A room-by-room guide to low-stress home improvements your holiday guests are most likely to notice.
Nothing makes the flaws in your home more glaringly obvious than the knowledge that friends and relatives will soon be visiting. And at no time of the year is there less time and patience for a whole-house renovation than at the holidays. Thankfully, it doesn’t take a lot of work to banish some of your blahs. We asked a number of local experts to give us a walk-through of simpler projects throughout the house that get noticed.
How To: Tile over tired laminate countertops
Measure the length, width and depth of the countertop and take the numbers to your tile or home-improvement store. Once you’ve picked out a tile, determine the amount needed to complete the job with the help of a clerk, adding an additional 10 percent for breakage. Buy edging, or rounded-edge tiles (bull-nosed is the most common), to achieve a clean, smooth edge.
Rub the laminate with 120-grit sandpaper to “rough up” the surface so the mastic, or tile cement, can better adhere to it. Wipe up the resulting dust.
Lay out the tile on the countertop using quarter-inch spacers in a “dry run.” “Start with full tiles at the outer edge,” Fox advises. “Place partial tiles near the wall.” Although Fox does not recommend cutting tile ahead of time, you may want to make a few practice cuts to get used to the tile-cutter or wet saw (available for rent at home-improvement stores).
Apply a 1/8-inch thick layer of mastic to the countertop using a notched trowel, working in a square of about 2-by-2 feet at
a time, and begin laying the tile. “Wiggle the tile into position, making sure it is square, set your tile spacers and place another tile, working to the back of the countertop,” Fox says. Remove spacers as you work so they don’t set in the mastic.
Allow tile to set overnight.
Apply grout over the tile using a grout float, holding it at a slight angle to push the grout into the gaps between the tile.
Use a damp, well-wrung grout sponge to remove excess grout from the top of the tile, frequently rinsing and re-wringing to keep it clean. When the tile appears to be completely clean, use another clean, damp grout sponge to give the tile a final wipe and remove any traces of residue.
Allow grout to cure (a process that takes a minimum of two to three days) until it is hard to the touch.
Apply a silicone-based tile sealer with a sponge to prevent tile and grout from absorbing stains. Reapply two to three times a year.
Expert Advice: Fox recommends novices stick to a single color and size of tile — intricate patterns incorporating a number of tile colors and sizes are for the more experienced do-it-yourselfer — and practice tiling on a piece of plywood before beginning work on the counter.
Make an Impression: “The entry hall is one of the most important rooms in the house because it’s the first impression that you make,” says Libby Palmieri of Palmieri Interni in Solon. She advises decorating it with the same care lavished on any other high-profile space.
Add architectural details such as a chair rail and crown molding, both of which can be purchased at home-improvement stores and installed with relative ease.
“All you’re doing is cutting it into the increments you need, nailing it onto drywall and painting it,” she says. If you’re all thumbs with saws, hammers and paintbrushes, Palmieri says there are other options. “Something as simple as a beautiful chandelier or rug can make the area a little more special.”
Play with Color: Another way to help your entryway make a statement is covering the walls with something that creates depth — a faux finish, a pretty wallpaper — anything, quite frankly, that isn’t white or beige paint.
“So many people want to try color, but they’re afraid,” says Shari Hiller, the Avon Lake native who co-hosts HGTV’s “Room by Room.” “The foyer is a great place to experiment.”
Hiller’s co-host, Matt Fox, suggests personalizing the space by framing enlargements of family photographs taken during last year’s holiday celebrations. “It’s a great place to have a gallery that shows a little bit about your family,” he says.
Use the Space: Add a decorative-yet-sturdy chair or bench where people can sit to remove their boots, or a chest where guests can set packages. Ronald Reed of Westlake Reed Leskosky, an architectural and engineering firm in Cleveland, likes to set up a bar near the entry when he’s hosting larger gatherings so guests have a drink in hand when they enter the living room. “There’s a ritual to receiving people,” he says. “You want it be a gracious experience.”
Cut the Clutter: In Matt Fox’s kitchen, the area between the top of the cabinets and ceiling serves as a gallery of everything from plants to an old leaded-glass window, but that area remains a barren space in many homes, often at the expense of counters filled with clutter.
Displaying large items such as platters, crocks and baskets overhead frees up work surfaces and puts breakables out of reach. In his home, the HGTV co-host illuminated the area with rope lighting. The cool-to-the-touch strings, available in a number of lengths, can be plugged into a timer behind an appliance and the cord inconspicuously run up the side of a cabinet.
