10 Inexpensive Updates That Made A Giant Difference

There are definitely some projects that we’ve taken on (and hired out) along with a few accessories that we’ve brought home that stand out in our mind as particularly worthwhile, especially because they were all around $100 (some much less, some a bit more) and they made a heckova difference in our casa’s function and form department. Without further ado, our top ten list:

1. Widening the two doorways between the living room, the kitchen and the den (we paid a mason around $100 to help us with the den wall since it’s load bearing and had an electrician help us widen the living room wall since there were some wires in the way- also to the tune of around $100). The difference is night and day. Going from two standard 33″ doorways to over 5′ wide thresholds between all three spaces opened up our entire floor plan and allows so much light to bounce around all three rooms. Totally worth $200 (heck, we would’ve paid $500!).

2. Adding plywood, blinds and oversized frames to our laundry nook. For under $100 we created a clean-lined plywood countertop for folding and sorting, added concealed storage with the use of two cheap Walmart blinds, and obscured ugly wires and pipes on the back wall by leaning two oversized picture frames in front of them (showcasing $1 Target wallpaper as art). It was all easy & cheap- and the result is surprisingly polished looking (you can find more details on the subject right here).

3. Getting an outlet added to our master bathroom. Yup, it came without a single outlet in there. I used to blow dry my hair in the sunroom (which was pretty darn cold in the winter). But for $65 we got an electrician to add a clean little white bathroom outlet that still thrills us to no end. It’s such an improvement in the function department! No more sending guests to the sunroom to blow-dry…

4. Curtains. End of story. Beyond painting a room, we think hanging floor length curtain panels high and wide above your windows is the quickest way to add height and airy softness to any room. Plus we only spent about $45 for the six breezy extra-long Vivan curtain panels from Ikea in our den and our living room. Can’t beat that deal with a stick.

5. Tossing a jute rug down in the kitchen. After the renovation dust cleared our white kitchen was shiny and lovely, but it was missing a bit of warmth and texture. Enter a cheap little jute rug from The Company Store to the tune of $34 on clearance. Now we’re cooking.

6. Popping a pendant light over the dining table for an instant “zone” that previously never existed. Again, to the tune of around $100 we had an electrician drop a fixture box above the dining table that we dragged into the corner of our living room right off of the kitchen and bam- instant dining area. It adds ambiance, even more light (which always makes a space feel open and airy) and eons of polish that couldn’t have been achieved by swagging a plug in light over the table.

7. Storage ottomans. We can’t get enough of them. We have two leather cube ottomans in the den, a longer bench ottoman in the mudroom area, another bench ottoman at the dining table, two more leather cube ottomans under the console table in the living room and even a jute ottoman in the third bedroom. Between all of that concealed storage there’s more than enough room to hide every single file, bill, receipt, board game, printing supply, and every other unsightly item in the entire house without the purchase of a big industrial filing cabinet. And they even double as extra seating in a pinch (read more about where we stash and store everything right here).

8. Trolling those thrift stores. From our living room’s $35 glass coffee table (that looks like a dead ringer for this $400 Pottery Barn version) to our $20 secondhand Ikea armchair in the den, we’ve saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars by giving thrift store finds a second life in our home. We even snagged the base for our sunroom’s pedestal table that we rebuilt (read more about that here) at a local thrift shop (check out two of our favorite local haunts here and here).

9. Adding built-in details on a dime. One of our favorite afternoon projects that seriously changed the entire feeling of our home was installing the three long Ikea lack shelves on the wall behind our dining table. They instantly added architecture and clean-lined style to a formerly blank wall (and at $29 each they’re even cheaper than DIYing them with thick lumber that you’d then have to finish to get the same look!). Plus we never have to hang anything on that wall again, leaning frames and displaying favorite items is now as easy as pie.

10. Whipping up cheap art. You’ll find at least a few framed pieces in each room of our house that are completely DIYed (and each one set us back less than $5 a pop). Sure, they’re not museum worthy, but they’re customized and meaningful so they still feel special. And did we mention they were cheap cheap cheap? From framed keys in a shadow box and a vintage map with pins that highlights our adventures to black and white photos we printed at CVS and framed in a grid above our sofa, we’re no strangers to stashing something behind glass and calling it art. And you know we love a customized monogram (or two) as demonstrated by the big P in our living room and the sweet little first initial monograms above our bed

So that’s our little roundup of the ten things that seemed to make a world of difference around Casa Petersik… all without breaking the bank. Here’s hoping they spark a few ideas for you guys! And while we’re on the subject of getting more bang for your buck, we’d love to know what projects or purchases have changed your house for the better without emptying your wallets. A simple coat of paint on the walls? A jaw-dropping accessory you snagged on the cheap? A DIY project that you whipped up with your own two hands? Do tell.


  1. julie says

    Hi John and Sherry and congratulations on your recent news! I’ve been wanting to share with you our fireplace makeover. I have the pix, but not posted on a blog so just let me know how to send them. Thanks!

