Improvement 1: Bathroom mini makeover—$430
If you've long wanted the elegance
of natural stone in your home, consider
a new granite bathroom vanity top,
which is a great, affordable way to get it.
You can now find granite tops at Lowe's,
Home Depot and other home centers.
Prices range from $150 to $450 depending
on the size. Complete this bath makeover
with a new faucet and mirror, and you'll
still keep the price under $500.
Begin by ordering your new items and
don't start the project until you have them
all on hand. Be sure to inspect them for
flaws (a common problem). Then tear out
the old fixtures and repair the walls as
needed. Keep the old vanity if it's in good
shape. But paint it to freshen it. Use a few
cans of spray paint to get a smooth finish
and avoid brush marks. And replace the
old pulls with new ones to dress it up.
Next, paint the walls and add the new
mirror. If your old mirror included a
recessed medicine cabinet, make sure the
new one fits within the existing opening.
Enlarging the opening often expands the
Finally, mount the faucet, install your
new granite top and connect the plumbing.
Whew! If all goes well, you'll finish in
a long weekend.
Cost: Granite vanity top, 31 in. long, $200; faucet,
$130; 24 x 36-in. mirror, $60; paint and cabinet
pulls, $40. Total: $430.
Time: Two to three days.
For more information type “bathroom,” “faucet,” and “towel bars” in the search box above.
Simple Bathroom Makeover
Granite vanity tops cost
as little as $150 and come
complete with an under-mounted
Improvement 2: Wallpaper one wall—$280
If you haven't visited a
lately, you're missing a
treat. With the revived popularity of wallpaper,
stores are offering an expanded
range of choices. The prices of some of
these may knock your socks off too.
But take heart. You don't have to cover
every wall to make a dramatic change.
Papering only a single wall will do, and
that'll make some of those fine, expensive
papers or fabrics affordable. It'll also
lessen the time, effort and mess of papering
an entire room. This is an especially
good solution for a room with plain walls,
slim baseboards and window trim, and no
built-ins. You create instant character.
Begin by taking a photo of your existing
room and measuring its dimensions. Take
these with you to the interior design or
wall-covering store. Ask a specialist to
help sort through options that'll work well
with your existing furnishings. The specialist
will also help you pick the best wall
for the new paper and estimate the
amount to order.
Some papers can be hard to hang, especially
fabrics, rolls with uncut edges and
other designer papers. Always check the
hanging instructions and ask the dealer
about the difficulty level. If you're a novice
paperhanger or fall in love with a super-expensive
paper, consider hiring a pro.
The extra cost should be modest for a single
wall, from $150 to $250.
Be sure to fill holes and smooth your
wall before beginning.
might show through the
paper. Then seal the wall surface
with an acrylic primer. It dries
hard and smooth. This allows you to slide
the paper a bit more easily to tighten
Cost: $122 for a double roll of the paper shown
and $20 to $50 for supplies.
Time: Half to one full day, depending on the wall
For more information type “wallpaper” in the search box above.
Wallpaper on One Wall
Wallpaper on one wall adds drama to a dull room with less effort and expense than covering the
whole room. It also lets you choose a bold pattern that would be overpowering on four walls.
Improvement 3: Halogen track lighting—$180
Track lighting lets you put
light exactly where you
need it—on countertops,
walls or objects—and brighten just about
any area. The tiny halogen bulbs emit a dazzling
white light that illuminates colors brilliantly.
The price of track lighting has dropped
in recent years. And many systems now
operate on standard household voltage.
That means you don't have to install a
Transformer—just connect to any existing
junction box in the ceiling.
The “rail” system that hangs below the
ceiling like we show will hold both spotlights
and pendants. Rails typically run
either 4 or 8 ft. You can bend the rail for a
more decorative appearance and position
the lights anywhere on it.
