25 Home Solutions to Take on Through the Year
A year's worth of easy decorative upgrades to keep you busy in every season
The start of a new year may spur many the DIYer into a planning frenzy, but savvy This Old House readers know that spreading out the workload is the best way to get upgrades done at a manageable pace. So to help you schedule your time wisely, the editors at TOH have collected all of our favorite decorative nugget from the past year and organized them into an easy-to-follow calendar of weekend projects. Keep time with our pacing, and soon you will see that together these small home improvement ideas add up to big upgrades around the house.
With their elaborate turnings and striking height, vintage wood balusters—long parted from the staircases they adorned—make for stately candleholders set up on a hearth. Just as elegant is how little the project can cost: We found our spindles at a salvage yard for $4 and $5 apiece. The shapely holders, evocative of classic candlesticks cast in bronze and iron, are also simple to make. With just a couple of quick cuts, a drilled-out hole, and a coat of polyurethane (which will also encapsulate any residual lead paint), the balusters are ready to mount on a base of stacked 4x4 and 6x6 post caps (a few bucks at home stores), stained to match.
See the full step-by-step.
A plain shade goes from humdrum to handsome when wrapped in lightweight wood grain. Veneer sheets, like the rotary-cut ash here, are sold at woodworker supply stores for finishing furniture (about $35 for a 2-by-8-foot piece). You'll also need a socket cord and an inexpensive 12-inch drum shade to fashion the fixture. With a utility knife or very sharp scissors, cut the sheet veneer to fit the shade's height and circumference, adding an extra inch to the latter for overlap. Use a handheld steamer or steam iron to soften the stiff wood before molding it to the cylindrical shade, then hot-glue and clamp in place. Finish it off with a contrasting trim of adhesive-backed veneer edging (we used walnut), assemble the fixture, and wire it up above a table or in a hallway.
If jackets, umbrellas, and other mudroom essentials end up in heaps rather than neatly hung, a new setup may be in order. We love the smart idea shown here: pegboard-backed lockers fitted with movable wood knobs that can be reconfigured as children grow or seasonal needs change. Simply line locker backs with 3⁄16-inch pegboard over ¾-inch medium-density fiberboard (MDF) painted black so that the openings appear dark. You'll also need knobs fitted with #8-32-by-1½-inch machine screws with their heads hacksawed off. Place each knob as desired and drill a 5⁄32-inch hole into the MDF to create a snug fit for twisting the machine screws in and out. Unify the knobs and pegboard with paint. Time to move or add a hook? Just drill another hole.
Choose decorative knobs with metal threads, like these from coolknobs andpulls.com (about $3).
Invite in early spring's warming sunlight by installing drapery hardware that's made to handle the push and pull of daily use: old doorknobs. Scour salvage yards, antiques shops, or flea markets to find the right ones to flank your window. Don't worry if a knob's threaded rod or backplate is damaged or missing; to install, you'll need a dummy spindle (inset, right; under $5 at specialty hardware stores), which anchors to the wall and threads onto the knob. A reproduction rosette like the one shown (inset, left; about $6.49 at houseofantiquehardware.com) slides over the spindle, covering the hardware.
Turn an old bureau into an elegant custom piece with a unique tonal paint job. Tinting one drawer the same pale shade as the walls, like the rose shown here, makes the furniture a perfect fit for the room while giving it an unexpected hit of color. Painting the other drawers and the dresser body in an array of neutral grays and off-whites turns that pastel shade from sweet to sophisticated. To get the look, try Sherwin-Williams's Rosebud, Snowfall, Grayish, and Essential Gray. What a way to set a new tone for spring!
Those crisscrossed strips of wood can do more than support a climbing vine. Try putting them to work indoors to give unfinished wood frames a playful cottage look. Pry leftover lattice apart or buy new strips at a lumberyard, and cut lengths slightly longer than the sides of the frame (one with a flat face works best). Miter each end at a 45-degree angle, or make two opposing cuts to give each corner a charming picket shape. Dry-fit your design, secure with wood glue, and add a colored stain that won't hide the grain. Then fasten with hooks and chains for a display that really hangs together.
