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Wednesday, December 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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Cheap feats
11 uncomplicated ideas to spruce up your domain

Credit:Paul Stroede

The enormity of just how much needs to be done to spruce up your digs can freeze you in your tracks. Paralysis sets in, then depression. Tweaking the interior suddenly seems futile, hopeless. It's an impossible mission you do not want to accept.

Where do you begin? Why bother? Well, a few simple and not too expensive changes can transform your home. Start with these suggestions and you'll be amazed at how the smallest investments pay dividends.

Toilet seat(s)
It's pretty hard to argue that a new toilet seat is pure poetry, but it really can bring new life to an old commode and jazz up the whole bathroom. The luster of the finish and grime-free hinges produce an immediate visual impact. You'll be shocked just how much better your bathroom looks by replacing the faded, impossible-to-clean old one.
Choices are many and run between $10 and $40. Go for a cushy, padded seat, or perhaps a sleek varnished natural wood construction; pick a top-shelf name like Kohler or one of humbler lineage. Most manufacturers are now making seats that can be easily installed without tools, and even more easily removed in a few seconds for complete and thorough cleaning. I can't imagine actually doing that on a regular basis, but it's nice to have the option if unexpected circumstances merit extreme measures.

Towel rods
Replacing the lowly towel rod with something stylistically imaginative is another piece of the rehab puzzle. In a smaller bathroom, a brass hand towel ring near the sink and a colorful new towel add the je ne sais quoi to complement the new toilet seat. Depending on materials, you're looking at $20 to $100.

Shower curtain & bath mat
While you're outfitting the bathroom, don't neglect a new shower curtain and bath mat. I'm partial to those clear plastic bubble mats, but just about anything goes with the shower curtain and curtain rings. Do you want the light to bleed through a translucent curtain, or a darker, more opaque material for privacy? As for design, maybe the sea horses and shells of your youth to go retro-nostalgic? Or perhaps a schematic of the London metro system? All manner of curtains await you.

You knew this was coming. There is no evading the most obvious suggestion for low-budget transformation: painting. Even if you barely nudge the needle on the handiness meter, you can probably do an acceptable job of painting a room. At worst, you will do an unacceptable job that in the future may need to be redone by a pro. In the meantime, for very little money you can completely change the look and feel of a room. You can buy a paint tray kit that includes three rollers, a paintbrush and more for $10. A gallon of paint will cover the walls of a 10-by-12-foot room for an average cost of $25. Add a couple of bucks for masking tape and you're a semi-pro.
You will have to select a sheen. Ceiling flat, flat enamel/matte, eggshell enamel, satin enamel, semi-gloss enamel -- you get the picture. Once you jump that hurdle, the most vexing issue is the nearly infinite number of colors. Of course, if you are torn between Imperial Jewel and Minuet Rose, you can just design your own blend. Glidden even has "Empty Nest Colors" such as Corn Silk, Misty Summer Day and Frosted Pine to soften the blow of being left behind by the young ones.

The sky is the limit for fine imported Persian rugs, but that's not what we're talking about here. I was at a grocery store recently and saw a bin of brightly colored 2-by-3-foot woven cotton rugs for $3. Voilá! Brand new, vibrant colors, perfect for an entryway or to park shoes. For $10 or $20 more you can find excellent bargains on larger area rugs of all shades, hues, construction and geometric design.
If your carpet is worn but a replacement is not in the budget, throw down a few choice new area rugs over the worst spots. A little creative color matching and subtle placement may even bring out contrasting color and give the old carpet new visual life.

Plants & flowers
Plants don't just bring a room to life, they are life in a room. The most sterile environments soften and open up with the introduction of these living organisms.
Add some color with flowering potted plants. And there is always the option of cut flowers and a vase, bringing earthy aromatics. Even strategically placed silk flowers or brightly lit foliage are a nod toward nature.

Lamps & lampshades
We can thank the global economy for at least one thing: A brand-new six-foot black torchiere lamp costs $9. Buy two for opposing corners of a room and you've gone some distance toward redefinition of a living space, adding an upward throw of cool white light and the sleek, brushed black metal artifacts themselves.
For a few dollars more, there are table and desk lamps, or just new bases or lampshades. Mix and match, move new lighting creations into old spots; experiment with an almost infinite variety of colors, patterns and design. Just a couple of these additions will revivify a room.

Face plates & duct covers
The humble brown or beige electrical outlet faceplate gets little respect. In an older room it may be chipped, scarred and fading to a pukey yellow. But replacing the faceplates (most cost under a dollar) has exponential impact, at least in this regard: It puts your home on even terms with new construction anywhere.
For the adventurous there are a multitude of options beyond ivory, beige and brown. Faux slate, cast stone, antique copper, filigreed cast iron -- they all beckon to the weekend remodeler. If you're feeling particularly flush, consider replacing the heating duct covers and cold air return grilles, which become inhabited by dust balls, cobwebs and a lifetime of grime. You'll have the start of a brand-new room.

Art, photos, frames & wall decorations
Now that you've taken everything off the wall, filled in the scrapes and nail holes and painted a new color, you're starting with a blank canvas. What better time to rearrange your paintings, photos or posters, or even to begin anew. Consider new frames for that matching pair of woodcuts or the photo-collage your daughter made in eighth grade. From professional framing stores to discount grocery stores, the world of frames is your oyster.
And affordable wall art is in abundance everywhere, from Target to Goodwill. There are also shops like Absolutely Art on Atwood, Hatch Art House on Williamson Street, Anthology on State Street and Zip-Dang on Monroe that offer low-cost local art. Or who knows? A masterpiece may be lurking under your bed. That messy watercolor your son painted in first grade, given the prominence and respectability of a new frame, could emerge as the work of the primitive genius you always thought he was.

Cabinet knobs & handles
If you want to spiff up the kitchen but can't afford a cabinet or counter makeover, consider swapping out the old dinged hardware for new, modern versions. Home Depot alone boasts more than 2,000 choices of knobs and handles. If you have a lot to replace, well, the costs can still add up pretty fast when a single antique-bronze pull knob or sleek brushed aluminum handle starts at a couple bucks and climbs quickly from there.
But all that shining new hardware will definitely make a statement. Your dinner guests may be so dazzled that they'll think you actually redid the kitchen. And who's the wiser?

Doormats stop looking fresh and new. The well-worn mat, devoid of design, whispers to the guest that more wear and tear awaits inside. You can't redo first impressions, but you can replace a doormat with more options than ever: Berber, tire-rubber, cocoa mat or waterhog rubber, to name a few. For a few dollars more you can get it monogrammed. And what homeowners don't want to be king or queen of their domain?

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