Look for rail system kits (typically with
three to five light fixtures) in home centers,
lighting stores or online. Check manufacturers'
Web sites or check the catalogs
at a lighting specialty store to see all the
options. This is especially important if you
want to assemble your own system or add
extra lights to the rail. You want to be sure
you get all the correct parts.
Cost: $150 and up for a basic kit.
Time: One to two hours if you have an existing
electrical box in the ceiling.
For more information type “ceiling lights” in the search box above.
Improvement 4: Kitchen rollouts—$40 to $80
Rollouts are one of the easiest and
most satisfying upgrades you can
make to your kitchen. They bring
everything that's tucked out of sight
in the back of cabinets right to your
fingertips—you actually gain usable
don't want to make the rollouts yourself, you can
shop for moderately priced yet sturdy rollouts
online or at Lowe's and Home Depot.
You simply mount them to the existing
shelves in your cabinets with four screws.
The biggest mistake is ordering the
wrong size. When you measure the opening
in the front of the cabinet, be sure to
account for the door, hinges and other
Cost: $40 to $80 per rollout.
Time: 15 minutes per rollout.
For more information type “rollouts” in the search box above.
Improvement 5: Trim and paint—$380
By adding two simple lines
of trim—a chair rail and a crown molding—you create the perfect framework for
any handsome two-color wall combination.
This is one of the secrets of fast, easy
To have the biggest color impact, paint
your trim. This also simplifies installation.
You don't have to cut perfect joints,
because a little filler and paint will leave
them looking sharp and crisp. You can
also use less expensive materials.
The trim combination we show looks
best in rooms with at least 4-1/2-in.-tall
baseboards. If your baseboard is narrower,
consider replacing it or choosing a different
wall decorating technique. (See “Wallpaper one wall” above.)
Then make the
new chair rail 60
to 70 percent of
the width of your
baseboard. Use a
a windowsill (stool) and its apron
(the trim underneath) if you have this
type of trim. Otherwise, use trim similar
to your window trim with a 5/8- to 3/4-in.
strip on top. Center your chair rail at
about one-third the wall height. Choose
crown molding that's 30 to 40 percent of
the width of the baseboard.
Finding colors that work well together
and go well with the existing room furnishings
can be challenging. We suggest
that you take full advantage of pictures in
magazines and the combinations recommended
by paint manufacturers that you
find at every paint store. Take photos of
rooms you like (or clothing combinations
you like!) and work with a paint dealer to
match colors. Most home centers and
paint dealers now offer small paint samples. You can try them directly
on the wall or paint a 2 x 2-ft. scrap of
drywall or cardboard instead. That way
you can view the samples in different
parts of the room. Then look at the colors
both in daylight and with your lights on at
night. (Some colors change dramatically
under different types of light.)
TIP: Prepaint the trim
and paint the walls
before you put the
trim up. Touch
Cost: 6 gallons of paint—$180; 80 ft. of chair rail
and crown moldings—$200.
Time: Two to three days.
For more information type “trim” and “paint” in the search box above.
Remodeled Dining Room
Painted trim requires less skill, time and expense than stained and varnished trim. To create
wall stripes, apply easy-release masking tape over a light base color.
To accentuate—rather than dominate—colorful walls, choose
chair rail that's about two-thirds of the baseboard width and
crown about one-third the baseboard width. For a more
traditional look, choose crown that's about two-thirds of the
Improvement 6: Backyard oasis—$450
Two elements make for a
great backyard retreat—shade from the
sun and protection from irritating insects.
The good news: You can now choose from
a wide range of screened canopies (also
called gazebos) that handle both sun and
insects. They're easy to put up and maintain,
you can plant them in almost any flat
spot, and they're reasonably priced, typically
$200 to $500, depending on the size.
