Rickety seating can be given a second life as a bedside table. If there’s a hole in the caning, place a tray on the chair to hold an alarm clock, a reading lamp, etc.
Play around with your furniture configuration—reposition a sofa, rotate a rug, or try dividing the room with an open-backed bookcase or storage unit. Leave sections of the shelf empty to let light through.
Colored lamp shades can make a bold statement. Limit the colors to one per room, and select other lamp shades in neutral tones, such as parchment and white.
No matter the season, your bedroom will look springlike year-round with floral sheets or pillowcases paired with crisp white linens. Pick patterns with white backgrounds to keep florals harmonious. Drape bedside tables with vintage floral tablecloths or white matelassé runners.
In the months when your fireplace goes unlit, use it to display a collection of vases or other objects. Gather similar pieces, staying in a simple palette, in a variety of heights and shapes.
Mine your albums for your best shots (pick a theme: weddings, birthday parties, vacations) and put them in identical frames. Hang in a tight grid or a long line—you can’t go wrong if you stick to a geometric arrangement.
You likely buy decorating items as matching duos, and that’s smart: Pairs add balance and tranquility to a room, says Ward. But if you don’t have two of a kind, make dissimilar items look more alike. For instance, place a shorter lamp on a book stack to coordinate with a taller lamp. Or use pieces of comparable height and size, such as a small trunk and an end table, to flank a chair.
A variation on the idea: Make use of mittens missing their mates. Cut felt to fit the backing of the frame ($24 each, mtsframes.com), then use craft glue to adhere the felt. Center the mitten on the felt and glue it down; let dry overnight.
Since messy shelves can make an entire room look disorganized, pretty yours up. The foolproof way: Arrange hardcover books from tallest to shortest on most shelves. Lay a few too-tall books (or any other books) flat to serve as bookends to keep the others in place. “Add decorative items such as pottery or framed photos to one or two shelves,” says Ward. “You don’t want accessories on every shelf or it appears cluttered.” Use baskets or boxes to hide unattractive DVDs or paperbacks (or stash these elsewhere). Leave empty space on some shelves here and there so the eye has a place to rest.
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Perk up a dull room with vibrant hits of a color like green. Though this space is accessorized generously with the shade (starting with the big burst in the rug), even something as subtle as green blossoms can add pop.
Tight spaces expand and rooms seem roomier when you prop up a large mirror (at least three-fourths as tall as the wall). It’s a classic interior decorator’s trick to create instant―if not real―square footage.
Hang canvases painted with interior latex paint to brighten blank walls. Think big: The canvases should fill the wall.
Why bury traditions in the closet 11 months out of every year? “I keep our artificial Christmas tree up year-round and decorate it with seasonal accents,” says Teri Gay of Charlton, NY. “It’s a way to simplify because I never have to take it down, and we celebrate each season with garlands of red hearts for Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, leaves for autumn and so on.” Or use Easter baskets to hold fruit on your table. After Halloween, scoop out whole pumpkins to use as vases for floral displays (slip a glass bowl inside to hold water).
Wicker, wrought iron and decorative aluminum furniture can create a garden-, coastal-, beach- or cottage-themed space inside. “By using my favorite outdoor accessories indoors, I get to enjoy them year-round instead of for a few short months,” says Emma Kippen of Dennis Port, MA. Bonus: Outdoor furniture is easy to clean and nearly indestructible. Bring in sisal rugs, baker’s racks and plant stands too; they’re just as functional and attractive indoors as they are out.
Even photocopied art looks sophisticated when it floats between two pieces of glass in Umbra’s Document Frames (from $13, umbra.com). The wall color shows through the glass, creating the illusion of a custom mat.
Piled books draw the eye. If shelves aren’t high enough or deep enough to accommodate oversize books, stack them on a flat surface, such as a bench or an end table.
Use shells and other beach bounty to warm up a kitchen, an entryway, or a stairwell by creating a rustic, relaxed display.
Add interest to a store-bought lamp shade with the help of ribbon, glue, and an eye chart. (Print one for free online, then have it enlarged at a copy center.)
Use a glass jar as a vase, group ottomans as a coffee table, or try a pretty basket to hold a plain planter.
