Easy home updates for every room
Feeling a bit “blah” about your home? Read on as savvy interior industry insiders share their top tips on how to refresh spaces in low-stress ways that are also easy on the wallet.
What do you see when you look around your home? Cosy, comfortable spaces filled with items you cherish, inviting you in and putting you at ease? Or do your eyes get drawn to tired carpet, marked walls, saggy furniture and a jumble of clutter? If your response leans towards the latter, there’s a chance you are falling out of love with your home.
Like never before, Australians are upholding long-term relationships with their dwellings, keeping properties for 33 per cent longer than was the case a decade ago (reported by property research firm CoreLogic in 2019). During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, the home became the absolute centre of life. Dining tables were converted into classrooms and garages became office hubs. Houses worked very hard for their inhabitants, and people became all too familiar with the flaws and shortcomings of each room. It’s no surprise your feelings toward your home are a little lacklustre.
The immediate response might be to switch into renovation planning mode, but the reality is that remodelling a home can be a costly undertaking that simultaneously wipes out savings and waning patience. A report by Suncorp Bank delivered in September 2020 showed that Australian homeowners looking to renovate are borrowing on average $63,188, an amount that is unthinkable for many.
Like a fading romantic relationship that’s missing its spark, love lost between a home and its owner isn’t necessarily a hopeless cause. As with matters of the heart, grand gestures aren’t always necessary. A few thoughtful actions and a little bit of care and attention can set things back on track. Just as a single stem of sweet-smelling gardenia with creamy petals can mean more than an over-the-top armful of red roses, it’s the little things that make a difference.
A shake-up of your furniture layout can revitalise an area and increase the room’s functionality.
If you are in a home-inspiration rut and searching for budget-friendly ways to revive your spaces, consider the following ideas filled with insights from five Australian interiors industry insiders. From the no-cost to the low-cost, from instantly achievable updates to projects that will take a little bit of time and a smidge of elbow grease, the tips and tricks are sure to offer a spark of hope for renters and homeowners alike.
Beyond just a quick tidy up, a decluttering session is beneficial in many ways. When you strip back each room, shelf or drawer, long-forgotten items are rediscovered, and the clearer view of your space will help to reveal its potential. Interior decorator Liz Hayward, of Hayward & Co, starts each project with a declutter. “Clearing the room of anything unnecessary or creating storage solutions for the things that need to stay (like mountains of children’s toys!) can really give the space a new look and feel,” she says. Attack the decluttering room by room, thinking about the pieces you use regularly and those that you haven’t touched for years. You will be surprised at the amount of unnecessary stuff cluttering up daily life. Unwanted items in good condition can be dropped off at your local charity shop or passed on to friends and family. Alternatively, you can post the items for sale on Facebook Marketplace or eBay or host a garage sale.
Deep clean and maintenance
In the pursuit of patching up a romantic relationship, investing time and effort in the basics will help to rekindle the love. The same applies to your home, where a little bit of TLC can go a long way. You might find that shabby walls and scuffed floors look new again with a thorough scrub and polish, or timber furniture shines richly after a rub with suitable timber oil. Sun will beam brighter through crystal clear windows and cooking in a sparkling clean and organised kitchen will be a joy. If the to-do list is daunting, start small, set some timeline goals and aim to establish realistic habits that work with your schedule. Looking after your belongings and your home’s bones will prolong their longevity, saving you many dollars in the long term.
Injecting a fresh look into a room doesn’t have to be about buying new things. Make a tired space feel new again by “shopping your home” and rearranging bits and pieces that have sat in the same spot for an extended amount of time.
Jono Fleming, an interior stylist and former magazine style editor, believes it’s the easiest way to update a home. “It sounds simple but small things like this can change the way you look at your space,” he says. “Give your art, decor and books a new environment by moving them into different rooms in the house.” A shake-up of your furniture layout can also revitalise an area and increase the room’s functionality. Any interiors-lover knows that spending an afternoon pottering at home can be very therapeutic and, as the saying goes, a change is as good as a holiday.
Display meaningful items
Interesting homes reflect the life of their owners. Imbue your space with the essence of you by displaying favourite items and collections in groupings on flat surfaces or on walls. “Use items like trinkets you’ve collected on your travels, found objects, photo frames, candles and flowers to tell a little story about your personality on your hall table or sideboard,” says interior stylist and author Emma Blomfield. The key to curating a cohesive, eye-catching grouping is to choose pieces that have a thread of consistency through them, whether it’s via materials, colours or shapes. Start by placing the largest item, and then add in pieces that complement it, paying attention to the interaction of heights and shapes. An element that contrasts in some way will make the collection pop, while found natural objects like a sculptural seedpod or a piece of coral can lend an organic, casual feel.
