Thursday, July 31, 2014

Best budget decor, part 3

One of my favorite features on Blogger is the "stats" section, which lets me see not only how many hits my blog is getting overall, but also which particular posts have been the most popular. That's how I know that over the past month, my second post on budget decor has earned a remarkable number of hits; in addition to being the most-read post of the month, it's reached number nine on the all-time top ten list. (Click on "greatest hits" in the "labels" section to see the others.) Apparently, budget decor is a topic that readers just can't get enough of.

If you happen to be one of those readers who helped skyrocket this post to its current position, you're in luck, because I just happen to have collected several more interesting budget home makeovers to share with you. We'll start, as I did last time, with a budget bathroom redo that I found on a blog called Kruse's Workshop. I can't remember just how I first came across it (it wasn't on either Apartment Therapy or Young House Love, which are my two main sources for interesting room remodels), but it depicts what the blogger calls a "medium scale bathroom remodel" on a budget of $600—and a timeline of only two days. The family didn't move any walls or plumbing fixtures (that would probably have kicked it up to "large scale"), but they retiled the entire room, replacing old, moldy shower tile with floor-to-ceiling white subway tile and replacing the old vinyl floor with new tile as well. Like so many projects, this one grew in scale as it went along, since demoing out the old tile revealed that all the plaster behind it was also moldy and would have to go. But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it gave them the opportunity to remodel the wall, building in a jumbo-sized niche to hold the lady of the house's extensive collection of bath products, which I think is definitely the bit player that steals the show in this remodel. As for the rest of the room, they kept the old tub, but replaced the plumbing fixtures, and kept the old vanity, but gave it a coat of sharp charcoal-grey paint. Topped off with new window treatments and accessories, the room looks like a brand-new bathroom for just a few Benjamins.

Moving on from bathrooms to kitchens, here are several that I came across at (where else) TheKitchn.com, a sub-site of Apartment Therapy. The first one is a quick spruce-up job in a rental in sunny Mexico. This one is noteworthy not because the space looks so incredible in the "after" pictures, but because of how much the tenant has managed to do with a meager budget of just $150. The "before" space is dark and drab, with beige walls, mismatched furniture, and a sink with exposed pipes. She brightened it with glossy white paint, colorful fabric (which hides the plumbing), and some floating shelves—a couple from Home Depot (I guess they have Home Depot in Mexico) and a DIY painted board in a cheerful, vivid blue. She also brought in a long, low table and some wall racks from IKEA (they don't have IKEA in Mexico, but she found them on eBay) to provide much-needed counter and storage space. The finished kitchen is still small, still plain, but it's small and bright and cheery rather than small and dull and depressing. (Reminds me a bit of my first apartment's kitchen, with its teeny-tiny block of countertop that I ended up covering in wood-grain contact paper to make it look more presentable, and its teeny-tiny little eating area into which I managed to squeeze an IKEA gateleg table that folded up against the wall. It was still kind of shabby, truth be told, but it was homey.)

The next kitchen redo is a much bigger room, but its budget is still quite petite at only $500. In the "before" pictures, everything is dark: dark wood cabinets, dark fixtures, dark stone counters, and dark grey paint on the walls. Without actually moving anything, the owners brightened the room from top to bottom, with a lighter paint color on the walls, a coat of crisp white paint on the cabinets (with dark hardware for contrast), and new butcher block countertops (once again, from IKEA) that they actually cut and installed themselves. The homeowner says these new countertops took up "nearly all" of her $500 budget, but they're her favorite part of the remodel. Personally, I think my favorite touches are the DIY pendant lamp, made from a craft-store basket, and the whimsical yardstick backsplash, which she came up with while roaming up and down the aisles of Lowe's looking for something she could afford to install with the dregs she had left in her budget. Necessity truly is the mother of invention! (You can see still more photos from this remodel on the homeowner's site, Ashley Ann Photography.)

