12 Small Changes That Make a Big Impact at Home

by Grace Bonney

It’s hard to resist the allure of a full blown makeover. New paint, new furniture, new lighting — the full shebang. But for a lot of us, that top-to-bottom upgrade isn’t an option. Total makeovers require a lot of time, money and professional skills (I’m still nervous to do my own electrical work), and not everyone has all three handy.

So what do we do if we want to upgrade our homes and make a change without giving up weeks of time and cutting too deeply into our bank accounts? We make small changes — small changes that make a big impact. From swapping out light switch covers to recovering your chairs, this list of 12 quick and inexpensive changes are a failsafe way to dress up your rooms for 2016 without blowing your budget. Bonus? Most of these can be done DIY-style, so I’ve included tutorials for each if you want to get started today. *All of these ideas can easily be done in a day, too! xo, grace

1. Change Your Switch Plates: Small changes make a big difference in a room, especially when they're a part of something you use on a daily basis. Switch plates are usually white or a pale neutral, but they're a great place to take a risk with a bit of color, pattern or a shiny metal. Here's how to wallpaper them if you want to try a DIY version!
2. Add a Door Knocker: The front door of your home is the first thing you (and your guests) see when coming home, and it's your first chance to make a big impact. While re-painting your door in a bold color is a great option, it's easier and faster to add new hardware, like a decorative door knocker. Whether you choose a whimsical animal shape or an elegant hand, there are a wide range of new and antique options to spruce up any doorway. Photo by kimbeauxxx from our hardware challenge.
3. Change Your Doorknob: We all grab for doorknobs and door handles dozens of times a day. Whether it's the front door, bedroom, kitchen or bathroom, adding something unexpected and special is a great way to make an everyday function a lot more fun. Of course, function is important, so be sure to choose something that's as easy to hold/use as it is lovely to see. (I love using nautical pulls for household cabinets.) Images above: Top Left, Top Right, Bottom Right, Bottom Left
4. Update Your House Numbers: Most of us are used to living in a space where our home numbers are probably pre-existing, whether they're on the front of our apartment door or a standalone home. But changing out your home or apartment numbers is a quick way to set the tone for your home's style. Modern options (like this home in the photo) or DIY options (like this) are always great, but it's also a nice place to get creative and work in things like plants or antique hardware.
5. Change Your Lighting: Swapping out your lighting (whether it's an overhead pendant or painting a table lamp) makes a huge change in any room, both in terms of style and overall lighting. Choosing soft white bulbs and adding a dimmer can make a big difference, too. This is one of my favorite DIY shade makeovers if you want to try something quick and glue-gun based.
6. Line your drawers and bookcases with wallpaper: Wallpaper isn't just for walls - and it is much less of a risk when you only use it on a small piece of furniture instead of a full room. Lining the back of your bookshelves, your dresser drawers or the inside of a small cabinet is a great way to give your space a totally new look. If you don't want to use wallpaper glue, you can try this DIY version.
7. Add Window Treatments: Even the simplest DIY window treatments can have a grand impact on a space. As much as I adore a simple uncovered window, I love the way adding simple curtain panels or a Roman shade can completely dress-up a room and add warmth. These are some of my favorite DIY projects for inexpensive and quick window coverings. *The same goes for showers! A fresh curtain can spruce up your bathroom, too.
8. Staple Gun Re-Upholstery: Upholstery is a detailed process, and redoing a full sofa or armchair can take weeks. But if you need a quick makeover and have a little bit of time and a little bit of fabric, a simple dining/desk chair makeover is my favorite option. You can easily salvage the full cushion that's already there and just remove the fabric and add your own "new" fabric (which could easily be a vintage fabric or an old shirt material). Here's a how to do it yourself...
9. Add Some Metallic Detailing: It's hard to beat the shimmer of a little bit of gold or silver at home. Whether you add gold leafing to an old lampshade or to your living room chair, that little pop can refresh a piece in a second and make your space feel luxe. Here are a few DIY options to try...
10. Add An Accent Stencil: Simple stencils (especially the freehand type) are a great way to cheer up a small accent wall (think: closets, small powder rooms, entryway wall) and give your space an update. Don't get carried away with anything too complicated, just grab a simple geometric shape and you've got your own DIY wallpaper in a pinch. (Photo from Tara and Percy's house)
11. Change Your Faucets: Whether you visit your local salvage yard, resale website or a big box store, it's easier than ever to find beautiful faucets you can use to upgrade your bath and kitchen sinks. I love to rummage around at salvage yards for older pieces with character (be sure they fit your sink before buying!), but stores like Lowes and Home Depot carry cool copper, brass and nickel-colored pieces now, too. (This sink is from Farah's home tour)
12. Add Nailhead Trim: Small detailing like ribbon and nailhead trim can totally transform a piece of furniture (like a chair or ottoman), or even a small entryway or door. Check Etsy and eBay for large lots of nailhead trim you can use for small projects like this. (Door from this DIY)

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  • Great post! I love that many of these are renter-friendly upgrades that someone like me, who isn’t necessarily a DIY pro, can easily do in an afternoon!

    • Adele

      You can do a lot of these as a renter:

      -Switch plate covers can be swapped out when you move out, so you can add your new one and then take it with you when you move.
      -The same goes for lighting. I always saved the original fixtures in my closet and replaced them when we moved out of each apt.
      -Ditto for doorknobs (just change them back when you move- you can bring your new knob with you)
      -You can use 3M adhesive strips for hanging things or attaching wallpaper so you don’t damage the walls when you remove it.
      -Upholstery and metallic detailing can go with you anywhere (yay!)


      • Yeah, no. If my landlord ever saw that I switched out doorknobs or whatever even on a temp basis, I would be tossed. (If there is an emergency, he can go into any apartment without warning, so I won’t take that chance.)

  • Never never do your own electrical work, I shudder to think that anyone would consider it.

    • Janet

      I wouldn’t do major work, but I know a lot of people who have taken classes and can easily change out their own light fixtures. I’m just too nervous to try.


  • These are really great ideas. I think what I love most about this though is that you’ve taken some of the great things about what your blog shows every day and “dumbed it down” to the level of someone like me. Thank you!