No need to exile your phone, tablet, or laptop to a desk or a corner of the kitchen when the battery gets low. New tech-friendly accent tables like these let you keep devices close by while they're charging, thanks to hidden power strips and other cord-control features that tame the multiple-charger mess.
For the family room (top)
The top of this end table slides forward, revealing a built-in power strip and plenty of room to store a laptop and more. Cords can snake through a slot on the tabletop, so you can use your gear while it's getting juiced. About $150; sauder.com
At your bedside (bottom)
The open back behind this table's shelf- allows for a power-strip cord, while grooves cut into the back legs and plastic cover strips corral and conceal it. There's even a bonus storage drawer with a sliding organizer for sundries. Table, about $80; power strip (package of two), about $6; ikea.com
Got a rusty old steel rake that's seen better days? Don't just toss it. When mounted tines-out on a shed wall or a door, the rake's head becomes a vintage-look rack for your gardening tools that's as charming as it is convenient. If the holes in your tool handles don't fit over the tines, try nestling handles between tines or tying a loop of twine or leather in the hole. Don't have an old rake on hand? Bow-head rakes like this one are all over etsy.com, starting at about $10.
You can retire that fussy bedskirt with this tidy technique for "upholstering" a box spring or a bed foundation. Just gather up your supplies: a few yards of fabric; upholstery tape; scissors; a staple gun; and, if your box spring doesn't have a wood frame on top, upholstery twist pins (available at fabric stores). Then follow our step-by-step.
For wire-free outdoor illumination, try these DIY solar lanterns, which give off a warm glow well after the sun sets. This easy project uses wide-mouth mason jars, with each lid's metal insert replaced by a piece of plexiglass to allow the sun's rays to power the solar cell through the lid. We coated the interiors of the jars with Rust-Oleum's Frosted Glass Spray (about $9; rustoleum.com) to give the lanterns a hazy, aged-patina look, and glued the solar-cell assembly of a mini pathway light from the home center (about $4 each) to the underside of each lid. Once assembled, leave the lights in a spot where they'll get direct sun, and you'll never be left in the dark again.
See the full step-by-step instructions.
Harp-back chairs are frequent finds at used-furniture stores and flea markets—ripe for a DIY reinvention. This sleigh-style bench takes advantage of the chairs' graceful contoured backs and gets its new seat frame from home-center 1x3s and plywood. A couple of coats of exterior latex paint (we used Benjamin Moore semigloss in Goldfinch), plus upholstery in a water-resistant, fade-resistant fabric (here, Sunbrella in Zara Sunset), and you have a porch-ready perch.
See the full step-by-step instructions
Whether wall space is at a premium or you'd simply rather not broadcast your household jottings, a hidden chalkboard inside a cupboard door does the job. And all it requires is a few coats of chalkboard paint (let it dry for a full three days before making your first mark). Bonus benefit: With this treatment, it's much harder to misplace your grocery list.
An integrated planter filled with easy-care succulents adds a flourish to a plain wood table, just in time for summer entertaining. To make it, use a length of K-style gutter as a trough for the soil and plants. With a jigsaw, cut a rectangular opening in the table's center to the width of the gutter's top and at least 6 inches from the table's ends. Snip the gutter to the length of the gap, caulk its
end caps in place, and drill inch drain holes every 2 inches along its bottom. Next, cut four pieces of 1x2 lumber, two that are 12 inches and two that are the gutter's length. Attach the latter to the gutter's outside edges with ½-inch wood screws driven 6 inches apart from the inside. Then drive ½-inch screws through the gutter's end caps into the 12-inch 1x2s. Finally, affix the assembly to the tabletop's underside: Drill pilot holes spaced 6 inches apart through the 1x2s and drive screws into the holes. Use screws that penetrate at least half the top's thickness. Line the trough with landscape fabric and fill with a soil mix for succulents; pick plants that are low-growing so that you can see over them when seated. Give the plants lots of sun and an occasional watering, and they'll wow guests all season.
