Small budget, big difference: Easy ways to perk up a room


If your favorite room could use a makeover, but a quick fix is all your budget allows, take heart. Design cosmetics, deftly applied, can be as dramatic as a room re-do. The best part is, they don't have to cost a bundle.

To get your creative juices flowing, here are five ideas that will help spruce up almost any room in the house. None of these perk-ups involves moving or acquiring even a stitch of furniture, except for building on something you already have.

Take the bedroom and its centerpiece, the bed. You don't need an elegant four-poster bed to make a room. But if you don't even have a headboard, simply adding one can make a big difference.

The Bombay Company catalog offers a mahogany-finished frame with brass medallion accents, which is patterned after a 19th-century sleigh bed. What makes this headboard appealing is its padded, muslin-covered inset, which allows you to slip in the fabric of your choice. A pretty floral pattern on a sage green ground with a fabric to match the bed skirt is shown in the catalog.

The headboards stand 40 inches high (except for the king size, which is 3 inches taller), and are 3 inches deep. The twin headboard sells for $199, the full/queen for $249, and the king, $299. Insert your own fabric, even a bed sheet, and you've added warmth and sophistication.

The Alex & Ivy Country catalog offers an all-upholstered version, which comes on square legs and attaches to any standard bed frame. The muslin-covered headboard is $199.

The catalog also shows two cover options for the headboard, one in a perky pink plaid and the other in a cream-colored herringbone jute. Both are 100 percent cotton and machine washable, and they sell for $69 (twin), $79 (queen) and $99 (king). Pillow shams and accent pillows to match are also available.

The simplest way to make a statement in the bathroom is with the shower curtain. In addition to printed clear plastics and vinyls, cottons and cotton blends are available in a range of colors and patterns from opulent to whimsical even with current favorites such as celestial themes.

Astro, which depicts a blazing sun, plants, a moon and stars, makes a bold statement. Yet its taupe, black and cinnamon coloration is a nice muted balance. The shower curtain from Jakson, a CHF company, is made of DPC (double polished clear) vinyl. At just $12.99 at Kmart and Wal Mart stores, among others responding to out-of-this-world whims is easy.

You might choose a rich paisley such as the Imperial pattern from Jakson. Available in earth tones or shades of jade green, the classic design is enhanced with subtle metallic accents, and it sells for less than $20.

If the log cabin look is more your style, there's Northwoods, a forest green buffalo-check shower curtain by Fifth Avenue, a brand of Dawson Home Fashions Inc. It's made of 100 percent polyester taffeta treated with DuPont Teflon fabric protector for water and stain resistance. It's priced between $24 and $30.

Bedrooms and bathrooms are obvious areas for quick spruce-ups, but stairways are not so obvious. Rugs can add a lot to these sometimes overlooked parts of the house, and they needn't be expensive to create impact. Consider three charming runners created by Claire Murray, an artist who has been reviving the craft of hooked rugs.

One traditional pattern, on a red ground, features rows of old-fashioned schoolhouses, each of identical design, but in different colors. The simplicity of the images and their cheerful colors transform a stairway painted dark green. The hand-hooked rug is a delightful piece of folk art that can be enjoyed day after day. The 22-by-69-inch runner sells for $265. On entry stairs, it would lend a welcoming touch.

An allover pattern of buttons and Victorian circles is another intriguing design. The multicolored circles on a black ground was a pioneer favorite; today, it may equally suit period or contemporary architectural styles. The 24-by-67-inch runner costs $359.

For garden enthusiasts, another engaging runner captures flowers from A to Z in an alphabet garden, with each letter representing a particular flower, whose image is colorfully shown behind it. With typical colors for asters, bleeding hearts or zinnias against a pale blue ground with white letters, each

design is set off by white squares. The rug is a conversation piece, with its attractive vine and striped borders. The botanical alphabet runner measures 29 by 118 inches and sells for $499.

Part of the draw of the hooked rug is that it's handcrafted. Pieces that are embroidered, needlepointed or otherwise hand-stitched can do much to warm a room.

