Redecorating? You can redesign without buying new things

Nadia Geller / Theo and Juliet

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 20, 2008

You’ve heard of an interior designer. And you may have even hired a remodeler.

But until recently, a redesigner was just a word that most of us didn’t realize existed. Thanks to home design shows such as HGTV’s “Decorating Cents,” savvy homeowners are learning that redesigning — or utilizing pieces that already exist in a home — can rejuvenate a house for very little cost and, in some cases, no cost.

It just takes a little imagination to think outside of the box — and maybe a friend or two to help move the furniture around.

We talked with some of the nation’s top decorators and designers to get some tips on how to redesign homes economically.

Kelly Edge

You know her from: Appearances on “Decorating Cents” (1 p.m. Saturdays on HGTV)
Her best advice: “Move the furniture away from the walls. Angles are interesting. People enjoy being close. People enjoy being closer together and it makes a room feel cozy. And every room should have something tall in it, like a 6- or 7-foot tall plant in the corner. It adds a really nice visual element.”
Problems many clients face: “People don’t trust themselves. They think that because they’re not decorators, they can’t decorate. Many people think that if furniture is functional, then it can only be used for one thing. And too many people cram overstuffed furniture into rooms that are way too small to accommodate them. It all looked great in the showroom, but then they get it home and are like, ‘Oh lord, what have I done?!'”
Watch out for: “Break up the matchy matchy sets. It’s so much more interesting when the coffee table doesn’t match the end tables. If you’ve got something round, find something square to complement it. Don’t look for all the same shapes.
“Most people have enough furniture in their homes. They just have the wrong furniture in the rooms. Swap things around and shake things up. You’ll be surprised at how something designed for a living room might look great in your bedroom. And in bedrooms, remember to keep the clutter down. It’s supposed to be a place where you can relax.”
One way to keep the clutter down in bedrooms is to keep it out of sight. NeatSheets makes an ingenious set of sheets that has side pockets so you can hide your paperback, reading glasses or TV remote in your sheets (, prices range from $39.99 to $199.99).
Decorating musts: Put up some kind of artwork on the walls, even if it’s a nicely framed poster. “People tend to be stingy with their art. They’ll buy a few pieces and put one in each room — and then each room looks like it doesn’t have enough art. Go through all your rooms and see if there are pieces that would complement each other, and then put them in one room. You can work on adding more art to the other walls later.”

Nadia Geller

You know her from: “Date My House” (7:30 p.m. Saturdays on TLC).
Her best advice: “I’m not a big spender myself. It’s really doable to look at what you have and create something entirely new in your home with your old things. “Invite over a friend whose style you like. They can look at your house with a fresh perspective. Once you get an idea of what you think you might want to do, completely empty out the room you want to make over. You can’t really visualize what a room can look like if it’s full of furniture and knickknacks.”
Problems many clients face: “People get confused with space planning. They get tired moving furniture from one place to another and give up. If you’re good at drawing, try sketching out where you’d like to put things in your room to get a general idea.” For those of us who are less artistically inclined, try Canvas Corp.’s Room Spacing Kits ($7.99, Their repositionable stickers make it easy to visualize how a room might look if you moved the sofa to the other corner.
Splurge: Painting a room is vital to creating a new look, but Geller points out that window treatments can dramatically alter a room’s vibe. If new curtains aren’t in the budget, try Geller’s tip: “Curtains give a room a finished look. They can be expensive, so be on the lookout for ones you like that are on sale, even if they’re way too long for your windows. You can take them to your local dry cleaners and have them hemmed up. It’s surprisingly affordable. I do it all the time.”
Decorating musts: “Every room needs at least three lights. And most people don’t have enough plants. Have some kind of life in your room — even if it’s twigs in a vase.”

