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31 Low Lift Home Improvements for Under $100

DIY Donald Judd tables, $7 backsplash panels, and black toilet seats.

Photo: Joe Lingeman
Photo: Joe Lingeman

Most interior designers have a few inexpensive room-transforming tips up their sleeves, unsexy Home Depot finds that you won’t see credited in World of Interiors. One particularly tried-and-true strategy is to replace depressing light fixtures with the classic hardware-store pairing of a white porcelain socket and a globe bulb ($9 for both), seen above. In this brass-obsessed design moment, the utilitarian favorite “leaves things looking nicely unfinished,” says David Netto, a Los Angeles–based interior designer who learned about it from architect Annabelle Selldorf. “They’re sexy in their simplicity.” Other small but equally impressive fixes include adding a stately, plaster-esque ceiling medallion ($30) or swapping in a more traditional-feeling black toilet seat ($50), which can, surprisingly, make a world of difference. Ahead, a list of more high-impact, modestly priced upgrades gathered from decorators and aesthetes.

Sub in a non-hideous faucet

Jacuzzi Duncan faucet

It’s not an expensive, or difficult, thing to do these days — just make sure it matches all the rest of your metal fixtures, from your towel bar to your sink faucet handles to your toilet paper holder. Whether it’s matte black, chrome, polished nickel, satin nickel — make them consistent. It bumps up the whole aesthetic of the space. —Nye Basham, designer

Hardware-store pegboards make cheap key holders

43-piece pegboard
Photo: Optimarc/Shutterstock
43-piece pegboard

Hang a pegboard for organization. It’s easy, and they’re cool-looking. —Emily Wissemann, architecture student

Replace your Home Depot boob lamp with a mint-green socket and oversize bulb

Commune socket and chrome bulb

A classic white porcelain socket always looks beautiful. And these are like a fiesta version of those. Screw in a chrome-tipped bulb and you’re done. —David Netto, designer

Hide bad floors (or carpet) with a huge sisal rug

Safavieh area rug

Use a sisal rug even — or maybe especially — if you have wall-to-wall carpets. Throw them right on top to create room separation, and to add some beauty. They also look great layered under Moroccan rugs. —Leanne Ford, designer

Stick a Noguchi-style lantern over dumpy fixtures

36-inch paper lantern

Use with a porcelain socket or white-cord kit to replace any dumpy light fixture — the bigger the better, in my opinion. They work especially great over the dining table or in the bedroom. —L.F.

Turn carpet foam into Sottsass-esque cushions

Foam carpet padding, 1 roll
Photo: Clemens Kois, Courtesy of Jonah Takagi
Foam carpet padding, 1 roll

I came across this foam in the hardware store. It kind of resembles a granite or terrazzo look. Top a layer of it on a plywood bench, and you have a cool cushion. —Alex Proba, founder of Studio Proba

Do cabinets over in matte-white paint …

Rust-Oleum cabinet-coating kit
Photo: Simone Kitchens
Rust-Oleum cabinet-coating kit

You may have the dreaded orangey-grained ’90s oak kitchen cabinets. If your landlord is cool with it, paint them with a cabinet kit. It comes with instructions, which are simple to follow. The main thing to know is that it takes a few days for each step — the de-glosser, the primer, the paint, and the clear topper — to dry, but it’s quite transformative. And quite tackle-able for even the non-handy among us. —Daniel King, co-owner of Home Union

… And install a pot rack with three screws

Cuisinart half-circle pot rack
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Cuisinart half-circle pot rack

Life is too short to spend time digging through cabinets and deep stacks looking for the pan you need. So get yourself a pot rack. I get tons of compliments on this one, from Cuisinart. It’s easy to install (just three screws — make sure you find the studs) and doesn’t take up a ton of wall space. —Taryn Williford, Apartment Therapy editor

Change unsightly cords to fabric ones

Cloth-covered wire

Even expensive lamp cords tend to be quite ugly. An inexpensive solution is to swap in fabric cords. I like them in a classic brown or black, but a color can give a room a pop of fun. —N.B.

Simulate original plaster molding

Ekena Millwork medallion
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Ekena Millwork medallion

Switching out existing overhead light fixtures is always a good idea, but I like to take it a step further by adding ceiling medallions. They’re my secret (and incredibly cost-effective) weapon; they dress up a ceiling, and draw the eye up. —Molly Torres, Homepolish designer

Switch out floor grilles for a cohesive effect

Cast-iron floor register
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Cast-iron floor register

Cleaning up details you don’t think get noticed but the eye takes in — like floor grilles — does a lot to elevate a space. —Nicole Powell, co-founder of We Three Design

Get non-dorm-room over-the-door hooks

Vinyl-coated hook
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Vinyl-coated hook

McMaster-Carr’s catalogue has a surprising number of stand-alone hardware pieces that are quite handsome when used in the right way. Like, for instance, this very nice-looking over-the-door coat hook. —Shengning Zhang, furniture designer

Build a coffee table out of Craigslist marble

Pine drop box
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDORS
Pine drop box

Top a simple pine box with a circular piece of marble. You can often find ugly marble tables on Craigslist or eBay for cheap and just take the top off. —Jesse Kamm, clothing designer

Or top it with Plexiglas

Acrylic sheet
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Acrylic sheet

Go to Canal Plastics and have them cut custom clear-pink Plexiglas for table surfaces; depending on the size, it can be around $40. —Amy Silver, set decorator

Or use all plywood for something Donald Judd–inspired

Pine plywood sheathing
Photo: Courtesy of Donald Judd Furniture; Architecture Table 73 in clear birch plywood. www.judd.furniture
Pine plywood sheathing

Get plywood sheets at Home Depot — they’ll cut notches in the wood for you. —E.W.

