Q: The summer place we're renting at the lake is so dreary we asked the owner's permission to do a little fix-up work (I couldn't bear the thought of spending three months there the way it was).
Since we don't want to spend a lot of time working and much money, I'm writing to see if you have any quick-and-easy decorating ideas.
A: Yes, and they can be summed up in one word: color, color, color. Well, maybe one other word: imagination.
Paint obviously is the quickest and cheapest way to freshen up any room, if the walls are in good condition.
If not, you may not want to get involved with all the prep work required to do a decent paint job -- in which case I'd suggest color that comes in rolls: wall coverings.
If you choose a wall covering that has a textured and patterned surface, it will work visual magic to camouflage walls that have a less-than-flawless complexion. And if you choose a pre-pasted product, it will go up in a flash.
Another hint: Pick a pattern with a smallish repeat. Not only will it be easier to match when you hang it, there will be less waste.
You're no seamstress? Turn sheets into "slipcovers" simply by draping them over sofa and chairs, tucking at strategic points and belting with wide grosgrain ribbon or decorative braid.
More quick tricks to consider:
Try building a paneled screen, using cheap doors bought at a lumber store and covered in more pre-pasted wallpaper.
Hang inexpensive flower prints (they could be cut from an old calendar) and frame them all alike for more impact.
To freshen things underfoot, use that wonderful -- and cheap -- old summertime standby, a sisal rug.
By the time you add flowers, your own linens and accessories, your little summer place should go from "dreary" to "cheery" without straining either your back or budget.
Q: Our guest room is so tiny there's barely space enough for a double bed, much less bedside tables.
Where will I put lamps so our guests can read in bed? The dresser is against the other wall, but it's pretty far away.
A: If the bed has a headboard, you could mount a pair of swing-arm lamps on the wall. If not, put a narrow bookcase behind the bed like a headboard and stand a lamp on top.
Your guests will also appreciate having a place to stash their glasses, alarm clock and whatever they're reading.
Q: A friend has advised me to decorate the walls of our house with posters from museums. She says it's great art for no money, but the problem is we don't travel all that much.
Can you tell me where I can get interesting posters by mail order? I don't want things you see just everywhere.
A: Start by writing to any of the great museums in this country: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York, can send a catalog of the posters they offer.
So can the Boston Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago -- they all make great art readily available for almost "no money."
You might also get in touch with the Poster Gallery International (in Canton Center, Conn.).
For $12, they'll send you a sampler of postcard-size posters from famous museums abroad, like the Uffizi in Florence, Italy, as well as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and other collections you might not find on your own.
If you find something you like, you can then order the full-size poster to frame and hang.
Q: My husband is planning to put ceramic tile in the basement when he finishes off a playroom for the kids.
I know he's right, that tile is a practical idea down there, but it's going to be so cold for them to play on. Can you suggest anything else quick?
A: I'd suggest that you speed off to your nearest tile store and ask about new low-heat devices you can build into your floor.
One such system, "Warm Touch," consists of a mesh threaded with heating wires that is installed in the layer of adhesive directly under the tiles. Ceramic is a prime conductor, so the low heat will radiate across the floor, keeping it warm and cozy to the touch.
What a nice way to put an end to cold tile floors in the bath, kitchen and sun porch, too. It's not a do-it-yourself idea, however; the manufacturer (WK Heating Systems of Joliet, Ill.) makes it clear that all electrical connections must be done by a qualified electrician.