31 Home Upgrades for Under 100

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Photo Credit:New York Magazine

People with excellent taste on the tips and tricks they use to make a drab apartment look like a charming prewar or a perfectly sparse loft.

Photo: Joe Lingeman Most interior designers have a few inexpensive room-transforming tips up their sleeves, unsexy Home Depot finds that you won’t see credited in World of Interiors. One particularly tried-and-true strategy is to replace depressing light fixtures with the classic hardware-store pairing of a white porcelain socket and a globe bulb ($9 for both), seen above. In this brass-obsessed design moment, the utilitarian favorite “leaves things looking nicely unfinished,” says David Netto, a Los Angeles–based interior designer who learned about it from architect Annabelle Selldorf. “They’re sexy in their simplicity.” Other small but equally impressive fixes include adding a stately, plaster-esque ceiling medallion ($30) or swapping in a more traditional-feeling black toilet seat ($50), which can, surprisingly, make a world of difference. Ahead, a list of more high-impact, modestly priced upgrades gathered from decorators and aesthetes.
Sub in a non-hideous faucet Jacuzzi Duncan faucet $89 It’s not an expensive, or difficult, thing to do these days — just make sure it matches all the rest of your metal fixtures, from your towel bar to your sink faucet handles to your toilet paper holder. Whether it’s matte black, chrome, polished nickel, satin nickel — make them consistent. It bumps up the whole aesthetic of the space. —Nye Basham, designer
$89 at Lowe’s Buy Hardware-store pegboards make cheap key holders 43-piece pegboard $37 Photo: Optimarc/Shutterstock Hang a pegboard for organization. It’s easy, and they’re cool-looking. —Emily Wissemann, architecture student
$37 at Uline Buy Replace your Home Depot boob lamp with a mint-green socket and oversize bulb Commune Socket and Chrome Bulb $12 A classic white porcelain socket always looks beautiful. And these are like a fiesta version of those. Screw in a chrome-tipped bulb and you’re done. —David Netto, designer
$12 at Schoolhouse (bulb) Buy $45 at Commune (socket) Buy Hide bad floors (or carpet) with a huge sisal rug Safavieh Area Rug $79 now 14% off $68 Use a sisal rug even — or maybe especially — if you have wall-to-wall carpets. Throw them right on top to create room separation, and to add some beauty. They also look great layered under Moroccan rugs. —Leanne Ford, designer
$68 at Amazon Buy $68 at Amazon Buy Stick a Noguchi-style lantern over dumpy fixtures 36-inch Paper Lantern $30 Use with a porcelain socket or white-cord kit to replace any dumpy light fixture — the bigger the better, in my opinion. They work especially great over the dining table or in the bedroom. —L.F.
$30 at Paper Lantern Store Buy Turn carpet foam into Sottsass-esque cushions Foam Carpet Padding, 1 Roll $100 $100 Photo: Clemens Kois, Courtesy of Jonah Takagi I came across this foam in the hardware store. It kind of resembles a granite or terrazzo look. Top a layer of it on a plywood bench, and you have a cool cushion. —Alex Proba, founder of Studio Proba
$100 at Home Depot Buy Do cabinets over in matte-white paint … Rust-Oleum Cabinet-Coating Kit $80 Photo: Simone Kitchens You may have the dreaded orangey-grained ’90s oak kitchen cabinets. If your landlord is cool with it, paint them with a cabinet kit. It comes with instructions, which are simple to follow. The main thing to know is that it takes a few days for each step — the de-glosser, the primer, the paint, and the clear topper — to dry, but it’s quite transformative. And quite tackle-able for even the non-handy among us. —Daniel King, co-owner of Home Union
$80 at Home Depot Buy … And install a pot rack with three screws Cuisinart Half-Circle Pot Rack $60 $120 now 50% off $60 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR Life is too short to spend time digging through cabinets and deep stacks looking for the pan you need. So get yourself a pot rack. I get tons of compliments on this one, from Cuisinart. It’s easy to install (just three screws — make sure you find the studs) and doesn’t take up a ton of wall space. —Taryn Williford, Apartment Therapy editor
$60 at Amazon Buy $60 at Amazon Buy Change unsightly cords to fabric ones Cloth-Covered Wire $2 Even expensive lamp cords tend to be quite ugly. An inexpensive solution is to swap in fabric cords. I like them in a classic brown or black, but a color can give a room a pop of fun. —N.B.
