We’ve all been there – Pinterest can’t give us new content fast enough because we’ve been hitting that “refresh” for weeks. We’ve been accepting dinner parties at friends’ houses mostly because we like them, but a tiny bit because we’ve been eyeballing that particular type of flooring. The #homegoals are real, and so’s the angst – it’s years past time for a remodel, but life just keeps happening. There’s no room in the calendar, the budget, or your brain for a giant remodel, but something’s gotta give.
I get it, and there is a solution! Sometimes a big project just isn’t in the cards yet, but there are some real short-term pain points that you can’t live with anymore. In the meantime, while you’re planning or saving for those big goals, there are some really good, cost-effective ways to ease the pressure and make your house feel a little more like home.
Idea #1.Let the Light In!
Up here in the Pacific Northwest, sunshine comes at a premium, and many older homes either don’t have enough windows or are so closed-off and choppy that the light doesn’t get very far. If your home is already small or not well laid out (hello 1950), dark rooms can make your home feel even more cramped and depressing. Adding windows and allowing the light to spread through the house, even if it’s the overcast ambient light we get for most of the winter, can make a huge difference in you family’s day to day mood.
How to do it:
- Choose which rooms have the most to gain – focus on areas where you spend the most time like the living room and play room. Most kitchens need more light, but would you have to sacrifice a lot of upper cabinet storage to add a window? The cost also increases if you add in extra labor like removing cabinets. Carefully weigh the price versus impact and find the best places to boost your mood.
- It’s usually easier (and cheaper!) to expand an existing opening rather than add a brand new one. Can you make an existing window bigger, or do you have to start from scratch? Balance the cost savings against the price of the windows (can you buy 2 more small windows for less than one giant window?), and against the aesthetics of the room: furniture placement, artwork, and personal style. If the wall space is all functional and necessary, consider skylights, higher transom windows that won’t interfere with couches or entertainment centers, or solar tubes (especially great for interior bathrooms and pantries!). Larger sliding glass or french doors to the exterior, sidelights, and front doors with glass can all make a difference too.
- Don’t be afraid of Craigslist, OfferUp, and similar sites. Often contractors or homeowners will purchase windows for a remodel and end up not needing them, they’ll sit in the garage for years, and then will get posted at super-low prices just to get them gone. Scour the internet and look for deals; you may need to store them a while as you hunt for a contractor, and you may not find the exact size or style you were imagining, but the price might be worth it!
The biggest thing to remember is to keep any future work in mind. If you are eventually going to add on or remodel your interior, will the new window be in the way? Will you end up having to move it, or can the opening be used again (i.e. as a large doorway into the new space)? Try to avoid sabotaging your future options with a big-picture, “master planning” mindset now.
Idea #2. Open, Sesame
Often the best way to make your home feel bigger and more comfortable is to open it all up. Even if you don’t remove entire walls, taking down the top half, adding window openings, or enlarging doorway openings can make the spaces flow better, add sight lines, and let more light through the house. It depends on whether the wall is load bearing or not, how the ceiling or second floor is framed, and a few other factors; but if your space is a good candidate, you may be surprised to learn how inexpensive and effective opening up a wall or two might be.
How to do it:
- Figure out whether the wall is bearing or not. You can have a builder, designer, or engineer out to the house to let you know for sure, or there are a few rules of thumb to help. Which direction is your roof framing running, and are there any knee walls directly above the wall in question? In the crawl space under the floor, is there a line of posts or concrete directly underneath and in line with the wall? Does the wall line up with several other walls that run down the middle of the house? All of these things point to a bearing wall. If you can answer “No” to all of these questions, odds are decent that it’s non-bearing and removing it (or at least part of it) shouldn’t be an issue. If the wall is load-bearing, consider adding an opening instead of removing it entirely, or decide whether columns are an option.
- Determine the opportunity cost. What are you losing by removing the wall? Consider things like furniture placement, storage (uppers and lowers in the kitchen, cool built-ins in the living or dining rooms, coat closets), and the ability to define your spaces. You don’t want to create a bowling alley instead of a great room.
- Find ways to keep the cost low. Opening up a wall means patching floors, drywall and paint, moving electrical, and if it is load-bearing, adding supports and possibly foundations below. Is there anything you can do yourself, like paint or trim? Can you avoid losing or moving electrical outlets by just taking out the top half of the wall? If it’s a wall behind cabinetry you can avoid refinishing the exposed backs if you leave the lower half.
Idea #3. Play Detective
Often older, smaller houses are pretty functional for their size – every inch is used effectively to make up for lack of space. This isn’t always the case though, especially in homes built after the 1950’s. Take a close look at your home and see if there is any wasted or unused space, odd nooks and crannies, weird roof lines that create dead space against the wall, and rooms that are larger than necessary and leave unused open space in the middle. With a little investigation and creativity, these unused spaces can be put to their best use and meet some of your needs without the expense of a major remodel.
How to do it:
- Hall bathrooms and formal dining and sitting rooms are the best places to start. If you only use your formal dining room every other Thanksgiving, it might serve a better purpose as an expanded living room and pantry. Extra-large hall bathrooms can sometimes be split into a full bath and guest powder room. Sitting rooms sometimes work better as a home office or kids TV room with functional built-ins. Low-ceiling areas under roof slopes and short knee-walls are great spots for reading nooks, shelves, and even closet organizers. Once you know what problem you’re hoping to solve, you can look closer at how you use your current spaces and see if there are any possibilities.
