7 Small-Budget, Big-Impact Upgrades From Readers Like You
You don't need to spend a fortune or call in the pros to get high-end results on your next redo project. See how TOH readers gave their spaces new life on a shoestring budget
You don't need to spend a fortune or call in the pros to get high-end results on your next redo project. Coming up, can-doTOH readers give a plain home curb appeal, transform a lackluster living room with new trim and paint, carve out a stylish and space-saving breakfast nook, and more—all on a shoestring.
Who: Roy and Beth Shore
Where: Marietta, Ga.
For three years, Roy and Beth Shore worked side by side, room by room, transforming their lackluster 1980 Colonial Revival into a distinctive home filled with architectural details. Among the last projects on their to-do list was a front-entry face-lift, which Roy decided to pull off on his own as a surprise for his wife. Beth was barely out of the driveway for a long weekend away when Roy started framing a new portico based on a napkin sketch he'd done a year earlier. The centerpieces of his design were a pair of elegant tapered columns, scored for just $53 at a salvage yard, and a prominent, low-pitched cedar roof. "I really wanted the cedar, so I used sweat equity to justify the cost," says Roy. Beneath the roof cornice, he created a pediment out of 1×12 trim boards with a hand-cut arch in the center that offers a glimpse of the portico's beadboard ceiling inside. Brown paint ties the ceiling in with the home's existing mahogany front door and the varnished ipe shutters the couple crafted themselves ($380 for the wood). "I had just put the first coat of paint on the portico by the time Beth was rolling up to the front door," says Roy. "She loved it!"
Before the addition, the home's facade appeared flat and unwelcoming.
Sketched the portico design and finalized it on graph paper: $0
Stripped and sanded salvaged columns, and installed them on PVC blocks anchored to the existing brick stoop: $73
Framed the roof, created fascia and arched pediment from 112s, trimmed the column bases in 18, added a beadboard ceiling: $405
Installed the roof underlayment, cedar shingles, and copper drip-edge flashing: $450
Painted the portico, $68
Shown: The Shores used brown paint to match the roof with the existing mahogany door and ipe shutters.
Who: Jessica Bell
Where: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Remodeling is a cure for much of what ails a home, but for Jessica Bell, who overhauled her family's upstairs bath, it was also a salve for her personally. "I needed a project to keep me busy while my husband was deployed," says Jessica of hubby Army Major Lawson Bell, who spent a year in Iraq. It began when Jessica—mom to James, 6, and Luke, 3—found a Carrara marble vanity top with an undermount sink on sale for just $79. After ripping out her bath's old laminate top, she put in her marble find, painted the cabinet, and added new hardware. Then, seeing that the rest of the bath looked shabby by comparison, she added beadboard wainscoting, painted the walls, and retiled the floor with a white mosaic. For moral support and construction advice, Jessica called her dad as often as three times a day. The tiling went well, but while removing the new marble top to add the wainscoting, the stone cracked. Jessica found a replacement, but this time it cost her $325. "I learned to wait and do the whole project at once to avoid such mishaps," she says. As for her husband's reaction to the new bath, and to remodeling in general: "He doesn't want to do the work—but he likes it when I do it while he's away!"
A laminate-topped vanity and dingy vinyl tiles made the bath look dated.
White paint and a new marble top on the vanity, and mosaic floor tiles and beadboard wainscoting are fresh, modern touches with vintage appeal.
Removed the vanity top and sink, repainted the cabinets, and added knobs: $30
Installed a marble top with an undermount sink: $325 (+$79 for broken one)
Replaced the sink faucet: $69
Demoed the old vinyl, laid a new subfloor, and retiled with a white ceramic mosaic: $117
Added beadboard wainscoting and chair-rail molding: $80
Hooked up a new light fixture: $79
Pried the existing mirror off the wall and added a new framed one: $69
Painted the walls: $23
Added towel hooks: $15
Shown: The mosaic tile floor and white wainscoting updated the bathroom's style.
Who: Christine and Dominic Costa
Where: Royal Oak, Mich.