Stack modular storage units (from $22, amazon.com) to make a stepped side table with surfaces for displays and lighting. Create miniature still lifes in the cubbies, or stack reading material that you’re going to get to…someday.
Design mini-vignettes on tables, mantels or buffets with keepsakes, from china to figurines. “There’s no point in keeping interesting items if no one ever sees them,” says Ward. Group similar objects, such as mercury glass or colored bottles, together; single items often get lost among other elements in a room. Stack some pieces at different heights on top of books or a wooden box. Or use a decorative tray or trivet to pull together items to make them appear as a collection.
An easy paint project: Create a trompe l’oeil headboard. Cost: about $20 and zero floor space. For how-tos, see Paint a Faux Headboard.
Lend an entryway an earthy vibe with a coatrack made from found materials. Using polyurethane-based glue (such as Gorilla glue), attach a stone to the end of a wooden drawer knob, then screw each knob into a plank of wood.
Matching dining sets can feel humdrum over time. Trade a couple of seats from the kitchen with ones in the dining room. Place them at the head or center of the table so the effect looks intentional.
“I love to decorate with items I find in my own yard or while on vacation,” says Sherry Mathews of St. Petersburg, FL. “One of my favorite displays is a large piece of driftwood in a shadow box.” Other ideas: Line the mantel with large, smooth river rocks. Fill a clear, lidded storage container with tiny stones or shells to make bookends. Display a bird’s nest as part of a tablescape. Tie together long, slender tree branches and lean against the walls in a corner. Fill a hurricane glass with dried moss, acorns or seedpods.
Everybody knows you can cover a wall with family photos or artwork, but what else can you group to make a statement? “Use what makes you feel happy in your space,” suggests Ward, but make each gallery feel unified by sticking to a single theme. For example, hang wire and rattan baskets or postcards on the dining room wall. Display cooking tools such as antique egg beaters, a Bundt pan, cookie cutters or whisks on the kitchen wall. Tack up a few pretty but never-used placemats one under another in a column to span a vertical space. Space them equally and go for symmetry.
“When you live with something a long time, you don’t see it anymore,” says Ward. So put it away for a little while and fall in love with it again when you take it back out. Or swap out items, such as pillows and throws, from one room to another to change up the look. Also, move around small pieces of furniture within a room. For example, slide two end tables together to make a coffee table or use a small chest as an end table. You won’t believe how different a room can look with the very same things in them.
Inexpensive wicker that looks as if it belongs outdoors changes the mood of any room. Put chairs in a sunny corner of their own or mix them with your upholstered pieces.
Pull out your pretty pitchers or patterned plates and arrange them to be admired.
Swap a bedside lamp with one from your desk or the living room, or simply switch the shades for a different look.
Plates in unexpected colors make a fresh wall arrangement. Vary hues (within a family), sizes, textures. Put the most dramatic plate toward the center (lay out the plates first to experiment); attach wire plate hangers and hang plates on picture nails.
Candles look best when massed, particularly on a spacious surface, like a coffee table; the larger the surface, the larger the candles should be. Group four or five pillars of different heights (same color) in glass containers.
Define a space—here, a foyer—with a mirror that adds both drama and light. This one is a hand-me-down dressed up with one coat of spray paint.
Imagination is as valuable as a big budget when it comes to transforming your home. Besides, you’ve likely accumulated enough accessories over the years to fill a shop—buying any more would only contribute to clutter. “All the visual chaos is stressful and distracting,” says Lauri Ward, home design expert and author of Use What You Have Decorating. So step one is to clear as many surfaces as possible. And once you do, steal these no-cost tips to dress up every room.
Repurpose a seat into a handy stand, perfect for pulling up alongside a sofa or easy chair. Try one on its own, or cluster a few (even varied heights work). And remember less is more: Allow the rest of the room to be basic—try an unadorned table and sparsely decorated walls—so the quirky chairs stand out.
You hardly ever use that large platter, so rescue it from storage and hang it on the living room wall. Draft your soup tureen into service as an accent piece in the family room. Or use ceramic garden pots or pretty teacups to corral soaps and cotton balls in your bathroom or earrings on your bedroom dresser. Doilies or decorative tablecloths can be draped over curtain rods as no-sew window dressings. A seldom-used ice bucket or log carrier can hold hand towels in the guest bath.