Find artwork at your local Goodwill or some other thrift store. Also, having some greenery can make a room so much more welcoming: add a vase of flowers or potted plants-- bamboo, cacti, or pothos are all inexpensive, and low-maintenance options.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:57 AM on November 23, 2014

Best answer: It's okay that the stuff is unrelated. Get rid of anything you don't use and make sure your seating arrangement is pleasant and conducive to conversation.

Some ideas to make place more homey right now:

A couple nice houseplants in nice pottery will warm up your living room. I've found very decent looking ceramic glazed pots at Walmart for my plants.

Three to five personal photographs that make you smile in frames -- try to match the metal or material for more cohesiveness. Group them together on an end table or bookshelf.

White plush towels in the bathroom.

A candle or two.

Some lighting on dimmer switches.

A throw and/or some colorful throw pillows.

A vase of fresh flowers anywhere.

A vase of fresh flowers in the center of your table on a tablecloth or runner.

Inexpensive fresh orchids placed alone or in groupings (buy orchid pots from Ikea to place them in).

African violets.

New quilt or comforter with matching shams for your bedroom. Plain bedrooms are great. All you need is some nice bedding. Get something colorful to liven it up.

Two or three good books on your coffee table that you are actually interested in reading. They should not be "coffee table books".

Castile peppermint soap for your hand soap dispenser in bathrooms. So refreshing.

A tray of nice French soaps for your bathroom.

Blue and white bowl filled with lemons or fresh fruit for your kitchen.

A poster with some punch from Ikea over your couch until you can decide on some carefully chosen pieces. Take your time when picking artwork and do it as a couple. You can always put the Ikea poster in a guest room or give it away later down the road if you don't feel it goes with your remodel.


posted by Fairchild at 9:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't want to live in a bedroom without storage for months/years. I think it would be worth the trouble to just check craigslist on a weekly basis until I saw something under $50, and in my area, and not actively hideous; then I'd get it, use it until it was time to make decisions about real furniture, and sell it on craigslist again or give it away for free.
posted by aimedwander at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2014

PLANTS! Get a few big houseplants, and put them in pots/planters your like. You'd be AMAZED at how well plants will perk up a room.

(Oh and yeah: slipcovers and paint, as above.)
posted by Kololo at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2014

Best answer: Lighting is going to make the biggest immediate difference. Get at least three separate lamps per room, some bright and some for mood lighting. A cheap rug (you can paint drop cloths) will also make a big difference. And plants go with everything, so absolutely on the plants!
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:13 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not sure whether you need to cover floors, but I have become a fan of indoor/outdoor rugs. They are relatively cheap (got ours for $130, and it's 7x10 ish). Very durable and they come in some cute designs.

I agree about painting furniture. Too many shades of wood can start to look very thrift-store. I like White Dove, a sort of warm white. Speaking of thrift stores, they are great for buying baskets and centerpieces. Fill a bowl with rocks or pinecones or whatever natural thing is available around you (even corks can be fun... plenty of those around my house!).

Slipcover for the couch for sure.

You could buy cheap frames at a craft store and fill them with magazine photos or post cards for now. Sometimes a collage of small pictures can look just as good as one large piece of artwork, as long as there's a common link (all black and white or all similar frames).

Declutter and make it look and smell clean. You want folks to see the potential for their stuff, so if your stuff is overpowering, it might not be ideal.
posted by hippychick at 11:48 AM on November 23, 2014

My family and I have been living in our fixer for a few years now. I wish that we had given everything with a painted surface a fresh coat of paint before we moved in (including painted floors that we'll eventually re-finish; another coat of paint wouldn't have made future re-finishing any harder).

We have a couple of rooms we didn't paint because we thought that we were going to take down the old plaster walls and put up new sheetrock. That will happen eventually, but once we finally just went ahead and did some painting, the house felt cleaner and fresher. It's hard living someplace that looks dingy even when it's clean.

We don't have ton of knick knacks and posters and such out. We have kept a lot of stuff away, in our basement, which has helped keep down the clutter (especially with kids and toys). But we do have out some family photos and books.

If you don't want to decorate with framing, what about using your toddler's art? Hang a long, thin rope or cord of some kind across a long wall (over the couch? in a hallway? in your child's room?) and use clothespins to pin up some art.

You could even make it a fun craft project: put out an old sheet or a bunch of newspapers as a floor or table cover; then put out some plain pieces of white paper and hand or finger paint (in your favorite colors!). You all do hand prints, finger painting, whatever, on LOTS of paper. Then, after they drive, choose your favorites as decoration. Or use some favorites brought home from daycare, if you have that.

