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. says

    Great post — I’m especially impressed with the doorway project for only $200! It’s amazing how something like that can dramatically change the whole feel of a house.

    Like you, we also pick up some great stuff at thrift stores. My favorite acquisition? A vintage console (in perfect condition!) for only $75 — and that actually included a bedroom set, but we had no need for it — so we donated it right back to the Salvo!

    I blogged about it a few weeks ago here: http://neverhomemaker.blogspot.com/2009/11/furniture-hunting-success-stories.html


  2. says

    Totally random question. I was browsing your home tour and came across a picture where you hung your Christmas stockings. I have the same stockings and I am looking for more. Just curious I you were getting new stockings since you have a little on on the way. Or if you would ever consider selling them down the road?

    • says

      Hey Natalie,

      We love those stockings! We’ll probably just mix and match some white ones or other neutral ones for a layered look down the line (so we won’t be selling them or getting rid of them any time soon). Hopefully that idea helps you with your stocking shortage! We love a textured layered look and it’ll look so festive and sweet on any mantel.


  3. Kelley says

    Hi Sherry!

    Would you mind passing along the information for your electrician? I am a fellow Richmonder that needs an outlet relocated in our master bath. We just moved into a house in the near west end and our only bathroom outlet is located IN an outdated light fixture. It sounds like you got a really great rate!

    Thanks for any help you can provide!

    • says

      Hey Kelley,

      After getting a few estimates we decided to go with Capital Electrical Contractors (an electrician named Adam helped us). Here’s the number: 804.763.6550. Good luck!


  4. Rebecca Foxworth says

    Hang on to those fabulous storage ottomans! I have four from Target in my oversized living room (they fit together in a large rectangle and double as a coffee table with the addition of a cheap Ikea tray or two). They will come in so handy when Baby Petersik arrives! For awhile, we stashed a few crib blankets, some wipes, diapers, and a few baby toys in there so we weren’t always running to the nursery to help a bored, cold, or wet baby feel better. A few years later, they housed Megablocks, Little People, and a large blanket (trust me, always build the Megablocks and Little People on a blanket with which you two can just pick up together and POUR all the toys back into the ottoman). Currently our girls find their Barbies and My Little Ponies in there. But after realizing that board games are the current fave toy of our kiddos, we’re about to relocate Barbie and the Ponies in favor or Monopoly Jr., Twister, and puzzles. Those ottomans are like God’s little gift to parents…use them wisely! (Oh, and get a few canvas covered ones from Target for your little one’s nursery. Nothing better than being able to scoop stuff quickly out of sight!)

    • says

      Thanks so much for the ottoman tip Rebecca! We definitely hoped they’d come in handy for baby stuff when our house explodes with it so it’s great to hear that they’ll be just the thing!


  5. Dreda Young says

    Great post and a great reminder that little things can revitalize your outlook on your home.
    On the topic of M.M.M.M. (Major makeover, minor moolah), I started painting a wall in my kitchen this weekend. My kitchen could use a makeover, but until that time arrives, hopefully some fresh color will keep me encouraged and draw my eye towards the new instead of the old.

  6. Rebecca Foxworth says

    Oh, and a note on those “faux” leather ottomans from Target…they’ve lasted just over five years (so far) and through two kids jumping and spilling (and a labrador who climbs up on them to peek out the windows), with only one small, minor tear in those five years! Wipeable and sturdy…love to hear you recommending them!

  7. says

    I love the idea of “zones”- one big room doesn’t just have to be one big room- it can be a series of pleasant, functional little rooms with just a few shelves and lighting. Love all your ideas.

  8. says

    Refinishing our wood floors from pickled pink to bleached oak and tiling our kitchen are the biggest—and best—changes we’ve made to our home, but hardly budget savvy. ( http://theimpatientgardener.blogspot.com/2009/11/past-project-refinishing-floors.html )

    However, these days I’m tackling some smaller projects that are adding way more bang for the buck than I expected, including this Freecycle buffet-to-bookcase DIY project:

  9. Lauren B says

    Your #10 reminded me of something…it’s probably not the most original idea, but I recently thought it would be fun to rip out some of the pages from artsy calendars and frame them for cheap wall art. Seems like a good way to repurpose them after the year ends! I have one with different antique map prints that I’m planning on using for some cheapo decor immediately after December 31st!

  10. Christen says

    Great post! I live in Richmond too, and my husband and I also wanted to open up a wall. Could you let me know the name of the mason you used? Thanks SO much!

  11. says

    This is just a tip I started learning. At my local Home Depot, on their paint counter, they will have “oops” cans of paint marked down to $5! They are usually full gallons. Most of the time, they are pretty neutral colors and if you don’t mind the color on the can, it saves you a ton! So far, it has saved me about $60 finding these cans!

  12. Jennifer S. says

    This summer we painted the cement slab in our mudroom a nice shade of blue. It has really made this unfinished room nice.

  13. Sugar Cookie says

    The floating shelves in your dining area are probably my single most favorite thing about your place! Glad to see that they made the list – and that they are one of your favorite things as well!

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