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Cover story: Little changes, big impact on decor

- - Thursday, December 1, 2011

If you are hosting family and friends for the holidays, especially if this is a yearly tradition, you may be wishing your home looked a little fresher. While a total renovation may not be in the budget during these lean times, local interior designers have plenty of suggestions to add some pizazz without cutting into your gift-giving budget.

  • Upgrade your entrance

Jeff Akseizer, an interior designer with Akseizer Design Group in McLean, said, "My philosophy is that a great door knocker on an equally great front door really frames the space. These elements, along with classic planters or urns and updated lanterns or outside lights, define the lines of the entryway, bring your eyes to the front door and make the perfect first impression."

Allie Mann, a project designer at Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, suggested perking up the front door with a wreath to add texture and warmth.

"Paint your front door a bold color for instant curb appeal," said Denise Willard, owner and principal interior designer of Decor by Denise in Vienna.

  • Work with what you have

Lisa Adams, an interior designer with Adams Design in the District, said one of the simplest ways to perk up a space is to rearrange the furniture and artwork.

"You can rearrange your wall hangings, making groupings, including an additional item such as a mirror," said Kelley Proxmire, principal of Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda.

Ms. Proxmire also suggested rearranging your bookshelves and adding a new bookend or two.

Ms. Willard said homeowners can decorate their walls with items they already own.

"Hang tapestries you may own to decorate your walls, or hang your plates to create decorative wall art," said Ms. Willard. "Use decorative door knobs mounted to the wall as a coat rack in your entry."

Shanon Munn, an interior designer and principal of Ambi Design Studio in McLean, said many people hang their artwork too high, which visually throws off the room's proportions. She said the proper height for art in a room with an 8-foot ceiling is five feet from the floor.

Ms. Willard also suggested using your photos to create murals.

"You simply send in your photos and have ... murals created to adorn your walls," Ms. Willard said. "This is an inexpensive way too to have oversized artwork in your home that is also personalized."

  • Get creative

Ms. Proxmire and Ms. Willard suggested adding trim, ribbon or even some fringe to the top and bottom of lampshades to perk them up. Another option, suggests Jessica Bonness, an interior designer with JGB Interiors in the District, is to switch the lampshade to a different color or style.

"If there's lots of ivory and mostly traditional shapes, try swapping them out with something different and dramatic like a black drum shade," Ms. Bonness said.

Mike Johnson, senior designer at Lori Graham Design in the District, said a drum shade adds a modern, updated touch to any room.

Ms. Willard also suggested looking for driftwood at the beach to create a unique and dramatic starburst wall decoration with an inexpensive piece of mirror at the center.

Ms. Proxmire suggested using blackboard paint on a wall or an item such as a tray to be used for messages in the kitchen or hall, which is both practical and pretty.

If you are less creative, you can shop for inexpensive art.

"You don't have to be a moneyed art collector to be, well, an art collector," Ms. Bonness said. "There are so many great websites now like [www.20x 200.com] and Etsy that sell very affordable, limited-edition and sometimes even original pieces of artwork for an extremely reasonable price. You can choose to purchase them framed or unframed, and you can often choose your desired size of a particular print."

Another option, Ms. Willard said, is to purchase wall decals, which are inexpensive and easily removable for quick changes.

  • Tiny changes with big impact

Several designers mentioned that switching hardware such as cabinet knobs, door handles and light switches with fresh ones or pretty designs can make a room instantly brighter. Stores including World Market and Anthropologie have interesting designs, as do many hardware stores.

Ms. Proxmire said furniture with keyholes - such as a chest - can be spruced up with tassels. She and Ms. Munn recommended replacing tired house plants and plant containers to add a fresh look. New toss pillows, a quilt, rug or throw can add a splash of color without breaking the bank. Ms. Munn said replacing the pillow inserts with a soft down feather-blend filler can improve the look of pillows.

  • Set the mood with light

Ms. Munn recommended buying new light bulbs to brighten a room and mixing a bright white bulb with other lighting to change the look at night. She also recommended changing light fixtures, such as switching to wall sconces in a bathroom that has the original builder-grade fixtures.

"If your lights aren't already on dimmers, they should be," Ms. Bonness said. "The ability to tone down harsh light at night, set the mood during a party, or simply have more control over your surroundings is something that you won't be able to give up once you have it. Most dimmer kits are available at hardware stores for less than $50 - you can even install one yourself for most types of fixtures and lamps."

Candles also can add inexpensive drama to almost any room.

"Add candles and throw a party by candlelight to make the space seem more enchanting and mysterious," Ms. Adams said. "Votives, candlesticks of all sorts - glass, metals, wood - can be gathered into groupings with different heights unified by a candlestick color, perhaps."

  • Spruce up with paint

Repainting an entire home can be time-consuming, but using a little bit of imagination with a paint brush can add interest to any room.

Whitney Stewart, principal of Whitney Stewart Interior Design in the District, said, "One of my favorite inexpensive splashes is to color-block a wall. Paint a large square of your favorite color on a wall and then hang a smaller picture or object on that wall."

Ms. Adams suggested painting old cabinets or bookshelves and perking up a wall with a monochromatic strip of paint that is lighter or darker than the existing shade.

"Use paint to spruce up furniture, curtain rods, light fixtures and lamp bases," Ms. Willard said. "Update an old piece of furniture with a bold, fresh color. Paint rods and rings with a color that complements the curtains. Rub the paint on with a rag for a softer effect. Bring life to a lamp with a fresh coat of paint."

  • Accessorize your bathroom

Mr. Johnson suggested freshening up the bathroom.

"Change your bathroom accessories: Get a new shower curtain as well as new towels, bath rug and vanity accessories," Mr. Johnson said. "Popular colors change, and by updating the color palette of the shower curtain, towels and rug, it will add a very modern feel to the space for a very small dollar amount."

Ms. Mann recommended purchasing a new shower-curtain rod, one with a slight curve or radius to it, to make the shower feel larger and more luxurious.

To add some sparks to your home, Ms. Willard said sprucing up a bathroom with a bold color and an unusual funky or ethnic mirror can result in an instant custom look.