    • says

      Hey Julie,

      Here’s a page with info about submitting Reader Redesigns among other email inquiries (which you can always access through the “click here to contact the youngsters” button on our sidebar). Hope it helps!


  2. Amanda says

    We knocked out a bank of hideously dated old cabinets that completely covered our breakfast bar and put in 3 pendant lights – not only did it make for a much better work surface, but it made the breakfast bar usable without whacking our heads, AND it made our kitchen size and layout truly the awesome selling point it was. You can see the mark on the wall on the left from where they were. They ran the WHOLE length of that counter:


    The lights were $20 a piece, and my two favorite handymen (Dad & husband) wired them all up. It was actually really easy since there was a light switch box on the left anyway. (I spackled and painted)

    The next project in there is bigger – new cabinets, floors, and counters. I can’t wait!

  3. says

    It is fun to see what makes the biggest difference to our homes. My husband and I are remodeling our third home, and I always laugh at what makes the biggest differences! I think it is an addiction, or we just REALLY love remodeling. One of my favorite things that we did in our first home was getting rid of a huge cast iron pipe, putting it in the wall and adding space back to our tiny bathroom, you can see the whole project here:


    Also, more recently, when we moved into this house we needed a sofa but had no money, so we made one. We used our trundle bed’s mattress and some random fabric, 2×4’s and some plywood we had from the move.


    Love your blog!

  4. Carla says

    Thank you so much for this. We’re on such a tight budget since moving into our first home this past spring. I’ve been dying to make it “ours” but that mortgage payment is really getting in the way of decorating! Little things like this can make a huge difference. =)

    • says

      Hey Christine,

      Most of our ottomans are from Target with the exception of one from Bed Bath & Beyond (the long bench one at the dining room table is from there, because we needed something taller for the table and the Target ones weren’t the right height). Oh and the woven ottoman in the third bedroom is actually from Michael’s of all places.

      The bamboo blinds are from Walmart actually (we got them in store so there was no shipping and they came in a number of sizes). Hope it helps!


  5. christine says

    also your wood blinds in the living room, are they from Ikea? Do you think the blinds under the curtains make the room or window feel bigger? Thats how i feel. I am calling these wood blinds but are they? or are they bamboo?

  6. christine says

    Thanks Sherry! I also wanted to ask you …. what finish are your wood floors? Are all the floors the same finish? I love the color. We are doing our kitchen now and are thinking of doing white kitchen with dark wood floors. Any thoughts?

    • says

      Hey Christine,

      They’re all a deep mocha color throughout the house (so of course we love them and recommend it all the time- especially with a white kitchen like ours). We actually had the original yellowed floors refinished in the deep mocha color to match the new hardwoods we put down in the den, kitchen, laundry nook and half-bathroom so the entire house would have a nice seamless look and an open and easy flow. Here’s an old post all about that: http://www.younghouselove.com/2009/01/floor-refinishing-101/

      Unfortunately our floor guy just mixed a few colors (walnut and something else a bit more golden) to settle on the color to match our new hardwoods so we don’t know the exact color to pass along. But anything deep mocha or walnut is amazingly rich and lovely. Hope it helps!


  7. says

    I love these posts. You’ve done a wonderful job! They give me inspiration!

    We are in desperate need of lighting in our family room. We really want to get pot lights installed. We don’t have any overhead lighting in the room at all so there is no electrical source in the ceiling to attach the pot lights too. Electricians seem to be puzzled as to how to hook up the pot lights without causing major damage to our ceiling.

    Was it a messy task to get the light in your dining room done? Did you already have overhead lighting in that room to attach the light too?


    • says

      Hey KOS and NancyV908,

      Perhaps it’s the fact that we’re in a ranch, so electricians can easily extend wires in the attic and drop them into any room quickly from above (whereas if there were a second floor to deal with it would be significantly more complicated). There was previously no overhead light anywhere in the living room (it’s the only room in our house that has a few lamps on a wall switch and had nothing overhead until we had the pendant light added above the table). But it definitely wasn’t messy or complicated- took him about 30 minutes or so from start to finish and there was minimal dust and nothing to clean up after he left. Oh and here’s a post on negotiating, just so you can hopefully snag the best deal when it comes to your house. Hope it helps!


  8. NancyV908 says

    Great post–so inspiring. But I wish you could send your electrician up here to my part of NJ. The kind of work you describe would cost *significantly* more here–if you can even get an electrician to return your call.

  9. Bridget B. says

    Congratulations again on your great news! Quick question: are your storage ottomans from target genuine or faux leather? I need a couple, but can’t seem to find genuine leather storage ottomans for under $100.

  10. says

    I love all the changes you’ve made to improve your home! My husband and I were just talking about buying storage ottomans for extra seating in our living room – like you both we love that they can look good and be useful. I’ll have to show him this post tonight…

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