There's something magical about a seat that sways. Eva Brittain, 9, thinks so too. So last spring she showed her mother a photograph of a rope-hung daybed and asked if they could build one. Mom Angi, a contractor, happily obliged. "Eva sketched it and I tweaked the dimensions," says Angi, who added details, such as bracket-shaped supports and armrest cutouts for cup holders. Construction was a team effort, with Eva tracing the shapes onto cedar, Angi handling cutting and assembly, and Eva sanding and staining the piece. Now that it's finished, even older daughter Claire, 13, is in on the action. Says Angi, "It's everyone's favorite napping spot."
Whether your fireplace is out of commission just for the season or is more decorative than functional, follow the example of TOH reader Morgan Spenla of San Diego, California, and play it up as a focal point year-round. "I liked the look of stacked logs inside but wanted something easy to remove," she says. So with a few simple tools and materials, she built a summer front that can be set aside when it's time to light up some firewood.
See the full step-by-step instructions
Over the sink may not be the expected place for framed art, but that's where reader Lynn Boughton, of Brooklyn, Michigan, hung this inspired alternative to a mirrored medicine-chest door. Hinged to a set of recessed shelves and framed with molding, a snapshot of early matinee idol Errol Flynn inspires the morning cleanup routine. A vintage-look knob on the frame is the only hint that behind it lies standard-issue toiletry storage, as well as a small mirror attached to the interior for when Lynn needs to come in for her close-up.
Orphaned desk or dresser drawers—often spotted curbside—can enjoy a second go-round as decorative shelves. To make ones like these, cover the bottom of the drawers' interior with spray-adhesive-backed wallpaper in a colorful graphic pattern. Cut interior shelves to fit (we used ½-inch-thick poplar). Paint and let dry. Install shelves by tacking brads from the back and sides of the drawers. Hang the drawers using a metal French cleat kit (available at home centers for about $8). Then you'll have a shelf display that really stacks up.
Got a so-so space that could use this witty take on wood paneling? Hit the home center for supplies: sheet beadboard, Shaker peg rail, a wood-graining tool kit, and some paint and glaze. Lay cut-to-size beadboard flat, and roll on a coat of equal parts glaze and colorful paint (we like this rich teal). Drag a paint comb through it from top to bottom, then make a second pass with the curved tool, rocking it as you go to create "planks." Once dry, put up the beadboard, add the top rail, stand back, and smile: This is one frankly faux look that's a real mood booster.
Look for a wood-graining kit that combines different heads as well as a comb so that you can vary the appearance of your planks for a more detailed look. Find kits at home centers for about $4 each.
Give a display ledge an unexpected edge: Prop up your favorite volumes by using vintage C-clamps as bookends. Pick up a pair of these well-worn woodworking tools at a local flea market or salvage yard. Whisk off any loose rust with some steel wool or a wire brush. Twist the clamps in place just snugly enough to keep the books upright without denting the shelf's surface—or, if you're using them on fine furniture, protect the wood by gluing small pieces of felt to the clamp ends as padding.
Trick out your front entry for Halloween with a macabre display of old gardening hand tools. The result: a creepy show of hands that trick-or-treaters won't soon forget.
See the full step-by-step instructions
Surveyor's tripod lamps are beloved by designers for their clean lines and rustic charm, but they also have a great backstory: Early versions can be traced to the Middle East, where locals placed candles atop tripods left behind by British surveyors in the 1920s.
See the full instructions
'Tis the season for company and cocktails, and that calls for a festive spot to mix libations. We turned a small bookcase into the drinks station shown here in a few steps. After coating it with glossy red paint—Benjamin Moore's Tomato Red—we installed a rack for stemware and a towel bar so that spill relief is never far (about $13 and $11 each; amazon.com). Adding casters (about $6 for two; homedepot.com) allows for wheeling the party into any room. Let the good times roll!