In long-haul DIY remodels, some projects get stuck in the slow lane. For Christine and Dominic Costa, it was their cramped cook space that languished. After redoing most of their 870-square-foot 1952 ranch, the couple waited three years to replenish their energy—and their wallets—before devising a plan to maximize storage in their kitchen without moving any walls. The couple started by tearing out everything, including a space-hogging soffit, which allowed them to run new doubled-up wall cabinets to the ceiling and add a tall pantry unit with built-in drawers. They sacrificed a base cabinet on one side to add a new dishwasher but gained it back on the other side with a smaller range. Open shelves, made of a hollow-core door, and a glossy white subway-tile backsplash lightened the look of all the new grayish-beige-painted cabinetry. When Christine couldn't find molding she liked to trim out a vinyl replacement window, she made some herself. "I cut 1×3s to fit around the frame, beveled their edges, and coated them in bright white paint," she says. The only thing the pair left to the pros was the granite countertop installation. Working weekends in between Christine's thesis writing (she's a graduate student) and their full-time jobs, the project took just two months. Aside from meals shared in the space, the best part has been their family's reaction. "My dad's a carpenter, and he did a thorough inspection," says Christine. "Having him admire the painting, trim, and tilework was priceless."
With no room for a dishwasher, and a bulky soffit above the upper cabinets, the kitchen (shown without the range) lacked function and much-needed storage space.
Gutted the space; replumbed; rewired; replaced the window and trim; hung drywall: $650
Painted and installed new oak cabinets with chrome pulls: $1,105
Had a new granite countertop installed: $1,060
Added a sink, faucet, disposer, and pendant: $540
Covered the sink wall with white subway tiles: $50
Crafted floating shelves out of a hollow-core door: $28
Tiled the floor with 18-inch slate squares: $600
Bought a dishwasher and micro to match the range and fridge they had in storage: $720
Shown: The couple added open shelves with a white backsplash to lighten the look of the new cabinetry color.
Who: Samantha and Bryan Langdeau
Where: Waterbury, Conn.
When Samantha and Bryan Langdeau learned they were expecting twins, they took out the measuring stick and had a fresh look at the 11-by-12-foot bedroom earmarked for the nursery in their 1948 Cape Cod–style house. "There was just no way to fit two cribs and have room for the closet door to swing open," says Samantha, who works in marketing. Window placements and the need to have a large glider chair in the corner of the room for nursing both babies added to the challenge. Dad-to-be Bryan, a designer-carpenter, eyed the closet and came up with the solution: Rip the thing out. After exposing the closet cavity, Bryan carefully filled it with a storage-packed built-in complete with a changing table and drawers for diapers, balms, and clothing. There's also a row of cubbies sized to hold fabric-lined rattan bins the couple already had, and a 7-foot vertical cabinet for extra clothes and linens, with a teddy bear bookshelf along the top. Bryan even put recessed LED pucks above the changing table on a dimmer to double as a nursery night-light. But the sweetest touch of all: "One day when we were building, I pulled the carpenter pencil out from behind my ear and wrote a note on the framing behind a drawer—'Built with love by your parents'—and put the date," says Bryan. For twin boys Ryder and Mason, born last February, it may someday be a touching discovery.
Bryan Langdeau demolished a poorly functioning closet for the nursery.
Demolished the existing closet: $0
Sketched the design for a custom built-in for storage and diaper changing: $0
Built shelves, doors, and drawers out of pine and medium-density fiberboard: $230
Installed a pine counter as a changing-table surface: $30
Bought puck lights and wired them above the changing table: $50
Painted the built-in, and finished the pine counter with stain and polyurethane: $50
Refinished and hung a mirror found on the side of the road: $0
Shown: The Langdeaus painted the walls green and added a tree mural to brighten a corner of the nursery.
Who: Jenika Kurtz
Where: Los Angeles, Ca.