TheKitchn.com bills the next remodel as a $500 budget as well, but a look at the more detailed post on the homeowner's site reveals that this isn't strictly true: she planned to do the whole room on a $500 budget, but her husband surprised her with the gift of a new fridge, so her final cost turned out to be $497 plus the cost of a nice new counter-depth side-by-side fridge. These aren't cheap—the ones reviewed by Consumer Reports start at around $1400—so the total cost of this redo was almost certainly over my $1,000 limit for a true budget remodel, but I just had to include it because it is such an AMAZING transformation. The "before" pictures are so utterly plain and drab and dingy, and the "after" ones look like you've stepped into the kitchen of a chic country inn...in Tuscany...in the 1930s. The homeowner painted absolutely everything in this room: the old metal cabinets, the old Formica counters, even the linoleum floor. And when I say painted, I don't mean she just slapped a fresh color on there; she created a faux aged-plaster look on the walls, she stenciled an elaborate design onto the floor, and she redid the counters with a color and faux finish that she made up all by herself. If I set out to do a project on this scale, it would probably take me years just to choose all those paint finishes, let alone execute them. I mean, I am in awe.

Now, to be fair, she didn't actually transform the entire room with just paint. In fact, she brought in a lot of pieces that she already owned, so they didn't count toward her $500 budget, some of which would cost well over $500 to buy. For instance, she replaced the perfectly decent, utilitarian gas range (in fact, from the pictures it looks like exactly the same one we have) with a magnificent vintage stove from the 1940s. To buy a piece like this, you'd probably have to scour antique sites and shell out a couple of grand for it. She also had a really cool old workbench that just happened to fit perfectly into an unused back corner (though she points out that if you don't have one of these lying around, you could always "tear off the counter top of your kitchen island and put a cool old wooden door on top of it, or an old chunky counter from a bar you find in a rehab thrift store or at a garage sale"). But what makes the room for me isn't these big pieces; it's the tiny touches she mocked up on a shoestring, like the fascinating window treatments made of old European grain sacks and the umbrellas that she hung as wall decorations because "I had them in my basement and I was too lazy to go hunt for something better."

What inspires me most of all about this remodel is the fact that she painted her countertops even though, like ours, they have those annoying metal strips on them to hold down the laminate. Every tutorial I'd ever seen on painting over laminate assumed that you were starting with a smooth, bare expanse of counter, so I figured that having those strips in the way meant painting the countertops wasn't an option for us. But if she could do it, who knows, maybe I could too. She says all she did was clean them well, sand them lightly, and then apply two coats of primer, two of paint, the faux finish, and multiple coats of water-based poly. That's not too different from what I did on my bathroom vanity, so...why not? True, I had hoped to get rid of those metal strips because they always seem to trap dirt, but perhaps with a darker color on the counters that wouldn't matter so much.

If you still think it's cheating to include a kitchen redo that didn't really come in under $1,000, then perhaps I can make it up to you by wrapping up this edition with the most absolutely bare-bones budget I've ever seen for any room redo, anywhere. This homeowner, featured in Sunset magazine, perked up her entire kitchen using nothing but paint for a mere $30. No, not $300: $30, three-zero. When most kitchen remodels featured on TV and in magazines involve budgets of five figures or even more, this person redid her kitchen with two. Admittedly, all she really did was change the colors, but the pictures accompanying the article show what a big difference a simple change like this can really make. The space she started with was dark and dated, sporting a brown-on-brown color scheme; the redesigned space, with its pale yellow cabinets and bright blue appliances, looks cheery and whimsical. The article mentions that she also transformed a wall cabinet by removing some doors and "exposing the handsome beadboard paneling," and even turned one of these removed doors into a new table—but there aren't any before-and-after pics of this part of the room, so it's hard to evaluate the impact of this part of the redo. But even the bit that you can see is a pretty remarkable transformation for a mere 30 smackers. Just goes to show how much you can do by replacing money with imagination.
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