Another way to literally warm a room, as well as add a simple but elegant touch, is with shutters. Many designers favor the use of large-scale plantation shutters, because they can compensate for lack of interesting interior details and they create an impressive backdrop.

Smith and Noble's Windoware, a specialty catalog of blinds, shutters and shades, features wood shutters and blinds in three sizes: traditional 1 1/4-inch louvers, 2 1/2-inch louvers and 3 1/2-inch louvers.

The large-scale shutters in an off-white finish bring a timeless and classic look to a living room. Instead of pattern at the windows, a leafy printed fabric is used on the wing chair and ottoman. The rest of the space is neutral, from the green-gray sponged walls to the steely gray metal cocktail table to the pale gray tiled floor. The carved French-style mantel is the room's only distinctive architectural feature. The shutters add another dimension.

The shutters, manufactured by Joanna, are crafted of kiln-dried high-altitude pine with a moisture content under 10 percent, so that they won't warp or crack. Compared to other window treatments, they are expensive about $20.50 per square foot but they offer added value, along with distinctiveness. Besides the natural insulating properties of shutters, these larger-scaled slats lend an architectural finish to old, damaged or plain windows.

For about one-third of the cost, 3-inch wood shutter blinds can give a similar look. The extra-wide horizontal slats allow more sunlight into your home than other shutter blinds. Yet the finely turned controls allow adjusting the louver angle for a softer light or complete privacy. They're available from Smith & Noble in seven stained or painted colors.

The 3-inch shutter blinds range in price from $90 to $566, depending on width (9 1/2 inches to 84 inches) and height (from 30 inches to 96 inches).

Closing blinds for warmth, privacy or blocking out unattractive views still doesn't eliminate most people's yearning for flowers and trees, for a bit of green.

In the kitchen, the look of an ever-blooming lush garden makes floral and fruit patterns perennial favorites. These patterns on tablecloths, place mats and napkins give a room an instant lift.

It's unusual to find coordinating tablecloths and napkins, especially richly patterned examples on fine linen.

One attractive pattern captures Spanish artist Miguel Romero's vision of American folklore. A 62-inch square, all-linen tablecloth, which looks like a colorful patchwork and appliquied quilt, sells for $180, including eight napkins. The same fabric ("Set" is the pattern name) may be sold by the repeat, which is 94 1/2 inches long by 63 inches wide, for $167. The Folk Collection coordinates with a group of wallcoverings and borders available from Eisenhart.

Another cheerful color-splashed design features garden paraphernalia such as watering cans, baskets and flowers in shades of spruce green and peach on an ivory ground. A 52-inch square tablecloth sells for $22 in the Alex & Ivy Country catalog. A set of four place mats, 18 by 13 inches, costs $19; the matching 18-inch square napkins cost $18 for a set of four. The fabric is 100 percent Scotchgarded cotton.

Put together, in a small eat-in area of a kitchen that measures about 13 by 15 feet, the effect is dramatic. The checked wallcovering ($28.99 per single roll) is combined with a floral wallcovering ($19.99 per single roll) and a floral border ($17.99 per five-yard spool). The banquette cushions and valance are covered in the companion fabric.

Whether you're looking for a way to update one room, or your whole house, you can find plenty of style and snap it up with a smile knowing that you'll have money left over.


Alex & Ivey Country, 550 Bailey, Suite 600, Fort Worth, Texas 76107-2111; 800-359-ALEX

The Bombay Company, 550 Bailey, Suite 400, Fort Worth, Texas, 76107-2111; 800-829-7789

Dawson Home Fashions Inc., 295 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016-7276; 212-689-6300; for nearest retailer, call 800-805-BATH

Eisenhart, P.O. Box 464, 1649 Broadway, Hanover, Pa. 17331-0464; 717-632-5918

Jakson, One Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; 212-951-7900

Claire Murray, P.O. Box 390, Route 5, Ascutney, Vt. 05030; 800-252-4733

Smith & Noble: For a free copy of the 68-page catalog "Windoware," write: Smith & Noble, 1750 California Ave., Suite 102, Corona, Calif. 91719

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