It's a reality of our fragile economy: Many homeowners who dream of the perfect kitchen or master bath are putting full-scale renovation on hold in favor of more limited changes.
"What's on everyone's minds is making the space feel a little better and function a little better until you can reach the ultimate kitchen or bath that you want," says Danny Lipford, host of the nationally syndicated home-improvement radio show Homefront With Danny Lipford. He says he often hears from listeners planning smaller redecorating projects to tide them over until real renovation fits in their budgets.
But which small projects are worth it if you're going to remodel the space within just a few years?
Choose projects that offer big change at little cost, or that serve as first steps toward eventual full-scale renovation, says Sabrina Soto, designer and host of HGTV's series The High Low Project.
Look to the largest surfaces
Lipford suggests making changes to the biggest surfaces in a room, such as countertops or floors. Old laminate countertops can now be painted for less than $50, he says, and the results look surprisingly good. Using a type of paint sold in a kit (Lipford recommends one found at gianigranite.com), homeowners can paint over the old countertop and then seal it with a coating that mimics the look and solid feel of laminate.
Tanya Memme, host of A&E's Sell This House, agrees that big surfaces are a good place to start. "Any room will look bad if the floors aren't in decent shape," she says.
Cover a soon-to-be-replaced wood or tile floor with a colorful new rug, or put down peel-and-stick vinyl tiles. Good quality vinyl tiles resembling granite can cost several hundred dollars if you're covering a full kitchen floor. But the change is dramatic, so it may be worthwhile even for just a few years of use.
Old ceramic tile floors and tile walls can get a facelift for just a few dollars if you use grout stain, Lipford says. You can make dingy grout a pristine white again or change it to a new color that contrasts with your old tile.
Memme suggests adding a tile backsplash to a kitchen wall for a burst of new style. Do it yourself to save money. "It might seem difficult to put up tile," she says, "but actually it's very easy to do." Small tiles come on a mesh sheet, so you're not placing each one.
Another way to bring big change to walls: Michael Hydeck, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, suggests painting with different textures. Try a faux finish like granite or marble, or buy the same shade of paint in two different finishes — one shiny and one matte — and paint alternating stripes in each.
Shed some light
Installing undercabinet or overcabinet lighting probably isn't wise if you'll be removing the cabinets in a year or two, Hydeck notes. But a new ceiling light can be installed now and still be used when kitchens or bathrooms are renovated.
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Changing window treatments also can change a room's lighting and bring in fresh color. "Everybody gets used to what's up on their windows," Memme says, "because they've been living with it. They don't see the wear and tear." Remove old blinds or shades and replace them with inexpensive curtains.
Soto suggests phasing in new major appliances ahead of a full kitchen renovation. If need be, they can be relocated elsewhere in the room once the remodeling is done. She also suggests buying new countertop appliances, such as microwaves or toaster ovens, now, with the anticipated redesign of the kitchen in mind.
If you can't replace appliances now but are craving change, Lipford says appliance paint is available from Rustoleum and other companies. It can give new life to an old refrigerator or dishwasher and is easy to apply yourself.
Think hard about hardware
Small items such as drawer pulls, electrical switch plates and doorknobs can easily be changed. Swap out old knobs for new door handles, switch from brass to nickel, or bring in jeweled or glass or ceramic pieces for added style.
Faucets also can be changed now and then reused when you eventually replace the entire sink.
Out with the old
Old glass shower doors can be removed relatively easily and replaced by a stylish fabric shower curtain. Swap out old kitchen chairs with cool, flea-market finds, or re-cover chair cushions yourself with a few yards of new fabric.
Replace a dated bathroom mirror with an inexpensive framed one, or build your own frame with strips of molding.
These projects can give an outdated kitchen or bath enough new life to keep a homeowner happy until true renovation is possible.