New Year Makeovers New Year Makeovers

Q: I've made my New Year's resolutions about my health, my family, and my job, but what about my home? I'd really like a quick-pick-me-up to ring in the new, but I can't afford a whole makeover. Any suggestions?

A: While some people revel in the start of a new year, I just see it as one more chance to start worrying. What will this new year bring? Could it possibly be any worse than the year we're leaving? And speaking of that year, what about all the things I didn't get done in this year? Do I have to just carry them over to next year, like bad numbers in a math problem?

Luckily, fixing up your home is easy compared to the load of angst you could carry about everything else in your life.

If you do have a little money to spend, you could hire a decorator who specializes in working with what you already have; or, if you're a design student already, you could practice this art on your own home. Most often we think of the job of the interior designer as relying heavily on buying lots of new, fabulous, expensive things, from sofas to lamps. But there's an exciting new angle on interior design, perfect for these tough economic times: use what you have.

To try this out, first look at the room in question using these basic guidelines: function, mood, and harmony. Determine the function of the room, and of each part of the room - does the living room act as one-part library, one-part entertaining room, one-part family room? Before touching a thing, observe yourself and your family and figure out how you use the room.

If you're like most modern families, the place to begin is probably the dining room. You know the dining room - it's that room you never, ever eat in. Chances are the dining room table really functions as a desk and a mail-sorting center, and the kitchen is where everyone eats.

  • Tip: Once you determine what function a room is serving, don't try to change your habits to fit the function you believe the room should serve. Instead, change the room to fit the function you want it to have; make it work for you. Rather than forcing the family to endure sit-down formal meals in the dining room, instead make that dining room over into a family office space that will really work. For example, take that dining table and push it against the wall, and then add some attractive metal mesh or wicker sorting baskets. Slide a file cabinet underneath, and add a couple of pencil jars. If you're using the room anyway as a home office, go all out and set it up to better serve that function.

Once you determine the function of a room, decide on the mood you want. Now that you've given over the dining room to become a family office, do you want your eat-in kitchen to appear more formal? Start with the wall color. A more casual kitchen probably has either bright white or yellow walls. Painting just one wall in the dining area a darker color, maybe a deep rose, a Colonial blue, or a sage green, will immediately change the mood to a more formal one. Adding drapes (perhaps moving them from the dining room) and a fancy table cloth in matching colors will further enhance this mood. Put a couple of candles on the table and dim the lights at dinner time, and you'll be amazed at the mood change.

Finally, look at the harmony of the new space you've created. Chances are that by changing things around a bit you've got some pieces that don't quite go with each other. But you still don't have to have a giant yard sale and then go into debt at the Furniture Factory.

Again, think paint. A wooden kitchen chair that no longer matches can easily be spray-painted in a color that will harmonize with the new tablecloth and drapes. You can use a quick paint job to change the whole look of a piece of furniture: to make something more casual and fun, add leopard-print spots or polka dots. To make something more formal, paint it black, white, or the color of the wall.

By applying some simple guidelines to what you already have, you can go a long way toward giving your whole house a makeover, without breaking the bank. And if you're really inspired by what you achieve, taking the home decoration course might just be the best way to salve the anxiety that any new year brings and start the year off on just the right decorating foot.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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