As we head into winter, hunkering down into long, dark, cold evenings, now’s a good time — before the costs and frenzy of the holidays — to consider sprucing up your home, even if you can’t spend much. I once planned to leave journalism and studied full-time at the New York School of Interior Design, some of the most challenging and happiest days of my life. I’m still here, but my passion for design and making my home clean, calm and lovely remains as strong as ever.
1. Flowers, greenery or a plant add color, texture and life. A bunch of supermarket tulips can cost as little as $8; if you can splurge on several, arrange them in an unusual container — a teapot or low bowl or basket. Florists will sell you a block of Oasis, that green spongy stuff they use in arrangements, and cutting it into the shape and size you need gives you plenty of options.
2. Lighting is the jewelry of a room. How’s yours? If all your lighting is from overhead sources, put as many of them on dimmers as possible. Offbeat, unusual table lamps can be found cheaply in thrift shops, flea markets, consignment shops, yard sales and estate sales. A new, fresh, pretty lampshade can make the difference between chic and shocking; try Pottery Barn or Bed, Bath & Beyond, even Target or KMart for simple choices. Dust all lampshades and bulbs. Over-lit is as depressing as dim.
3. A pair of new, fresh hand towels — $20 to $30 for two — freshens up any bathroom. Thick, plush cotton feels luxurious every time you touch it.
4. How about your bath soap? Quality soap, even at $8 a bar, will last a month and scent the room. Try Roger & Gallet’s scents (the carnation is exquisite) or Maja, an old-school Spanish brand whose olive green bars come wrapped in crisp black tissue paper.
5. A new wooden spoon or sharp kitchen knife can inspire a weary cook, while a few fresh dishtowels can add color and life.
6. Clean! While housework is a miserable chore for some people, a sparkling, fresh-smelling home shouts “Welcome!” A bottle of lavender water, about $12, spritzed onto your pillowcases as you (yes) iron them offers a gentle way to drift off to sleep.
7. A throw rug adds softness, texture, color and pattern. Consider a cozy sheepskin, sisal, a dhurrie or a rag rug. If you live anywhere near a decent regional auction house, check out their offerings in person; the Senneh kilim — an antique flatweave with intricate designs — in our hallway was $50 at one of my favorite spots, William Smith’s in Plainfield, New Hampshire. Most auction houses list their items on-line and you can always call and ask for more details about size or condition.
8. A can of great paint, some rollers and a few hours of your time can totally change a room. Farrow & Ball, a British company whose products are sold internationally offer terrific, interesting colors; Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams also have lovely choices. Check out SW’s Modern Gray, a pale, gentle shade the color of cigarette ash and F & B’s Blazer, a soft red, Gervase Yellow, a pale yellow-green and Babouche, a brilliant, rich, egg-yolk yellow. Put ’em together with a crisp white — gray and yellow make a gorgeous combination.
9. Make a folding screen. Wood, hinges, glue and a few yards of fabric can be sourced for about $100. I made ours from cream-colored barkcloth and silk obis I found at a vintage textiles fair — it hides our clunky, old, black TV in the corner. This weekend I’m revamping it with striped faux-silk for a new look.
10. Visit a few fab websites, like apartmenttherapy.com for inspiration. Borrow some gorgeous coffee-table design books from your local library, read them slowly and make notes of whatever inspires you most. Start a design file of colors, textures, materials and periods you love, whether mid-century Noguchi, Art Deco, 18th.-century mirrors — or the newly classic Ghost chair, made of clear plastic.
11. New knobs and/or a fresh coat of paint on kitchen or bathroom cabinets can instantly and stylishly change the feel of a room.
12. New cushions, or cushion covers, can add a spot of style to your sofa or loveseat. Here’s a fun sunflower cushion, $35 — a pair would be great. Symmetry and repetition adds punch.
A few favorite sources: