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
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
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
Hide bad floors (or carpet) with a huge sisal rug
Stick a Noguchi-style lantern over dumpy fixtures
Turn carpet foam into Sottsass-esque cushions
Do cabinets over in matte-white paint …
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
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
Simulate original plaster molding
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
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
Build a coffee table out of Craigslist marble
Or top it with Plexiglas
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
Get plywood sheets at Home Depot — they’ll cut notches in the wood for you. —E.W.
Create a sculptural fixture with leftover cord
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
Swap in a black toilet seat for a prewar feel
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
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
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
Upgrade drawers with Lucite handles
Fake a concrete wall
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
Make a bedside table out of a bucket of cement
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
Stain your faded grout a deep black
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
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
Or just go with space-enhancing linen curtains
*A version of this article appears in the July 22, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
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