Ask An Expert: We Can’t Afford To Renovate Our House, But It’s Old And Run Down

Collage / Alessandra Banal

Interior stylist Kate Alexander gives one reader some practical sprucing advice.

Q: We cannot afford to renovate our house but it’s old and run down. Do you have any tips on how we can freshen it up?

A: My go-to for quick and affordable change is paint. Painting provides freshness

We pulled up the carpet in our house because it was old and dark. Underneath was chipboard. I would have liked to replace it with wood floors like the rest of the house, but for budget reasons, we chose to have it sanded and painted white — using a two-pot paint system designed for commercial floors. We also removed the tired old glass splashback in our kitchen, and instead of tiling it, we painted it — an affordable way of getting colour without the cost of tiles and tiling.

Hardware can quickly update a space. Changing the handles on your doors and cabinetry and putting up hooks where you need them. It’s a fun way to put your own spin on a place.

Look up. Chances are the lighting in an old house has passed its best. Talk to your local electrician about ways to improve the lighting to provide the right amount of light in the right places. Consider how to use the light fitting to add personality to the space. We updated a tired villa by painting the high ceilings a deep blue and offsetting them against a cluster of oversized rattan lampshades. At the same time, we added LED spotlights — the client now has bright light when they need it and feature shades that add elegance to the room.

It seems intuitive to hold off buying furniture because “one day you’ll renovate’'. Yet that means you are living with a double whammy — an old run-down space that also doesn’t function. Instead, invest in getting the right furniture that fits the room now — your spaces will work better. Furniture is such an under-rated component of a functioning home

Often in old houses, the window furnishings are dated. New curtains and blinds that are fit for purpose are an investment that will provide light control and softness to a room and hold their value. If made-to-order curtains aren’t within your budget, consider off-the-shelf sheers — fabric that pools to the ground will give any room an immediate lift and elegance. Another alternative is to invest in quality curtain rods and make the curtains yourself.

Lastly, employ diversion theory. For areas that are an eyesore, the best solution is to draw the eye to another place with something unique. Clients often suggest they want a rug to hide their tired floors. Instead, I suggest we lead the eye away from the floor.

Trying to cover up the ugly bits will instead make them more evident because often the fix for covering the ugly bit is odd-fitting — for example, a piece of furniture in front of the fireplace because the grate is missing. Our kitchen has an old concrete patch on the floor where the laundry tub would have once been. On the wall above, we have a bright neon sign. The concrete patch doesn’t have a chance of catching your eye.

Kate Alexander is the creative director of interior design and styling studio Places & Graces. She’s on a mission to empower home-dwellers to have fun and live life in spaces they love every day.

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