A mild makeover involving reupholstering or repainting may be the best way to modernize an outdated space.
A mild makeover involving reupholstering or repainting may be the best way to modernize an outdated space. (photo: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Before ripping everything out and starting over, try updating your space one medium-sized project at a time.

Your home is outdated, but you don't want to invest in a major renovation. Or maybe you're tired of your dull indoor scenery, and your boredom isn't something new pillows can fix.

These are just a couple of scenarios calling for a mild makeover — a home-improvement project that's somewhere in between a full makeover and a "quick fix."

Longtime San Antonio residential designer Michael Hyden of Hyden Design Group says many clients looking for a major overhaul should consider a mild makeover to test the waters before bringing in the construction crews. People often think the only option is to rip everything out and start over, he says, but they may actually be able to go slow and change their space one medium-sized project at a time — like dieting before going under the knife to get a tummy tuck.

From crown moldings to couch cushions to cabinets, mild makeover projects can be the key to any home's dull-to-daring evolution.

Ditchin' an Outdated Kitchen

Changing knobs or refinishing doors is effective and less expensive than replacing cabinetry. (photo: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The most frequently updated area in the house, the kitchen can benefit from a lot of medium-sized projects that are effective and less expensive than a major overhaul, says Pam Meyer, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers.

"You can just replace the appliances and fixtures, and that makes a big difference," said Meyer, who has been designing corporate and residential spaces for more than 20 years.

She says the cost of appliances has decreased and labor costs have increased, so buying new appliances as opposed to fixing broken ones is the way to go. Also, updating cabinetry doesn't require a call to your local cabinetmaker, she says.

"A lot of people don't realize you can also just refinish or paint your cabinets instead of totally replacing them," Meyer said. She's seen wood cabinet doors swapped out with glass for a more modern effect.

One of the most obvious but effective kitchen updates can come in the form of window treatments, says Meyer. Subbing out mini blinds and with Roman shades or wooden shutters is a nice update, she says, adding that push-button, mechanized shades can be the ultimate modern window treatment. Steering clear of draperies in the kitchen can also make cleaning much easier, she says.

Decking the Walls

Wallpaper can be a stylish, modern way to update a room. (photo: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Painting and finishing the walls can yield major results without a major overhaul.

Wallpaper or an accent color on one wall can add vibrancy and make a bold statement, says Meyer. She looks to decorative plastering and stenciling to keep up with trends.

"You can even incorporate murals, either right on the wall or on panels," she said, adding that painting on panels is better for those who may not plan to stay in their home for long.

In terms of trim, she says less is more. However, Ashley Thompson, a designer at Raleigh, North Carolina-based Design Lines, points out that trim styles vary based on people's preferences.

"So often they don't like a space, but they aren't sure what it is about it they don't like and it ends up being the crown molding," she said. "Usually, we like to transition from a single crown to a double crown. If you change that, you can update any space."

She also says wainscoting can add depth to a space, especially in the dining room or bathroom. In the kitchen, she says, the backsplash — the section of material added onto the wall behind a sink or a counter — has potential to speak loudly.

"You can choose a neutral ceramic tile, you can put granite or marble, or you can go really bold," she said. "There are endless ways to make a statement with a backsplash."

Thompson also says wallpaper is a great way to modernize a home, but it can be pricey.

"I hate to even throw it out there, but you'd be amazed at all the contemporary, bold wallpaper that's out there," she said, adding that large-scale florals or geometrics (such as the harlequin design) are particularly stylish choices.

"Wallpapers really offer that wow factor we like as designers," she said. "It adds up quick, but it can give you a lot of bang for your buck."

Maximizing Your Furniture

Reupholstering, adding bench cushions to or rearranging sofas can make a big impact on a room. (photo: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Rearranging the furniture is not a bad place to start when it comes to updating a living room. But if it's the furniture itself — not the layout — that needs an update, reupholstering can be effective and much less expensive than buying a new set.

Thompson says a great way to achieve a "transitional" look — which she describes as being versatile and fresh — is to get rid of the traditional three cushions on a couch and replace them with one long bench cushion.

"It's a cleaner look, it simplifies the sofa and it's way better to sit on," she said. "It takes that barrier down and essentially adds more seating."

Another option Thompson suggests is replacing the chairs around the table instead of replacing the entire dining set.

Komal Sheth, owner and founder of Austin-based Spaces Designed, says you can make a big difference in a dining room by complementing the shape of the dining table — the focus and main purpose of the room — with other elements. For example, if the table is rectangular, you can add curve to the space with an oval light over the table or flowing, curvy designs in the wallpaper.

"It softens the space and warms it up without being too stark with the angles," she said. "In feng shui, we try to limit corners and make everything flow from one room to the next."

  • Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
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