$2 at Color Cord Company Buy Simulate original plaster molding Ekena Millwork Medallion $33 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR Switching out existing overhead light fixtures is always a good idea, but I like to take it a step further by adding ceiling medallions. They’re my secret (and incredibly cost-effective) weapon; they dress up a ceiling, and draw the eye up. —Molly Torres, Homepolish designer
$33 at Amazon Buy $33 at Amazon Buy Switch out floor grilles for a cohesive effect Cast-Iron Floor Register $38 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR Cleaning up details you don’t think get noticed but the eye takes in — like floor grilles — does a lot to elevate a space. —Nicole Powell, co-founder of We Three Design
$38 at Signature Hardware Buy Get non-dorm-room over-the-door hooks Vinyl-Coated Hook $12 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR McMaster-Carr’s catalogue has a surprising number of stand-alone hardware pieces that are quite handsome when used in the right way. Like, for instance, this very nice-looking over-the-door coat hook. —Shengning Zhang, furniture designer
$12 at McMaster-Carr Buy Build a coffee table out of Craigslist marble Pine Drop Box $33 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDORS Top a simple pine box with a circular piece of marble. You can often find ugly marble tables on Craigslist or eBay for cheap and just take the top off. —Jesse Kamm, clothing designer
$33 at Amazon Buy $33 at Amazon Buy Or top it with Plexiglas Acrylic Sheet From $40 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR Go to Canal Plastics and have them cut custom clear-pink Plexiglas for table surfaces; depending on the size, it can be around $40. —Amy Silver, set decorator
From $40 at Canal Plastics Center Buy Or use all plywood for something Donald Judd–inspired Pine Plywood Sheathing $14 Photo: Courtesy of Donald Judd Furniture; Architecture Table 73 in clear birch plywood.

www.judd.furniture Get plywood sheets at Home Depot — they’ll cut notches in the wood for you. —E.W.
$14 at Home Depot Buy Create a sculptural fixture with leftover cord Menu Cast Triangle Pendant $80 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR Embrace the exposed-wiring look by choosing a fixture with an extra-long cord that can make geometric patterns on your walls and ceiling. The cone pendant above is from Flos, but Menu makes equally nice ones that are under $100. —Ming Thompson, co-founder of Atelier Cho Thompson
$80 at 2Modern Buy Cover your Karlstad with a slipcover Bemz Slipcover From $89 Photo: Courtesy of Vendor Bemz slipcovers — which are made specifically for Ikea pieces — are machine washable. They’re especially great for clumsy people like me who have always wanted — and been too afraid to own — white chairs. —T.W.
From $89 at Benz Buy Swap in a black toilet seat for a prewar feel Mayfair Toilet Seat $50 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR Change out your toilet seat for a black one. Make a note to be sure if you need round or elongated. It instantly makes any bathroom look more traditional. —L.F.
