Space Lifts

Fix four common problem rooms for less than you think. Plus, see our slide show of high-impact, low-cost renovations.

Your home may have a room that begs for a redo, but it's languished in limbo for lack of inspiration or cash.

Help is here. We found four homeowners with four common problem rooms, paired each with a designer and set a strict budget for materials (design work and labor are not included). The results: An uninviting foyer made convivial for $500, a tired bathroom now vanity-worthy for $1,000, a chaotic family room/home office turned fun and efficient for $2,500, and a bland kitchen brought into the 21st century for $5,000. Below, we've included a photo of each old room, plus an artist's rendition of the designer's vision. Plus, for even more ideas to tackle your problem rooms, see our slide show of high-impact, low-cost transformations.


Slide Show: Affordable Room Makeovers

Get "Space Lifts" Design Details

Slide Show: Amazing Backyard Renovations

Inexpensive fix-ups are even more important now that the interest rates on home-equity lines have spiked and home-price appreciation has slowed. Even if you don't recoup the cost when you sell your home, your house is more likely to be a hit with potential buyers.

$500 Foyer

Problem: Rochelle Graham of Westchester County, N.Y., says her home's entryway should make a good first impression. Instead, she says, it's "stark and uninviting."


Designer: Lisa Skelley of Avon, Conn., started her career as a textile designer, and for the past several years she has worked as a "redesigner" certified by Interior Redesign Industry Specialists. She is also a color consultant to homeowners through Benjamin Moore Paints.

Solution: You can get a lot of bang for your buck with paint. Because the foyer is visible from the living and dining rooms, it's important to use a complementary paint color and run it up the stairwell to the second-floor landing for continuity. Skelley suggests Moore's Monroe Bisque, a color that contrasts with the home's white trim, in a washable flat finish. She proposes furnishing the foyer with a slim console table and mirror from the Bombay Co., but you can order similar items from Pier 1 Imports, Target and All offer good-quality furniture for budget-conscious buyers as well as online shopping.

The Plan:
Paint: $148
Table: $179 (on sale)
Mirror: $99 (on sale)
Rug: $99

$1,000 Bathroom

Problem: Mark Solheim of Washington, D.C. (and a Kiplinger's editor), describes his bathroom as "early Roman baths" and says it needs a redo and better storage.


Designer: Jessica Cannon is a project designer at Expo Design Center in Fairfax, Va. She is completing a master's in interior architecture at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, in Washington, D.C., and will soon be certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. She is also a student member of the American Society of Interior Designers.

Solution: Extend the home's arts-and-crafts style into the bathroom. The centerpiece is a furniture-style vanity ensemble -- "a great design solution for a fantastic price," Cannon says. It includes two attached side towel bars, a mirror and a shelf. The brushed-nickel faucet and accessories make a "huge impact" for little more than the cost of standard chrome, she says. A wall cabinet keeps the space free of clutter. A new light fixture above the mirror replaces outdated sidelights, illuminating the vanity and surrounding area. A curved shower-curtain rod provides more elbow room. For another $350, new shower and tub hardware and a new toilet could be added.

The plan
Vanity/faucet: $589
Storage unit: $170
Lighting: $110
Hardware: $125

$2,500 Family room

Problem: Greg and Amy Elliott of Port Matilda, Pa., just outside State College, say their basement is a partially finished "wreck" that serves as a family room, home office, storage space and music room (it's home to a drum set).


Designer: Lynn Staab-Fischer owns Organized Spaces, in Pittsburgh, Pa. She has also worked as a project manager for one of Pittsburgh's largest architectural firms. She is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and the National Association of Professional Organizers, and she is also an authorized dealer of Easy-Closet Systems.

Solution: Create individual "zones" that flow together. Staab-Fischer suggests first sorting items into "keep," "donate" and "trash" piles, then assigning "keepers" to proper storage. Next, she says, paint the walls and trim, tile the stove hearth and wall, and spray-paint existing bookcases and storage wall units black. Buy furniture for a home office and a child's laptop work area, and put in a fabric panel to separate that space. Relocate the drum set and hide it with a privacy screen. Install blinds. Finally, place silk trees to draw the eye away from structural columns and add lamps, task lighting and candles for mood and accents.

The plan
Paint: $175
Tile: $500
Home-office furniture/storage: $544
Furniture/storage/accessories: $1,290

$5,000 Kitchen

Problem: Knute and Pam Rotto of Carmel, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis, have an 18-year-old kitchen that they say needs brightening and updating. Pam would like to create the feel of an English tearoom while making the center island more of a focal point.


Designer: Jessica Radloff is a kitchen designer at Lowe's in Carmel, Ind. She has also worked as a decorating specialist with Sherwin-Williams, the paint company.

Solution: Choose a palette of vanilla, merlot and olive for the room to coordinate with the rest of the home, Radloff suggests. Customize the island with beadboard and molding, paint and glaze, and put in a new dark-red quartz countertop for better heat resistance. Install an under-counter refrigerator and a cooktop in cut-outs in the island. Not in the budget: new appliances ($6,813), acrylic solid-surface countertops (with an integral sink) in light red ($3,801), window treatments and a white subway-tile backsplash.

The plan
Paint: $132
Countertop: $1,992
Appliances: $1,165
Faucet: $218
Island supplies: $463
Cabinet hardware: $297
Lighting: $200

For more high-impact, low-cost renovations, go to our slide show.