Cheap Design Tricks for Your Home Improvement Project – Board & Vellum

Ask an Architect, Custom Residential, Interior Design

Cheap Design Tricks for Your Home Improvement Project

By Jeff Pelletier
October 30, 2018

Very few people really have an unlimited budget. Even the beautifully-designed and enormous projects you see likely had a budget that the owners and design team were trying to stick to. Budgets are basically unavoidable, even if they are generous. But it's not a bad thing: it helps to build parameters into what you are doing to narrow down the focus of any project.

That said, sometimes there really is a very tight budget and you’re tasked with getting extra “oomph” out of your dollars. While there’s never an easy and obvious answer, with some ingenuity you can work with your design team on maximizing your dollars and getting more value out of what you are paying for.

Here are some of my current favorite cheap design tricks.

  • IKEA cabinets with custom fronts. IKEA cabinets are pretty wellmade and ubiquitous. That also means that everyone knows what they look like. For a reasonable premium over IKEA door slabs you can get some great custom fronts for your cabinets from a company called semihandmade. If money is extra tight, focus on dressing up an island or just the lower cabinets.
  • Large graphics instead of wallpaper. I love wallpaper, and while there are some cost-effective solutions they are generally not where we go to when we are looking to cut cost. Instead, for what is usually a fairly reasonable cost (with some work on your end), you can create a custom graphic and have it printed to apply to your wall.
  • A pantry paired with open shelves. If you have the room, it can be a great solution to create a simple pantry for all of your kitchen supplies fitted out with simple wire mesh shelving, and then pair that with a few nicer open shelves in your kitchen. You’ll save on the cost of your cabinets and end up with plenty of useful storage.
  • Eliminate glass shower doors. These are notoriously expensive (easily $2,000 for a simple one). But, if there’s enough space (really key), then you can pull back the showerhead enough to avoid water splashing out, and save on the cost of the glass shower door. Be careful though, as this may often mean more tile work which offsets the cost of the glass.
  • Save on lighting. I’m a giant lighting nerd and I always default to more layers of lighting and more control. All of those recessed lights, though, add up. If you’re tight on a budget then go for a great central “surface-mount” fixture in the center of your room and plan for plenty of floor or table lamps. They’ll help dress up your space and still give you plenty of lighting options.
  • Use a fiberglass shower pan instead of tile. These can be great solutions for avoiding the cost of a tiled shower floor. As long as you’ve planned for the space to accommodate the standard dimensions of one, you can still add wall tile above. (Or, you can even go with some of the pretty awesome off-the-shelf shower surrounds from Kohler which are amazingly updated versions of those old fiberglass ones that likely make a lot of us still cringe.)
  • Skip the built-in, but leave the recess. Sometimes a simple recess built into the wall is enough to give focus to a room. Maybe you have a great old piece of furniture from your family that can go there. (Or maybe you found a trashed piece of furniture and spent a few weekends giving it some new life.) If you don't have enough money in your budget for a custom built-in cabinet, even though you want one, plan for the space and give it a special recess that can house that furniture instead. It’ll highlight the piece, provide interest to the room, and save plenty of money. You might forget about wanting that built-in piece altoghether, but if not, you can always add the built-in later.
  • Shop the sales. I hesitated putting this one on here, as often times this isn’t the miracle solution you would think it is. Sometimes, though, you can find a great sale on appliances or fixtures and, if you have enough storage space, buy them early and put them aside until you’re ready to remodel. But, you want to make sure you’re not making later remodel decisions more complicated by designing an entire floor around an appliance you got for $500 less than retail, as that would defeat the point, but sometimes a good sale can make all the difference. I always recommend checking out the Albert Lee appliance sale as there are often great deals to be had. (Pro Tip: Bring your designer or architect with you to help make those quick, but crucial, decisions.)
  • Paint it. So much can be solved with paint. Have a beat up old fireplace that you know would benefit from a new mantle and tile job, but don’t have the money? Find a great black paint and cover the whole thing. Nasty old oak cabinets that you can’t afford to replace? Paint ‘em. Miserable old floors that are patched and worn and you don’t have the money to properly get new ones? Paint them white and make the weathered look work for you.
  • Don’t do it yourself, hire someone. Wait! This doesn’t belong on here, does it? Most of the above solutions are things that you can often do yourself. And most of the time it is human instinct to do things yourself to really save some money. However, the reality is that doing home remodeling is hard work and takes some serious skill. HGTV has been lying to us! Take tile for instance. A beautiful tile install with the cheapest tile possible will always look a million times better than beautiful and expensive tile installed by a DIY homeowner. Know your skills and figure out where to spend the money to get the quality you want. Quality should always win out over quantity, and no one wants to pay to replace the work they spent a month of evenings installing.

Whatever you do, remember that good design is timeless and it’s worth paying money for it. Spending the time to get the ideas right, and working towards them, will make you far happier than slapping together a solution that just checks the boxes for the least amount of cash. Good design can be done regardless of your budget, but it still takes time to plan for it.

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