“It really accents everything that you’ve placed above the cabinets,” he says. “And it serves as a night light for your family. When I come down in the morning to make coffee, the lights are already on.”
Guest Bedroom and Bath
Make a Small Overhaul: Repainting and repapering the guest bathroom is at the top of many designers’ quick-fix list.
Of course, many homeowners may debate just how much of a quick fix that really is. A less extreme undertaking is changing the vanity mirror or light fixture. Hiller advocates a collection of mirrors that can be changed with the seasons. An inexpensive oval mirror can be stenciled in paint with holiday motifs and messages — “Welcome to Our Home” for example — or slipped into a picture frame embellished with Christmas-tree ornaments.
“It’s a nice look because it’s unexpected,” Hiller says. “And you’ll actually use a mirror.”
Create a Finished Look: Aside from replacing outdated décor — the cowboy wallpaper your son picked out before moving into his college-bound brother’s room, for example — Rocky River interior designer Kevin Steffanni says the biggest challenge most hosts face is furnishing a spare bedroom on a tight budget.
How To: Make a headboard slipcover
Make a pattern by tracing the headboard’s outline on brown paper (available by the roll at craft stores) and add 1 1/4 inches around the perimeter — 5/8 inch for a seam allowance and an additional 5/8 inch for ease. Cut out the pattern.
Measure the perimeter of the top and sides of the headboard pattern; measure the thickness of the headboard, adding 1 1/4 inches for seam allowances. Create a brown-paper pattern for the “strip” needed to accommodate the headboard’s thickness using the measurements.
Take the pattern to the store and select your fabric. Stick to heavier, upholstery-appropriate fabrics — canvases, velvets and crewels, for example. (To save money, use an inexpensive lining for the back panel.) Enlist the help of a clerk to determine the amount of fabric necessary to make the slipcover.
Lay out the fabric and cut out the front and back panels and “strip.” (If you piece the “strip” to save fabric, make sure to add to the length for extra seam allowances.)
Pin the front panel to the “strip,” right sides facing one another, and stitch the edges together.
Pin the back panel to the other edge of the “strip,” right sides facing one another, and stitch the edges together.
Hem and turn right side out.
A good mattress on a bed frame, of course, is all your guests really need. But the room will look more finished if you add a headboard. Steffanni recommends making a headboard by attaching a folding screen to the wall, perhaps with L-shaped brackets. Hiller suggests that a simple old headboard can be recycled by making a slipcover for it on the sewing machine.
Recycle Old Pieces: Other additions such as night stands and old chests can be updated with a coat of paint and new hardware — a treatment Steffanni suggests for inexpensive pieces that don’t warrant the effort of refinishing.
Fox says nicks, scratches and gouges are actually helpful in creating a distressed look. “Rough up” the finish with sandpaper before painting the item with a satin-finish product. Then sand the edges until the old finish begins to appear and seal with polyurethane. Steffanni assures those stuck on the notion of buying bedroom furniture as a set that there’s no interior-design rule stating the stuff has to match.
“An interesting room,” he emphasizes, “is an eclectic mixture of things.”
Dining Room/Living Room
Revive Old Furniture: Slipcovers give old furniture new life, whether it’s a living-room sofa or a set of dining-room chairs. Hiller says the mass-marketed versions have elastic or back ties that, with a little tucking and folding, provide a neat, more tailored look. Even better, Palmieri says, are custom counterparts made by companies such as Cleveland’s Eastern Slip Cover Co. that look like the furniture’s original upholstery.
Window Shop: The most-needed interior-design improvement for these rooms is usually at the windows. Many times window treatments are routinely acquired as an afterthought that results in an ordinary look. To remedy this, Palmieri suggests buying new ready-made draperies, now available in a wide array of fabrics at home-improvement retailers such as Restoration Hardware, and sewing lengths of eye-catching trim purchased at a craft or fabric store along the leading vertical edges. The simple project “turns something ordinary into something extraordinary” in a matter of minutes.
Redefine Art: Fox takes his definition of art beyond paintings, sculpture or photographs to include everything from old barn doors to rowing sculls to a collection of antique clocks. He’s gone so far as to hang a weathered tree limb he found in the woods over a client’s living-room fireplace. “Anything interesting like that is great,” he says.