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How to Refresh Your Home With Minimal Fuss


If you’re lucky enough to be healthy but bored, having already reorganized your spice rack and closet, you might be in need of another project to fill some of the remaining hours of self-isolation. Perhaps, like many of us, you’re also feeling overly familiar with every contour and corner of your home, and are longing for a not-too-daunting, not-too-costly way to refresh it. Here are a few simple home-décor projects you can accomplish without the need for outside help. While none is a huge undertaking — no power tools or wall removal required — each can have an outsize effect, turning a room you’re all too used to into a space that feels at least somewhat new.

Few things can transform a bedroom quicker than new bedding. For summer, it’s nice to get a fresh set of linen or cotton percale sheets — just avoid blends — and I recommend white or heather gray, which go with anything. Then, to really change the look of the room, choose a new duvet cover or bedspread. I use an oversize linen bedspread that I got custom sized on Etsy so that it reaches the floor (and covers the ugly base of my low bed). Or, if you like a tucked-in look, make sure the fabric covers the mattress with about six inches to spare to tuck in on the sides and end. You can also find oversize blankets and throws at Restoration Hardware, Area and Coyuchi. And while I don’t recommend having too many cushions beyond what you use for sleeping — it just creates more work — adding a pair of 24-by-24-inch throw pillows like these mohair versions from Room and Board, or a single long pillow, like this one from Area, can be a nice finishing touch.

The most important thing to remember about lighting is that many sources of low light are always preferable to a smaller number of very bright sources. I have seven different lights in my living room, none higher than 25 watts (if you’re looking to invest in a new one, the brass Mantis sconce from CB2 is among my current favorites). Second, dimmers are your friends; you can buy a plug-in dimmer for any lamp that isn’t hard-wired, which will allow you to create a warm, diffused glow in a room and still have the option of brighter light for reading or cleaning. Third, make sure you have different kinds of lights in a room — some ambient (lamps with shades that create a diffused effect) and some task (those that brighten a specific spot for reading). The most flattering light is at eye level, so sconces and table lamps at that height are always a good idea. Overhead lights should be dimmed way down to avoid a harsh glare, and if you’d like to turn a plant or something sculptural into a focal point, try lighting it from below.

Most people don’t have empty tables lying about their space, so first start by clearing one, or at least putting the stuff that isn’t pretty on a tray to one side, so it seems contained. Getting rid of unsightly clutter is a big part of real-life decorating. Then take the objects you like to see (my favorites are books, candlesticks, rocks, small lamps, bowls and bud vases) and place them on the table. There are a lot of “rules” about placement — use an odd number of objects, use things of different heights — but ultimately it’s a matter of taste. The goal is simply to create a pleasing arrangement that you’ll enjoy looking at every day. Apart from books, I keep the number of objects low: usually three, maybe five if I get excited. Don’t forget that you’re going to have to clean them and the surface they’re on. If you’re feeling more ambitious and thinking of rearranging actual furniture, first really consider how you use the room — for example, if you spend a lot of time watching TV, you’ll want to have comfortable seating facing the television. Then, draw a to-scale floor plan on graph paper and make paper cutouts of your furniture; you can play with these miniature versions to find the best arrangement before you start repositioning your actual sofas and chairs.

A new coat of paint is a surefire, and relatively easy, way to change the feel of a space. Start with a small room — an entryway, bathroom or compact bedroom — and use samples to test a few shades (the website Samplize will send you a 12-by-12-inch swatch of most colors from Benjamin Moore, Farrow & Ball or Sherwin-Williams). Generally speaking, warmer, darker tones will make a space feel more intimate while lighter, cooler colors will make a room look more expansive — and if you aren’t up for applying more than one coat, don’t change the color too drastically. If you are game for something a little more involved, painting the ceiling the same color as the walls can be a striking update and make old-fashioned shades feel more modern. Whatever your approach, if you’re not an experienced painter, note that applying masking tape along the edges of baseboards and window and door frames is always worth the time and effort.

Some people’s shelves look appealing while others’ are a mess. If yours fall into the latter category, there are a few things you can do. First, get rid of tattered paperbacks you’re not likely to reread and other flotsam that doesn’t really belong on a bookshelf (loose papers, objects that ended up there by default). Next, figure out how you want to organize the books that remain. If you don’t have a lot, you can arrange them by size: larger coffee-table and art tomes on low shelves, novels above. There should not be more than a few inches between the tallest book on a shelf and the shelf above. If you have a larger collection (enough that you can’t easily find a favorite title by quickly scanning your shelves), separate the taller, wider books from the novels and alphabetize the latter. Some people like the look of books stacked horizontally in piles, but bear in mind that that makes taking one out and replacing it more difficult. Finally, it’s best to avoid mixing decorative objects into bookshelves unless they are very full. Sparse shelves with more objects than books can look like staging furniture in a model apartment — whereas the aim of any home-improvement project should be making your space feel more comfortable and more humane.

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