While the process of decorating your home is thrilling, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. Your goal should be to showcase your design aesthetic in a tasteful way, but it’s a given that you'll be faced with everything from an interior that lacks natural light to a layout that’s much smaller than you’d like. So it’s no surprise that these common dilemmas might turn you off from decorating altogether. But instead of viewing them as stumbling blocks, use them as inspiration to design the home of your dreams.
Do-it-yourselfers can reap big savings with recycled or lightly used fixtures and building materials. Habitat for Humanity operates about 400 ReStores nationwide, which offer salvaged materials at half off home-center prices. One caveat: Many contractors won't work with salvaged items, or homeowner-supplied materials in general, because they don't want to assume the liability if something goes wrong. That said, if you're doing your own work, you can find anything from prehung doors to acrylic skylights to partial bundles of insulation. (To find a ReStore near you, visit habitat.org.)
Depending on the scale of your project, you might not need a full-on architectural commission, which involves extensive meetings, multiple job-site visits, and several sets of construction drawings, to the tune of about 8 percent of a project's construction budget. You might be able to tap an architect's design savvy by having him undertake a one-time design consultation. For example, for a $400 flat fee, Baton Rouge architect Kevin Harris will meet with a homeowner, examine the problem, and sketch out a few solutions that could be as simple as opening up a partition wall or moving a door. The homeowner can then give the sketch to a builder or take it to a drafting service, which will charge about $1 to $1.50 a square foot to crank out formal construction drawings.

Looking beyond the traditional with wallcoverings can create a truly standout design presence. "I do think I might have scared [architect Ken Linsteadt] a little bit when I announced I was planning to install two levels of green floral fabric on the walls of the grand salon," says Ken Fulk of his Sonoma Valley lakeside retreat, yet the fabric gives the high walls a richness that wallpaper alone might not have achieved.
It's exactly what Jenny Cipoletti, founder of fashion, beauty and travel blog Margo & Me, did in her decidedly Parisian office (which is actually in West Hollywood). "Just like when you walk into a cafe in Paris, and you see all the details and the golds, silvers and light blush tones, all of these elements in this space really sing to me," says Cipoletti. This lets you travel to your favorite destination without stepping outside.
Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself—as long as you proceed with care. "If a homeowner wants to demo a deck, well, I am sure they can handle that," says Michael Winn, owner of Winn Design, in Virginia. "But when it comes to interior spaces, I would dissuade them from doing it unless they have done it before." The reason: A reckless wrecker might unwittingly take out a load-bearing wall or, worse still, plunge a reciprocating saw into live wiring or pressurized plumbing. (For tips on how to do demo right, see our October 2005 feature, "Before You Construct, You Have to Destruct.")
Make what's old new again by invigorating antique pieces with colorful fabric from the 21st century. Take, for example, the two 18th-century French bergère chairs here, upholstered in a hot pink Maharam fabric. "Maharam is a very modern, contemporary fabric company, with velvets that are really bright in color," says Bikoff. "That color was such a pop of freshness and youthfulness on these old chairs."
Lucky for you, there are paints to help. Rust-Oleum makes a "mold and mildew-proof" paint for about $27 a gallon that can protect those mold danger zones. You can fight those nasty germs with Sherwin-Williams' Paint Shield, which costs about $85 per gallon. Unlike other microbial paints, this formulation is EPA-certified to kill more than 99.9% of surface bacteria in less than two hours, including E. coli and staph.
A full grand surround turns a conventional shower into a steam shower. A transom installed above the door could be utilized in a way where it would dry the shower every time you close the door. Likewise, placing the fan near the transom can also help in drawing air out of the shower every time you close the door. For those with a steam shower, it’s highly recommended to incorporate a bigger bathroom fan. Don’t forget to check the grout lines as well. Fewer grout joints are recommended because there’s less surface area to absorb moisture.
Even in a cosmetic remodel, there can be an opportunity to enhance the function or money-saving capability of your home. When ripping out an entire room, for instance, this may be the perfect time to add insulation to the walls, upgrade your electrical panel or add additional light or electrical fixtures. The key is to think ahead to how you will use the room, and take advantage of cosmetic updates to enhance the structure of your home.
Busting the budget is everyone's biggest fear when it comes to renovation. And with good reason. Even if you follow the essential advice we've been doling out for years—build in a 20 percent cushion to cover the nasty surprises, get contractor references and check them, banish the words "while you're at it" from your vocabulary—it's hard not to end up shelling out more than you want to, even if you want to pen a check for a million bucks.
Before you begin a remodeling job, invite the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to remove materials and fixtures for later resale. "About 85 percent of a house is reusable," says B.J. Perkins, Habitat's ReUse program manager, in Austin, Texas. "We can do a total takedown, or do a cherry-pick job and take the cabinets, the tub, the sink, and so on." You save space in the landfill, collect a charitable tax credit for the donation, and help a good cause. Visit Habitat to find an affiliate near you.
If your home is lacking plumbing shut-off valves in the area you are working on, you may have to shut the water off at the main valve, leaving your home without access to running water. Plan ahead and place containers of water in the fridge for drinking, on the counter for cooking and have buckets of water available to flush the toilet. An easy way to do this is to fill the bathtub with water and place a bucket nearby to pour into the toilet bowl.
Remodelers can do some amazing things, but they can't read minds. "Let the company supervisor or project lead person know if anything is unsatisfactory so they can deal with the issue," says Jeff Hurst, a Certified Remodeler (CR) and president of Hurst Total Home, Inc., in Kettering, Ohio. "The contractor may not be aware that something is not OK with the owner."
Until a few decades ago, all bathrooms were small—most were no larger than 5 feet by 8 feet, providing just enough room for a tub/shower combination, vanity, and toilet. You might think that the smaller the bathroom, the more challenging the remodeling, because how can you create openness and space without tearing out any existing walls? Luckily, homeowners who plan to work with what they’ve got may find that smart choices in colors, fixtures, and amenities can make a small bathroom look and feel larger than its actual square footage. We asked Joe Maykut, a product manager for Sears Home Services, to share with us the design tactics that work best for homeowners stuck with small bathrooms—and boy, did he deliver. If you’re itching to remodel your bathroom, the following eight tips will help you make the most of your small space.
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