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How to Make Home Upgrades That Pay

How a couple of hands-on homeowners took a bungalow from dilapidated to delightful, using home-center finds

Exterior Before

Photo by Mark Lohman

It takes a certain eye to see a smart little cottage where others see a stucco teardown. But Steve and Shauna Mullins had exactly that vision when they first saw this 875-square-foot bungalow in Hermosa Beach, California.

"It was in a great location, less than a mile from the beach, and the basic layout was good—it hadn't been screwed up," Steve says. Still, the exterior of the 1941 house was showing its age, and its small rooms needed an update. Collaborating with architectural designer Rosa Velazquez on the front of the house, doing much of the work themselves, and enlisting a general contractor for the bigger projects, the couple lavished the tiny two-bedroom with a proud new facade and freshened the interior throughout.

For nearly all their redo needs, they jumped in the car and hit nearby home centers, scouring the aisles for well-priced shutters, fencing, cabinets, crown molding, paint, and more. Keep reading for the redo rules they followed—what worked for them can work for you, too.

Shown: Beige stucco and a nondescript entry gave the existing bungalow an institutional look, before.

1. Reimagine the Facade

Photo by Mark Lohman

Removing the front wall's stucco and putting up white fiber-cement lap siding refreshed the front face of the house. The other walls got a coat of white paint. Exposing the rafter tails, as well as topping the roof with new asphalt shingles, added welcome detail to the roofline. Relocating windows created symmetry and allowed room for shutters.

Building a deeper portico with chunky columns and crisp railing made the entry more welcoming. A bright red door with brass hardware, lantern-style sconces, salvaged brickwork, and a rose-entwined picket fence helped give the cottage a classic look.

Similar to shown: Pella ThermaStar windows, from $102; Portfolio 1-Light Black Wall Lantern, about $52; ReliaBilt steel entry door, about $120: Lowe's. Builders Edge raised-panel vinyl shutters, from $58 per pair; Baldwin Logan lockset, about $160: The Home Depot.

Kitchen Before

Photo by Mark Lohman

The existing sad-sack galley dead-ended in a side-entry laundry area.

2. Open and Update the Kitchen

Photo by Mark Lohman

Swapping in a new window, clean white Thermofoil cabinets, brushed-nickel pulls, and pale granite counters with an ogee edge made the kitchen brighter and more inviting. Ebony-stained crown molding and toekicks added sophisticated contrast. Stacked-to-the-ceiling pantry cabinets boost storage in the small kitchen.

2. Open and Update the Kitchen, Continued

Photo by Mark Lohman

Creating a half wall to one side of the doorway, opened the space to the dining room. Building a post, made from a trimmed-out 4x4, gave it polish. New oak flooring added a warm note to the stainless-steel appliances and tied into the other rooms in the open plan.

Similar to shown: Bianco Romano granite countertop, from $77 per square foot; Broan 30-inch Elite range hood, about $690; Merola Metro subway tile, about $5 per square foot: The Home Depot. Whirlpool Energy Star Super Capacity dishwasher, about $325; Kitchen Classics Concord cabinets, about $85 each; Price Pfister Marielle faucet, about $275; Fisher & Paykel refrigerator, about $1,700; Royce Lighting Fulton pendant, about $45: Lowe's. Dacor Millenia Distinctive dual-fuel range, about $3,500: Sears. Amerock Inspirations pulls and knobs, from about $4: Ace Hardware.

Living Room, Before

Photo by Mark Lohman

The original living areas were drab and disjointed, before.

3. Upgrade with Molding, Paint, Refinished Floors

Photo by Mark Lohman

Adding crisp white crown and base molding gave the living areas a tailored, pulled-together look. For contrast, walls got a suede-finish neutral beige.

Replacing windows with ones that have simulated divided lights added detail.

3. Upgrade with Molding, Paint, Refinished Floors, Continued

Photo by Mark Lohman

Refinishing existing oak floors with a medium-brown stain unified the spaces. Paint gave new life to the fireplace, white on the wood and fire-resistant black on the brick surround.

Similar to shown: Progress Lighting Madison chandelier, about $180; Minwax Oil-Based Dark Walnut floor stain, about $8 per quart: The Home Depot. Valspar's Signature Colors brushed-suede paint in Allen + Roth's Sand in My Heels, about $30 per gallon: Lowe's.

Backyard, Before

Photo by Mark Lohman

The back of the house, where the bedrooms are located, had almost no connection to the outside, before.

4. Extend the Living Space Outdoors

Photo by Mark Lohman

Adding a deck with a pergola off the master bedroom extended the living space without altering the house's footprint. The deck steps down to the drive, a grilling area, and a lawn set off by a picket fence echoing the front of the house.

Similar to shown: ReliaBilt 15-Lite Steel French patio doors, about $340 per pair: Lowe's. Weber Summit gas grill, about $2,300: Ace Hardware.

4. Extend the Living Space Outdoors, Continued

Photo by Mark Lohman

Replacing a small window with French doors brought in air and light, making the 12-by-12-foot bedroom feel larger.

5. Add Charm With Color and Wainscot

Photo by Mark Lohman

The second bedroom was strictly Motel 6. Adding beadboard wainscot gave the room (which became a nursery) its own identity while reinforcing the home's cottage style. Painting the wainscot, trim, and furniture white helped keep the lilac scheme from seeming too sweet. Floor-length curtains, hung above the windows, help elongate them and make the ceilings feel loftier.

Similar to shown: Portfolio 5-Light Contemporary chandelier, about $50: Lowe's. Behr's Premium Plus Ultra latex paint in Hazy Skies, about $35 per gallon: The Home Depot. Behr's Lilac Bisque, about $35 per gallon; House of Fara MDF 8-foot wainscoting kit, about $50: The Home Depot.

Garage, Before

Photo by Mark Lohman

The freestanding garage had the blank, boxy look of a storage unit, before. Its tilt-and-raise door was sorely out of date.

6. Upgrade the Garage

Photo by Mark Lohman

Swapping in a sectional door with raised panels and divided-light windows brought the garage up to par with the house. A blooming vine over the door softens the all-white facade. The flowering potato vine along the eves is trained on wires attached with eyescrews.

Similar to shown: Traditional Windowed metal garage door, from about $2,000 installed: Sears.

Floor Plan

Photo by Mark Lohman

The kitchen annexed a laundry area off the side door; the washer and dryer now fit behind cabinet doors. A wider opening and a half wall now connect the cook space to the dining area. French doors lead from the master bedroom to a new deck.