You could also, temporarily, print out in color some favorite family photos on regular paper or photo paper and hang them with clothespins. It's not permanent or expensive and it gives you a nice, homey display.

For your couch: slipcovers can be pricey and you might not want to spend the money if you hope to replace the couch eventually, but you can also use a large sheet in a solid color or get some fun fabric from Ikea or a fabric store, and then add a few pillows (Ikea has some cheapies). This can give you a whole new, fun feel without too much money.

You say you don't have storage in your bedroom -- what about getting some inexpensive storage shelves that you won't use in there permanently? A few bookcases or shelves can help you be organized now, and you can move them later to a playroom, kid's room, wherever it might make more sense.

Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 12:55 PM on November 23, 2014

White. Just paint everything white. Paint the walls white and if your wooden furniture is crappy and doesn't match, paint that white too. Throw some white or neutral slipcovers on your couch and throw out any clutter. Get some plants and you watch, it will look like a designer home. White has a way of making everything look better, check out pretty much any designer interiors blog and you'll see. If you want to add colour, do that with soft furnishings (cushions, rugs) or just use whatever existing stuff you've got because guess what - everything works with white. White all the way.
posted by Jubey at 3:29 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Lighting, tea lights, Christmas lights etc. Cheap-o canvases from Goodwill: get some color swatches from Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams and paint them. You can fill the place with color of your choosing for a hundred dollars or less and throw them out in six months and feel fine.

The first big thing is light and cheap color. The secondary thing is softness -- if you don't love your sofa you can still buy some plush snuggly Pier One pillows and a few LL Bean wool blankets.

If you want to up that, look into Sonos for music players -- Sonos plus a good Pandora station and you've taken care of the auditory.

You can do go pretty far on the cheap if you think in terms of meeting people's sensory expectations - and your own. "There are very few flaws a dimmer switch can't hide."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:16 PM on November 23, 2014

Best answer: I gave Jubey's answer a favorite, but I'll go a step farther and recommend that you not even bother. Put all your decorating time, thought, and resources toward the way you want it to look when you're done.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2014

Can you include some pictures? We might be able to help more.
posted by kjs4 at 5:46 PM on November 23, 2014

Okay, I've just bought a property that's been a neglected rental for the past 10+ years. I'm in the same boat as you: don't want to spend much money until I do the big renovations in a couple of years' time. In the meantime, I need to live somewhere that feels fresh and inviting. This was my method, on a tight budget:

- clean EVERYTHING thoroughly. Hire carpet cleaning machines, high-pressure washers for outdoor areas, scrub down walls, clean tracks of doors and windows. In other words, clean the structural elements of your house that usually get forgotten.

- remove previous owner's soft furnishings and fittings. Curtains, wall-to-wall carpet, towel rails, toilet-roll holders, makeshift shelving - it all went in the trash. Prepare walls for painting (putty holes and chips, etc). Buy best-quality paint you can afford. Paint all walls pure white.

- replace all interior door handles with new ones in a nicer finish.

- replace kitchen and bathroom taps with shiny new ones.

- look at your lighting. Is it too bright/too dim/dirty/ugly? Remove and clean all light shades. Replace bulbs. Install dimmer switches. Buy cheap matching light shades if the old ones are dire. Even those plain white rice-paper globes will look better, as long as they all match and are new.

- high-pressure clean the grout on any tiles

- buy new, matching doormats for all entrances in bright colours/designs

- go to IKEA. Purchase new shower curtain and a couple of bathmats in matching or complementary colours. Maybe a toothbrush-holder set as well.

- grab one of their LED-lit paper-cutout Christmas decoration thingys while you're at it. Gorgeous.

- also a sheepskin throw if you can afford it. Plus a couple of the largest glass hurricane lamps you can find, with a huge white candle for each one (to be lit UP HIGH if you have pets/kids, natch.)

- good-quality scented candle in your favourite scent

- cheapest bedroom storage you can find. Seriously, you need some storage. Put it in Craigslist when you're ready to upgrade, and you'll probably make half your money back. It'll be worth the outlay to save your sanity.

Obviously, pick and choose amongst these as suits your home, priorities and budget. Just some ideas! :) My place was dingy, smelly and uninviting when I bought it. Now, I can't wait to move in!! I'm a single female who knew zilch about DIY, and I did all the work myself (plus ripping up carpets and underlay, preparing the concrete and painting the bedroom floor), just by googling instruction and watching YouTube tutorials.

Good luck!
posted by Salamander at 7:03 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

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