Simple, inexpensive home improvements for living and selling


PHILADELPHIA — Jocelyn and Pete Lockard are planning major renovations after they close on their home in Phoenixville in January. They’ll redo the kitchen and renovate the main bathroom while they sell their Kensington home.

Overall, Jocelyn said, they’re looking to make their new living space “really open and welcoming and cozy and conducive to our lifestyle” for the couple and their toddler, while making sure the home appeals to potential buyers if the family decides to sell in a decade or so. But one of the elements that excites her the most is relatively simple: the soaking tub she envisions as her retreat.

Major renovations aren’t the only way homeowners can make a space their own and create an escape while stuck at home because of the pandemic. Smaller changes can make a big difference.

Paint and strategically use wallpaper

“You want to make sure your space is very relaxing,” said Glynis Tart, owner of Verden Interior Design Studio, based in Philadelphia and Camden.

Paint can go a long way in achieving that. She suggests cool colors, including certain blues, greens, and neutrals. She suggests neutral colors if a homeowner plans to sell in a few years and colors that most reflect the occupants if a sale is further off.

Repainting cabinets can update a kitchen without remodeling it. Painting railings and wall trim can also freshen a space.

Wallpaper “is really having a moment now,” said Amy Cuker, owner and design director at Down2earth Interior Design in Montgomery County. Convenient peel-and-stick options make it easier to install and switch out. “That’s a really high-impact way to get some punch and pattern in a space,” she said.

In redesigning a client’s basement, Cuker installed wallpaper that was a mural but looked like a bookshelf.

Maximize space

“We see people taking every little bit of space and maximizing it right now,” said Philadelphia Realtor Maria Quattrone.

Homeowners are making spaces multifunctional. If no extra rooms are available, some are carving out space for home gyms and offices in corners and using furniture, paint, and artwork to create separation. Some are using garages as temporary gyms. Others with yards are buying sheds to use as multipurpose spaces.

Cuker said many clients are asking for areas dedicated to their children for online schooling and play, including redesigned breakfast nooks and repurposed basements.

“A lot of people are trying to reclaim their basement space and make it more livable and useful,” she said.

Liz Walton, owner and principal designer of Liz Walton Homes based in Phoenixville and a member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, said kitchen islands are getting larger as homeowners seek a place that can accommodate eating, entertaining, schoolwork, parents’ work, dog bowls, and appliances.


Adding a new area rug can be an easy, inexpensive way to tie a room together or add less permanent color. A simple wine rack can elevate a kitchen.

Homeowners can add electric or gas fireplaces or fireplace inserts into wood-burning fireplaces they don’t use. Many households have more time to sit by the fire, and they can make spaces cozier. Homeowners can install a wood beam or finished mantel to an electric fireplace to make it look like a permanent part of the home, said Monica Miraglilo, a designer and cofounder of Philadelphia-based Miraglilo Properties.

Appliances are a great way to update without having to remodel an entire kitchen, Walton said. Replacing back splashes “goes a long way in changing the overall aesthetic of your space,” she said. Miraglilo said she uses subway tiles for back splashes, which look nice but can be inexpensive.

Homeowners are upgrading kitchen and bathroom fixtures and cabinet hardware. They’re installing soft-close drawers to prevent the constant slamming that can grate on the nerves of family members who are constantly at home. Homeowners can paint, replace, or install doors to update a space.

Homeowners with a few thousand dollars to spend can replace countertops that have busy patterns with calmer versions that are lighter and brighter.

Clients “don’t want to look at busy things because there’s too much going on in our heads,” Walton said. “I just did this for a client and it totally transformed their space.”

Homeowners also are looking to technology to add convenience, Quattrone said. For example, to accommodate smart devices and family members working from home, homeowners can install outlets with USB ports. Smart thermostats can allow residents to control a home’s temperature remotely.

Create a retreat

“Life is really complicated for a lot of people right now, and the home really needs to be a peaceful retreat,” Walton said.

Bathrooms are becoming more spa-like, she said. Showers are getting bigger and more luxurious. Homeowners are adding heated flooring, which can get expensive, but small heaters and heating mats also can warm a cold bathroom.

Designers advised replacing any furniture once considered “good enough” with better-quality chairs and couches for comfort and aesthetics.

People are filling their living spaces with plants as a form of stress relief and to freshen up their homes. To nourish those hoards of new houseplants and to improve their moods, homeowners are looking to add as much natural light as possible. “People are even sacrificing wall cabinets to add windows,” Walton said.

Cuker has been updating her sunroom during the pandemic. She reupholstered bench cushions, laid down a new rug, repainted furniture she got from family or that had been destined for the landfill, and installed art she bought from Etsy. She used pinks, teals, and yellows — bright colors to lift the mood of the room. She created a vacation-like space by basing her designs off of family trips to Cancun, “a place that made everyone happy” as a way to cheer up her family.

“I figured since we can’t vacation anywhere, let’s bring a little vacation to our house,” Cuker said.

Embrace what matters

To make spaces look warmer, homeowners can try covering their walls with the people, pets, and places they love. Grouping photos together as a gallery can create a focal point.

“It’s just a matter of taking a look at your space — most people are doing that now that they’re home all the time — and saying, ‘What’s important in my life now?’” Tart said. “What we have in our space reflects the type of psychology that’s happening within us.”

When Tart designs homes, she often suggests homeowners include sentimental touches, such as favorite paintings and decorative items inherited from relatives, as well as family photos. And she encourages clients to be optimistic: If there’s a place they want to visit, for example, she tells them to put up photos of it.

“It gives you some hope and a future incentive once things become back to normal,” she said.

Next Post

Hot Property: ‘Purge’ producer elects to sell LA penthouse

LOS ANGELES Film producer Jason Blum of “The Purge” and “Get Out” fame is looking to get out of his place in downtown L.A. The filmmaker has listed his designer-done condo at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at LA. Live for $6.995 million. The corner-unit condo encompasses 4,250 square feet at the […]