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Spruce Up Your Home Without Breaking the Bank

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Interior designer Dawn Hearn shares her tips.

By Lydia Gregovic, Photos courtesy of Dawn Hearn

As the saying goes, home is where the heart is, and interior designer Dawn Hearn has been adding a little more heart to Austin communities since 1993. With a portfolio encompassing every aspect of home remodeling and dozens of glowing testimonials, there’s no question Hearn has earned her place as one of Austin’s top designers. But to her, the real reward is not in public recognition or prestigious awards. Rather, she finds joy in the ability to create beautiful spaces from scratch, without breaking the bank to do so. While home renovation often brings to mind fears of drastic changes and even more drastic expenses, Hearn believes, in many cases, remodeling can be as simple as a new coat of paint. So, before you call in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, consider starting small by adding these key details to any room. 

  1. Paint. “I think for the least amount of money, you can get the largest return on paint. So, whether it’s painting the ceiling, the walls or even a beat-up coffee table that has some ugly stain color, those are all very powerful things to do in a room, all for a gallon of paint. So, it really goes a long way. It can definitely change the mood of a room. Depending on the shade you choose, you could create a feeling of coziness, add some of that light, bright and airy feel, or even make the space more dark and moody. It really is quite powerful, especially if you’re painting the whole room. And don’t limit yourself just to walls, either. I’ve had clients paint outdated gold picture frames and all sorts of things to better work in their room.”
  2. Accessories. “I consider accessories to be the finishing touches in a room, so, pillows, throws, art. Even the tabletop accessories you’re putting out on the coffee table, like lamps and such, just that last little layer of decorating [helps]. Those can be very reasonable and offer a completely new look without you touching the large or expensive pieces in a room. So, if you have a brown sofa and the room is all neutral, then just changing out your pillows and buying a more colorful throw would give you a whole new look. I have a lot of clients that will change out their accessories seasonally, choosing more light, bright and airy selections for spring and summer and then more cozy pieces with deeper tones for the fall and winter.”
  3. Art. “There are many affordable ways to add art to a room, and I encourage my clients to do so because it can really be a transformative element and an unique way to add interest in a space. If you think of a room as walls, floors and ceilings, you’ve got large planes of space to address, and arts really takes care of your walls. So, if we’re talking about budget, there are plenty of online sources, like art.com, where you can find the image you want and order it in a variety of sizes and mediums. Or if you’re looking for originals, there are sources online, like Esty, where you can buy directly from an artisan or an artist. Beyond that, there are also all sorts of creative things that you can do to create your own art, whether it’s taking photographs and having them transferred to canvas or framing memorabilia, such as concert tickets. For instance, I had a client who would keep her favorite menus from places she traveled and frame them. I’ve even seen people frame swatches of wallpaper or wrapping paper, or buy a gorgeous calendar, and that gives you 12 prints right there. So, there are a lot of smart little things you can do to create really unique art.”
  4. Rugs. “Similarly to art, rugs cover a lot of the empty space in your room and can be either very subtle or very powerful. Obviously, since they are so large, if you have a lot of color or a bright pattern, then that’s going to influence the whole mood of the room. Rugs come in all different price points and you can find great options both through online and local resources. My favorite local rug store is called Oriental Rug Gallery. The local store is a beautiful showroom, but they also have the website to supplement it, where you can find thousands of options. And, of course, there are places like Wayfair, which many people use to find things like rugs. The only thing that I warn people of is not to buy very large rugs that they haven’t seen because they’re cumbersome and returning them is not fun, to say the least.”
  5. Window coverings. “In this area, I generally see people—in particular, renters or new homeowners—buying basic white miniblinds. There just isn’t that extra layer of a drapery of some kind, or a decorative window treatment. So, if you’re looking to update your home and you don’t have the money to remodel or take on something big, [windows]are another layer that make a big difference in a room. I tend to recommend soft window coverings, such as Roman shades or curtains of some kind. A trick is to mount your coverings on the outside edge of the windows so that the fabric isn’t obstructing your light or your view. Similarly, [it’s also best to mount] them higher than the window to give the illusion of the window being bigger and the wall being taller.”
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