Cushions and throws
Interior designer, educator and TV presenter James Treble believes in the transformative power of cushions and throws. “These two items can transform any space in a flash,” he says, adding that there are options available to suit all budgets, “but don’t skimp too much on the cushion insert, as nothing is as comfy as plump full cushions!” When it comes to choosing colours and patterns, take inspiration from other items in the room, like artworks or rugs. “Remember the importance of contrast,” Treble says. “Try to offset the colour of your sofa or armchairs to add a little visual interest.” Blomfield also espouses the effectiveness of a cushion and throw update. “If you have a relatively neutral base with your big-ticket items like the sofa, armchair, coffee table, it’s an easy and relatively budget-friendly exercise,” she explains. As interior stylist and former magazine style editor Fiona Gould says, “Home styling is all about the layers, and sometimes in order to make a space feel complete it’s as easy as introducing a few new layers that were lacking.”
Reinvent a furniture piece
“I always encourage people to take a look at ways they can re-use existing items in a new way to add new life to a space,” says Gould. “Could an unloved buffet cabinet do with a lick of paint or be restyled as a chic drinks table or coffee station?” Timber chairs can become bedside tables, new handles can change the look of an old chest of drawers and a rustic vintage door laid out on trestle legs can convert to a workstation. If you are stuck for inspiration on how to upcycle a particular piece, time spent searching on the virtual mood board site Pinterest will produce a million and one ideas.
Bring the outside in
You can’t go past flowers and potted plants as a natural source of colour and vitality in a space. Whether you display an array of botanicals snipped from your garden or you buy a spectacular arrangement from a florist, the sight of pretty florals or lush green leaves is an instant mood booster. If you are lacking in vase options, improvise with upcycled jars and bottles or scan the shelves at your nearest op shop for unique vessels that can be bought with pocket change. The health benefits of indoor plants are widely reported, the most noted effect being plants’ ability to purify the air. If you are lacking green thumbs but really want to become an indoor plant parent, start with the hardy snake plant, also known as “mother-in-law’s tongue”, or a peace lily.
Add a rug
Hayward and Fleming reveal that rugs are their secret homewares weapon in the pursuit of a new look. “Adding a rug to a space is a great way to add warmth and interest, and also hide any unsightly flooring,” says Hayward. Rugs are a nifty addition in an open plan layout, as Fleming explains. “They can define a space and help mark out an area and they are incredibly tactile underfoot.” It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of rugs on the market but the selection process can be streamlined by considering your lifestyle and the function of the room. “Jute rugs are great for neutral or coastal-style rooms, a plush rug is great for a more formal space, and indoor/outdoor rugs are fantastic for those with young children or messy pets,” says Hayward.
Looking after your belongings and your home’s bones will prolong their longevity, saving you many dollars in the long term.
Paint the walls
Wall colours set the mood of a room, so it’s no wonder a fresh coat of paint is a go-to trick when revamping a home. “Paint would have to be the most cost-effective way to dramatically transform a space,” says Treble. When it comes to choosing a shade, he suggests buying sample pots and testing the colours on the walls before committing to a whole room. Hayward adds, “I always recommend doing a test patch on the wall and viewing it in both daylight and at night.” However, as Jono is quick to mention, paint doesn’t have to be permanent. “You can always paint over the colour if it doesn’t work!” he declares. If you aren’t ready to splash a bright hue across your walls, a fresh coat of white will also have a rejuvenating effect. “A neutral white canvas also means the space won’t date quickly and it will become a timeless backdrop for your furniture and decor,” Hayward points out. When taking a paint roller to a whole room isn’t possible, a quick coat of paint on the architectural details will really smarten up a space. “Refreshing the home with new crisp white skirting and architraves can give a new look at a very low cost,” says Treble.
Australia is experiencing a resurgence of wallpaper. With a new generation of fans and a mass of choices available, wallpaper is no longer seen as “daggy” and old-fashioned. From elegantly textured styles such as seagrass through to pretty botanical patterns and fun geometric prints, there is sure to be a look that suits you. Recent advances in production technologies have meant that tricky installations are a thing of the past. “There are super simple peel-and-stick wallpapers on the market at the moment that are really nice quality but make the application very DIY-friendly,” says Gould. Fleming adds, “The removable wallpapers are great if you live in a rental. Easy to install and easy to remove, this is the cheat’s way to spruce up your room with minimal effort.” Blomfield suggests making a statement with a wallpaper feature wall. “Try wallpapering one wall and painting the remaining walls for extra colour and pattern impact,” she says.
While you may not be in a financial position for a complete wet room overhaul, focusing on one particular area can make a huge impact. “Replacing an aged or damaged vanity definitely transforms a bathroom, adding additional storage and bench space at the same time,” says Treble. As an expert in bathroom design, the practical designer has excellent advice to share. “Remember to replace like with like, meaning a floor-mount vanity will hide all of your existing plumbing, so don’t try to install a floating wall mount vanity as this will come with many installation issues,” he explains. Updating a chipped or water-damaged mirror and adding new light fixtures will also sharpen up the area. Treble is realistic about what can be achieved by homeowners versus when the trades should be called in. “Contacting your local plumber to install the vanity may add a little to the price but it will prevent leaking taps and water issues later,” he explains.