Saturday, February 8, 2014

Best Budget Decor, Part 2

It's been about a month since I published my "best budget decor" post, featuring all the best room makeovers I'd seen online on a true shoestring budget—about $200 for a bedroom, up to $300 for a bathroom, and under $1,000 for a kitchen. Since then, I've updated the post twice as I came across new stories about budget renovations that I hadn't seen before. Then, today, I came across a story on the "This Old House" website about its "Top 19 Budget Reader Remodels." One of the featured remodels had already appeared in my original budget decor post, and most of the others didn't meet my strict budget criteria, but there were three kitchen renos that did meet my guidelines, and I thought "Well, this is getting to be a bit much." So rather than continue to tack new stories onto my original post (where they might not be seen by regular readers who have read that post already), I'm adding a second post to cover all the extra stories that weren't in the first one. (If I continue to come across new budget decor stories, I'll save them up until I have enough for Part 3.)

So, since I only found one additional bathroom redo, I'll start with that one. Although I'd already covered several powder room renovations in my original post, I thought this one was worthy of inclusion because it was done on an amazing budget of $100 (and she didn't even spend all of it). To stay within this minuscule budget, the homeowner used lots of creative tricks:
  • using beadboard wallpaper to give the look of paneling on a budget
  • building a hanging shelf out of wood scavenged from shipping pallets
  • modifying her existing light fixture with Ball jars
  • covering a dollar-store trash can with rope
  • making a simple drop valance out of sale-priced fabric (with a dowel as a curtain rod)
  • framing leftover fabric for some cheap art and using it to decorate a glass food jar for a soap dispenser
  • and, of course, using what she already had on hand, like leftover paint and accessories from other rooms
All in all, a very impressive result on a still more impressive budget. Man, my $900 bathroom refresh seems so unimpressive now.

Fortunately, I don't have to feel inferior with regard to my kitchen, since I've never actually "redone" it yet. So I still have a chance to match the performance of budget kitchen redesigns like the one that was featured in last month's issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Blogger Shavonda Gardner and her wife took their kitchen from generic to unique by painting the walls, painting the cabinets, converting two of them to open shelving, adding hardware to the others, installing a tile backsplash, and stenciling the floor (!). All told, Shavonda estimates they spent "less than $700" for this redesign. (The editors refer to it as a "refresh," which seems like just the word I'd been looking for to characterize a room redo that's somewhere in between redecorating and remodeling.) Gardner provides more details on her blog, sharing some of the strategies that helped keep their costs down and confessing that the whole project took them over a year. (Nice to know that we're not the only ones who prefer the "cheap and good" approach to home improvement.) This blog entry doesn't show the stenciled floor, but some of the pictures on her home tour do, and she discusses the process in two entries (this one and this one) from last November.

This Old House outlines a kitchen makeover with a still more impressive budget in "A Farmhouse Kitchen Redo for $564." The "before" pictures show reasonably good bones—sturdy cabinets, decent counters and appliances—but the cabinets have that generic builder-grade look and the walls are a very dark, intimidating orange. The owner's "cosmetic tweaks" included a paint job on both walls and cabinets, including "lightly distressing" the cabinet edges, and whitewashing the table's legs to give it a country look. They also added a couple of new storage cupboards in the eating nook and removed the doors from upper cabinets to convert them to the open shelving that everyone seems to love these days. (I know it's supposed to make a kitchen look open and airy, but what are you supposed to do if you don't have the kind of perfectly matched, perfectly organized dishes that you want to keep on display all the time?) Finishing touches included new hardware, molding on the tops of cabinets, new pendant lights, and a wallpaper backsplash. Nothing about the configuration of the room was changed at all, but the feel of it is much more open and modern.

An even more dramatic transformation appears in "The New $967 Kitchen." The "before" kitchen is completely devoid of personality, with its stock cabinets, white laminate counters, and beige vinyl flooring. The owner actually did move a couple of fixtures in this remodel, switching the locations of the sink and dishwasher so that the sink would be under the window—and so that the doors of the oven and dishwasher would no longer interfere with each other. The biggest transformation, however, was made with color. The oak cabinets were refinished in a darker shade and outfitted with oversized stainless-steel hardware; a mosaic-tile backsplash was added in multiple shades of green; new counters edged in stainless steel added a modern look. The homeowners also tucked a couple of shelves under the breakfast bar to store the microwave and other appliances, freeing up much-needed counter space. The homeowners are still saving up for new appliances, but even with their old ones, the kitchen now looks colorful and contemporary rather than beige-on-beige.

The final kitchen remodel, done on a $935 budget, is interesting because the homeowners took a different approach from most: rather than trying to remove "dated" features, like scalloped trim on the upper cabinets, they aimed to "highlight" them with fresh paint and the ubiquitous open shelving. The original kitchen was an undifferentiated white, from cabinets to vinyl flooring; the owners spent the better part of three months scraping up the multiple layers of vinyl to expose and refinish the hardwood underneath. They removed the upper cabinet doors, replaced the lower ones with a dark fabric, and painted the walls a bright robin's-egg blue. The now-exposed interiors of the upper cabinets got a color makeover as well, with patterned contact paper, and the countertops were refinished in black. They also added new hardware and a new faucet, and a butcher-block island from IKEA added more counter space. (The article lists the cost as less than $50, but the price of the same island at the IKEA website is now $400, so the homeowners must have scored a fantastic deal. Unfortunately, the article doesn't explain how they pulled this particular rabbit out of the hat.)

All this has got me thinking about whether it might be possible to spruce up our kitchen on a similarly slim budget. We don't want to make any big changes, but I would like to replace the hideous old laminate counters with their metal edging that seems specially designed to trap dirt. When I first started thinking about this two years ago, my plan was to re-laminate them, but Brian's parents talked him out of it, saying that this is a huge hassle of a job that's almost impossible to do neatly. However, when I priced out new laminate countertops using the estimator tool at, I found that replacing them completely would cost nearly $700 (including installation). They wouldn't break the bank, but they wouldn't win us any budget-remodeling prizes, either. So now I'm wondering whether we should be considering other DIY options. Installing ceramic tile right over the existing laminate would avoid the problem of creating waste by ripping out the old counters, but according to this article, it would probably cost more than the new laminate counters. Creating a new concrete counter, the latest trendy option, would be equally expensive and take even longer. And the cheapest option, painting over the whole thing with a stone-look paint, wouldn't work on our old-fashioned counters because of the stupid metal strips. So a true budget remodel—even a cosmetic one—may be out of our reach. Unless there's some solution I'm overlooking....
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