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da

10 tricks for a low-cost, high-impact home upgrade

Want to fix up the old place but don't have a bucket of money to spend? Luckily, if you focus your resources in the right areas, little changes can make a huge difference in the way your home looks -- to yourself or potential buyers. Here are some low-cost ideas to get you started:

1. Begin with the front of the house. It's the first thing you, and your guests, will see. "Always repaint the front, the trim and the door," says Robert Irwin, author of "Improve the Value of Your Home Up to $100,000." His trick: Pay special attention to the front door and the door handle. For potential buyers, "that's the first time they touch the house," he says. Twenty-five dollars worth of paint makes a door look new. And another $50 to $75 for a shiny handle on a freshly painted or stained door "makes an enormous difference," Irwin says.

2. Dress up the porch. Place two large planters on either side of the front door, with a profusion of healthy plants spilling out. "Think of your pots like clothes -- you want something that's going to go with the house," says Rebecca Kolls, master gardener and host of the nationally syndicated television series "Rebecca's Garden."

When you choose the plants, look for foliage colors and blooms that complement each other, just like you were assembling an outfit. "You wouldn't mix polka dots and plaid," says Kolls. Her rule of thumb: the plants should be twice as tall as the pot. Since you're literally assembling a garden in a pot, look for different textures. Mix perennials and annuals, blooming and nonblooming varieties. Include tall plants, to give the arrangement height and shape; ground covers, to spill out of the pot and down the sides to soften the edges; and an abundance of medium sized plants to fill in between the two and give a lush look. Squeeze in as many plants as you can manage, says Kolls. "Just pack them in there."

If you want to add another touch later, you can tie it in to the front door with a coordinating wreath, says Kolls.

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3. Paint. "The biggest change you can make in a room is painting the walls, changing the color," says Linda Holmes, certified remodeler and president of Creative Carpentry Remodelers Inc., in Aurora, Ill. New paint "makes it look clean again."

"And paint the ceiling anything but ceiling white," she says.

Some pro paint tips:

  • Paint the trim a contrasting color. "It gives a little bit of punch to everything," says New York interior designer Michael Love, FASID, president of Interior Options Inc. Or stencil a crown molding onto the wall with paint. "It's not so tough," says Love. Just go slow and be accurate.

  • Another option: Paint a wall three different shades of the same color. Measure equal sections and use painter's masking tape to mark off each area, says Judy Pickett, ASID, owner of Design Lines Ltd., in Raleigh, N.C.. Do the bottom of the wall first with the darkest shade. Once it dries, do the middle section with the next lightest shade and so on. Want something really different? Go for big squares in various colors.

  • Paint the kitchen cabinets. If you're the handy type, also think about adding a new kitchen counter to give the room a whole new look. "It makes a huge impact," says Deborah Houseworth, ASID, president of DLH Design Studio in Chevy Chase, Md.

  • And don't limit the paint to the walls. Inexpensive, unmatched furniture gets a whole new look with a coat of paint -- especially white, says Love, who uses the technique in her own home. The trick also works with lamps, especially if you add a little glaze for an antique look.

4. Display photos. Have some favorite photos blown up, pick up some inexpensive frames at a discount store and line a wall, says Pickett, who used this trick in her own office. "Pop them into frames, and it's the cheapest thing you can do," she says. "They really do have an impact." Her secret: Black and white photos are even more dramatic.

5. Shine a little light on the subject. "Add accent lighting, instead of the two ordinary lamps that flank both ends of the sofa," says Holmes.

A lot of discount and home stores are stocking inexpensive lighting options that can make a big difference in a room. Spotlights that plug into existing outlets can direct light to features you want to emphasize, like art or plants.

Houseworth lined a room with track lights, forming a perimeter about two feet from the walls, and painted the ceiling within the tracks a different color. "It looked like a gallery," she says. Cost: about $400 to $500. Pro tip: look for tiny lights, about two to three inches in diameter, that just add a nice sparkle.

Or you can pick up on another hot trend and get a couple of candlestick lamps, says Holmes.

6. Make rooms instantly more spacious. Go through your rooms and get rid of one-third of your furniture and junk, says Irwin. Whether you need a little breathing room or you're getting ready to sell and move, this will give you more free space. And it makes it that much easier for potential buyers to picture their own furnishings in the home, says Irwin.

7. Give the yard a good clip. Trim back the trees and shrubs that block the street view of the house and especially the windows. A well-groomed yard that lets light into the home "looks a lot less sinister," says Irwin.

8. Create areas of interest in your yard. Start with one small section and create a focal point. "Small spaces can become terrific spaces and look much grander than they are," says Kolls, who advises picturing the yard as a series of "little rooms." Just do a piece at a time. Install a birdbath, bird feeder, arbor or bench with copious amounts of flowers and plants around it to create a mini-sanctuary. "You've got this great look for an inexpensive price," she says.

9. Trick the eye. To make an area of the yard look larger, use curving pathways and sidewalks instead of straight ones. Curves fool the eye and "make an area look bigger," says Kolls.

10. Use everyday objects in new ways. Sometimes the secret to less-expensive decorating is to look at things differently. Love had been searching for a set of long, silver-colored pull-handles for a large cabinet, but everything she found was at least four figures. Then she spotted exactly what she wanted in a package labeled "towel bars." Cost: $69.

Looking for a cart to serve as a bar in a study or dining area? Check out an office supply retailer or the office furniture area of your favorite home store, says Love. Chances are the wheeled cart being sold for a fax machine or computer would also make a stylish little mini bar.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

-- Updated: April 15, 2005

 

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