- After you’ve located some opportunities to repurpose your current spaces, figure out what the next steps are. If you’re just adding built-ins or framing up a new wall to split an oversized dining room, you may be able to do it yourself. If you’re removing any walls or changing plumbing or electrical around, you’ll need permits. If you’re considering a big change to the floor plan or flow, you may want a designer to help you imagine the possibilities and draw up plans; even if you don’t need permits, the cost is often worth it to make sure the solution really works and that your builder sees the same vision you do.
- Be careful which spaces you’re reclaiming; if you’re creating living space out of an unfinished basement, attic, or garage, the process is more in-depth and will require building permits. You’ll want to do extra homework and make sure you’re complying with all the local building codes and zoning regulations – code enforcement can shut you down in a heartbeat and make you tear out all the new work if it isn’t done correctly and handled through the correct channels.
Idea #4. Take it outside
We’re blessed in this part of the country with really mild winters and a full set of seasons. With the right space we can be outside comfortably all year; by adding a back deck or patio with a cover, you can move meals and downtime outside, effectively doubling your living space and easing the pressure on the rest of your home to meet your family’s needs.
How to do it:
- In order to make sure you’ll actually use this new space, you’ll want to think it through as carefully as you would any interior remodel or addition. How will it flow with and tie into the rest of the house? What purpose will it serve, and what elements does it need to feel comfortable and functional? Do you need power for lights and heaters? Natural gas for a fire pit or grill, or plumbing for an outdoor kitchen? You’ll also want to be very mindful of any future work you’re planning to do on the house, so your new patio doesn’t interfere with or limit your options for expansion and remodeling down the road.
- Unless you’re buying a prefabricated canopy, patio covers require building permits and there are limits to size, span, and configuration. At the very least you’ll want to do your homework, and if you’re planning something bigger that will connect structurally to your existing home, you might consider talking to a builder about the options or hiring a designer to make sure it works and actually ends up looking like that Pinterest board you’ve been building.
- Budget is a big deal on outdoor spaces – it can be as inexpensive or as costly as you let it be. At the lower end of the spectrum, a concrete or paver patio with a nice umbrella patio set, or sprucing up an existing wood deck with new stain and landscaping, can create a summer space that gets your family outdoors. For a true outdoor living space you can use all year, you’ll probably want to spend more money on a permanent cover and built-in heat and power. You can manage the budget by starting small, doing what you can yourself or with a team of friends, and planning for future phases down the road.
Idea #5. All you need is love
Sometimes all that’s needed to make you fall back in love with your home is a face lift. New paint and trim, new flooring, lighter colored furniture, and new or additional overhead lighting can make a space feel brand new and beautiful. New kitchen cabinets that recapture dead corner spaces and function better for your workflow can ease the dinnertime pain. If your hall bath is big enough, upgrading to a double vanity or separating the toilet and tub area so more than one family member can use it at the same time can make the evening routine easier. Take stock of the true pain points in your everyday life, and see if there are some simple solutions to make life better.
How to Do It:
- Surfaces are the easiest place to start, and often make the biggest difference in how the home looks and feels. Start with the biggest surface areas and work down to the details as time and budget allows. A fresh paint scheme to lighten up the walls will have a huge impact; new floors or area rugs to replace the stained carpet or outdated laminate will tie the rest of the space together; getting rid of the furniture you bought just out of college, and then styling with fresh decor, fixtures, and curtains, will polish off the room and make it feel complete.
- Remodeling the rooms you use most will have the most noticeable effect in your everyday life. Focus your energy and budget on the areas where you spend the most time and where your routine suffers under the most pressure. Living rooms are often the easiest, since we spend the most time here with our families and guests and there are fewer high-budget changes needed. With children still in the house, shared bathrooms are often a big source of stress during morning and nighttime routines, so when it’s possible making these more functional with second sinks, extra storage, and more privacy is worth the price. Kitchens top the scale in cost of remodeling, but it’s often the heart of the home and the place where everyone gathers. A more efficient workflow, more storage space, lighter and brighter colors, and new appliances can make the hours spent here a lot more pleasant.
- Sometimes small touches in each room will make the whole house feel a lot closer to comfortable. It’s extremely common for older homes to have no or insufficient overhead lighting in living spaces and hallways, so adding some recessed lighting or nice light fixtures can brighten up dark areas. Dimmer switches and task lighting give you more control over atmosphere and comfort. Installing a gas fireplace with a nice mantle can add a focal point to a bare and empty room. A sound system or smart home system can make at-home movie nights and house parties a richer experience. Nice shelves, antique-looking furniture pieces, armoires for extra storage, and even fresh flowers and pretty decor can all bring a little love back to your home.
There you have it!
Extra light, opening up walls, reclaiming wasted space, sprucing up finishes and adding outdoor living space are all wonderfully cost-effective ways to elevate your space and make your home life a little more bearable.
Is there anything I missed? What’s your favorite thing you’ve done to make daily life more comfortable at home? Find me on social or slide in my inbox, I’d love to hear about it!