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7 ways to upgrade your space and still have money left to entertain

Half the fun of finding a really great place to live is sharing it with the people you love. Of course, most of us don’t have an entourage of home-renovation gurus helping us find our perfect home. Instead, we use throw rugs to disguise hardwoods covered in more layers of yellowed polyurethane than a school gym.

This might just be the biggest lesson our favorite real-estate reality shows have taught us: It’s all about making it work. You can still upgrade your home this year without depleting your bank account  or racking up debt. For starters, here are seven ideas that make a big impact for relatively low cost. You’ll still have ample cash to splash out on your famous wine-and-charcuterie spreads—because who actually needs an open floor plan when everyone’s just going to crowd around the brie?

1. Convince people that you have high ceilings.

Only some of us are blessed with 10-foot ceilings, but all of us can employ the simple trick interior designers use to make any room look taller and more dramatic: Mount curtain rods well above the window frame to create the illusion of bigger windows and a more vertical room. The rule of thumb is to place the rod at least four to six inches above the window frame, or about two-thirds of the way between the window frame and the ceiling. Then, order panels that are long enough to brush the floor or hang just an inch above. 

2. Stop settling for boring light fixtures.

Light fixtures are like jewelry for your home, their style and twinkle will elevate it to the next level. As with jewelry, you don’t have to spend a fortune to find something that looks gorgeous; there are plenty of $100 to $300 light fixtures that convincingly mimic high-end design. On the flip side, dated fixtures can severely undermine your cute furniture and decor. 

If the cost of hiring an electrician to swap in a new fixture is what’s held you back, know that it’s actually a small job that costs $65 to $175 on average—and if you or a friend is confident with light wiring work, it’s definitely DIYable. Meanwhile, consider whether you’ve got recessed lights in spots where you could hang something more intriguing, like in an entry or hallway. That’s easily done using a recessed light conversion kit, which lets you swap in a pendant without hiring an electrician.

3. Get those lush wallpaper vibes.

Nothing makes a room fancy in one swoop like patterned wallpaper. A cool pattern can turn a coffin-sized powder room into an immersive art experience or make a bland bedroom full of big-box furniture feel thoroughly personalized. The problem is wallpaper can be a commitment and an investment. Even if you score a deal on the actual paper, it’s best to hire a professional to install it, for an average cost of $311 to $791 per room. 

That’s why peel-and-stick wallpaper feels like one of the greatest interior-design innovations of the past couple decades. These days, you’ll find gorgeous temporary wallpapers that cost quite a bit less per square foot than their traditional wallpaper counterparts, and the whole concept is inherently DIY-friendly. If you see an air bubble or your pattern doesn’t line up right, just peel back and fix.

If your budget is extra-tight, stick to papering an accent wall, which will still change the mood of the whole room. You can also find removable wallpaper that looks convincingly like tile, so you can cover that muddy brown mosaic backsplash with sleek white subway tile or classic marble hex. Not sure how much paper to order? Use an online wallpaper calculator that factors in roll length since peel-and-stick rolls are sometimes shorter than traditional. Then add 10 to 20 percent more to account for paper that will be wasted when lining up repeating patterns—the bigger the pattern, the more extra paper you’ll need—plus, a couple additional rolls to allow for any mistakes. (You may even be able to return rolls you don’t end up needing.)

4. Swap out ugly hardware.

Updating hardware should be an easy choice. While these details might seem small in the grand scheme of a home, they add up to a big deal. Swapping worn brass doorknobs and hinges for matte black instantly tells people, “This house is updated and cared for.” Likewise for kitchen cabinet knobs and pulls; they couldn’t be easier to swap out, and even inexpensive knobs in a new neutral like champagne gold can pull a dated kitchen forward. 

5. Freshen up your trim.

Nothing wakes a room up quite like a fresh coat of paint, but the cost of paint can add up if you’re doing whole rooms. One way to get the glow-up with less investment is to repaint aging, yellowed trim around your windows and doors a crisp, brighter shade of semi-gloss white. If you’re lucky enough to have crown molding, doing this can make this architectural accent stand out even more. Craving a little more drama in a room? Paint your trim a contrasting color like high-gloss black to make it pop. 

6. Fake architectural integrity.

Until you can inhabit the grand, old mansion of your dreams, you can infuse some classic beauty into even the blandest new construction using a couple techniques that are easier than attempting to install crown molding. One is to add picture frame molding, where you glue simple strips of molding to your walls in large box shapes or vertically to create a board and batten look; you can have the sections cut to size at a hardware store or order molding kits with pre-cut pieces. 

7. Add open shelving in your kitchen.

Yes, the open-shelving trend is still going strong, and it’s easy to see why. Such shelves offer a perfect spot to showcase personality filled items like pottery, artwork, and plants in the kitchen, making this once-separate zone feel as comfortable and decorated as the rest of the house. Plus, it’s nice to have a few often-used dishes and favorite coffee mugs within easy reach. To enjoy open shelving’s benefits, you don’t have to go all-in and rip out cabinets.  See whether you have an under-utilized swath of wall where you can squeeze in a floating shelf or three. 

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