$50 at Home Depot Buy Fake a Shaker dining room with DIY wainscoting Shaker profile panels From $83 From $83 Photo: JORDAN SLOCUM AND BARRY BRODELON, THE BROWNSTONE BOYS It’s super-simple: Just go to Wainscoting America’s site and put in your room dimensions. We went with the Shaker style, but the raised panel is also nice, and a bit more traditional. Nail the panels to the wall, then paint them. It adds a ton of character. —Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum, The Brownstone Boys
From $83 at Wainscoting America Buy Install dimmer switches for mood lighting Push-Button Dimmer Switch and Brass Wall Plate $12 The best advice I can give to a homeowner for instant sophistication: Install a dimmer. Lighting is the great special effect that changes everything in the room. For a vintage-style home, I like push-button light switches with mother-of-pearl detail. For another $12, you can get a beautiful, traditional-looking brass cover to top it. —Barbara Schmidt, creative director of Studio Bstyle
$12 at Amazon Buy $35 at Amazon Buy Swap outdated handles for matte-black doorknobs Schlage Bowery knob $21 Doorknobs in rentals can be hideous. Sub in a matte-black set with just a screwdriver in about five minutes. —Fiona Byrne, designer
$21 at Home Depot Buy Upgrade drawers with Lucite handles Acrylic handle From $8 Photo: COURTESY OF VENDOR They look particularly great against a lacquered white finish — more on living-room furniture than in the kitchen. There’s something about acrylic that feels ultra-modern, without being too bold or overpowering. —Patricia Voto, designer at Gabriela Hearst
From $8 at eBay Buy Fake a concrete wall SureCrete SureTex Knockdown overlay, $36; white color additive, $4 $36 Photo: Alexandra Ribar Mix a white color additive into water (just a little), then stir that into the concrete overlay until it’s a pancake-batter consistency. Use a drywall knife to spread the mixture over the wall, starting from the bottom and pulling it straight up. Finish with concrete sealer. —L.F.
$36 at Surecrete (Overlay) Buy $4 at Surecrete (Color additive) Buy Use raw glass to make a room feel gigantic DIY floor mirror $6 Photo: MIRRORCOOPERATIVE/ETSY Get a large piece of glass from Sam the Glazier in Bushwick (or any other glazier), and use it as a mirror. They’ll sand down the edges for you on-site. —E.W.
$6 at Sam the Glazer Buy Make a bedside table out of a bucket of cement Home Depot five-gallon bucket, $4; Sakrete gray concrete mix, $4; Rubbermaid hardwood broom handle, $9 $4 $4 Photo: Amy Harlow To make this little bedside table, pour cement into a bucket, filling it about a third of the way. Then take a wooden broomstick, cut it in thirds, and arrange “legs” into the cement. —Amy Harlow, owner of Wagwear
$4 at Home Depot Buy Pour bulk Mrs. Meyer’s soap into glass dispensers Soap Dispenser $17 Photo: Courtesy of Vendor They’re sleek — and good for the environment. I especially like them in contrast with old-fashioned tiles, which many New York bathrooms have — it modernizes and compliments the existing aesthetic. —Kyla Burney, owner, Adaptations NY
$17 at Amazon Buy $17 at Amazon Buy Stain your faded grout a deep black Grout Refresh $18 now 11% off $16 Photo: Duntrune Studios/Shutterstock / Duntrune Studios If you can’t get rid of sad, grayish grout, stain it black or a dark shade to make the grout color look modern and sharp. —M.T.
$16 at Amazon Buy $16 at Amazon Buy Cover drab backsplashes with sticker decals Smart Tiles panels $7 Short of renovating, not much is going to fix an ugly backsplash — but peel-and-stick tiles can hide it. I’ve seen these up close, and they’re a lot more convincing than you’d think. If your tiles are a standard size, you can also find the type that cover each individual tile with a separate sticker (so you still see the grout lines), but they’re a little less forgiving to install. —T.W.
$7 at Home Depot Buy Install bamboo blinds for neutral texture Matchstick blinds $18 Photo: Taphat Wangsereekul/Shutterstock / Taphat Wangsereek There is something charmingly low-tech about these — especially in a bathroom or kitchen window. Light filters through them in a really lovely way. —Kelly Behun, designer
$18 at Matchstick Buy Or just go with space-enhancing linen curtains West Elm linen curtains $99 Photo: Courtesy of Vendor Remove window blinds and add floor-to-ceiling-height curtains to expand your visual space. —Ana Claudia Schultz, designer at Homepolish
$99 at West Elm Buy *A version of this article appears in the July 22, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
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