The "cottage cheese" plaster ceiling in the living room of Jenika Kurtz's 1944 bungalow just had to go. Envisioning elegant coffers instead, Jenika set about turning her daydream into a reality. Working with her boyfriend, Robert, with whom she shares the house, and her father, Ken, the trio devised a plan incorporating stock lumber arranged in a grid. After testing to ensure the ceiling didn't contain asbestos (often added to spray-on plaster from the 1940s and 1950s), they scraped off the nubby surface, skim-coated with a fresh layer of plaster to make it smooth, and snapped chalk lines. Next, they built hollow U-shaped "beams" using 1×4s that nail onto 2×8 mounting strips fastened to the ceiling. The face of the beams is recessed between the side walls to create a reveal, and the beams' inside edges are detailed with 3⁄4-inch cove moldings for a finished look. "Before, the room was a box," Jenika says. "With the coffered ceiling, we really made it special."
A textured ceiling made the living room look dull and dated.
Scraped the textured plaster ceiling: $0
Skim-coated the ceiling: $16
Created coffers using stock boards and molding: $467
Finished the coffers in gloss paint and the ceiling in flat: $53
Shown: Glossy white paint makes the coffers pop against the flat sheen on the ceiling.
Who: Kelly and Clay Rankin
Where: Waynesboro, Va.
Homeowners Kelly and Clay Rankin are a match made in remodeler's heaven: He's a mechanical engineer and she's an interior designer. It works like this, per Kelly: "We both come up with ideas, then he builds it and I paint it." And so it went when they decided to add character to the plain living room walls of their 1960s ranch. "We wanted something that would add dimension," says Kelly. They started with a simple stile-and-rail wainscoting made by nailing 1×2 vertical slats directly to the wall and topping them with 1×3 strips accented with decorative chair-rail molding. The whole assembly, which approximates the look of pricey recessed wood paneling, rests on a chunky 1×8 baseboard. Kelly worked out the slat spacing by inputting the room's dimensions, window and door openings, and existing electrical outlets into a computer-assisted design program. Next on their list was crown molding and casing for a double-wide passageway to the adjoining hallway; the sides are 1×4 and the top is 1×6. They brightened a corner of the room by hanging a stained-glass chandelier, giving the space a dual purpose by designating a distinct area for a dining table and chairs. And in a slight change of the normal pattern, it wasn't the interior designer who chose the warm autumnal hue for the upper walls—it was the engineer. Kelly agreed with the choice wholeheartedly. "I love fall colors," she says. "They're timeless."
The living room was a plain white space devoid of architectural details.
Mapped out the wainscoting layout using design software Kelly already owned: $0
Created wainscoting using 1×2s for the stiles, 1×3s and chair-rail molding for the top, and 1×8s for the baseboard. Added crown molding and casing for the passageway: $561
Bought a chandelier on sale and installed it: $50
Primed and painted the upper walls, wainscoting, trim, and ceiling: $222
Shown: The white wainscoting, trim, and vibrant wall paint add texture and personality to the room.
Who: Stephen and Eva Carbonaro
Where: Barnstable, Mass.
Making diminutive digs functional often means built-ins, and plenty of them. Such was the thinking behind Stephen and Eva Carbonaro's breakfast nook redo in their 800-square-foot 1950s Cape Cod–style cottage. By borrowing space from a basement stairwell, they carved out a niche for a coffee station, with dishware storage below, in an area previously reserved only for the kitchen table and chairs. Now, bleary-eyed house-guests can get their morning joe and have a seat outside the hustle of the cook space, says Eva, a graphics designer. She worked out the logistics while Stephen, a finish carpenter, did the construction. "They're all Eva's ideas," says Stephen. "I just make sure the carpentry is correct." Filling the niche are white-painted wood cabinets fitted with recessed panel doors that Stephen crafted himself, a beadboard back wall, and a shelf with a row of cup hooks. But the best part is what you can't see: Behind pantry doors are a washer and dryer that are just a dish-towel's throw from the kitchen. When every inch counts, that's a seriously smart use of space.
Stephen Carbonaro, with help from his nephew Vincent (shown), built cabinets to fit a niche created in the side wall of a tiny breakfast nook.
Cut a recess in the wall, taking space from the basement stairwell: $0
Framed the recess; crafted a built-in with maple cabinets, a beadboard back, and a shelf: $697
Wired outlets for countertop appliances and a clothes dryer: $275
Ran plumbing for a washer: $325
Painted the built-in: $32
Shown: Tall pantry-style cabinets, which conceal a stackable washer and dryer, serve as a laundry room.