Create a sculptural fixture with leftover cord

Cast triangle pendant
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Cast triangle pendant

Embrace the exposed-wiring look by choosing a fixture with an extra-long cord that can make geometric patterns on your walls and ceiling. The cone pendant above is from Flos, but Menu makes equally nice ones that are under $100. —Ming Thompson, co-founder of Atelier Cho Thompson

Cover your Karlstad with a slipcover

Bemz slipcover
Photo: Courtesy of Vendor
Bemz slipcover

Bemz slipcovers — which are made specifically for Ikea pieces — are machine washable. They’re especially great for clumsy people like me who have always wanted — and been too afraid to own — white chairs. —T.W.

Swap in a black toilet seat for a prewar feel

Mayfair toilet seat
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Mayfair toilet seat

Change out your toilet seat for a black one. Make a note to be sure if you need round or elongated. It instantly makes any bathroom look more traditional. —L.F.

Fake a Shaker dining room with DIY wainscoting

Shaker profile panels
Photo: JORDAN SLOCUM AND BARRY BRODELON, THE BROWNSTONE BOYS
Shaker profile panels

It’s super-simple: Just go to Wainscoting America’s site and put in your room dimensions. We went with the Shaker style, but the raised panel is also nice, and a bit more traditional. Nail the panels to the wall, then paint them. It adds a ton of character. —Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum, The Brownstone Boys

Install dimmer switches for mood lighting

Push-button dimmer switch and brass wall plate

The best advice I can give to a homeowner for instant sophistication: Install a dimmer. Lighting is the great special effect that changes everything in the room. For a vintage-style home, I like push-button light switches with mother-of-pearl detail. For another $12, you can get a beautiful, traditional-looking brass cover to top it. —Barbara Schmidt, creative director of Studio Bstyle

Swap outdated handles for matte-black doorknobs

Schlage Bowery knob

Doorknobs in rentals can be hideous. Sub in a matte-black set with just a screwdriver in about five minutes. —Fiona Byrne, designer

Upgrade drawers with Lucite handles

Acrylic handle
Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR
Acrylic handle

They look particularly great against a lacquered white finish — more on living-room furniture than in the kitchen. There’s something about acrylic that feels ultra-modern, without being too bold or overpowering. —Patricia Voto, designer at Gabriela Hearst

Fake a concrete wall

SureCrete SureTex Knockdown overlay, $36; white color additive, $4
Photo: Alexandra Ribar
SureCrete SureTex Knockdown overlay, $36; white color additive, $4

Mix a white color additive into water (just a little), then stir that into the concrete overlay until it’s a pancake-batter consistency. Use a drywall knife to spread the mixture over the wall, starting from the bottom and pulling it straight up. Finish with concrete sealer. —L.F.

Use raw glass to make a room feel gigantic

DIY floor mirror
Photo: MIRRORCOOPERATIVE/ETSY
DIY floor mirror

Get a large piece of glass from Sam the Glazier in Bushwick (or any other glazier), and use it as a mirror. They’ll sand down the edges for you on-site. —E.W.

Make a bedside table out of a bucket of cement

Home Depot five-gallon bucket, $4; Sakrete gray concrete mix, $4; Rubbermaid hardwood broom handle, $9
Photo: Amy Harlow
Home Depot five-gallon bucket, $4; Sakrete gray concrete mix, $4; Rubbermaid hardwood broom handle, $9

To make this little bedside table, pour cement into a bucket, filling it about a third of the way. Then take a wooden broomstick, cut it in thirds, and arrange “legs” into the cement. —Amy Harlow, owner of Wagwear

Pour bulk Mrs. Meyer’s soap into glass dispensers

Soap dispenser
Photo: Courtesy of Vendor
Soap dispenser

They’re sleek — and good for the environment. I especially like them in contrast with old-fashioned tiles, which many New York bathrooms have — it modernizes and compliments the existing aesthetic. —Kyla Burney, owner, Adaptations NY

Stain your faded grout a deep black

Grout Refresh
Photo: Duntrune Studios/Shutterstock / Duntrune Studios
Grout Refresh

If you can’t get rid of sad, grayish grout, stain it black or a dark shade to make the grout color look modern and sharp. —M.T.

Cover drab backsplashes with sticker decals

Smart Tiles panels

Short of renovating, not much is going to fix an ugly backsplash — but peel-and-stick tiles can hide it. I’ve seen these up close, and they’re a lot more convincing than you’d think. If your tiles are a standard size, you can also find the type that cover each individual tile with a separate sticker (so you still see the grout lines), but they’re a little less forgiving to install. —T.W.

Install bamboo blinds for neutral texture

Matchstick blinds
Photo: Taphat Wangsereekul/Shutterstock / Taphat Wangsereek
Matchstick blinds

There is something charmingly low-tech about these — especially in a bathroom or kitchen window. Light filters through them in a really lovely way. —Kelly Behun, designer

Or just go with space-enhancing linen curtains

West Elm linen curtains
Photo: Courtesy of Vendor
West Elm linen curtains

Remove window blinds and add floor-to-ceiling-height curtains to expand your visual space. —Ana Claudia Schultz, designer at Homepolish

*A version of this article appears in the July 22, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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31 Home Upgrades for Under $100