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

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, such as 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 2 to 3 inches in diameter, that can 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 small 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 minibar.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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