Robb Wittleff

You know him from: The “Trash to Treasure” segments on “Decorating Cents” (1 p.m. Saturdays on HGTV)
His best advice: “Do not go shopping when you have no idea what you’re looking for. You’ll end up with a garage full of junk. Also, don’t do everything you see on TV. I believe in limiting yourself to five projects. You do not want to end up with decorating ADD.”
Problems many clients face: They like their stuff. And they like to hang on to it! “The best makeover someone can give their home is to get rid of about 20 percent of what’s in their house. It will make you feel less burdened, and you’ll end up keeping only what’s really important to you.
“I’ve been guilty of this, too, in the past. I once had three warehouses filled with things I wanted to keep. And then I figured out how much I was spending on storage and immediately sold everything, made some money and felt like I’d gotten rid of a huge burden.”
Splurge: “Buy quality. That doesn’t mean you should go into debt, but buy the best that you can afford.”
Decorating musts: “People spend too much money buying things for different reasons. They’ll have everyday china, china for picnics, wedding china that no one’s allowed to use, etc. Why not pare things down and use some of your lovely stemware and make each day that you’re around a celebration?”
Tips on getting a great deal: “You can’t really bargain in retail. It won’t work. But you can get some great deals at estate sales. I suggest that my clients go on the last day about four hours before the sale is over. Yes, some of the best pieces may be gone. But there generally is a lot left over and they don’t want to store it, so you’ll find things marked down that you can bargain down even more. I’ve also been known to Dumpster-dive for the show. Just make sure you get permission first from whoever owns it. You do not want to do anything illegal. The fines will offset any treasures you may collect!”

Jackie Davis

You know her from: Appearances on “Decorating Cents” (1 p.m. Saturdays on HGTV)
Her best advice: “Take a good hard look at the room you’re unhappy with and see what needs to be done. It may just be outdated and cluttered, and that’s easy enough to fix. But if you want to move a sink from one part of the kitchen to the other, you’re not going to be able to redesign the room. You’ll have to spring for a remodel job.”
Problems many clients face: “They’re afraid to change things, even though they don’t like what they have. I always say start with paint. If you don’t like the new color, you can always paint over it.”
One of Davis’ clients wanted to update her kitchen. Davis noticed that they had a countertop that had gold swirls. She convinced them to let her paint the walls gold — and they loved it.
“People have ideas in their heads about what a color will look like. It’s my job to show them that their idea of gold that they hate isn’t necessarily the shade I have planned for them.”
Easy decor: “Put away things like medicine bottles and cleaning supplies so they’re out of sight. Most people can make a nice centerpiece with what they have in their refrigerator. Take a bowl — it can be nice china or a salad bowl — and fill it with some apples or oranges that you have in your crisper. Besides adding some beautiful color to your room, it reminds you to eat some fruit!”
Decorating musts: If you want to update old kitchen cabinets, two things will work almost every time. Paint them a more modern color (white works well for those of us who are color-challenged!) and swap out the hardware for something more fitting in the 21st century.

Don’t forget to redecorate your deck

OK, so now you’ve got the inside of your house looking fabulous. What about your back deck? Even if money’s scarce for a full-scale remodeling, there are things you can do to spruce up the exterior of your house that won’t bust your budget.

First things first. Take a good look at your wood deck. Is the paint chipping off? Has the color faded? Chicago-based designer Frank Fontana recommends trying a new stain color to rejuvenate what you’ve already got.

“The deck itself is usually the largest visual surface in the yard and it’s a great starting point for any outdoor makeover,” says Fontana, who also appears on “Design on a Dime” (12:30 p.m. Saturdays on HGTV). He encourages homeowners to try a non-traditional stain color.

“The next step is to look at your lighting, seating layout and outdoor accessories and try to coordinate them with your new stained deck,” he says. “So if you choose an aged red deck stain, bringing in creams, browns and oranges can really give your outdoor space a more modern and lively feel.”

And before you go running out to Ikea for new accessories, take a good look at what you already have. It’s seriously easy to take what’s already in your yard and give it a fresh coat of paint to create a fresh new look. You can use a paint brush or spray paint for smaller pieces, but for larger surfaces, Black & Decker’s Pro 5.5 Paint Sprayer ($119.99) can make tedious projects more bearable and even fun.

Fontana suggests that if you’re truly uncomfortable getting down and dirty, then sure, head to a garage sale or the local Goodwill and see what you can find. He says don’t worry if you find an item that has good features but looks a bit beaten up. You can “make it part of a rustic, worn look by changing out seat cushion fabrics.”

And if you already have a hammock in your yard, you’re a step ahead of most people in adding a fun element to your outdoor space. But if you’ve had it for a while, chances are it’s faded, and replacing them can be pricey.

“Use a stencil and fabric paint to make colorful one-of-a-kind patterns,” Fontana suggests. “You can also prevent sun-fading by purchasing a UV/fade resistant spray at your local fabric store and treating before use.”


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