Typical sizes range from 10 x 10-ft. to 12 x
12 ft. You can create a comfortable sitting
area in just a few hours. Look for screened
canopies at home centers and outdoor
A grass floor is inviting, but it'll wear
out fast. If you don't have an existing deck
or patio that's suitable, we recommend
building a paver patio for the floor. Brick
and concrete pavers are durable, handsome,
and available in many styles and
colors. And you don't need special skills or
experience to lay them successfully. Even a
novice can do a first-class job and complete
a small project in a weekend. OK, it
is hard work. You'll have to dig a bit and
rent and operate a heavy plate compactor.
Look for pavers at home centers and patio
and garden centers.
Begin by choosing a canopy style and
size. Then make your patio slightly larger
to accommodate it. Or consider an even
larger patio, leaving part of it open.
Cost: $150 and up for a screened canopy;
about $3.50 per sq. ft. for a paver patio.
Time: Two hours for a canopy; a weekend for a
For more information type “brick” in the search box above.
Photo courtesy of Home Depot
Block out the hot sun and bothersome
bugs with a screened canopy.
Improvement 7: Closet organizer—$100
You don't have to spend a
fortune to have a neat
closet. Wire shelving systems
practical and easy to install. They increase
your storage space and simplify cleaning
too. Almost everything hangs on the walls,
keeping the floor clear for easy vacuuming.
And the wire shelving won't collect
dust like solid shelving does.
A novice can install a system with only
a drill, a level, a hacksaw and basic hand
tools. Begin by measuring your closet
dimensions. At home centers, you'll find
basic kits with a full complement of
shelves and clothes rods priced from $50
to $75. If you want a more elaborate system,
either begin with a kit and then add
accessories, or build a custom system
from readily available parts. Visit a home
center to see a complete selection of parts
and get arrangement ideas. Then plan
your system by laying out all the shelves
and other components using masking tape
on the back of your closet wall. You can
also draw up a plan on paper, but measure
carefully if you use this method. Often manufacturer Web
sites have planning guides.
Most brands have solid,
drill-and-tap-in wall anchors that work
well even in drywall. Use a hacksaw to cut
the heavy wire shelving to fit your layout.
Finally, check for accessories like shoe
racks, tie and belt racks, and baskets to
expand storage options and make the best
use of leftover space.
Cost: $200 for the closet system shown.
Time: Half day to remove old shelves and install
the new system.
For more information type “closet” in the search box above.
Photo courtesy of ClosetMaid
Make the most of closet space with wire
shelving and accessories. You can outfit
an entire closet in one morning.
Improvement 8: Laundry center—$480
Stand back and look at
your laundry room. Chances are it could
use better organization, better lighting
and more storage. These simple upgrades
give you all that.
Everything you need is available at
home centers. Start with a stock countertop
(you can order colors that aren't in
stock, but you'll pay two to three times as
much). Don't forget to buy end caps to
cover the raw ends of the countertop.
To support the countertop, build
super-simple shelf units from 8-ft. lengths
of 23-1/4-in. wide
shelving. We chose
which has a tough
plastic coating and
doesn't need painting.
Size and space
the shelves to suit
your laundry baskets
(we made ours
14-1/2 in. apart and
35 in. above the
floor). Cut the parts
and screw them
2-in. screws. Cover
the screw heads with plastic caps (sold
near the shelving).
Next, hang a pair of inexpensive 18-in.
x 30-in. utility wall cabinets over the
countertop to hold detergents and other
cleaning supplies. Fasten an adjustable
clothing rod between them for clothes
You'll want especially bright lighting to
help you sort clothing and spot stains and
other problems. Fluorescent tubes work
well because they cast light evenly with
few shadows. We recommend a four-bulb
fixture that's 4 ft. long with a prismatic
plastic cover for extra brightness. Make
sure to buy fixtures with electronic ballasts
to avoid the annoying hum that
goes with magnetic ballasts.
TIP: Equip the fixture
with 90-plus CRI
index) bulbs to
better see the true
colors of your
are more expensive
($8 to $10 each) and
may drive you over
Finally, soften and brighten your
floor with rubbery plastic floor tile.
