March 2016

Six Tricks and Steps to Renovating on a Budget

Author: Becca Edwards

Renovating on a budget might sound like a buzz kill but, according to interior designers Kelly Hughes and Debi Lynes, it is actually quite fun.

“Great things come out of boundaries. Someone who’s not on a budget might pick this and then pick that. But when you’re on a budget, you must formalize a master plan and then creatively accomplish it—ultimately really achieving your desired look,” Hughes said.

Agreeing, Lynes said, “Renovating on a dime means repurposing and stepping out of a traditional design box, which I think is always good to do.”

After recently buying a financial stretch on Calibogue Cay, I’m banking on this. Our new house is nearly twice the size of our previous one, so we are in desperate need of furniture; the house was built roughly 40 years ago and is due for an update. Also, having a mother and mother-in-law who are both successful designers, I definitely feel pressure to bring my A game design-wise, but I’m working with a B-team budget. So what’s a poor homeowner to do? Hughes and Lynes share six steps to tricking out a home without breaking the bank.

  1. - Accessories and Paint
    First, start with accessories and paint. “Accessories like area rugs, throw pillows, table toppers, drapery and paint can create the most dramatic effect with minimal spending,” Hughes explained. “My favorite paint store is Sherwin Williams. They have a terrific color wheel, great customer service, good quality products, and often run sales.”

Paul Heitmann of Alliance Painting—who, along with his team of merry men, seems to wield a magic wand when it comes to painting a house on schedule and within budget—tells his clients to “paint to your style and for your enjoyment and don’t worry about what the next homeowner might want—after all it’s just paint.” Heitmann also believes paint can transform a room and give it character. “Many homes in the Hilton Head area have popcorn ceilings. Owners are quite surprised at just how upgraded their house looks after simply removing the popcorn texture and smoothing the ceilings. I love what I do, because I like the homeowners’ smiles when their vision becomes a reality.”

Lynes also pointed out two important cheats. First, “In today’s world all paints are created equal so you don’t have to get the most expensive paint. Make sure to choose a durable, washable finish like satin.” Second, “Painting doesn’t just pertain to the walls. You can paint furniture like headboards to get a fresh look.”

  1. - Know When to Hold and When to Fold
    Just as the sage singer Kenny Rogers sang in The Gambler, you’ve got to know when to hold (as in hold on to your design vision and spend the money) and when to fold (as in pass on something or buy something cheaper). “Weigh your needs,” Hughes advised. “Maybe your cabinets are not ideal but salvageable. Keep them as is and spend your money on say the countertops or the lighting. The thing you choose to spend your money on will become the focal point of the room.”

Hughes also says this is where consulting a designer comes in handy. “By the virtue of our job, we have seen many scenarios, so we know where to cut corners and where not to.” Here’s the thing, though. You don’t need to hire a designer per se, but you can pay for one for a consultation. “I have had several clients do this. Depending on the scope of the project, you may meet two or more times and get professional insight about your project. The more organized you are, the more you will save; so have your blueprints and all your materials like fabric swatches and paint colors ready to go. Designers cost anywhere from $100 to $300 an hour, but these meetings can save you thousands down the road,” Hughes said.

  1. - Buddy Up
    Get to know your local thrift and consignment shops and their owners. Hilton Head Island (especially along Arrow Road) and Bluffton have many great consignment shops. Also, you can take a fun girls’ trip or weekend excursion and travel to regional and national shows like the Scott Antique Market in Atlanta, Georgia and the Round Top Antique Fair in Round Top, Texas. Since I was a little girl, I have raked through these shops and shows and really become friends with several booth owners. Now, when I am looking for a specific piece I can call, text or e-mail them and see if they have or have seen what I need.
  1. - DIY in Moderation
    If you follow, like or peruse a Pinterest page, blogger or “Insta-glammer,” you can find inspiration galore, but keep it small and know your limitations. I know I am super guilty of trying to replicate something I’ve seen on the DIY Network only to have it backfire. As Lynes pointed out, “Sometimes it just makes more sense to hire someone to do it for you. The pros not only know what they are doing, but they have resources and get designer costs.”

However, there are some projects that even I can’t mess up; my new favorite DIY goodies are removable wallpaper (which Hughes says is back in style) and decals. My daughters, who are all still very young, each wanted to go “wild” decorating their rooms, but budget and good sense redirected us from permanent and costly picks like “hot pink zebra curtains” to a large writable wall decal in the shape of a zebra for $45.

  1. - Trend Blend
    It’s important to define your style and also be aware of current trends. “If you search Google images you can go down so many rabbit holes,” Hughes joked. “Check out trendy sites like and see what’s current.”

“Have a swipe file,” continued Lynes, who then named sites like, and Lynes also recommends having an “anchor object” that reflects your look and then blending with current trends, e.g. the recent return to mid-century decor, brass and chrome, animal materials like horns, bones and hides and a neutral palate with pops of color.

  1. - Repurpose, Rearrange AND Remove
    “Using reclaimed objects is a product of the recession, and more and more you are seeing the pairing of an expensive piece next to something rustic. It’s a great blend of styles,” Hughes said.
    Lynes expanded on this giving a few examples: “An old louvered door can make an amazing cocktail table or a window frame can turn into an exquisite mirror.”

I’m all about repurposing, and often this doesn’t involve get too arts-and-craftsy. For example, the previous owner of our new house left a vintage desk that I transformed into serving piece by painting the top with black lacquer; and I was able to take a beautiful but beaten up kilim rug and turn it into a colorful pouf. (Note: Be forewarned. Both Hughes and Lynes advise against reupholstering. “It is typically more expensive to recover than to buy new,” Lynes said.)

Also, sometimes the answers to your design questions might be literally staring you in the face, especially when it comes to mirrors. “Rearranging is great and it’s free,” Hughes said. “It can have such an impact on the flow and mood of the space. My favorite thing to do when I’m ready for a different look it to rearrange wall objects like mirrors or artwork and swap out rugs or pillows.”

In the end, simply decluttering and getting rid of things, too, can have a tremendous aesthetic impact. This is especially true if you are going for a clean look. 

Renovating on a Budget in 6 Easy Steps
1. Set a budget. You might even consider creating a separate account and only paying renovating expenses from this account.
2. Decide on your style. Again, you can blend styles but pick a look and stick with it. You might even create a vision board or start a folder with examples.
3. Prioritize. Start with your most pressing issue like that über-dated light fixture and then work towards lesser offenders like your nicked coffee table. Also, Lynes says to focus on the rooms that “get the most love.”
4.Create a reasonable timeline.
5. Become a decor detective. Start browsing the web and bookmarking pages you like, picking up design magazines like Coastal Living and Elle Decor, and/or follow people, trends or styles via social media.
6. Be patient and enjoy the process. Don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once.

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