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Step-by-step home renos

Six easy tips to help you improve your pad

Rather than trying to renovate an entire house or condo, it’s best to work on one room at a time. Credit: Thinkstock

There’s nothing like coming home after a long day — unless you hate the sight of your home.

For some people, watching real estate and decorating shows provides a vicarious pleasure and escapism not unlike porn. But if you’re willing to get off the couch and assess your real-life options, a home renovation might be more accessible than you think.

Where to start?

Your dream might be to redo your entire house or condo from top to bottom, but budget-wise, that’s not immediately in the cards for many of us. Darlene Hall-Barrett, president of Dressing Rooms, an Ottawa interior design, decorating and home-staging company, recommends zeroing in on the space that’s bothering you the most. By starting with one room or even an entranceway, you’ll freshen up your space on a budget and, if you’re working with a decorator, the process will let you decide if you want to hire that person for future projects, she says.

It’s a process

Rehan Rafi, sales manager of Red Carpet Floor Fashions, recommends taking your time. Most people just look around his Ottawa store the first time, take samples the second time and proceed from there, he says. By the time customers have chosen the type, pattern and colour of flooring they want and had it installed, six weeks might have elapsed from their initial visit. “It happens in stages,” Rafi says. “People go home; they visualize it. Sometimes they get the help of an interior decorator.”

Roll up your sleeves

If you’re handy, or lucky enough to have a partner, friends or family who are willing to pitch in for next to nothing, you’re way ahead of most of us. But even people who aren’t innately handy can do some of the work themselves, which is a great way to reduce costs. If you’ve hired someone to install your flooring, you can cut costs by doing the prep work. Replacing your carpet? Rafi recommends removing the old carpet and moving the furniture out of the way. You can also screw the floor down before having new flooring installed. If you need pointers, there are instructional videos on YouTube.

Hall-Barrett says that being willing to do some of the running around yourself is another way to save money. “A lot of people do get me to do everything, but if you can do a little bit of running around and just use my guidance, that helps a lot,” she says, noting that she will refer clients to certain stores or websites; by exploring on their own, they’ll use less of her time, which costs less money.

Trends and personal tastes

Blindly following trends is fine for choosing your jeans, but if you make all your renovation and decorating decisions based on trends, your home could end up looking like a pair of acid-washed jeans in a few years. Most of us can’t afford to redo our house or condo every couple of years, so make choices based on what you really like, not the flavour of the moment.

Deciding what your taste is could take some work. If you’ve been moving from rental unit to rental unit or previously been too busy to pay much attention to decorating, you might not know your own taste, but Hall-Barrett says it won’t be hard to find. She recommends looking through decorating magazines and websites to bookmark rooms that stand out to you as beautiful or awful. After a while, patterns will emerge, and you’ll start to see what your taste is. If you’re married or living with your partner, his or her taste matters, too — as some clients need to be reminded. “They roll their eyeballs or they say, ‘Don’t listen to him,’” Hall-Barrett says. “I really, truly believe in listening to both people. I don’t like it when one person takes over and that becomes their house . . . I want them both to be happy in the end.”

Bargain hunting and faux finishes

Some people move into a house and ditch the brand-new fixtures because they don’t like them. Their fussiness can be your fortune. Hall-Barrett says you’d be amazed by what you can find on Kijiji. It’s also fine to cheat a little by making friends with faux finishes. Copper paint over hammered steel is a lot cheaper than real copper. For an inexpensive stone look, consider vinyl flooring in the kitchen. And don’t discount carpet. If you have young kids, a stain-resistant carpet with a 10- or 20-year warranty is great for the basement and bedrooms.

Hiring a decorator or contractor

It’s great to go with someone who’s been recommended by someone you know, but anyone you hire should be able to answer all your questions, provide an estimate and sign a contract, Hall-Barrett says.