Used mostly in garages and commercial
buildings, this flooring is tough, but easy
on your feet. And it may be the world's
easiest to install floor: You simply snap the
tiles together; you don't have to glue it
down. The 12 x 12-in. tiles come in several colors
and surface patterns. Look for them at home centers or online.
Cost: 6-ft. countertop, $70; 3/4-in. Melamine supports
and shelving, $40; two 18-in. wall cabinets,
$150; adjustable clothes rod, $10; light fixture, $54,
plus $45 for four high-CRI bulbs; flooring, about
$3.50 per tile.
Time: One or two days.
Cutting List for Shelving
- Four 3/4" x 23-1/4" x 34-1/2" Melamine supports
- Four 3/4" x 23" x 22" Melamine shelves
- Two 1/4" x 23-1/4" x 34"
For more information type “cabinets” and “laundry room” in the search box above.
Equip your laundry room with a spacious folding table, more storage space, better
lighting and a durable floor in one weekend.
Improvement 9: New bath accessories—$470
Replacing accessories like
towel bars, light fixtures and towels, plus
applying a fresh coat of paint, is the
absolutely easiest way to make your bathroom
feel new and clean. You don't need
special skills for success; it's a screwdriver-
and-paintbrush project you can complete
in a weekend. But keep in mind that
this face-lift will only work if your basic
fixtures—the sink and faucet, vanity, toilet,
tub and tile—are all still in reasonably
Also keep in mind that the total cost of
this makeover will vary widely depending
on your choices. You could spend as little
as $200 or much more than $500.
When you shop for accessories, stay
with a consistent style and finish. Manufacturers
help here by offering matching
sets of towel bars, shelves, soap dishes
and other accessories.
Simply painting the walls a new color
makes a quick, dramatic change. But
beware. If you
choose the paint
color first, you may
spend days hunting
for matching towels,
a rug and shower
curtains. To make
easier, shop for
using paint samples as a guide. Then settle
on a paint color.
TIP: Remove the
old wall accessories,
repair, clean and
repaint the walls
Extra accessories we especially like
(and that might blow the $500 budget!):
a pullout mirror near the sink;
multiple-level towel bars (shown below); a towel warmer ($40 to $200); and a
self-closing toilet seat.
Cost: About $340 for the accessories shown above.
Add $30 for paint and $100 for a rug, towels and
Time: One weekend.
For more information type “bathroom” in the search box above.
New Bath Accessories
Revive your bathroom in a weekend with fresh paint and updated hardware.
Back to Top
Improvement 10: Add curb appeal—$200 and up
Tired of a shabby, uninspiring front
entry? Take heart. You can totally transform
it with a series of small accents
and minor changes that will impress your guests, please the
neighbors and, perhaps most important, make your house a
more pleasant place to come home to. All are easy to do and
Begin with paint. Renew your trim and siding (if painted)
and take a hard look at your front door. If it's the primary feature,
consider painting it a strong color. Color choice can be difficult,
so look in magazines and at other doors in your neighborhood
for ideas you like.
Then buy new accessories, like the house number, mailbox
and light fixture. In most cases a screwdriver is the only tool
you'll need to install them. Also replace the door handles and
latch if they're worn.
Next, spruce up the approach to the front door. If you
have a plain concrete walk or driveway, choose one of our
favorite upgrades: Add a simple border of bricks, or
other pavers, depending on the style of your home. Dry set
them (no mortar) on a firmly tamped base. For lasting
results, dig a trench about 5 in. deep. Add 2 in. of
compacted gravel such as “class V.” Cover the gravel with
an inch of sand and set the bricks.
Cost: Paint, numbers, mailbox, etc., less than $100 total; bricks or
pavers $3 per sq. ft. and up.
Time: One or two weekends.
For more information type “paint” and “brick” in the search box above.
Simple Front Entry Upgrades
A fresh coat of colorful paint and updated hardware on
your front door give your home a quick face-lift.