5 Cheap Ways to Brighten up a Room

Go from drab to fab in a day.

If your home furnishings are getting boring, there are some easy ways you can breathe new life into your interior spaces without blasting a hole in your budget. Changing one small thing can make a big difference. Your decor should do all the functional stuff you expect and also offer something unexpected to wow you -- and your guests. If your rooms are a big yawn, it's time to brighten them up. These five simple updates will feather your nest courtesy of some creative chutzpah instead of cold hard cash.


5: Include Some Sparkle

It's fairly easy: The more light you bring in, the brighter your room will be.

Adding a few reflective surfaces will make a plain room look brighter and larger. In case your Baccarat crystal pieces are in storage, a cut glass candy dish or mirrored tray will perk up that tired table arrangement or add interest to your mantle. Other good options are crystal photo frames, mirrored coasters and glass collectibles (in groups of three or five). You can use glass, mirrors and crystal in wall art and lighting fixtures, too. If you have the budget for it, glass-topped tables with beveled glass inserts or edges make your other furnishings look lighter, brighter, cleaner and richer. That little extra dazzle will have you smiling every time you open the curtains or turn on the lights, and you can probably find two or three good pieces for less than $30.


4: Add a Plant

Houseplants bring nature indoors with color and texture, and they can be surprisingly easy to maintain. Don't tune out yet! We're serious. Pots that include their own water reservoirs and space-age water retaining soil additives make caring for plants less hands-on than it used to be. Keeping them is more like having an independent cat than caring for a newborn. You can find a plant variety for almost any sun exposure, too.

Even if you've killed what feels like a forest in the past, there's an excellent, unexpected reason to give plant-keeping another try. Many houseplants are natural air purifiers working quietly to clean the stale, chemical-laden air your super-efficient weather stripping and other insulation has trapped indoors. Some to try include:


  • A tall column of snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) will grow under most light conditions, screen an area you want to conceal and add height to a low ceiling.
  • Pothos (Epipiremnum aureum) is an almost indestructible vine that's available in a number of mottled and solid color variations. It can trail along a windowsill or meander around and through a tiny trellis.
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum), English ivy (Hedera helix) and spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) are all super hardy (read: hard to kill) and attractive decorations to boot.

3: Paint

The right color can change your whole world.

This is a popular suggestion because it works every time (as long as you pick the right color). As room refreshers go, a new paint job can brighten your walls, cover those dings and scratches, and give you a great opportunity to use color to your best advantage. The right wall paint can coordinate your room décor and even showcase special elements like a fireplace when you incorporate two or more paint colors in a single room. Taking advantage of color psychology in your choices can also help encourage a mellow, cheerful or energetic mood. You don't have to be a perfectionist to paint well, but it does take some prep:

  • Vacuum the ceiling, walls, baseboards and floors before you begin.
  • Repair cracks, nail holes, dings and dents. Usually you can do this in a couple of hours with a tub of spackle, a putty knife and a couple of sheets of sandpaper.
  • Use painter's tape (the blue stuff) to tape off windows, doors, built-ins and any fixtures you can't remove.
  • Cover your furnishings and flooring with tarps (old sheets work, too).
  • Provide good ventilation, either by opening the windows or using a fan to vent paint fumes from a windowless room.
  • If you're applying paint to a spot that hasn't been painted before, use a primer first or purchase a paint-and-primer-in-one product.
  • Follow the recommendations on the paint can. If the manufacturer suggests painting in three-foot sections with up and down strokes, do it. It's important.
  • Leave plenty of time between coats -- overnight may seem like overkill, but it will give you the best results.


2: Change the Accessories

If you think your rooms have become too predictable, change the pillows, candles, area rugs, wall art and throws. If you've kept your color scheme neutral, add one or two of this season's new colors in accent pieces for a little pop. Throw in a little black, too. Black is an eye-catching neutral that will revitalize your color scheme by making everything else look more vivid and alive. Don't believe us? Give it a try. Grab a black sweater or jacket and throw it on your couch. Don't the colors around it pop? Doesn't the texture of the fabric stand out more? Now put your wardrobe back where it belongs and start shopping for some black accents.

For less than $30, you can add a couple of black pillows to your cozy couch, update one of your wall art pieces with a black frame or arrange a black serving tray on your ottoman. You can find plenty of inexpensive, classic accessories in black year-round. Heck, you can even take a DIY approach and spray paint one of your existing wooden accessories black. Black is golden in room décor as long as you don't overdo it. A black wall is probably a bit much.


1: Rearrange the Furniture

You don't have to go feng shui, but it should be functional for your family.

Making the most of what you've already got is one way to re-energize your space free of charge. If you know how to use an interior design software program or want to play with a free version online, you can make a virtual duplicate of your existing room with a few keystrokes, then furnish it, rearranging the pieces to suit your mood -- all without breaking a nail.

Now comes the interesting part. Take the furniture out of the real room and start over. There may be some elements that have to stay where they are, like a flat screen that requires access to the cable or satellite feed coming out of the wall. Otherwise, you're free to explore. It's fun. You'll rediscover why you found all those pieces worth buying in the first place. Here are some things to consider when you're redesigning your furniture placement:


  • Create groupings - Groupings are smaller areas within a larger space that preserve function and have definition, like a reading nook that's well-defined by the placement of a rug, wall art or a lamp.
  • Respect flow - The way people move in and out of a space to other areas of your home is important. You want to leave paths around the furniture to let people enter and exit without having to vault over footstools or tables.
  • Play up a focal point - If you have a great view or a nice fireplace, make sure to take advantage of it. Arranging your seating so that family and visitors can see and appreciate the room's amenities will make the space more fun (and functional).
  • Indulge in a scavenger hunt - It's a good idea to check the rest of your home for items that may also work in the room. A couple of smart swaps can effectively makeover two rooms at once. If you can pull them off, twofers are terrific!

It's amazing how changing a few things around can make a tired room look fresh and new again -- and again and again.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Brown, Deborah L. "Houseplants Help Clean Indoor Air." University of Minnesota. 1/99. (2/22/11).http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h110indoorair.html
  • Corner Desk. "Decoration Design and Color Trends for 2011." Undated. (2/22/11).http://corner-desk.org/decoration-design-and-color-trends-for-2011/
  • Linsley, Leslie. "First Home." Nantucket Book Press. 1998.
  • Miller, Mark R., Rex Miller and Glenn E. Baker. "Miller's Guide to Home Remodeling." McGraw Hill. 2005.
  • Neiman Marcus. "Baccarat Crystal." Undated. (2/22/11).http://www.neimanmarcus.com/store/catalog/templates/SC4.jhtml?itemId=cat19350741&parentId=cat19350738&masterId=cat11100733&cmCat=
  • Sure Fit. "Make a Dramatic Difference." Undated. (2/22/11).http://www.surefit.net/index.cfm?sfafid=1306
  • The Home Depot. "Decorating 1-2-3." Meredith Books. 2000